Hard days and cooler nights

Mazatlan, Concordia, Palmito, La Ciudad, Llano Grande, Durango, Zacatecas, Mexico City
La Paz, the end of our Baja cycling, was home for over a week with the fabulous Tuly and her cycling stragglers. Whilst there we touristed, met more cycling buddies and pondered what route to take next. The choice was up-and-over, or hug the coast. Up-and-over would mean a near-straight climb of 80 miles, gaining 3000m to Durango and the plateau that makes central Mexico. The main advantage would be cooler weather and less humidity. Hugging the coast would probably mean more towns, more services and a much flatter ride nearly all the way to Guatemala. After much debate and mostly based on weather and Matt’s occasional instinct for doing entirely unnecessary things, we chose the mountains.
After a fun and nearly-sleepless overnight cargo ferry to the mainland with new friends José, Lotte and Stro we spent the next evening in Mazatlan (which was beautiful – must spend more time here next time!) and then said our goodbyes and made our way up, up and away.
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Legging it onto the cargo ferry, La Paz
The climb up and over the Sierra Madre Occidental, aka the Espinazo Del Diablo, took 4 days and was fraught with swearing and sweating, as well as occasional stops to admire the incredible views. The temperature did start to drop, but not noticeably so until about 1500m, which meant a lot of hours of slow, hot pedalling upwards and some uncertainty about where the next water or food would be available.
The Espinazo road has been largely eclipsed by a new ‘cuota’ (toll) road, blasted out of the hills to connect Durango with Mazatalan in 2 hours, instead of the previous 6 – and with a World’s highest or biggest (or something-est) suspension bridge to boot. The new road is something of a disaster for restaurants and shops along the old road, though it makes for a quiet, epic bike ride. The swearing decreased with the incline on the last day and the flock (or the right collective noun) of parrots we saw in the early morning helped to make it properly special.
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Sea to summit, a hot and sweaty climb to 3000m
EVENTUALLY we reached the plateau and rode through pine forests and grassland towards Durango. Once there we were royally looked after by Walter, who had somehow sorted us two free nights in a central hotel, which was amazing (esp. when the power was working). The nights were cooler, the days still warm but not the 90-100 degrees we’d started to dread, and for a few days we would have a game of ‘race the thunderstorm’ which somehow always appeared to really threaten with about 20k to go, and somehow for 5 days in a row we just beat it to shelter.
The rainy season so far is ideal, really, with great riding weather and some added drama too. It makes wild camping more tricky/much less appealing as the rain and lightning are pretty intense, though with hotels often costing a bit under 8 pounds a night between us, we have been luxuriously showering and sleeping, and keeping food costs down with our stove and Tupperware.
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Getting into Pine forests, cooler and fresher at the top of the Sierra Madre
We were due to meet Francisco on reaching Zacatecas but first we had to find him. We followed a very enthusiastic cyclist who we thought was taking us to the bus station, he wasn’t. And then Edwards managed to get us to the wrong side of this very hilly city (not entirely his fault… what kind of town has two streets named EXACTLY the same thing?). In the end the Fabulous Frank rode out to rescue us from certain peril, and guide us back to his flat. He also made us speak Spanish, took us out to dinner, offered a shower, a sleep, and some puppies to play with. And drove us to the bus station. All in about 6 hours. What a legend.
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Francisco and Raymundo, treating us to dinner in Zacatecas. Raymundo may be having a heart-felt moment, but also he’s covering up half of his dinner which had made a bid for freedom a moment previously
Yep, you heard it here first, a bus. This is the third non-essential lift we have had after two short-ish truck rides in Baja. The night bus from Zacatecas to Mexico City was UBERPOSH and we managed some sleep before being deposited within a few miles of the centre of Mexico City at 7.30 on a Sunday morning. By now we’ve learned to arrive in big cities on a Sunday if at all possible. This one was a definite good call, as about 30 miles of central roads are closed to traffic on Sundays so — after the first two miles of getting royally lost — we had an easy ride in to the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.
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My kind of town
Mexico were playing Germany in the World Cup later that morning, so we headed straight to the busy Zocola (main square) to find a big screen, our friend Bruce and some breakfast. Being blonde (and of course incredibly athletic just like a footballer – hmmm) Edwards was immediately mistaken for a German and approached by several people for a nice chat – Mexicans, a Pole, and an Italian cyclist all rocked up and shot the breeze for a while. We have no clue about football but it seems the best team won as the post-match car-honk party lasted the next few hours as we slowly ambled our way towards the district of Polanco. Here we found Carlos and Alexa, friends of friends (Thank you Chrissie and Tom!) from home. They generously let us stay with them for a few days so we could have a good nose around Mexico City, make friends and even experience the Mexican equivalent of Costco. Which is… Costco 🙂
Mexico City was about as mental as we’d imagined, so we put our best touristing hats on, stayed hydrated, worked out the Metro (which is brilliant), and saw temples, pyramids, Lucha Libre (the original WWF wrestling!), Frida Kahlo’s house, loads of incredible architecture and didn’t get run over even once. Cities can be quite stressful when you’re used to ambling about at whatever-the-hell-speed-you-like-looking-at-parrots but having Carlos and Alexa and their pad as a refuge was amazing and made it all possible. We’ll be seeing them again soon…
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