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a little darkness, sometimes…

In general, travelling on my bicycle makes me ridiculously happy but, even so, there are some days I view the world with a somewhat more critical eye than others.

I leave the hills behind me and ride through the flat sunny plains south-east of Zacatecas, where I find the terrain is a little uninspiring and the villages impoverished and dirty.

A depressing roadside scene.

Towards dusk, I ride through another squalid village and as I leave the settlement a pick-up truck, with music blaring, overtakes me and then slows to walking pace about 50 metres ahead. I am non-plussed; it is time for me to be looking for somewhere to camp for the night but the presence of a lurking carload of people, with unknown intentions, maintaining a constant distance just ahead of me is a little disturbing. It occurs to me that it is a Saturday night and people probably have too much time on their hands. Eventually the road curves slightly and I take advantage of the moment when I drop out of the vehicle’s line of vision to duck through an unlocked gate into a field of prickly pear.

Pushing my bike into the middle of the cactus plantation, I listen to the sound of the car on the other side of the rock wall and, when the thumping music eventually fades, I pitch my tent next to some horses grazing amongst the spiny vegetation. Cautiously, I venture forth into the dark to look for firewood, which is in pretty short supply in a field full of cactus.

Camping amongst cactus requires a degree of caution.

In the morning, I continue on my way only to find that my map, which I went to such lengths to obtain in Zacatecas, is significantly out of date and that the government has clearly been busy in recent years with some major road works. My terraceria* which the map indicates will take me all the way to Villa de Reyes dumps me unceremoniously onto a busy highway.

It's nice to know that cyclists are acknowledged, even if not actually accommodated in any way.

Unwilling to give up without a struggle, I ask everyone I pass if there is any alternative route but the information I receive is confusing and contradictory. I set off uncertainly on a track across some fields which dead ends suddenly in a barbed wire fence running alongside a freeway of which there is no trace on my map. I wriggle under the fence hauling my bike and bags after me and try my luck on the other side of the freeway, to no avail.

Faced with my insistence that I want to ride on dirt roads, the people I ask for advice on my route point me onto a bumpy track leading across the fields to nowhere in particular. This road dead ended at a barbed wire fence alongside the new freeway.

After wandering for some time, aimlessly, on tracks that go nowhere, I give up and submit myself to the trauma of the freeway – there is, at least, a generous shoulder to ride on.

The evil alternative to gravel roads.

After a couple of kilometres, I pass some men cutting weeds on the side to the highway and I stop again to ask if there is any alternative route and I am finally rewarded for my stubbornness. The man informs me that, after another kilometre or so, there will be a gate on my right where I can turn off the highway onto the old road to Villa de Reyes and, amazingly, this turns out to be true.

I’m pretty happy to have found myself a quiet back road but the first thing I pass on it is a series of gigantic stinking sheds housing thousands of unfortunate chickens.

However, the rest of the afternoon passes happily enough and I guess there has to be a little darkness sometimes.

Chicken factory - a good reason not to eat poor tortured beasts.

* terraceria = unpaved road

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