Jack sent me off from San Cristóbal de Las Casas with a hug, a smile, a wave, and probably a snicker or two as I set off on my single speed with no pump to find a dirt track that didn’t even exist on my 1:250,000 INEGI map. My destination was Acala, not far from San Cristóbal, but about 1500m lower and a world away.
didn’t even try to suppress their laughter when they pointed out the descent. They had asked a typical Mexican question: “what do you do when you get a flat tire?” “Well, uh, normally, I carry some patches and a pump, but, well, you see, I left my friend in San Cristóbal, and he had the pump.” “The track’s rough, good luck,” they laughed. No problem, I have patches, I thought. I didn’t bother saying it out loud, however. I’d heard enough laughter.
When Wendy came to Mexico, she brought an Outside magazine for me to take a look at. Consisting mostly of automobile ads I definitely felt like I wasn’t their target audience. However, after wading my way through the gear reviews I did manage to find a couple interesting paragraphs. It was in their “best of” section. You know: best lightweight headlamp that can signal help if you’re lost on the moon and best tire for your SUV to navigate the Walmart parking lot. Indeed more wading and eventually I found: “best off-the-beaten-path destination”: Chiapas!
Water, water everywhere. Fully one-third of Mexico’s fresh water is in Tabasco. With water come mosquitoes. Heaps of them. So bad that we huddled in the tents during the twilight hour when they were at their worst. A couple nights we even resorted to eating a cold dinner in the tents to avoid getting out and cooking in the mosquitoes. Breezes were welcome but rare.
Crossing from Yucatán to Campeche took us from milpas to agribusiness. I hardly expected that such a straight line on the map could delineate such a difference on the ground. If you don’t know what a milpa is, think Milagro Beanfield War — small-scale, probably family-run agriculture, no irrigation. They often grow corn and squash together, not bad for the soil, but it requires harvest by hand, according to Jack.
The Mennonites run the agribusiness. Putting together a few different stories, I can surmise that the Campeche State government invited the Mennonites here from Chihuahua a couple generations ago. There’s land, they said; water too. And why not? Mexico imports food, and Mennonites do a surprisingly good job with the harsh, dry, high land in Chihuahua. They’re an insular group, but when members decide to leave the culture/religion, they’re welcomed into the nearby communities as Mexicans, according to the tamale makers I talked to in Hopelchén.
The straight line on the map didn’t affect the Mayans so much apparently. We still passed archaeology sites, visited a couple, and were particularly impressed with Edzná, the biggest Mayan tourist draw in the State of Campeche. The ball court was the smallest I’ve seen, and the five-story building was rather impressive.
An overnight bus ride from Zihuatanejo to Mexico City and another overnight ride to Mérida. From there I started pedalling again. Jack arrived in Mérida a little after I did on a plane to Cancún and a bus from there. He brought a bicycle. Since my Long Haul Trucker is overwintering in Antalya, I spent a good portion of the next two days organizing a bicycle for this trip.
At the third shop we visited I bought a bike, front rack, and lights. They put it all together for me, and I was on my way. Back at Irving’s house (another couchsurfing host), I could quickly see that the rear rack needed to be back further so I could fit bags without my feet hitting them — a typical problem and one reason why the Long Haul Trucker has extra long chainstays.
The following day we found Milton who spent years working in the US and now manages a small welding shop in Mérida. Once the workers finished lunch, they got on it and hacked together a fix that’s still working for me.
We could have spent another day exploring Mérida, but Jack’s coming back, and I was anxious to leave. I hadn’t been bike touring since I finished up in Bayburt in October. Mérida had some interesting colonial buildings, but after Mexico City, Puebla, Morelia, and Zacatecas, I was ready for some villages and nature.