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meeting the locals

Since our fortuitous meeting with Abraham in Tepehuanes, we have found ourselves hooked up with the Mexican biking community. Cocono Salvajes (Wild Turkeys) are one of Santiago’s three mountain bike groups and they have taken us decidedly under their generous wings.

On Sunday morning we set off with about twenty-five Cocono riders on a on a day ride on local jeep track. Jorge Luis lends me a bike with suspension forks for the expedition and I am keen to try it out as my rigid forks make for a pretty bouncy ride on rough roads: a fact I am painfully aware of after the last seven months riding. It transpires that I am the only woman present in the group.

A short break in which at least half a dozen punctures are mended. Thorny vegetation is tough on tyres.

A short break in which at least half a dozen punctures are mended. Thorny vegetation is tough on tyres.

Enjoying the sunshine - the temperature range here in the mountain is considerable. During the day it is warm but the nights are still very chilly.

Jason, Jeff and I enjoying the sunshine - the temperature range here in the mountains is considerable - during the day it is warm but the nights are still very chilly.

We stop for a meal on the way back into town where we are treated to lunch by one of the riders; Mexican hospitality is such that, somewhat embarrassingly, our meals often end up getting paid for when we are in company.

Back at Jose Ramon’s family compound in the afternoon we attend to various maintenance tasks before being whisked off by Jorge Luis for a tour of the town and dinner.

Jeff and Jason are DIY guys. Most of their camping and biking gear is hand-made. Jason here is repairing his back-pack and Jeff is working on his ongoing frame-bag projects.

Jeff and Jason are DIY guys; much of their camping and biking gear is hand-made. Jeff is constantly on the lookout for a sewing machine and Jose Ramon's wife provides one for him here. Jason is repairing his back-pack and Jeff is working on ongoing series of frame-bag projects.

The Cocono’s have brainstormed a route for us towards Zactecas on dirt roads and Jose Ramon offers to guide us and act as a support vehicle for the first section of the trip, carrying all our baggage for us in his 4WD.

So, on Monday morning, we set off early unburdened by our panniers and hit the dirt after a short breakfast stop at OXXO. OXXO is a ‘modern’ US style grocery chain that sells ordinary products at twice the price of local aborrotes. Despite this OXXO seems to exert an unhealthy fascination on otherwise enlightened Mexicans and constitutes one of my least favourite shopping experiences. Again, Jose Ramon refuses to let us pay for our own breakfast goodies.

Jose Ramon with the 'support vehicle' outside OXXO. OXXO is one of my least favourite Mexican shopping experiences.

Jose Ramon with the "support vehicle" outside OXXO. Note the practically luggage free bikes.

The road, scenery and weather are all perfect and riding an unburdened bike is an unaccustomed luxury so the morning passes delightfully.

Glorious dirt road through the mountains.

Glorious dirt road through the mountains.

We return to the highway after twenty-five kilometres of superb riding, where we reload the bikes and say our goodbyes to Jose Ramon.

Looking back the way we came.

Looking back the way we came.

Reloading the bikes.

Reloading the bikes.

After a short section riding on pavement, we turn off the highway again and take a road that leads through a series of Mennonite communities, one of Mexico’s more surprising and bizarre phenomenon. The Mennonites, invited to Mexico by President Alvaro Obregon in 1922 on the condition they provided the northern states with cheese, live in closed communities and are not even actually Mexican citizens: they don’t hold Mexican passports, are exempt from military service, speak Low German as their mother-tongue, attend their own schools and are governed by their own laws.

Their conservative but distinctive dress and life-style make the Mennonites striking figures in the Mexican landscape. We ride along with the repeated image of a woman standing, either raking a spotless farmyard or doing laundry by hand, in a flowing floral dress and a straw bonnet with long sashes appearing before us. The men, dressed in cotton overalls and cowboy hats drive into the townships in their pick-up trucks but the women have little contact with the outside world. When we ride into a Mennonite farmyard to ask for directions, driven as much by curiosity as our need for information, the woman stand silent and abashed, unable to speak Spanish, until a man comes to ask us what we want.


A Mexican village scene - a drunk and couple of Americanised kids in animated conversation with Cass and Jason - ...

Menonite houses.

... in contrast to the austere neat and eerily absent Mennonite communities with their retiring inhabitants.

The afternoon’s riding doesn’t live up to the expectations raised by the perfect morning, intriguing though the Mennonite communities are. We get lost while zig-zagging inefficiently over flat, sandy, corrugated roads and when we reach the highway again, at dusk, we discover that we have ridden over fifty kilometres but only made about twenty-five kilometres forward progress towards Canatlan where our Santiago friends have rung ahead to alert the biking community of our impending arrival. Clearly we will not arrive in Canatlan tonight and our disposition is not improved by the bleak camping prospects offered on either side of the busy highway. We duck behind a mound of earth that shields us from the view of passing traffic and set up our tents in a blighted dying orchard.

Ghetto camp by the highway in a dead orchard.

Ghetto camp by the highway in a dead orchard.

Breakfast - corn tortillas toasted over the fire.

Breakfast - corn tortillas toasted over the fire. Grey clouds and a persistent wind bode ill for the day.

Dawn is grey and bleak and by the time we reach Canatlan it is raining heavily. We ring Genaro, our contact, and he gives us directions to his business, a parts shop for motor-vehicles. Genaro is the president of the local mountain club and he enthusiastically shows us photos and videos of local cycling events as we pass the wet afternoon sitting in a store-room across the road from his shop chatting to a variety of people who come to marvel at us and question us, in detail, about our various journeys.


The dirtbag gang with Genaro outside his parts shop.

Genaro absolutely outdoes himself in the hospitality stakes: he not only treats us to a fine seafood lunch but insists on putting us up in a hotel for the night, despite our vigorous protests. In the evening, after taking us to the town plaza where we are plied with free tamales and champurrado* in celebration of some national holiday, Jenaro rides us to the hotel in rain and presents us with a jar of preserved peaches and a bottle of tequilla to get us through the stormy night.

Leaving the hotel.

Jeff and Jason leaving the hotel.

In the morning it is still raining but, by way of comfort, we have an invitation to breakfast on gorditas* at Gordiatas Plaza, an establishment run by three sisters and their mother. One of the sisters, who came to talk to us yesterday, is a sadly rare example of the female Mexican cyclist. Unfortunately, she has had a recent accident and so is currently off the road.

After an extended, free, all-we-can-eat gordita session, as the rain eases, we decide it is time to head off to cover the 70 odd kilometres to Durango where yet more members of Mexico’s cycling community are awaiting our arrival.

Treated to breakfast at Gorditas Plaza.

Treated to breakfast at Gorditas Plaza.

Gorditas - one of my favourite Mexican culinary delights.

Gorditas - one of my favourite Mexican culinary delights.

Four sisters.

Three sisters help out their mother at the gordita shop - second from the right is the cyclist.

We pass by Genaro’s shop again where we spent some time trying to organise ourselves sufficiently to leave. Cass and a persuasive street vendor selling cowboy hats almost convince me to join the crowd and buy one but I feel a little overburdened by my belongings as it is. Jason whiles away a few moments strumming on his mini-guitar as we wait for three local riders who have decided to escort us some distance out of town.

The hat man - I should have bought a hat from this guy.

The hat man - I should have bought a hat from this guy.

Jason whiles away a few moments before we leave playing a tune on his mini bike-tour-sized guitar.

Jason whiles away a few moments before we leave playing a tune on his mini bike-tour-sized guitar.

We finally get underway and ride on the highway through the afternoon, cursing the traffic, the roadworks and the wind, before arriving at Durango just as the sun is setting. In Durango, our first stop is at Pancho’s bike workshop where we lose no time in making some minor repairs to bikes and bike gear. Pancho then bustles us into his truck, two comfortably in the cabin and two less comfortably in the rather chilly tray, and whisks us off to a bike meeting at a hamburger restaurant to which he has strategically invited a couple of local couch-surfers who he hopes will put us up, without, it seems, informing them of his intentions. However, we clearly pass muster because Frida and Jorge Luis only hesitate a second or two before extending a warm invitation to four dirty, hungry, dirtbag cyclists to stay with them in their central city apartment. When we finish our hamburgers and margaritas, sleep is foremost on everybody’s minds.

Meeting Frida and Jorge Luis.

Meeting Frida and Jorge Luis.

Yoda, the other member of Frida and Jorge Luis' family.

Yoda, the other inhabitant of Frida and Jorge Luis' apartment.

We manage to get lifts back into the centre of Durango and find our way to the apartment. Once we manage to squeeze our bikes into the extremely limited space available in the entrance we all fall into various more or less makeshift beds – four people is a lot to accommodate at a moment’s notice.

I spend the next two days doing as little as I can and enjoying Frida’s company. It is the first opportunity I have had to spend time with another female in quite a while. The boys are rather more active and manage, among other things, to get themselves interviewed about the trip by a local television sports show presenter.

The boys get famous.

The boys get famous.

* Tamales are filled corn dough parcels steamed in corn husks; champurrado is a delicious Mexican hot chocolate drink; gorditas are small corn tortillas stuffed with tasty fillings such as roasted green chillies, beans, cactus, etc.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Babs | February 15, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    You look good!! I am glad you are feeling better, amiga.

  2. Sandy | February 15, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna, Babs’ friend Sandy here. Just wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed following your progress on your incredible adventure! You’ve provided us with a view into the lives and geography of North American inhabitants and landscapes that we otherwise would never have been aware of. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I hope you’re feeling better. Last night Babs, Dennis, hubby Dave and I had Valentine dinner together, and we got onto the subject of your giardia. Dennis shared a story of different cures he and a buddy tried when both were afflicted with the infection at the same time. Dennis is a good storyteller. :o)
    Wishing you safe travels for the remainder of your journey!

  3. Claire | February 17, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    I have been strolling around the internet looking for good bike trip ideas for Spring break and got sucked into your blog. I was really enjoying reading about your adventures in reverse and suddenly… saw a familiar face in your pictures! The memories came back of Jeff telling us he would someday be riding his bicycle all over the country. If you can, please tell him hello from me. Hasta Luego!

  4. Will Kemp | April 3, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Was Jason’s mini guitar a jarana?

  5. Will Kemp | April 3, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Ah, no, as i scrolled further down, i saw a picture of it and it looks a bit bigger than a jarana.

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