After finishing my second course at UNAM, I had just over a week before I had to sign up for the next course. Pedro is interested in heading to Michoacan when we leave, which would mean not being able to visit the states of Tlaxcala, Veracruz or Puebla. The area east of Mexico City has plenty of mountains, including 4 of the 5 tallest mountains in the country, with the tallest, Pico de Orizaba having an elevation of 5636m, and more impressively, a prominence of 4922m (basically meaning it stands out by itself very well).
I had got my things ready and packed after my exams. Being a relatively short loop trip, I was able to pack much lighter than normal. Gone were things like my laptop, my bag with all my sleeping gear, cold weather clothing and other non-essentials. Having ridden little more than to uni and back during the previous 3 months I figured that the weight savings would save my legs from falling off.
My alarm went off at 5:30 and having only got 4 hours sleep, I was sluggish getting things ready and if I wasn’t going on a bike trip I’d have headed straight back to sleep. I’d had to get up so early to try to get to Tlaxcala by 1pm to go to a mountain climbing workshop with my Couchsurfing host. Also, with Mexico City being surrounded by mountains, I had to climb 1000m to get out of the city and that’s always nicer when it’s not too hot.
I headed out into pre-dawn Mexico City. The traffic can be horrific, but with the sun still hiding and it being a weekend I managed to get across the city without too many problems using my new GPS, which had the huge advantage over my old one of having a functional screen.
Leaving the city, I got on to the toll road without any problems at the toll booth. I was concerned when I saw that there were roadworks for 5 or 6 km meaning that there was only one lane and the shoulder, but everything that went past me seemed to give me plenty of space which was a pleasant surprise. The road climbed up gently and I spent the best part of 3 hours climbing and climbing. The lighter bike didn’t seem to make me go any faster than normal, but being as out of shape as I was, every bit helped as I climbed up to just short of 3200m where I stopped for a well-earnt huge tortilla.
After eating, I got to coast down the other side of the mountain and lose nearly all the elevation I’d gained. I crossed from the state of Mexico, to that of Puebla and then, not much later, into Tlaxcala. The name Tlaxcala is from the nahuatl, the old Aztec language, and means “place of corn” and the traditional crop seems to be going strong. Crossing from state to state is less important to me in Mexico than it was in the US, and at least one reason for that is the signs. In the US there are usually large signs, my favourite being the one that welcomed me to Colourful Colorado made of stone and wood. Here in Mexico they’re nothing special and I definitely miss that.
Being out of shape and misjudging how long it would take me to climb the mountain outside of DF, I had arrived in Tlaxcala to late to meet up with my host and so had the afternoon to myself to look around the city. It’s a compact-colonial city with nearly everything being located around the central Plaza de la Constitución including a number of churches and the palace. I got a guided tour around the palace, and a combination of my improved Spanish and having studied a bit about Mexican history meant that I could follow along with the story of the murals. After the tour I got talking to a couple of officials and the security guy, and managed to hold a 20+ minute conversation going further to prove how my Spanish has improved.
The two most interesting churches are located a bit further away, a Franciscan monastery built in 1537 making it one of the first four in the Americas, as well as the church for the Virgin of Ocotlán at the top of a ridiculously steep hill. I was sat in the church for a while as I’d spent too much time in the sun and actually dozed off briefly, until I got disturbed by people arriving for a wedding.
At 7pm I headed over to Xico’s place to meet up with him and was treated to some delicious quesadillas and a visit to a bar for drinking and salsa which unfortunately couldn’t last too long as I was too tired.
Up to the top
Rolling along a toll-road
Inside Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Ocotlán
Inside Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción