Even though the 3rd course at UNAM finished on the 3rd of December, we didn’t hit the road until the 12th which was good, although it was a shame about the circumstances. Back in September, I and Pedro had applied to change our status from tourists to students before our original 180 day visa ran out. Mine took a while, but with some prodding I eventually got it. Pedro wasn’t so lucky. After missing lots of classes going to the visa office (which is open 9-1, same time as class) he had eventually been rejected. He had been unfortunate in that the person in charge of his case was kinda incompetent. As well as asking for his bank statements in Spanish, which his bank wouldn’t provide, the person was asking for a copy of the head of our language schools ID to verify the signature on the letter saying that he was a student. That makes sense, until you realise that they already have a copy and the guy in charge refused to acknowledge the fact, even when Pedro went with Andrea – his Mexican girlfriend. When they finally rejected his application, they gave him 10 days to leave the country and so he went with the easy option, fly back to Arkansas to see family and then return to Mexico on the 11th, hence the start on the 12th.
Anyway, I had said most of my goodbyes on the 11th, and then my final ones early on the 12th, before riding over to Pedro’s place. I’d made the ride plenty of times before on the way to classes, but it had been more than 5 months since my bike had been fully laden and it felt almost as awkward as wobbling down the small streets of Tampa back in the start of the trip in May 2011. I also found that I was much slower for another reason, it’s a lot harder to weave between cars when your bikes quite as fat as mine is when packed up. I got to Pedro’s place and we spent more than an hour organising mudguards and making small changes. It must have amazed Andrea that, even after so long on the road, we both look so inept when it comes to bike touring and being organised.
It was a sunny but not overly hot day as we rolled our way west back towards my now previous home and towards Toluca. Being surrounded by mountains we got the fun of a long, slow ascent with Pedro’s knee being sore and our bums sorer still. Even though my Selle-Anatomica is a good saddle, it couldn’t completely overcome the lack of long riding or any shape that we once had. 5 months of student life had destroyed that, and it was about time to get it back.
Being the 12th of December, the day of the Virgin Guadalupe, we went past people heading to Mexico City to pay their respects. That included a bunch of groups on bicycles. Even though she’s not an important person for me, I think it would have been cool to ride with them. If only we had been going the other way.
The most ridiculous moment of the climb came when we taking a break in a bus-stop. Both lanes had stopped due to road works ahead. Drivers in the right hand lane decided that they didn’t want to wait so started reversing and weaving into the non-existent shoulder. We finished our way up the climb and enjoyed the long sweeping descent down the other side towards Toluca and Cassandra, our Couchsurfing host for the night. When we arrived we met her friend, Gustavo, and after cleaning up they took us out for dinner and drinks. They both speak English well, but we basically stuck to Spanish the whole night, although it wasn’t a long night, especially because Pedro took a painkiller for his knee and it made him really sleepy!
The next day we had planned to leave early, but when Cassandra had told us we could leave after she headed for work we started getting lazy and decided it was essential to do some more reading about the day ahead, the search for Monarch butterflies that emigrate down to Mexico during the winter. It was one of the reasons Pedro had decided we should head west after leaving DF even though it probably turned our route to Cancun from two to three thousand kilometres. Even though they were on our list, we weren’t sure about exactly where they were or the best way to get there, so spent about an hour or so reading online.
When we eventually headed out, it hadn’t really warmed up too much so it made for a nice day of riding. We went north and found ourselves, as we often do, on a toll road, that cut through the gorgeous Valle de Bravo. When we went past the tollbooth a guy tried to talk to us, but I just waved and said hello while Pedro gave him a high-five. A break and 20 kilometres later, a pickup truck came past us and waved us down. A guy came out and explained to us that his boss wasn’t impressed and that we weren’t allowed to be on the toll road, we would have to take the next exit which would add a good 10km or so to our day. We agreed with him, intending to just claim to not have seen the exit, but when we got there it was really obvious. We sat round for a bit and decided that we should just keep going. We had a long enough trip to get to Angangueo without adding to it. We raced along the next 20km until the end and other than getting paranoid every time we went past a pickup truck parked by the side of the road, had no problems.
Pedro saw a restaurant to stop and get water and eat so we pulled over. It had just opened that day, and loving trout Pedro ordered one. The guy went to the well-like structure in the garden and used a net to find a fish from it, threw it on the floor and then cudgelled it before giving it to his wife to cook, talk about fresh!
The next hour or two saw us climbing slowly up a winding hill that stood between us and the town of Zitacuaro. It seemed to go on forever, but we had decided that with our timing it would be best to get to Angangueo that night so we had no choice but to keep going. When we got to the top, the sun was setting and so we were treated to a spectacular descent watching the sun go down over the mountains, it was so glorious that I stopped multiple times to just take in the view, breaking one of my laws – no non-essential braking.
From Zitacuaro to Angangueo is about 30km, a lot of it being uphill, and with it already being dark we were left with either failing to get to Angangueo or taking a bus. The bus option won out fairly comfortably and so we found ourselves in the bus terminal. The lady at the counter seemed to be far too busy watching dramas and told us that she would ask the driver of the 7pm bus. Even with a few reminders, it got to 7:05 and she said that as the 7pm bus had already gone we would have to try to take the 7:15. We took matters into our own hands and when the bus turned up we were met with a bus driver and his assistant that were up for the challenge and we got our bikes inside the bus. Usually there is space underneath them, but this was a small bus so had no such option. The bus wasn’t that full so only a few people were put out by us taking up the aisle with our bikes. The ascent was bumpy as the driver tried making up for time lost getting our bikes on and made us really glad we weren’t riding up in the dark. 4 hours in the dark of having buses flying past us would have been horrifying.
When we got into town we set out trying to find the cheapest hotel, and with the help of Lonely Planet Mexico on my Kindle we found the Hotel Juarez. With a bit of bargaining it went from 250 to 150 pesos for the night and as well as a place to sleep, we had a safe place for our bikes the next day while we were going to see the butterflies. We tried to head out for tacos and beer, but even though it was only just after 9pm everything was shut down. The local police mentioned a possible place up the hill, but it was cold and we weren’t that hungry.
DF -> Toluca
Toluca -> Angangueo
Reversing down highways? Sure, why not
Start of descent
On the bus