Monday, May 18, 2009

Had Enough?

If you'd like to see more (better) photos, check out Anthony Musick's photo blog at:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fine, we didn't want to see your stupid ruins anyway! or I rode my bike all the way to Cancun and all I got was this lousy porcine influenza.

Do ever get the feeling that god is mad at you? Not vengeful, strike-you-down-where-you-stand pissed, but just a little upset? Maybe it was that empty bottle you left on the beach in a minute of lazyness and weakness. Maybe it was that time you took a couple bucks from your mom's purse without asking...whatever the cause, I haven't been able to shake this feeling that I'm paying for something, some minor karmatic infraction that has been hounding me for the past week.
The town of Campeche lies sleepy and stoic on the shores of the gulf of Mexico. So sleepy in fact that we were kind of creeped out by the place. Empty streets, closed businesses, an eerie quiet about the place, compunded by the fact that everyone we DID see was wearing a blue medical mask over their mouth and nose, giving the whole scene some strange, cinematic, post-apocaliptic feel. We'd planned a full day off, but after just an afternoon, Campeche quickly lost it's old world charm and became, well....just kind of weird.
Left Campeche and the gulf coast into a howling headwind that would seem to follow us for an entire week. If we were headed east, the wind was from the east, if the road turned north, the wind was from the north. Haunted by this phantom wind, we pushed eastward through the flats of Campeche state. Pushing all day through flat, unchanging roads. Spent the night on a vacant property just outside of the town of Hopelchein, a small, agricultural town, much like others in the area, yet with the unexplicable pressence of lots of white, midwestern-looking farmer types. Mennonites, I think, judging by the way the wowen dressed, but I never did get the full story.
The next day brought more of the same. Headwinds, Long, drawn-out roads. Headwinds. Headwinds. Headwinds. Attempted to stop in at an archeological site to spend some time off the bikes and were greeted by a closed gate and a sign. "Closed indefinitely due the the Influenza epidemic". Now, I'm sure that the media in the United states has blown this whole influenza thing way out of proportion, but it has been pretty prevailent down here for the past couple of weeks. The first sign was when we were in Palenque. We'd been in the museum at 8 am, went to check out the ruins for an hour or so, then returned to find the museum closed. Didn't think much of it at the time, but as the days wore on, the headlines got bigger and the medical masks more prevailent. Now a full closure of all archeological sites in the country. And here we were. Thousands of miles from home. In the Ycatan peninsula for the first time, one of the richest archeological regions in the world, with some of the most beautiful, magical places. All gated up and off limits. Indefinitely. What'd I say. God's a little pissed.
Cinco de Mayo. Mexican Independence day. Not the least indication of it. Rode hard all day, sweating in the unimaginable heat of the tropic lowlands, our only "respite" a howling headwind. The road lined with thick brushy woods for mile after mile, the only thing breaking up the landscape the occasional town and a a stone arch marking our entrance into the state of Yucatan. Arrived in Piste (the tourist town that services the ruins at Chichen Itza) to a campground with a pool and the great news that the ruins would be reopening the next day!
Woke the next morning with a swim in the cenote Ik-kil, a sort of natural pool at the bottom of a deep stone hole in the earth, some of the clearest, purest water I've seen in my life. Swam for several hours, washing every last vestige of dirt and sweat from ourselves, then headed out to see the remains of the center of the Mayan empire. I guess I was a little disapointed that you can no longer actually climb any of the temples at Chichen Itza as you undoubtably once could, and still can at Monte Alban and Palenque. None the less, the place is incredible. Just the scope and size of the place is dizzying, the architectual and engineering mastery displayed phenomenal.
Rode all afternoon and the entire next day into, you guessed it, a howling headwind. Worst yet. A 70 mile slog through more low lying woods, the only change in scenery at the Quintana Roo boarder, where instead of cutting back the brush 10 feet, they'd let it grow right up to the road.
Rolled into Tulum by early afternoon, beaten and weak from the wind. Limped the final 4 k.m. to the beach, finally, to the Carribean sea, and it seemed like the curse of the past five days just washed away. Cristal clear water shining an unworldly blue off shore, talcum-fine, pure white sand. Camped two days on that beach, the near full moon rising over the ocean and shining daylight-bright on the white sands. Woke one morning at sunrise, the sun hanging low, just above the emerald water. Dragged myself out of the tent, bleary eyed and drowsy with sleep. Walked directly for that shining sea and dove in, the water cool and clean and so so clear. Swam out and looked back toward the beach. Palm trees and palapas, the world bright and alive, and down the beach on the distant cliffs, the morning sun reflecting yellow and orange off the ancient stones of the ruins of Tulum.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Highland Nightmares, Gulf Coast Dreams

Our last night in san cristobal found us still awake at 2 a.m. deep in conversation and maybe a little too deep into the booze. Sitting in a little bar in the center of town, not wanting to go to bed, not wanting to say goodbye to such an incredible and beautiful city.
24 hours later I've got my head in the communal toilet of a cheap motel in Oxchuc, Chiapas, Wretching violently and quickly losing every ounce of hydration left in my sore and sleep deprived body.
The day had passed easily enough, with a late start from San Cristobal. Faced with hills, rain, then hail, we were carried through the sour weather, our pounding headaches and wavering stomachs by some of the most beautiful riding yet of the trip. Wide, pastoral vistas reminicent more of the Norweigian countryside or the french alps than of anything you might expect in mexico. Women in traditional dress hearding sheep by the roadside in the rain. Passing through E.Z.L.N. occupied autonomous territories. Fighting of the sickness rising in my belly, passing it off as a self inflicted result of one too many, thinking all I needed was a solid meal and a good nights sleep.
And now this. Kept up all night, diarrea and vomit, vying for the one toilet with the drunken revelers from the room next door. Lying down only to have the sickness rise in my gut once more, sending me scurrying across the parking lot to the bathroom. Hoping to make it in time.
Now, before you point fingers, before you assume that I got what was coming to me, this was no run-of-the-mill-post-night-of-drinking sickness. This was some food or water borne bacteria, something nasty, something my body wanted out. Quick. And out it did come.
Hours pass and the sun is coming up. Completely drained and finally able to lay down for more than five minutes, I nodded off to sleep.
That's when the fireworks started.
I'm not kidding.
For some unknown reason, someone, somewhere, began shooting off large, concussive fireworks very near the motel. At sunrise. I tossed and turned, now dozing now jolted awake by another blast. Now dozing again as the fireworks halted.
Then they started with the powertools.
Yep. powertools.
About 7a.m. they began, for whatever reason, making cabinets in the small parking lot of the motel. At this point I threw up my hands, got up and got dressed. Not sure what I was doing but sure that I couldn't spend another second in that room. Anthony was up and suggested that we try to find something I could stomach, something to start rehydrating me from the long night before.
"Sounds like a plan" I said, struggling even, in my weakened state, to stand up from the bed....."Awwww, FUCK!"
"What is it?" Anthony asked innocently.
"I just shit my pants."

Needless to say, when the first thing you do after waking up is soil yourself, you're not going to have a good day, and this was no exception. Walked out into town, into a bustling open market, where, among the wide-eyed stares and catcalls from the locals (Oxchuc is a purely indigenous city, and we were the only white people in a fifty mile radius), among the rats (both cooked and raw), tamales of dubious variety, and rotting vegetables, I finally found something I thought I could stomache.
A single banana.
It seemed to me that riding would not be an option that day, especially considering that i hadn't slept at all, we were in the mountains, and I couldn't so much as stand up without... well.... you know....
However, getting back to the motel (the only in town) the cabinetry was still in full swing and the thought of lying in that tiny room all day with a power planer running just outside the door became less and less of an option. So we left. I honestly don't remember anything of the day. There were lots of hills, I think, and I stopped a lot. All I remember is that we rode to Ocosingo, got yet another motel (this one with a private bathroom) and I immediately fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Woke the next day feeling bright and well rested. Definitely through the worst of it and on the mend. Got an early start and immediately plunged into what was easily the most beautiful single riding day of the entire trip. One minute riding through a green and lush tropical valley, the air thick with the scent of passionflower and wet grass, then after a short fifteen minute climb, on a wooded mountainside covered in pine. Bombing through jagged, jungled volcanic hills, feeling the exhiliration of riding roads not adhereing to the strictness of american safety standards. Tight, tight corners boardered by sheer rock faces (either straight up or straight down, depending on what side you hit). Steep, steep pitches. Feeling the wheels fly beneath us. temperature rising quickly. Air growing thick and wet.
We arrived at agua-azul falls with plenty of light to spare. Marveling at the bright, opaque, turquoise water rushing over the rocks. Amazed that such an incredible natural phenomenon wasn't fenced of, monopolized, and made off limits. Cooling my still recovering and filthy body in the mineral rich waters of the falls, finally waking up. Finaly feeling human again.
We'd heard that camping at Agua azul wasn't the safest thing, so it was no surprise when the operators of the campground approched our tent in the evening and suggested that we move it closer to a light source, closer to where others might be. It wasn't a surprise when after nightfall we were approched again and told we might be better off renting a room.
We assured them that we were confident that we'd be safe.
"No, you don't understand, it's very dangerous here."
"Oh, no, it's cool. These other kids said we could store the bikes in their room and we're gonna be here, right under the light."
"No, you don't understand, it's VERY dangerous!"
We began to wonder, who was playing who.
"Nah, I think it'll be cool."
"No. I don't think you understand: If you stay out here, there's a good chance that you will be robbed." The only thing missing, it seemed, were some well placed winks and nudges.
We paid for a room.

Bug bitten and sweating, we passed the night in our reluctantly purchased habitation, cursing the local scam but finally lulled to sleep by the falls rushing just meters away from our screenless and wide open window. Woke to a dip in the river and hit the pavement once more. Beautiful riding again. Slowly working our way out of the mountains. Long valleys spread out before us. The same river that feeds agua-azul falls shimmering all bright and pale in the distance working our way to Palenque and the ruins of the Mayan city therein.
Finally crested one last big climb and looked out upon the flats of eastern Chiapas, with Tabasco and Campeche in the distance. Not a single hill in sight so far as the eye could see. Rolled into Palenque right around dark and found a campground near the ruins of the ancient city, all deep and thick jungle. Scorpions (this time full sized) scrurrying across the beam of my headlamp and into the dark. Howler monkeys calling in the depth of the night, a bizarre and unearthly call. Throaty and breathy, like manevolent spirits moving through the trees.
Daybreak had us up and riding to the ruins, hoping to catch the sunrise from the top of a pyramid, but our romantic notions were crushed when we arrived at the gates of the city to find that they wouldn't let us in untill an hour later. Reguardless, sunrise or no, the ruins of Palenque were unbelievable. Too much for words. I spent hours just ambling in the heat of the day, eyes glued at the enormous feats of engineering and mystical knowledge all around me, all scattered along a thickly jungled hillside. Lush and green and impenetrable.

Out into the agricultural flats. Roads that go forever in one direction. Unwavering. Unchanging. Where a hill is an event and a turn is worth celebrating. Past into and out of the state of Tabasco in 15 minutes. Literally. Into Campeche without the slightest indication of change. Set up camp at the edge of a town called Aguacatel, just on the bank of a slow and murky river. At nightfall a man approached us and asked if we planned on camping there.
"Is that a problem?"
"No not really." he said. His face obscured by the dark, "It's just a lot of drunk people come down here at night. You'd be a lot safer staying up at my place."
Carlos and Paty's place was a one room, tin roofed shack that they shared with their two young kids, Angel and Jesus, up above the river bank. There was a small grassy area along the back were we set up for the night and after an hour or so of conversation in our halting spanish, fell asleep for the night. Carlos woke us early with coffee ready to go and invited us inside to sit down. Besides the furniture (a table, two chairs and a bed), and a small electric clothes washer, there was less in that house than I am carrying on my bike. It made me feel small and humbled, experiencing such great and unsolicited hospitality from people who could use every sip of coffee that we took, every cracker that they had offered as breakfast.
We departed Aguacatel amoung smiles, handshakes and promises to return If we ever passed through again. Again through the boredom of a flat and featureless landscape, again into the headwinds that roar across this part of the country. Pushing out the miles through the heat and pressure of a tropical afternoon. Trying to make it to the gulf. Another body of water. Not knowing what to expect, but dreaming of a beach, a swim in the ocean, a new ocean to the both of us. Of white sands and palapas again. Sunshine and cold beer.
4 p.m. rolled around with 60 kilometers still to the gulf. It'd taken us all day to do the first 75. With nothing but the desire to see that water, that unbroken horizon, we put our heads down and pushed our muscles to the point of total exhaustion. Fighting the headwind and the dying of the light. Finally, just as the sun began its final dip into the west, we hit the beach, water glowing red and orange over its deep aquamarine. Stripped off our clothes and ran for the sea, knowing that if we swam due North we'd hit Biloxi, Mississippi. Maybe even New Orleans. Amazed at how far I'd come. Amazed, as always by the vastness of the ocean ahead of me and of the sky above. Thinking about the miles of highway and countless little villages. About Jason and Jessi and where they are now. About Parker and whether he's ever made it up that damned volcano. About how much I'd done so far and how much more there was to come. Then it all jsut stopped.

And I dove in.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's All Downhill From Here.

It's 2 p.m. and we're holed up in the shade of a small grocery. El Camaron, Oaxaca. It's 2 p.m. and the temperature in the shade is creeping up on a hundred. Out in the sun, out on the blacktop of the highway, its 41 degrees c.. Damn near 106 farenheit. Needless to say it's hot.
Damn it's hot.
Anthony is in conversation with the proprietess and I'm nursing a lukewarm coke, eyes closed, dreading the road before us.
"Don't worry, joven," I overhear, "the road's a little bit curvy just ahead, but it's all downhill from here!"
Ten minutes later we're sweating through out meager, dirty clothes. Panting and sunblind. 3 k. into what would turn out to be a sweltering, steep, 15 kilometer climb.

But rewind a little bit. Leaving ciudad Oaxaca we passed through a long, flat valley surrounded by distant peaks. Dry agricultural land marked by acres of agave and small dusty towns. We'd passed El Arbol de Tule, "the largest tree in the world" according to some, a 2000 year old mountain of a tree which made up for it's lack of altitude in sheer volume. Over 60 by 25 feet at it's base and rising from a churchyard, all but blocking out the sky above. We'd passed through Mitatlan, Mezcal capital of the world, stopping occasionally in antiquated distilleries big and small. Sampling (against out better judgement) Mezcal after Mezcal, still made in small batches using the same tried and true methods centuries old. Some burning down the throat like piss and turpentine, some melting on the palette like warm caramel.
There were short climbs and long, wind-swept descents. We'd watched the landscape change again. A return to the desert, to cactus and sage, to empty river gultches and scorching, dry heat. Passed a night on the rocky bank of a small river, sweating through our sleeping bags, dreaming of the morning and a dip in the cool clear water that rushed by our squatters camp.

But remember now, we're still climbing.

Cursing that woman and her infernal (though well meaning) advice. About Halfway up the hill, 7 kilometers in, we ran into two other bike tourers, the first I've seen since Baja. A man and a woman, from spain and chile respectively, riding all the way to Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of the Americas. 8 months in and 15 to go. We exchanged pleasantries and stories. Glad to take a moment in the shade. Glad to know we weren't alone in our suffering. We say our goodbyes, our goodlucks, and move on into the afternoon.
Finally, a peak, a descent and as much needed meal in the shade of a small restaurant. Minutes after sitting down, a pickup pulls up and one of the cyclist we just met piles out and joins us in the shade.
"I ran out of water on the climb and those guys gave me a ride." she said. "they work in the area and they said it's all downhill from here to the coast."
I should have been skeptical, but she was right, these guys drove this road all the time. If anyone knew, these would be the guys to ask. We were sure of it. An exchange of smiles. A long collective sigh of relief.

And yet, more climbing. Sure there was SOME downhill, but for every descent there seemed to be a climb of equal or greater length and height. I was beginning to get the feeling that we were the butt of some cruel joke. Some local tradition of telling all passers through exactly what they wanted to hear.
With night falling we climbed into a small village to purchase water and food for the night. Always vigilant about our intake and need (especially with water, especially in the desert) we asked once more for the distance to the next town.
"Oh, it's about 12 kilometers down the road, but don't worry, it's all downhill from here!"
I kid you not.
It was all we could do to suppress the laughter rising in our guts.

The next day brought us, miraculously, some steady and gradual downhill followed by miles of perfectly straight, flat road, and a steady tailwind. Blazed through marshlands and tropical flats. Passing town after town, village after village. Stopping only occasionally for water or food. The air heavy and damp on our skin again. The mountains and the heat had taken its toll on us however, and by mid afternoon we were both dead in the saddle. Limped into Juchitan, chafed and saddle sore, and sought out a meal (Iguana tamales!), a beer, a shower and a bed. Fell into an early and deep sleep. Oblivious to the unwavering heat and blaring noise of a friday night in the city.
Rose with the sun and rode out into another blistering day. Some one would later tell us that April and May were the hottest months in this part of the country and I would later ask myself just what the hell I was doing here. Still, the miles flew and it felt good to let the legs spin, to feel the kilometers dropping off behind us minute by minute, hour by hour. Swam along side a heard of cattle in a murky yet refreshing river. Pushed our bodies and bikes hard until nightfall. Squatted an unfinished concrete building in a mango grove just outside of San Pedro Tapanatepec, the whole town ripe and fermenting, the smell of unpicked mangos rotting on the ground for acres all around us.
Back into the mountains. Before the road turned eastward and upward, we passed a military checkpoint and for the first time since entering Mexico I was searched and questioned at length. After explaining my knife/multi-tool (which they described as a concealed weapon, but ultimately didn't confiscate) and the requisite quieries and denials, the young man questioning me made a motion toward my beard.
"Are you Bin Laden's brother?"
"Actually, Sir," the snappy retort rushed through my brain, "I am Bin Laden. I'm also Ted Kazinski, Fidel Castro and Subcommandante Marcos. I'm the ghost of Che Guevarra, Karl Marx and Emilliano Zapata! There's an 800 billion peso price on my head, and congratulations, Sir, you have captured me!"

Instead I just shook my head, did my best to look amused and said:

Climbing. Once again. 25 kilometers into the foothills of the Sierra Atravesada. Crossed into Chiapas with jagged mountains shooting from the earth, threatening to rip holes in the sky and send the heavens tumbling all around us. Emerged in an immense, flat highland plain. More straight and rolling highway. More howling wind at our backs. Heavy traffic and an inordinate amount of roadside memorials keeping us on our toes all day. Passing cars coming within inches of our handlebars. Camped the night at the edge of a steep ravine and in the morning decended 713 stairs (I counted) to a series of cascades literally pouring from the lush and jagged cliffs. The pure and mineral rich waters of an underground river falling a hundred fifty feet to the valley floor. Bathed our sore and sunburnt bodies in that magical place, crawling in and out of caves dug into the rock by hundreds upon thousands of years of punishment from the waters falling from above.
One more day on the highland plains. Toward Tuxla Gutierrez. A giant, sprawling metropolis at the foot of the Seirras. Eyeing the mountains in the distance, knowing we'd soon have to turn upward for the final 80 Kilometer push towards San Cristobal.
And turn upwards we did. With dark falling fast, short on water and nearly out of food, we began the first part of what would ultimately be a 12 hour long ascent into the mountains of Chiapas. Climbed for about and hour and a half, putting a ten Kilometer dent in our next days ride. Just before total darkness, freaked out and cursing ourselves for not stocking up on supplies, we stumbled upon a construction site and begged a liter and a half of water from an old man who was working late. With fingers crossed and spirits renewed we managed several more switchbacks before finding camp for the night. A small cut on the downhill side of a turn, hidden from the road by and embankment and overlooking the sprawling lights of Tuxla Gutierrez shimmering in the valley below. Home for the night. The only drawback a mysterious layer of black wood ash on the ground that whipped into billowing clouds of choking black dust in the blustery night.
Rode out early in the morning into a cool and misty sunrise, the temperature already noticably cooler and the sun blocked by overcast skies. A strange feeling. What was it? Something I haven't felt in months now.
I was cold.

The road stretched up and up. Winding through foggy switchbacks peaks appearing suddenly out of the mist only to fall out of site again. Slogging kilometer after kilometer with no respite from the ascent. Four figures appear out of the mist before us. Four women in native dress, all bright blues and deep purples. Rugged, resilient, beautiful women, headed to work in the fields armed with long, curved cane knives and smiles like God's light.
The climb lasts for hours. Legs burning, screaming for rest. For a descent. Just for a minute. The air keeps getting colder and colder, though I'm still sweating in a t-shirt and shorts. Small villages begin to appear at the roadside, their residents staring at us like they would mischevious ghosts gliding through the fog.
Finally, a decent, a short, last burst of climbing, and we reach San Crisatobal de las Casas. City in the clouds, a strange mix of modern and ancient, a city European in architecture and purely Mexican in population, many still maintaining the Native clothing and language that's been in these parts for hundreds upon hundreds of years. A few days off. A lumpy bed. Too much excellent coffee for my own good and a chance to wind down from the past few days. Finally wearing the hooded sweatshirt and jeans that I've been hauling around since Baja. Finally cold at night after so many weeks.
Tomorrow we leave, no doubt into the mountains for a while then the long decent into Palenque and beyond. Afterall, we're at 6000 feet and Cancun is at sea level.
I mean, it's all downhill from here. Right?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Pilgrimage

I guess you could say that my pilgrimage began several weeks ago. Spaced-out and exhausted after a long ride and examining the intricacies of a small, blue, twenty peso bill. On the backside was a picture of a flat topped mountain, covered in ruins. The tagline, Monte Alban, Oaxaca.
Monte Alban, why did that seem familiar.? I seemed to remember my grandfather talking about it. The long trecherous road to the top. The mystical city itself. It was decided. I would go. By hell or highwater I would stand on that mountain and feel its energy. Its magical alignment with the universe.
Turns out Monte Alban lies just above the city of Oaxaca, which Anthony claimed to be "the best city in Mexico", so when I suggested the detour from the coast, his enthusiasm was limitless. It was settled. We were going.
Leaving Pinotepa National drew us through a series of long climbs and decents. Due to a huge blank spot on my map (i still don't know why an entire highway was left out) we missed the direct route into the mountains that we'd hoped to take and ended up in the coastal lowlands of Oaxaca state. Long, flat stretches of agricultural flat. Mostly grazing land for Brhama cattle, goats, poultry farms.
In the heat of the day we stopped in at a cantina in the small town of San Jose del Progresso for a beer. The cantina was nothing more than a small concrete room with several plastic chairs. The "bar" was protected by a mesh of chickenwire and consisted of a cooler and several bags of various snacks. Had to literally step over a man passed out face down on the floor to enter the building. No one seemed to mind his presence or position. He'd groan occasionally and roll over, fall back asleep and continue his afternoon nap. After two beers each and some conversation, we left San Jose with the full bar in attendance. waving goodbye and wishing us luck.
Spent ONE LAST night on the beach at Cerro de Hermosa, a gorgeous small beach at the head of a long lagoon. Bathed in the sea one last time knowing that we faced at least several long and dusty days ahead.

We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

The next morining brought us to the crossroads for Oaxaca. Stopped in at a small roadside stand for water where an old woman gifted me three of the most delicious mangos I've ever eaten. Noon brought us inland to a small stream where we stopped for two hours bathing and relaxing in the shade, the crystal clear water and small rapids re-energizing and so cool. Had to fight to draw ourselves away and back into the afternoon sun. Climbing out of the river valley, we began to taste the mountains for real. The road became curvier at first, then steeper, before I knew it I was grinding up tight switchbacks in my lowest gear (24x30. For those of you who cant picture it, that's really, REALLY, low). It was like climbing a spiral staircase and nearly as slow...for 20 miles. Grasslands then tropical plants began to give way to pinetrees. The air begins to cool and waterseeps begin flowing from the hillside. The road steepens yet again (a concept I found impossible) then turns to a semi-paved, semi-dirt construction zone, then turns to nothing more than a small dirt jeep trail. Constantly climbing. Up and up and wondering finally if it will ever end. Bikes are dismounted and pushed. Streams are forded, shoes get soaked.
Spent the night in a small forrested cut just off the road. I'm not really a proponent of fence jumping or gate passing, but darkness was setting in and we were forced to cross a barbed wire fence to make our camp, with no traffic save for the occasional construstion vehicle passing in the night.
Woke the next morning to a short climb and finally a peak of sorts. Looking down into a vast, steep valley, we could just see the town of Santa Catarina de Juquila at the valley floor, the church, like in many small mexican towns taking center stage, dwarfing the smaller buildings surrounding. Dropped into Juquila on a four mile dirt and sand hill-bomb to find the small town absolutely overrun with people. We could barely ride the streets for the pedestrian traffic. The entire central square and churchyard was a market which spread for blocks in any direction. What we didn't know, could not have known, was that we had stumbled upon an annual pilgrimage to Juquila. In honor of it's virgin, Santa Catarina.
After a short visit and some quick lunch, we left Juquila to another brutally steep climb, back out of the valley we had only just recently entered. Aty this point the Pilgrimage became evident in all it's force and glory. Heavy, heavy traffic in the opposite direction. Cars Busses, pick-ups all filled to the brim with people, loaded to the gills with camping gear, food, blankets, furniture, anything you could imagine. All with a picture of The virgin of Juquila roped to the front grill. Passed a crew of cyclists, 50 strong, making the ride from Toluca, Estado Mexico (about 400 mkiles away). Cheered them on and they cheered us, each going our own direction, each on our own pilgrimage.
Continuing the climb, I passed a group of men parked at the roadside and resting in the shade. As I passed I heard a comment shot in my direction. It wasn't spanish....what was it that he said?
Then it hit me.
"Bin Laden." That man called me Bin Laden.

I gotta do something about this beard.

Another climb, another decent. With a small town in the distance, the thought of a cold beverage racing through my mind, and nothing between me and that goal but a steep downhill, I heard a disconcerting snapping noise, then moments later a loud rubbing sound and a feeling of strong resistance to my downward progress. Stopped to take stock and found that the left side rack eyelet of my frame (the part where the cargo rack attaches to the back of the bike) had snapped clean off, causing the rack, with all my gear to cant off to the left and rub on my rear tire.
This is not good.
Walked my bike the last 500 Meters into town where Anthony immediately sought out a beer and I immediately set about finding a welder, a mechanic, a hardware store, anyone or anything to hopefully resecure the rack to the frame. To spare me the 100 mile walk to Oaxaca city. All I could find was small, disorganized garage. Tried to explain my needs, a welder, a hoseclamp. Got a twist of bailing wire to hold the rack to the seat stay. Bike repair, mexican style. By any means neccessary. I love it.
When I got back to the center of town (if you could call it that), Anthony deep in conversation with an entire family outside of a small grocery store. They were all standing around drinking, and the patron of the family, the father, handed me an ice cold Corona. More Pilgrims, on their way to Juquila. Spent about two hours there in the shade with them. Maybe seven people in all. Grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren. More beers were purchaced and given to us. Toasts were made. They gave us some tortillas and fruit. I had to dump some weight on account of the broken frame, so I gave them my tent.
Next two days are more of the same. Climbing to peaks decending to valleys. Constantly up and down. Passing pilgrims all the way. Slept in a dry riverbed and in the morning stopped at what we thought to be a roadside foodstand. Turned out to be a mobile kitchen for a group of 100 pilgrims on foot, walking nine days from Tehuacan, nearly 300 miles away. Potato rolled tacos, eggs, juice and coca-cola. Served to us for free from the hands of strangers by the grace of god. Amen. Buying locally produced Mezcal from a roadside stand. The proprietor serving it into plastic liter bottles fom a murky looking glass carboy. Camping just off the road on a graded drit platform overlooking a small valley. Churchbells at six a.m. dragging us out of our much needed slumber. Finally finding a welder who spent about half an hour working on my bike, welding it back together, and asked for nothing, saying: "I'm a machinist, not a welder".
Finally, Oaxaca city. Beautiful, bustling town surrounded by mountains. Evening thunderstorms. Walking the streets late at night and watching the lightning dance in the distance. Mole negro and the best chocolate you'll ever taste in your life. Deep fried crickets by the bag (actually, half a bag was plenty for me).
Sunday Morning, Easter sunday. Skipped mass and headed for the hills. Finally. The end of my Pilgrimage. Monte Alban. Stood at the top of the tallest temple and whispered my thanks to the cardinal directions. Stood on a sacrificial altar. The exact spot where hundreds of human souls had left their earthly bodies. Despite the crowds, the vendors, the comercialization that unfortunately pervades even some of the most sacred places, standing on that mystical site, I shut my eyes and for a moment, a brief fleeting second, I was the center of the universe.