Mexico 13: Up, Down, Over, and Around

“San Jan Guichicovi to Radaules Malpaso (and San Cristobal de Las Casas)”

We left San Juan Guichicovi late morning, arriving in Colonia Cuauhtémoc early afternoon. We didn’t see any signs for hotels, but after asking around, we found a small hotel above a supermarket. We carried our bikes up a tight spiral staircase, the only entrance to the hotel on the second floor. You’d be surprised at some of the hotel passages we’ve managed to squeeze our bikes through; a little teamwork goes a long way. We hung out in the store below for a few hours, chatting with the locals about our ride.

We got an early start the next morning, but it was already hot and sticky by 7:30 am. We stopped for second breakfast on a small dirt road inside a fence. We saw a toucan in the trees. A man walked by and chatted with us for a few minutes. He told us they have three sizes of toucans in the area. I imagined all the cool critters we’d see if we had more time to hang out in all these places.

The kilometers passed by quickly, despite the oppressive humidity and heat. We were dripping with sweat when we arrived in La Chinantla. We stopped for a cold drink at the first tienda we saw. The lady there was excited to see us, and took our photo (below).

Turns out, she (like many folks we’ve met on our route) remembers Mark & Hanna (the two cyclist’s route that we’re following). After chatting for a bit, and several photos later, we continued on to the hotel in town.

The wifi in the hotel was slow, but after reading about the severity of the eruption of Volcan Fuego in Guatemala, and how far the ash had spread, and that the airport in Guatemala City had been temporarily shutdown, and that the protests in Nicaragua were still getting worse …we decided to buy tickets to Colombia. We debated for a bit about riding through northern Guatemala and then maybe flying from El Salvador to Costa Rica to avoid Nicaragua, but we’d be missing a lot of the places we wanted to see in Central America, and since we’d have to fly again, or boat, from Panama to Colombia (around the Darien Gap) anyway, it made more financial sense to jump to Colombia now, and save Central America for another time.

We got another early start, but it’s hot as soon as the sun rises. We followed dirt roads most of the day. We stopped for a short break late in the day and chatted with a local by his gate. He taught me the word for “ant” …hormiga.

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Nuevo Esperanza. It was kind of a scruffy town, but we got a room with air-conditioning and there was a store with produce right next door, so we took the next day off.

We rode pavement for a short bit out of town before turning onto a dirt road, then turning onto smaller and smaller dirt roads, before turning onto singletrack and cow paths through green hills, crossing streams and pushing our bikes through trough-like trails, up and down, across ridges and hills.

The heat took its toll on Neon, still sick with a stomach bug and from antibiotics that only made the heat and humidity more oppressive for him. We popped out briefly onto a nice dirt road, stopping at a small tienda for cold drinks, before turning back onto singletrack, though more rideable this time. We were tired, and it was getting late, so we set up camp next to the trail, but well out of sight from any road.

It was hot, but we zipped up the screen on the tent and tried to sleep. I laid there, uncovered, for hours, just sweating and wondering when I’d finally fall asleep. At some point I woke to Neon’s voice yelling at cows to “get out of here, go away”. I could hear the deep thud of hooves outside our tent. I sat up groggily and got out of the tent. We were surrounded. I walked around, planting my feet loudly with each step, telling the cows to “go”. They all just stood there for another minute, and then all at once, ran off like they’d just seen a ghost.

It rained through the night, and was still raining when we woke. Luckily it wasn’t too muddy and we were able to ride most of the rest of the single track until we reached a dirt road at Graciano Sánchez.

It rained all through the morning hours, slowing to a light drizzle in the early afternoon, then hot sun in the later afternoon. My camera stayed packed away the entire day. We stopped to refill our canteens at a waterfall. We rode hard, making it to Romula Calzada before dark.

We got a room in a small hotel. It was the biggest room they had, but barely big enough for the bed and our bikes.

We got beer and food at a tienda. Then sat in front of the large, loud, fan in our room. Cold beer never tasted so good. A baby gecko ran across the wall. The power went after we lied down to sleep. Not wanting to suffocate, we opened the window, despite the possibilities of mosquitoes. Shortly after falling asleep, a very large cockroach crawled onto my ear. I jumped up, causing it to run over to Neon. I turned on my flashlight. We stared at it, staring back at us from Neon’s pillow. They’re actually really fast little critters, so even though it was right in front of us we weren’t sure how to catch it. Neon and I looked at each other, then I lifted the pillow, gently, and Neon flicked it out the open window. I could see it propelling into the darkness away from us. We lied back down and tried not to imagine all of the other cockroaches that might be nearby. Thankfully the power came back on a little while later, and the loud whirl of the fan, and its cooling breeze, lulled me back to sleep.

We got another early start, and began climbing out of town, sweat pouring down our faces. By 8:00 am we were already drenched in sweat, our clothes soaked. We still had a few days of riding to San Cristobal de Las Casas. We stopped for second breakfast on the side of the road. A man on a horse stopped to chat with us. After a little smalltalk, Neon asked if there was a bus that went to Tuxtla or San Cristobal from one of the nearby towns. The guy said yes. Neon, still sick, was miserable, and after the murder of two cyclists on the highway between San Cristobal and Palenque I was nervous about cycling anywhere near San Cristobal …and so the decision was made. We cycled to the next town, Raudales Malpaso and caught a bus to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, then took another bus into San Cristobal to hang out until we needed to catch our flight to Bogota, Colombia.

We spent almost two weeks in San Cristobal de Las Casas. It had a very chill vibe compared to other towns we had visited in Mexico. But best of all, it had a lot of restaurants that served vegetarian and vegan meals. We drank good coffee, wandered the streets, and ate good food.

I also got in a little art time… Ephemeral no.7 – Wings to Consider Freedom

We made a short side trip to visit the church in San Juan Chamula. They don’t allow photos inside the church, but it was quite a sight to experience. There are no benches. Paintings of catholic saints hang on the walls. The entire floor is covered in pine needles. Hundreds of candles flicker on tables that surround the walls. People kneel on the floor, clearing small spaces to burn candles, and pray/chant/sing in their native language. Bottles of water, coca-cola, and juice sit on the floor in front of them as they pray. During our visit, a man held a chicken upside down as a women prayed beside him. The air smelled of incense: copal resin. It was mysterious, and weird, this strange blend of Catholicism and the local native religious practice.

As our time in San Cristobal drew to a close, we packed up our bikes, wrapping them in plastic wrap, like a cocoon or a bug caught in a web…

And that’s a wrap on Mexico, at least for now…


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