Up and up and up we go! (january 18th – february 14th)

Posted by on Feb 14 2007 | 03 Mexico 06/07, English

Mother Theresa`s sister

Only once we were getting lost when leaving Guadalajara. As soon as we reached the Autopista we were fine. But traffic was immense and the air was full of exhaust. Breathing hurt nose and throat, the eyes were burning and we couldn`t talk because of the never stopping noise of engines. Finally, about 40km south of the city, we could breath again. Looking back we could see a dome of brown pollutet air. Francesca, a 70 plus year old woman, claiming “the world” to be her home, told us, that some 40 years ago, you could see the mountains arround Guadalajara, which then has been a pretty small town.

Francesca was born in Indonesia and grew up both in the Netherlands and Switzerland. She lived in Mexico and the USA among lots of other places. Now she made her home in Guadalajara for three months of the year, working with street children, then for another three months near San Francisco to meditate and get back some strength to work another three months with the street kids and finally, the last three months of the year she spends in Switzerland. This impressive old lady has worked with Mother Theresa once and now carries on the work by herself within her own limits. She has “her” few kids she works with. She tries to teach them to read and write, so that they can go to school at their age level. Some, she said, simply need attention, it’s not possible to teach them anything. They can’t concentrate anymore. Their short lives have been through too much abuse. So Francesca listens to them, brushes their hair, gives them baths and is just there. Children get dumped onto the street because their families can’t afford them. Some are beeing stolen from their families and used for prostitution and later dumped again. Some are foster children nobody want’s to be responsible for.

We get a lot of gifts


A friend had given us the address of a canadian couple, Rhoda and Jim, living in Ajicic on lake Chapala. We could stay with them for two nights. Rhoda cooked two delicious dinners for us and after weeks of only cooked veggies, we enjoyed green salad. For Chan Rhoda, a grandmother, had special treats ready and bubbles in a frog shaped bottle, which is now presious to him. The Chapala Riviera is known for its big “norteamericano” population and there really seemed to be more “gringos” than mexicans in town!

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Jim had recommended the route arround the lake for little traffic and scenic views. That meant for us riding west instead of east for half a day and enjoying a BIKE PATH for over 10km!


The south side of the lake wasn’t touristic at all, the lake shore was lined with lots of small farming and fishing villages. The first fields we passed were raspberry fields, full of berries in the middle of winter! Then came onion, corn, squash and jalapeno fields. The water of course, is taken from the lake, which also serves as sewer for Guadalajara and the communities arround the lake.

The ride was hilly but easy and in the late afternoon we started to look for a place to spend the night. In one of the small villages we were told to camp right on a plaza next to the highway. We felt a bit exhibited there and asked a mother, who came by chatting, for a better place. In the meanwhile Chan and her kids started playing together. She thought we could stay in her brother-in-law’s house, who was in the USA, but she wanted permission from her inlaws. She sent her husband to ask his father and we chatted at the plaza. Then she brought us hot soup and warm corn tortillas. We waited for her husband to return until well after it got dark. It was really getting late, Chan was tired and we were hungry again. So we cooked dinner and the mother reassured us for the second time, that her husband would be back within an hour. It was 10pm when we weren’t patient anymore. Finally she showed us the entrance way to her brother-in-law’s house, which was roofed over and fenced in. We were happy to finally have a place to unpack. When the tent was put up, the husband and his father came back and they came over to unlock the door. They said we should sleep in the house because of scorpions. So Chan and I went inside the empty house to prepare our beds and poor Florian had to take down the tent again and lock up our bikes. In the morning the mother brought us warm tortillas with scrambled eggs.

The route along side the lake was pretty flat but then we left its shores and climbed up into the hills for about 5km. It took us an hour. The downhill ride was 6km long and within 10 minutes we were at the bottom! That night we put up our tent on the fenced in parking lot of a family restaurant. Chan had once again a playmate his age and we got a delicious home baked sweet bread for desert.

In return we could fix the daugther’s bike which she needs to go to school. In the middle of the night Flo and I woke up by the rhythmic sound of raindrops hitting the tent. We fell back to sleep, but every time we woke up again, the sound was still there. We had to get up and reorganize our luggage. Our rain gear had been packed away for the whole trip so far. Chan was the only one happy about the rain. Wrapped in rainpants, boots and jacket he took his wooden sail boat and floated it in the puddles. It took us a while to pack everything up , but finally the bikes were ready. Then came the restaurant owner and brought us hot lemon tea and granola bars for Chan.

It rained the whole day. Flo and I were soaked by early afternoon from sweating underneath our raingear. Chan was safe and warm in his rainproof trailer. Now we had to deside whether to stay in the next bigger town or taking a chance and ride out on the Autopista to cover some more kilometers. We chose the first option and looked for a hotel. The only one we found looked pretty highend, but Flo asked their prizes anyway. We paid 28$ for a night in what looked like a four star hotel at least. Our room was huge with tv and a big bath tub. We tried to let water in but it didn’t work. They had cut off the water because they were adding on to the hotel on one side. In the evening the hot water worked and we took a nice long hot shower, Chan playing with his buckets in the bath tub.

In the morning we were dried up, though the roads were still dotted by puddles. We were on the Autopista again, traffic wasn’t bad and we had a good shoulder. We were now heading into the high plateaus of Michoacan, and the whole stretch was more or less uphill. We took our lunch break at a caseta (toll booth) and someone brought us a sweet guava specialty and a coconut pie and a red cross worker gave us two bottles of energy drinks. We spent the night under the roof of a tequilleria still in construction and were thankful for the shelter. As soon as we had parked our bikes, raindrops started their rhythmic sound on the roof. It rained on and off throughout the night and the last drops fell just before we left for the day’s ride. That day we climbed over 2000m for the first time on our journey and this twice. We made good use of the energy drinks and had to take many short breaks to catch our breath. Just before the next rain hit, we reached another caseta and found shelter there. Florian rode into the close village to get water and groceries and Chan played in the grass behind the caseta store while I was writing. Flo came back with a 20l bottle of water, the only option besides buying ten one liter bottles for 3 times as much money. Just when we had everything packed away for the night, the rain started again…

In the morning one of the caseta coffee shop workers came over with some juice for Chan and chocolate chip cookies for us. Our ride was uphill again for the first 10km, and uphill again after a short downhill ride. Finally we could look down onto a basin with a lake in its middle. It looked like an easy ride for the last 20km, but after a only 5km downhill sprint we climbed up again more than we believed could be possible by the shape of the landscape in front of us. I started to think, that maybe it was a mistake to be riding towards Mexico’s highest mountains. When did we decide that?

Anyway, we finally reached a small village half way passed the lake and asked for a place to stay. We were sent to a hot spring swimming pool. There it was really frustrating to find out, what we had to pay for the night. The bath attendant said the day costs 25 pesos per person and 15 pesos for a child and the night would be 30 pesos per person. We tried to explain, that we only needed a place for our tent and wouldn’t use the hot spring. And what we had to pay if we would enter now at 5pm. He said that we had to pay both the day’s rate and the nights rate if we entered before 7pm and that we had to pay another day’s rate if we stayed passed 7am. I was really angry, this was just too much after a hard day pedaling. Flo was a bit more patient. But we stopped discussing and just started cooking our dinner right at the entrance to the pool. Shortly after 6pm Flo went to talk to the attendant again and he let us in for 80 pesos in total. Not very cheap, but about the prize of a campground, only we had to be gone before 9am.

Life at a caseta (autopista toll booth)

Somethimes we arrived at a caseta quite early, but desided to stay, because there wasn’t much on the stretch ahead, or because we were simply exhausted by all theat up hill climbing. Casetas are good places to observe Mexico’s gap between rich and poor. Rich people who could be anywhere in the “first world” and wouldn’t look misplaced, arrive in their shiny cars. They get out for a smoke or a coffee and a snack and drive on. Truckers stop for a meal or nap and continue their ride. Whole families of village people await them eagerly, equipped with a window scraper and a bottle of soap water. For a few pesos they clean windshields and lights of the parked cars. They work as young as maybe 5. Somethimes a grandparent watches the children and keeps them busy. Some families put up foodstands out of cartboard boxes or other material they find right there and sell their home made food: corn on the cob with spices, tacos, soups, etc. Some a bit better off, arrive by car themselves and sell honey, sweets, bread or artisan products. The stream of cars slowes down after dark, but now its trucker time. Their loud engines sound throughout the night and only in the early morning hours, shortly before sunrise is it, when everything quiets down to hardly any noise.

Casetas aren’t my favourite places to spend the night, though they seem safe enough because people are arround 24hours a day, there is usually water and snacks and they are certainly interesting for people watching!

Surrounded by Mexico’s highest mountains

Toluca was our next stop. We were lucky to find a cheap hotel, where we stayed for three nights. We needed some rest before we took on a ride on smaller roads into the middle of some 3000-4000 meter high peaks. That close to Mexico City (only about 50 km away), we didn’t want to take the fast highways. There was so much traffic and towns didn’t seem to end; already here it felt like one big city with dense areas and some a bit less populated. And up we climbed again, away from hustle and bustle and into fresh air.

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The climb wasn’t too bad and soon we reached our day’s destination. Again we spent the night on a construction site on one end of a village.

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We really enjoyed that ride in the midst of what looked like hills, but actually are peaks over 3000m. The villages up here were more rural. There were less cars and tractors but rather horses and hand plows. One tiny village struck us particularly: The few houses were more like sheds fixed togehter wit cloth, plastic and a few pieces of wood and rock. Lots of skinny dogs were fleeing out of our way. Eight, nine or was it ten children dressed in rags were watching us passing by from behind a gap in a fence.

Then the high plateau we had climbed up to for days now, ended abruptly. Steep slopes terraced for farming suddenly opend up the view into far away mountain chains. Somewhere behind those mountains and valleys must be the pacific ocean…

Although it was more downhill than uphill from here, the day was quite tireing. We followed the edge of the high plateau down to Cuernavaca, which was interrupted by fingerlike ridges stretching out into the deeper lying country. Every downhill was followed by a steep up hill ride. Exhausted we stopped for lunch earlier than planned and then kept our fingers clutched to the breaks until almost into the center of Cuernavaca.

Again we rode arround the city to look for affordable accomodation. Then we strolled to the center plaza in search of food. It was Mexicos’s constitution day and people were every where. Tons of little stands with food, arts and crafts or children’s toys were everywhere. It was quite a challenge to get anywhere with a small child sucking it all in. Later we had a cup of coffee and listend to different street music and a classical concert in the center cazebo.

In the claws of the Vulcano Popcatepetl

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Leaving Cuernevaca was as usual with big cities, a challenge, stressful not only mentally but also for our lungs, eyes and noses. We had to decide now, if we were to take the Autopista through a bit less hilly terrain towards Puebla, or smaller roads closer to the Vulacano Popocatepetl (5465m).

Fed up with the hills, we had decided for the Autopista. We wanted to get to the Gulf of Mexico as fast as possible now, including Chan, who was looking foreward to the ocean. But this time the shoulders were just as wide as the trailer and covered with red gravel. Traffic was quite bad and of course we had two flats on the trailer in rather dangerous spots with almost no space to fix them. Then a truck flew by only centimeters from the trailer. I had enough and told Flo, that I would take the route by the Vulcano. What choice did he have?

The next day I was crampy and after only about 20km I couldn’t continue. So we stayed in the most expensive campground on our whole trip so far, but there was no other option. At least we could enjoy a beautiful view of the snow covered Popocatepetl, Chan had swings and a swimming pool to play with and the owner gave us a bag of oranges and an avocado (pronounced abakate). The next day I was feeling much better which was good, because the road led steeply uphill after the first two hundred meters. We needed to rest in the next village after only 7km. Then we were told to take a road to the right and started flying down a valley. Flo didn’t like it and we stopped after one kilometer to ask directions of someone else. This is a good thing to do in Mexico because ten different people will give you ten different directions to the same place. Only if you get the same information at least twice you can be somewhat sure that it is the right information.

Of course we had to climb back up again to follow another valley. Soon this route too was leading downhill and on the other side of the canyon we could see the road leading steeply up again. This time it was morally a challenge! it took us the whole day to cover 20km with an average speed of 7km/hour. Also the last meters that day were steeply uphill. Exhausted we asked at a carpentry, which had been recommended to us, if we could stay for the night. The workers at first said that we would reach the next bigger town just in about an hour and that it was pretty flat from now on and almost the whole stretch on pavement. What, the raod wasn’t paved all the way? That would be a worry for the next day! I just explained, that it had taken us the whole day from the second last village to here. Mouths open, they almost couldn’t believe it since by car its only a matter of an hour or less. We could stay and Chan had a blast playing in the saw dust. We built a slide for some wooden rolls he had found and looked how far they could roll.

And then it was morning again and still the raod led up steeply passed the last houses of the village, so steep, that we had to push the bikes partly. And as we were told the night before, pavement ended and the road surface was now riverrock cobble stones. Even on the parts that were a bit down hill, we could only move with walking speed. But of course it was mostly uphill and a few times I had to park my bike and help Flo push the trailer up. The view from up there was stunning though and certainly worth the hard work as were the people we met along the way riding their horses, walking with bundles on their backs, plowing by hand with the help of a horse or an ox.

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Then we reached the next village, where we were told that the road was now paved all the way. For about two kilometers we flew downhill on beautiful new pavement which then ended abruptly and turned into rocky gravel. Poor Florian had to work double as hard with the trailer attached to his bike. And poor Chan was sitting in a bumpy ride, but we had no choice now than to continue. The gravel road turned into a path and a few more times I had to help push the trailer. Ashtonigly many people were on the road and many times we were asked:”¿Es cansado?” We smiled at them:”¡Si, si!” They probably thought we were nuts! Many times people tried to send us back to the Autopista, the way we had come from. But now that we had made it that far, there was no way we would turn arround!

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The next village we had a paved road back! It was only one line, but it was downhill! Yipieee! Our pleasure was not for long, though the road stayed paved for now, it was leading uphill again along another canyon. We were looking foreward to the next village, where we wanted to stop for lunch, but at its entrance another challenge awaited us: The main route through town was under construction and we had to take a detour of course on a river rock surface, steeply up and down, up and down. Flo was as angry as he can be and rushed over the rocky road, the trailer bumping all over the place behind him. I followed more carefully since one of my lowriders started to loosen up by all that vibration. After a while Flo stopped his face white of anger. In front of us was the steepest slope ever. He told Chan to climb out of the trailer. but Chan had had enough as well and cried. Flo took my bike and pushed it up. I hold Chan and tried to comfort him and to explain what was going on. Then Flo and I pushed his bike with the trailer together. Chan was walking next to me crying loudly, tired and still not sure of what was happening. On the top the road had some surface close to pavement, not too rocky. Flo had to cool down, I was holding Chan carressing him softly and we all needed to eat. When we had all calmed down, we took on the last few meters to the town plaza where we bought lunch. After a good break we rode the last 15km, half of that day’s distance, in a bit less than an hour. it was all down hill and paved, although with many potholes. Still, this was peanuts compared to the past two days. In Atlixco we looked for a hotel again and took a day off to rest.

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There is not much to say about the stretch down to the Gulf of Mexico. We rode about 270km in three days and felt like we had been beamed into the tropics. One night wrapped in hats and jackets next to another 5000 something vulacano, the next sweating without blankets.

From Puebla most of our way had been down hill. We followed the Autopist again, which had good shoulders. Thousands of bicyclists and a few runners came the other way. Support vehicules following them. They were on a pilgrimage to the virgin of guadelupe in Mexico City.

We spent a loud caseta night again in the spotlight of a store, because the manager felt this was safest for us. Steeply downhill we flew, passing through four tunnels and passing three trucks down, down, down.

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The air got thicker and thicker, it was humid and hot. The birds calls suddenly sounded different, like the once of the jungle and like jungle it looked arround us.

Now we are in Veracruz. It wasn’t easy to find a hotel because its Carnival! But we have to stay another night. Chan is right now enjoying playtime at the beach with Flo and we need to find a good bike shop. Flo’s chain tore on the last meters into Veracruz.

5 comments for now

5 Responses to “Up and up and up we go! (january 18th – february 14th)”

  1. Merle and Linda

    Rebekka and Florian,

    What an adventure!! Can’t wait for the pictures. Hope you got some pics of farming with horses, etc. I’d love to see that, but won’t be traveling on a bike I’m sure. Glad to know that people have been so helpful and friendly. Hope you find a nice place to rest up and enjoy Veracruz. I’m sure you’ll love it.

    Our best to Chan,

    14 Feb 2007 at 8:13 pm

  2. i am really impressed. just spent two hours reading about your adventures. and just could not stop. its special knowing many places and landscapes you drove through. wish i was where with you biking some hundred kms with you. living the love and the pain live gives us.

    two friends of mine are also far from us. their blog is on http://www.transatlantic21.org

    i wish you best luck.

    may the force ALWAYS be with you!


    16 Feb 2007 at 4:15 pm

  3. Merle and Linda

    Florian and Rebekka,

    Am loving the adventure and emboldend by your trip, I spent the last 4 days camping and kayaking in Baja Mexico. I took the same route to Tecate, and then down the East coast and back up the West coast, so I traveled some of the roads that you biked. I don’t know how you survived them. I really don’t. I’m sure you have traveled much more perilous routes than these, but Wow!! Anyway, I had a great trip, and plan to see more of Mexico because of it.

    As always, I have deep admiration for your bravery and your stamina and your spirit of adventure,

    23 Feb 2007 at 8:36 pm

  4. Merle and Linda

    Rebekka and Florian,

    I just found the English versions, and the pictures, and have thoroughly enjoyed catching up on your trip. Wow!! You have managed to make my life seem boring. Keep it up.

    Love to Chan,

    10 Mar 2007 at 10:18 am

  5. Pawel

    Rebeka and Florian – I have forwarded your website to several of my friends and we all are carefully watching your progress through this adventure of a lifetime. I keep telling myself that one day I will too go for a BIG journey doing exactly what I always was dreaming about. … One day I will … but for now I am living through photo and stories of your adventure. Thanks the opportunity and inspiration – Pawel

    17 Sep 2007 at 10:13 am

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