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entering the city

Planning isn’t always my strong point so, after visiting El Capulin, I return to Zitacuaro to pick up the things I left at the hotel and then have to cycle around 40 kilometres back up the same hill, past the butterfly sanctuaries, over the mountains, towards Mexico City. I leave Zitacuaro late and camp a few hours later in a damp forest.

Orchids in the forest. One of the joys of an outside 'bathroom' is the opportunity it affords to study some of the details in nature.

Michoacan is a mountainous place and most of the next day is spent climbing before the terrain flattens out and I start to wind my way on a quiet road through a valley inhabited by numerous small indigenous communities. The locals – mostly groups of woman, in colourful skirts and full petticoats, seated on the ground outside their houses around piles of corn cobs – are nonplussed by my appearance. A couple of women that I ask for directions in a small shop ask me, somewhat indignantly, what I am looking for here.

I pass an elaborate road side shrine just before I round a sharp corner to be confronted by the aftermath of an apparently fatal car accident. I often wonder if the purpose of the ubiquitous roadside shrines is to implore the saints for safe passage on the chaotic Mexican roads.

After I rejoin the highway towards Toluca the population density increases dramatically and there is almost continuous settlement beside the road. With opportunities for wild camping non-existent, eventually, well after dark, I stop at a village shop to ask for permission to camp somewhere.

The shop keeper is not particularly helpful but a customer – a woman accompanied by her daughter – is quick to invite me to her house where she introduces me to her father and, after hesitating only long enough to confirm that I am alone, he welcomes me warmly into the family home where I am well-fed and cared for.

Ruth, my rescuer, proves, despite the lack of a formal education, to be an extremely intelligent and well-informed woman and we discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels and the state of the world before retiring to a communal bedroom containing three giant beds. I am given a bed to myself, while Ruth and several children share another.

In the morning, Ruth prepares food for her son to take to school with him.

The family matriarch.

The view from the backyard towards the village.

I set off in the morning and Nevado de Toluca, an extinct volcano, which I have been glimpsing occasionally as I descended the mountain range, suddenly looms up unobstructed beside the highway. Before long I arrive in Toluca, a city of around half a million inhabitants, that is fast becoming little more than a satellite of the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City.

Nevado de Toluca, an extinct volcano, at 4700 metres, dominates the local landscape.

Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world and the idea of cycling into it is just a little daunting. In fact, most people have told me that I am insane to take my bike to Mexico City but since cycling is how I travel and Mexico City is where I am going it still seems like the most logical thing for me to do. However, I do feel this is an instance where some forethought won’t go astray and I intend to stay in Toluca for the night to finalise my plans for entering the city.

While still in Zitacuaro, I contacted a number of cycling activist groups in Mexico City in the hope that someone might be willing to meet me on the outskirts of the city and act as a guide and after a few last minute phone calls, the arrangements are finalised – I will meet Marco at La Marquesa, a park between Toluca and Mexico City, the following day at 3pm.

After a leisurely breakfast, I leave Toluca, and arrive at the meeting point not long after midday so I while a few hours away with my my computer. Marco appears at the appointed time and we are soon heading towards the centre of the metropolis. The ride is pretty uneventful but I am nonetheless very glad to have a guide so that I can concentrate on the traffic without having to worry about finding my way.

Approaching Mexico City: smog and volcanos.

Welcome to Mexico City.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Sila | March 31, 2010 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    Hi Anna…
    The Mexican roadside shrines remind me of the little temples and offerings Balinese people put on the roads.
    They do it so ‘shoo’ away the bad spirits and at many places they put the offerings where there used to be accidents. So the the roadside shrines might serve the same purpose?

    Isn’t it amazing how people from totally different cultures have similar customs?

  2. Don Cuevas | April 3, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Enjoyed what I’ve read so far. The photos are very good. Especially like the one of the stairs in the Mexico City Metro.

    How about telling the names of the hotels where you stayed, and their locations?

    I never would have imagined a hotel of brick construction at Angahuan.

    Don Cuevas

  3. anna | April 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Ummm…. some details just don’t stay with me.

    I’m not sure of the name of the hotel in Morelia and as far as I know the place in Angahuan didn’t have one. The place wasn’t marked in any way – it wasn’t really a hotel, as such, but if you walk along the road entering the village and turn right at the main square and walk along that road almost until the end you should see a large white metal gate (for car access) on the right hand side of the road – or just ask around…

    It was very basic but a lovely place to stay.

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