18 June 2009: Election tricks, graffiti & handwork
We did a quick tour around the central Plaza in Tlachichuca for some Wi-Fi search and some posing for pictures. I noticed a huge truck unloading hundreds of boxes with a growing crowd gathering around.
The boxes contained live chickens and were handed out to the villagers. The magazine salesman that had just treated us to some tacos viewed the scene with a look of disgust.
“It is the PRI, buying votes. People sell their right to vote for the short term benefit of a chicken. Afterwards they will endure another 4 years of suppression by the rich folks that run the party.”
Welcome to the Mexican elections, where votes are bought with live chickens!
We had already seen signs of the election everywhere. Mexicans in general seem to have a morbid fear of white surfaces, as every wall, of every house, compound or fence always contains graffiti, without exception.
But in the last months before the general elections in July, the majority of all walls have been taken over by the election marketeers promoting their candidates with populist slogans:
We cycled through fields of corn, where old famers were working without any motorized means. All waved when we passed them, on our way to one of the biggest downhills of our entire journey…
After rounding the Ciudad Serdan and climbing some minor hills, we reached the main highway again. The tollbooth attendants did not even see us and so we found ourselves back on the ‘Quota’!
From the highlands to sea level: 400m up, 2500m down in 133km!
After a quick roadside lunch we started our descent. It was not as relaxed as imagined beforehand as the road was busy and the shoulder filled with rocks and debris of tires and other car parts. Worst of all, we headed into a chilly thick fog, limiting the view in front and behind us to about 40 meters, so we had to brake all the way, wearing our reflective jackets for safety and our rain jackets for warmth.
The drop-off is so steep that when the highway had to be expanded due to increasing traffic, they basically had to built a new highway as the existing one could not be broadened in most places. The only times when there was some extra room, long emergency gravel pits were built, to save truckers going down with faulty brakes.Fortunately when going down we followed the original one, which went just straight down instead of up, down, around and over like the new variation.
During the downhill Ivana had not managed to avoid al exploded tires and her tires were punctured with several thin but strong parts of steel wire that strengthen the truck tires. Fixing tires on the side of a busy highway is not my favourite thing to do, but there was no other option.
We had lost enough altitude to be in the warmer air of the tropics again. We also got treated to our first heavy tropical rain shower. Actually, when thinking about it, it was the first rain since Central California, USA!
The slope eased, but still we were going down. The view of mighty Pico de Orizaba must be wonderful from this side, but all we could see behind us was a big pile of tropical clouds. We ended our day after 133km, about 4 flat tires and 2500m of downhills in a wet garden next to the highway, with mangos falling from the trees and chickens scaring Ivana.
19/20th June: the long ride to Cancun: World On a Truck
The downhill had ended and we rollercoastered to the junction of the toll roads. Ahead was Veracruz, we turned right towards the east, as we had to get to Cancun with a few days, so we needed some good place for our hitchhiking.
It took about 50km, but we found a gas station where we could ask refuelling pickups for a ride. Then things went fast.
The first ride took us about 200km down the road. We cycled a few minutes to a toll booth and got another ride quickly, which took us 60km. When we left them we noticed a big truck we had seen before. The friendly driver, who had waived at us when he had passed us before, asked us where we were going.
We replied that we were trying to get rides to get North-East.
“I am going to Cancun, want to join?”.
Cancun! It still was about 1100km/700miles away. We introduced ourselves properly to Francisco, a gentle man who runs a moving company from the border with Texas. He has a fleet of about 20 trucks and regularly drives himself as well. His truck was already half empty, with 2 loads left to drop off: one in Merida and one in Cancun!
We put our bikes in the back and joined him in the cabin for a long ride to the Yucatan peninsula. After a roadside dinner he parked the truck at a truck-stop and while he slept in the cabin, we slept in the back of the truck, inside the tent against the mosquitoes, but the sweaty heat kept us awake.
As the toll roads are too expensive, Francisco took the ‘libres’, meaning extra kilometres and much extra traffic. We slowly passed through the states of Tabasco & Campeche and ended up in Merida. The city is known for it beautiful centre, but we had to unload the possessions of a family that had worked in the US for a while in a less scenic part of town, where the roads were littered with trash.
Francisco hired a few guys at the entrance of the city to help us unload in the heat. After getting paid, they bought 6 bottles of beer, which were emptied and thrown out of the window before we could take them back to where we had picked them up.
It was time to cross the Yucatan state. There is a huge and expensive new quota, so we took the dark and windy libre instead. The road passes through every little town and we had to stop hundreds of times to carefully cross the many ‘topes’, speed bumps.
We had been rushing the past weeks, but now we had made it to Cancun a week earlier than planned. It took a huge load off our shoulders as we now had some time to check out the city and prepare the visit of our mums.
Francisco came back to his truck in the morning, and his friend Daniel invited us to come over and stay in his house. We had friends in Cancun, but as we had arrived so quickly, we had not been able to contact them and gladly accepted Daniel’s offer.
He not only put us up for the night, but also gave us some tours, which helped a lot to understand the city. We visited the touristic places as Francisco had to buy some jewellery for his wife and drank some “raspados”, shaved ice with sweet fruit flavours.
Cancun proper: the beach!
The city were we were is actually not the Cancun that is so famous. The downtown area is where the people live and go for their Sunday dance, the tourists go to a 25km/16mi long peninsula, totally covered with big expensive hotels, clubs and restaurants.
Daniel had worked in the hotel business before and took us to see the “Zona Hotelera”. We visited a few of the smaller public beaches, with did have easy access, but we also checked out a large hotel. It was something we will never be able to afford, but it was fun to pretend
Kowalski! Status report!
All is well. We will park our bikes soon as our mums will arrive and we will be semi-proper tourists for a while. But still there are plenty of things to show, so stay tuned…
We had a nice breakfast with Fanny & Didier and then finally said goodbye for real (this was the 3rd time), as they would fly back to Switzerland that day.
We went to the edge and viewed down the Grand Canyon. It is one of the world’s most famous and visited tourist attractions, with more than 5 million visitors each year (most of them from the US). It is something that many people put on their ‘bucket list’, but after looking down into the void, we both thought the same. ‘Is that it?’
There are many beautiful rock formations everywhere, and different light creates different colours all the time.
But maybe because of the size we both felt like we were on a mountain looking down and towards another mountain. We both have climbed many –higher- mountains and 1800m drop was maybe therefore not so impressive.
Maybe it was just the Grand name of the place, but we both agreed that Bryce canyon and the Horseshoe Bend were far more impressive places.
We headed to the visitor centre and then decided to simply see all the famous spots along the Canyon Rim. The Grand Canyon is most developed on this Southern side and a nice windy road curves along its edge, passing forests where elk roam free.
We spent some time in the old Watch tower, headed into the main lodges (where there was free Wi-Fi!) to Skype my mom for her b-day and then went to see the sunset that never really came in the western end of the route, the Hermit’s Rest.
After a few hours in the dark I had enough of driving and just off the ‘hysterical Route 66’ we asked the manager in a local Subway shop (we are still in the $5 footlong season :)) where we could pitch our tent. She said that we could drive down a dirt road and pitch our tent ‘anywhere after the 2nd cattle guard’.
We headed into the dark middle of Nowhere, parked our car and pitched our tent next to the road in a grassy patch. In the middle of the night some cars passed which made us quite comfortable. It was weekend, the cars –all trucks- were doing at least 80 miles per hour and we were in the middle of Redneck country were, according to many people we had talked to, guns were more present than common sense…
1st march 2009: Wonderful desert in Joshua Tree
We made it through the night without any bullet holes, packed our tent and headed further west. Route 95 South was like a miniature rollercoaster, and only 2 lanes wide. We passed a cyclist heading our way, but due to heavy traffic, there was no place we could safely stop –let alone turn- to share some food and water, so we continued through the dry desert.
It basically is a high desert zone, named after the most common plant to be found here, the Yucca Brevifolia, better known as the Joshua Tree. Made famous by Anton Corbijn for the U2 album with the same name, it is an impressive plant. Not 2 are the same and it takes decades, centuries or even millennia to grow full size.
There are concerns about the future of the plant as climate change might make it too hot for the plant to grow, at least in most of the park.
I really enjoyed this place. Ivana liked it as well, but did not find it so special, but I could not get enough of walking around the desert sands, checking the different plants, scrambling up rocks, and watching rock climbers climbing the bigger ones. Not sure what, but something about the park is very peaceful and much more fulfilling than the Gran Canyon had been…
here is a photographic impression of the small park. As always (if you read this on the website and not in the newsletter): click for an automagically enlarged version on your screen. If you get bored by plants or trees (or photos in general), I suggest you scroll down a bit 😉
One more night of luxury: Palm Springs
As mentioned in a previous post: I had traded some writing and photography for hotel nights, and we still had one ‘left’. We had contacted the Springs hotel and we were all set for a nice night in the hotel in Palm Springs.
once we dropped down across the San Andres fracture -that is actually visible here- into Palm Springs, we were happy to see the desert filled with hundreds if not thousands of wind turbines harvesting the energy of the desert wind.
The place itself was a bit deserted, and many restaurants were closed, but the room was great and the pizza from around the corner tasty and spicy, a perfect ending to a great road trip.
On a bicycle alone we would never have seen all of these natural wonders, though it would make a great bike trip on its own. Hope you enjoyed the images and get to visit these places yourself one day.
Next report coming up soon:
Back in LA, time to pack the bikes and head down South again: From Los Angeles to San Diego, getting close to the border with Mexico…