Sick of riding?
Getting pretty out there in wonderful Oaxaca
Hello friends, family and those we've met on the road! Welcome to the twelfth edition of our newsletter, this time penned from Palomares, a scruffy roadside town in Oaxaca.
Since we last spoke things have been up and down - in terms of both the terrain and our health. We've had two bouts of food poisoning and a classic Christmas flu to contend with, tempering our enthusiasm for writing and delaying this newsletter. Apologies! These instances have felt hugely frustrating, but considering how few problems we've had with sickness since we started in May last year, we're trying to remain positive. Big up our travel nurse at Amersham Vale surgery in Deptford who encouraged us to bring a sizeable first aid kit on this journey.
Thankfully we've also spent plenty of time in the company of friends over the Christmas period, and balanced some incredible riding with well-earned periods of rest. That's, weirdly, meant we've completed some of the most difficult cycling of the trip in the same month in which we've done the fewest kilometres.
We finished our stay in CDMX with Warmshowers hosts Lia and Colin and their two gorgeous kids - we ended up sticking around a day longer than planned due to the aftershocks of some dodgy basket tacos, and they were kind enough to take that whole situation in their stride. Pros. After they waved us off, we left the valley that the capital resides in and climbed the Pasó de Cortes, a 3,400m peak between two volcanoes. At the top, where we camped, temperatures reached a bidon-freezing -10C, but thanks to our new sleeping bags and tea provided by Swiss overlanders Marcel and Carmen, we had a successful night's sleep on this beautiful pass. We then descended on the same day as many pilgrims were headed in the opposite direction: for the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, thousands of people make the journey to the Basilica in CDMX where her image resides. Pilgrims walk many kilometres, sometimes carrying pictures or statues of the señora, and often in very basic shoes and clothing. Seeing people on this journey was very moving - you can't spend any time in Mexico without seeing an image of the virgin, and we normally encounter a painting of some kind once every few hours. Knowing how important she and her day (12 Dec) are to catholics here made us really appreciate being in Mexico during this time.
We then had an odd realisation: our decision to not take the Trans Mexico route to Oaxaca meant that we actually had too much time to get to the city for our hostel booking. Faced with this luxury we decided to detour to the Xochitzeatl and Cacaxtla archealogical sites for some touristic exploits. Warmshowers host Lenin was happy to have us with a mere few hours notice, and we spent a rest day being thoroughly treated by him. His excitement for his hometown was infectious, and his knowledge of the unusual Maya murals at Cacaxtla really helped us appreciate the history and significance of the area. The murals were full of bright colours and intriguing figures; Lenin talked us through their many possible interpretations. He also fed us corn fungus, agave-based booze and a milky, alcoholic morning coffee with leche straight from the cow's udder. Casj.
Then followed a really pleasant section of riding on a route courtesy of our new pal Allan, who lives in Mexico City - we had a ball slowly creeping towards Oaxaca via the state of Puebla on quiet paved and unpaved roads. We loved the fact that all the most technical sections were going downhill, giving us a bit of a holiday from the relentlessness of the Trans Mexico. A favourite part saw us descend into a mind-boggling steep valley, camp in the village at the bottom (where Oaxaca local Manuel and his family treated us like superstars), and then reascend via an old rail trail that steadily climbed through a canyon, soundtracked by a gushing river.
We then arrived in Oaxaca city, which has a different feel to the rest of Mexico. The state has retained a lot of its pre-Hispanic indigenous culture, partly due to a radical streak in its residents that I encourage anyone interested to look up and discover more about. Although city dwellers are largely of mixed origin, unlike those in more rural villages (we'll get to those later), there's still undoubtedly Mixtec influences in a lot of the food and wares available in town, and it was a pleasure to spend extended time there as a result. We rolled in a few days before Christmas and spent our time eating baked goods, drinking coffee, visiting the ethnobotanical garden and array of art galleries, and talking bikes with our fellow hostel-dwellers.
We also did some touristing with Greg and his sister Laura, who had flown in for the holidays. It was so fun to have an extra member of our gang and to get to know someone not on bike tour. It was also fab to spend some more time with Chris, who we originally met in Baja, and discover how he'd been getting on, and to meet Simon and Lizzie, a bikepacking couple also headed to Argentina, that we've got to know a little on Instagram. Overall, Oaxaca felt like a real cycle touring hotspot for Christmas. Our only regret was we didnt get to spend more time with James - a friend of Chris's who managed to source a niche tent reproofing product in the UK and bring it to Mexico with him on a plane, all with less than 24 hours' notice. Thank you again James! We'll now be warm and dry for many miles to come.
Greg, Laura and the two of us then took an 8 hour bus (and about 8 anti-travel-sickness tablets) to the seaside town of Puerto Escondido for Christmas and New Year. We settled into our Casita for 10 days, and although three of us succumbed to the flu, we all still had plenty of time to enjoy the myriad beaches, many scoops of gelato, reading, cooking together and the company of a variety of chickens and turkeys. It really felt like a holiday, and we were so grateful to be honorary members of the Brown family at a time of year that could have so easily felt lonely and isolating. We also have to once again thank Manuel and his family for enabling the trip: not only did they make us an incredible Oaxacan breakfast, they also provided a safe place to leave our bikes in town, so we could recharge at the coast without worrying about our wheels.
Back in Oaxaca City, we once again rejoined the Trans Mexico route, which at this point we hadn't ridden since November. Things started with a surprising amount of concrete, but the muddy, dirt interludes became slowly more common, while the villages we passed through also became more isolated. Here we encountered people for whom Spanish was their second language, with a form of Mixe being their first. We expected these communities to be a little more reserved with us, but in fact we've found these pueblos to be some of the most welcoming in the country. We have been staggered by how well-treated we've been, from the foods we've been cooked to the places we've been offered for camping. We're delighted that previous cyclists on the Trans Mexico have obviously behaved impeccably on the route, ensuring that people don't assume the worst of us right away. It's wonderful to be part of a community that works hard to travel respectfully and responsibly, and we will try our utmost to continue the trend.
We're also thankful to have had such a good reception because boy, is this riding hard. Gradients are steep, descents are technical, and in the past few days the conditions have really changed: we're now cycling through tropical rainforests with plenty of humidity. That means the start of a new chapter of the trip where none of our clothing will dry out... and it's likely to be that way until at least Colombia. But at the same time it's wonderful to experience new plant life and animals, with fresh bird calls filling the air and banana and coffee trees lining the road.
The past week or so has been derailed by some nasty food poisoning, and despite squeezing in a day of riding with Greg (something we've not done since California) and a lovely evening spent with Trans-Mex roadside stalwart Roberto and his family (pictured above), we've also spent quite a few days in a hotel in the junction town of Palomares. There's not much here other than a few taco stands and tiendas, but we're happy we do at least have a bed while some antibiotics take effect. We deeply hope we'll be back on the trail tomorrow, pedalling towards popular tourist town San Cristobl de Las Casas, and then to the border with Guatemala. Let's see...
Toot or boot
Getting sick BOOT
There being a bakery that makes tummy-friendly fairy cakes in this town TOOT
Peanut butter mud getting up in our fenders BOOT
The quietest roads of the trip since Alaska TOOT
All the Oaxacan mole sauces being served with meat BOOT
Huitlacoche, memelas and tlayudas providing new veggie options on the road TOOT
Thanks and shoutouts
Lia, Colin and family
Marcel and Carmen
Manuel and family
JAMES YOU LEGEND
Simon and Lizzie
Greg and Laura, thank you <3
Roberto and family
& everyone who has sent us nice messages since we got sick
We are Edwin Foote and Suzie McCracken - thanks for signing up for our newsletter! Edwin is from England and Suzie is from Northern Ireland and normally we live together in Deptford, south-east London. We arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, in May 2022 and are attempting to ride our bicycles the length of the Americas, hoping to finish in Argentina in 2024. If you have any recommendations of things we should do, people we should meet or places we should stay, we'd love to hear from you! Please reply to this email, or follow us on Instagram (ed_win or _suziemccracken).