|Omar at his Casa de Ciclistas en San Cristobal de las Casas|
I have mentioned the RAC a few times before. The Red de Apoyo del Cicloturista. The support network for cycle tourers. Omar (above) was one of the founding members. He manages a little group of cabins just outside the centre of San Cristobal de las Casas and hosts cyclists for free every day of the week. He himself cycled for three years around Mexico but has settled now in San Cristobal. Omar is one of these kind souls on this planet. During my time in San Cristobal I spent a few nights around his kitchen table with maps out, drinking coffee and chatting excitedly to other cyclists.
I was so looking forward to getting here. Although still around 30 degrees during the day, because it is 2200m above sea level the mornings and evenings are cool and one can sleep with a sleeping bag over ones shoulder. What a glorious luxury. I stayed for five nights.
|Omar and Tom from the UK having a hot chocolate in San Cristobal. Comparing routes on the map.|
|The canyon of the Sumidero in Chiapas de Corso, as nice as Norway or |
New Zealand, but filthy and polluted with plastic.
|30kms of a beautiful canyon absolutely ruined with plastic.|
From San Cristobal it's a 30km downhill ride to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas. Starting at 2200m above sea level you whizz down to 552m. The lads in the bike shop welcomed me as if they had known me for years, showed me the spare room in the warehouse up above the bike shop for sleeping, where the drinkable water was and asked me not to disturb the very healthy looking marijuana plant in the corner of the kitchenette.
Being so hot I knew I wouldn't be staying long but I did make it each night to the Plaza de la Marimba. A marvellous happy place where a band plays each night in the bandstand while hundreds of folk of all ages and all shapes and sizes come to dance Marimba.
|Every night at 6pm the Parque de la Marimba comes to life with hundreds of dancers.|
|A mattress on a pallet in the warehouse above the bike shop for touring cyclists to sleep.|
|Sherpa was more than happy to hang out in the bike shop warehouse with some friends.|
|The lads in the bike shop in Tuxtla printed their own t-shirts. They say the locals don't understand what they say.|
|Cooking breakfast of porridge and apple in the bike shop warehouse.|
|Dresses bought all over Mexico when girls turn 15. It's like our 21st but just a much bigger deal.|
|Typical town in Chiapas without a single single-occupancy car in sight.|
The Tuxtla bike shop lads recommended I head to the El Aguacero waterfall about 50kms from their shop. They said you could swim directly in the waterfall and it was a peaceful place to camp. So after leaving my bike and most of my stuff at the shop at the top of the 800 steps, I swung a pannier with tent, mat, sleeping bag, stove and food over a shoulder and hiked down.
|I was able to climb up and swim/bathe in the waterfall.|
|The best wild camp spot of the whole trip. Fly sheet looking a bit battered.|
|Having no lighter to light the stove meant it was olives for breakfast.|
|Messing with the timer on my phone. I stayed all morning reading in the cool shady gorge.|
|And just by magic some humans arrived to swim in the waterfall. |
One had a lighter so I was able to have my porridge after all.
|And a 2nd piece of magic produced a man who was delivering plants to a nearby village who arrived at the |
waterfall with an open backed jeep and took me and Sherpa up the 3km climb on the dirt track.
From the waterfall I headed for Cintalapa. I had spent the whole morning at the waterfall so the afternoon only provided time enough for a 50km jaunt up the road. I heard loud roars from a stadium I rode by so parked the bike and popped my head in.
|A charreada or rodeo in Chiapas.|
|Such fun to sit and watch. I had no idea what would happen next.|
|This military road block looked as if it was made from lego.|
|This gorgeous little lady took my order in her PJs at a roadside diner. |
She drew my 'un café porfa' order in her notebook and took it into her mum in the kitchen.
When I popped 'bomberos' into Google maps in Cintalapa the 'Protección Civil' showed up. I had never heard of such a place before but Google told me it was open 24 hours which was good enough for me.
When I arrived and announced that I was looking for a camp spot for the night no one really batted an eyelid. They told me to pitch my tent just behind the ambulances and that the bathroom with shower would be free of men in about five minutes. Every time this kind of thing happens I wonder how a Mexican cyclist would be treated if they rocked up to the fire station in Navan looking for a place to stay. There is just no possible way that they would be treated as well.
Hugo, to my left, and I hitched a lift into town at about 8pm the night I stayed. He had to go to work at a concert so I asked if I could tag along. As there was no room left in either ambulance we had to hitch a lift. But the first car that passed (it was completely dark) stopped and made sure the paramedic got to his concert.
|The lads at the civil protection.|
|All a girl needs is a shelf to spread out her stuff.|
|10m from the main road. Without doubt the noisiest night of the whole trip.|
|A little geography lesson on the road with some very lovely children.|
|Up to my old mischief. Cooking porridge in hotel corridors.|
|A 200km section of the road is|
|Wind farms for miles in Chiapas.|
|I had wanted to ride through Oaxaca for ages.|
|A speciality of Oaxaca - The Tlayuda. Like an oversized quesadilla. Or a pizza folded in half.|
|I loved these girls pink, Home and Away styled, school uniforms.|
|After a hot day of climbing I was rewarded with a surprise view of the Pacific Ocean at sunset.|
I was just about to head off on the road from Tehuantepec up to Oaxaca city when I got an Instagramm message from a Brittish cyclist called Dan Calverly. He was about 200kms west of me. We worked out over a couple of back and forth messages that if he cycled 150kms east and if I cycled 75kms west we could meet and camp and chat. And so we did. We arranged to meet at kilometer 337 on the Route 200 road.
|After spending the morning reading on a shaded hostel balcony I decided to |
change my route completely and head along the Oaxacan coast.
I had left the hostal at 12 noon and as there is only light until 6pm it was a big ask to cover 75kms of hilly hot terrain in six hours. A big ask for tortoise paced Michelle. I just needed to keep my head down and keep pedalling.
I was really excited to meet another cyclist and camp together. Myself and Dan had never met but as we chatted over dinner and breakfast we had both said how nice it was to have 'meeting and camping with another cyclist' as the aim for the day. Dan has been cycling for three years and has about another two to go. His name on social media is selfpropelling particle. And he writes well. His blog is worth a look.
|We were to meet and camp at a taco restaurant at km 337. We both arrived after dark.|
|Chatting in the shade over a breakfast of porridge, chia, honey and coffee.|
|And after a long chatty breakfast Dan headed east and I west.|
|The lovely warm showers restaurant owners who allowed us camp in their patio.|
I checked my wallet but didn't have any change so handed her a 100 peso note. I was delighted to give her money and not in the least bit put out that she asked so directly but when I eventually woke up and worked it out, I had given her the equivalent of a days wages in Mexico. It left me with a funny feeling for the day. If I was going to give away that amount I would have preferred the mother to have it as it would have bought some lovely chicken and veggies for the family. But I felt a bit odd that a 12 year old had that money in her pocket to buy sweets and Coke at school. It had never happened before. I had never been asked for money with someone I stayed with so just let it be.
|A typical dried up river bed along Rout 200 on Mexico's pacific coast. |
Hard for an Irish person to look at after all the lush green vegetation we have at home.
My cycle trip officially ended in the beautiful seaside town of Huatulco, Oaxaca state. I had wanted to be in Oaxaca city by Thursday evening. It was now Wednesday late afternoon so I quickly devised a plan. I had met Saskia Vargas, a Mexican cyclist, in a fire station in Nicaragua a few years before and knew she lived in Puerto Escondido. As I was two hours away by bus I decided to head straight for the bus station in Huatulco and try and catch an evening bus. Once myself and Sherpa were safely on the bus I texted her to say I was on my way to visit her. She told me to head straight for her house, the red castle on the sea front. I couldn't miss it.
|Saskia lived in the red castle at the end of the road overlooking the sea.|
|9am the following morning. The sea was 10m from Saskia's door. It was already 30 degrees C.|
Saskia is a midwife and had worked for MSF in Honduras a few months earlier. These lovely ladies in the photo below were either nurses or midwives and had all worked in Honduras with MSF at the time. So I landed in on top of a very random but lovely Honduran midwife reunion. They were pretty mean salsa dancers too. In true Mexican style we waited at home until about 11pm and then headed out to the salsa bars of Puerto Escondido. What fun even if it was about 5 hours past my bedtime.
|Saskia and José, the best dancers in the whole club.|
|It was so lovely to meet up after two years with a fellow cycle tourer.|