Trudging along kilometer by kilometer and pedal by pedal, we have made it from Tijuana to Chetumal. Being on a bicycle in Mexico feels like home and the friends along the way have truly become our family. Receiving an overwhelming amount of hospitality, I owe so many debts of gratitude to people from all walks of life:
Family being first and foremost in Mexican culture, mothers play an important role in the country and were vital to our survival. After having crossed the desert to arrive in Mulege, smelling of rotten cactuses and weeks of sweaty bike shorts, we were surprised that anyone wanted to be within a 100 meter radius, let alone invite us into their home to let us rest a few days. Yolanda, a mother of three and a restaurant owner showed us unparalleled hospitality. We were welcomed as part of the family, with “sonríe siempre”- a smile that will never fade. In the morning she played fantastic music and danced as the sun rose. Late into the evening she would make margaritas with ingredients grown in her garden and talk with us about the special aspects of the road ahead. Yolanda is a typical Mexican mother, caring and respectful. She listen closely to travelers and provides as if they were her own children. The familial aspect of all the mothers that have cared for us along the way has given us an invaluable gift- a home away from home. Whether it’s a grapefruit juice on a hot day or a hot chocolate in a wind-storm, we were given everything we needed. Audilia, who painted this picture of a woman holding up the Mexican flag, perfectly represents her own painting. Allowing us to camp in her lakeside cabin and treating us to fresh honey from her backyard beehives, Audilia deserves a gold medal and a crown.
As a member of the fire department, I have always respected that people could reach out their hand to help the public, but in Mexico the fireman, or bomberos, took this role to a whole other level. Nearly ten separate times we have arrived in a town with a warm welcome at the fire station–more than we could possibly ask for. A shower and a safe place to sleep after climbing 3,000 meters on a hundred pound bicycle is a precious gift. Often these firemen introduce us to their culture by sharing their stories and their role in Mexican society. After the September earthquakes, firemen from all regions, like Jose Luis Sierra, pictured here, worked long hours to make sure all the people who lost their homes were medically stable and safe in a refuge. The experience of helping his country in such a devasting time was so fulfilling that he etched into his arm “sigo respirando- septiembre 2017” to remember how each breathe can make a difference in someone else’s life. José Luis and countless other Mexican firemen have large hearts and use them wisely. Their willingness to help others is even expressed through the gift of food and water to two extremely hungry cyclists.
Roadside snacks have taken on a whole new level in Mexico. Forget grabbing a bite to eat from a gas station or convenience store while on the road. Freeways don’t bypass towns, the roads slow down and pass right through both large cities and farming towns known as ejidos. On the way into a new small town, one will encounter a pick-up truck fully loaded with the freshest of fruit! Pineapples cut open right then and there, a slice of watermelon on a scorching tropical day, a handful of bananas with a CHOCOLATE-HONEY coating! And the people working these fruit stands, who see thousands of people pass by every day, take the extra time to ask us about our journey. A friendly conversation with these fruteros after hours of merely listening to the screech of passing cars is a sound for sore ears. They often tell us all about their local town, the weather that makes this fruit grow so juicy, “dulcísima”, and the aspects that make a tranquil life excellent. An enthusiastic frutero from Veracruz opened pineapples with a machete and poured Mezcal into the center, calling it a piña loca. He gave us three of these premium cocktails free of charge and let us camp in his backyard. I will forever be grateful of Toño, a man who could not be more happy than to share the fruit of his land with us and everyone he meets.
Bicycles are a common activity for people young and old, and most know that transporting yourself up a hill is not the easiest. This communal struggle bonds everyone who uses two wheels. Local cyclists, like Ernesto, “Lance”, in Esquinapa, see our daily effort to travel the world pedal by pedal and reach out to lend anything we might need. Lance particularly was enthusiastic about meeting foreign cyclists. For the last three years he has been working in this fishing town to interweave cycling into the general public awareness. His project Walikochis orchestrates group bike rides, teaches cycling safety to the youth and even raises money to help those who can’t afford their own bicycle. Lance works daily with the children to have them use bicycles as a form of independence and exercise. He is also trying to reduce the growth of motorcycles and cars in a town that is barely two kilometers wide. After housing us for the night and providing us with our only home cooked meal in weeks, Lance wrote this note in my journal, “Escuinapa es un pueblo que ama la bicicleta y tener visitas como ustedes es un placer para nuestro pueblo. Yo aca seguiré trabajando para que los niños usen la bicicleta y les compartiré el mensaje que ustedes llevan. Algún día ellos también viajarán por el mundo” which translates to “Esquinapa is a town that loves bicicyles and to have visitors like you guys is a pleasure. I will continue working here so the kids can use bicycles and I am going to share with them the message that you carry. Then one day they will also travel the world!”
Coming to Mexico I was warned countless times to be careful for policemen down here. However, the policemen have been more than helpful in every aspect of our journey. Multiple times we have sought out these so called corrupt policemen, and they have gladly shown us safe places where we could camp for the night with no worries of anybody trying to touch our stuff. Two times they even allowed us to stay in the station with them, gladly refilling our water bottles and allowing us to recharge before another hundred mile ride. And when we thank them for their incredible hospitality, they merely say that it’s their duty.
Para que servirles
It seems as though the motto of the policemen is para que servirles, and they work hard to uphold it by helping us remain safe and happy in their town. A true fulfillment of protect and serve. Reymundo, the head policemen in a small village called Villa Chable, even said that it is an honor to help people passing through and gives his town respect in all the other places we go. He valued his family and the community so much that he excitedly told us where the best places to get dinner and a hot chocolate. Reymundo’s squadcar even gave us a siren-led escort on our way out of town. With this royal treatment, we couldn’t be more thankful for the variety of police assistance. At one station, when they heard how far we ride, astonishingly concerned for our food intake, loaded our bags with dozens of bananas. And I will always remember in Oaxaca when Laura, a friendly traveler just arriving from the states mentioned that she was terrified of any policemen in Mexico, to the point where she would avoid them at all costs. But she gladly accepted one of the bananas I offered her.
Tienda Owners want to tell us all about their culture, and like the police, the more they share with us the more we learn and the more we can explain to our friends and family in the states- as if we are the ambassadors to fix bad relations. People like Santos, who lives in an Ejido of two hundred people called Con Huas, are fascinated and answer all of our questions. Working at a museum at the Mayan archeological site of Balakmú, Santos has a familial respect for his ancestral past and was thrilled to tell us how a thousand years ago people had the same connection with the land that they do now. And from this sharing of culture and offering of a delicious corn and cacao drink called Pozol, that dates back to Mayan kings, he is filling our bellies with natural nutrients, our minds with fascinating facts and our hearts with warm welcomes. These individuals are not unique in their wonderful hospitality of us in their country. Each person that comes up to us asking us all about our journey scratches their head exclaiming “Órale” when we tell them how far we will ride these bicycles. On the road, even a joyous honk or an encouraging shout makes me honored to be welcomed in a place far from Santa Bárbara. A small child completely changed my day without realizing it by leaning out the window, stretching out his arm and saying “buen viaje” in the cutest little voice that made me proud for everything I’m doing and all the struggles that got me to that very intersection.
Oh! The places you’ll go:
If had to give a few words to describe the bike riding in Mexico, one of them would have to be variety. This bicycle tour already seems as though it was around the world in terms of different environments that we encountered:
Deserts that expanded further than the horizon in all directions
Rainforests flourishing of green and crystal clear spring water flowing
Mountain peaks incredibly difficult to climb that towered above surrounding marshes
Valleys and 15 mile downhills that make biking feel like flying over a mountain range
Pacific coasts with ravaging waves on stunning beaches and gulf coasts more tranquil than a koi pond at a day spa
Expansive cities with extravagant art and intricate museums
Desolate areas with skies of stars that would make an astronaut blush
Smooth roads with not a car in sight and bunny roads with glass, screeching traffic and loaded semi trucks
And from this wide and varied land, a delicious array of food arises.
Frequently Daniel looks up from his Chili Relleno, Tlayuda, Torta, Pozole, or Panuche and rates it as “better than any culinary experience I’ve ever had!” Nothing like biking for hours on end into a new region to make us appreciate the quality of ingredients and talent of the chef to prepare such an excellent meal. In asking many questions, mostly, “what is that?” and passing through 12 different states in Mexico, each with their own style, I feel as though I have taken an interdisciplinary course of Mexican cuisine.
Pozol and all the other unique flavors that I would only encounter if I spent all this time talking to the befits and learning what makes their culture special. ‘Que es su favorito’, although often mistaken with my poor pronunciación as queso, and ‘que recomiendas’ have landed us with some special experiences, for both the tastebuds and the mind. We have had thousands of foods I don’t even know the English name for or even think that one exists. And although I eat five to seven thousand calories a day to satisfy endless hunger, I feel healthier eating this style of food. We watch them make all the ingredients and enjoy how little of the food they eat is processed or prewrapped in plastic. The people who serve us our food, like Eugy in Laguna Chapada who gave us lobster soup, know exactly where each ingredient came from, and probably the name of who grew or caught it. And in talking to these people who serve us such excellent “experiences” we gained an appreciation for the amount of effort it takes to prepare one of these meals. Tortillas made by hand, salsa prepared every afternoon, and the handiwork to slice a pineapple and elegantly place it into the most savory of all quesadillas known as a gringa. One lady who served us these and about 10 other types of tacos, is on her feet darting around the restaurant for over 9 hours a day, “no descanso” without a break. It’s humbling to see these people work extremely hard all day to comparatively make very little. Often we spend more on one meal than their entire day’s salary.
Undiminished, the generosity of the chefs matches the quality of their food. When they hear how far we’ve come and how much we enjoy their food, a grand smile stretches ear to ear. The entire staff of Taqueria Montero, in small pueblo called Macuspana was fascinated by our story, and probably hadn’t seen someone with blonde hair in over a year. It is not common for them to receive tourists and even less frequent that those tourists can have such an admiration for their work. I feel honored both to enjoy a meal from someone who rarely gets to leave their village as well as embrace the ambassador role that we play as Americans for people who never get the chance to go to our country as we do theirs.
Which brings me to the question that has stumped me for much of these 80 days. A fireman asked me, if we are so welcoming of you here, why do Americans treat us with such inhospistality?
And I was thinking long and hard about the community that I was brought up in- the xenophobia of the political atmosphere, the self embetterment of the economic sphere and the personal detachment from foreign affairs were all possible reasons why the average member of the United States might not have a warm welcoming to Mexican immigrants and travelers.
But as these 80 days come to a close I am beginning to realize that the answer is the thing I am most grateful for about Mexican culture, a family- centric lifestyle. It is very important for people in Mexico to be part of their family, with traditions, meals, art and culture all revolving around each other. Their community and their world is their family. This stems into people treating everyone that comes across their town as part of the family– and it is what I appreciated most during the last 80 days!
Bi•cy•cle; noun, verb, adj.
a. A device that allows the user to experience high degrees of freedom; I’m going to use this bicycle to go wherever my heart takes me to… A place cars don’t see, I am free to ride as I please, as fast as I want, and to the soundtrack of my own heartbeat.
b. A mobile home that is fueled by three ingredients: desire, simplicity, and tacos; After all of these incredibly delicious tacos we’ve eaten, I feel ready to take my bicycle and my four bags to the town that we decide to make home for the night.
c. A tool that is best utilized to create friendships; After two weeks of riding my bicycle in the desert, I ran into another crazy person using their bicycle to travel the world. He was forty years older than me, from a different country, and doesn’t like pineapple juice nearly as much as I do. Thankfully, through our connection with bicycles, we had enough to talk about for days.
d. A natural supplement to increase appreciation of life; Holy hell. After riding my bicycle for six hours to reach the top of that mountain, I kissed the ground and shed tears of joy when I saw 20 kilometers of downhill ahead of me. And to top it off, I sliced a pitaya off of a cactus the day before and kept it in my bag for that very moment. Glorious.
e. A teacher of discipline, patience, and language; That truck driver said it takes him five hours to drive to Mexico City from here… If we want to make it to Mexico City in four days, we need to ride our bicycles for eight hours each day while carrying enough food and water to stay healthy. What a fantastic opportunity to learn Spanish while meeting all the wonderful people in the small towns in between!
f. The world’s best form of exercise; I really need to get in shape… I was thinking about starting a new indoor gym routine for the next few months. Or maybe I’ll ride my bicycle for 100 kilometers every day under the sunshine, over tall mountains, through steep valleys, along rushing rivers, while seeing all kinds of exotic plants and new animals, tasting local cuisines, and experiencing weather conditions. Yeah, I’ll probably go with the bicycle thing.
a. To propel one pedal in front of the other over and over again until you have reached a state of nirvana; I was having a pretty rough day, so I decided to bicycle and after a few hours I found myself smiling from cheek to cheek without a single negative thought in my mind holding me back.
b. To escape your comfort zone; Sometimes the only way to move forward in life is to willingly put yourself in difficult situations. There’s a fine line between exposing yourself to real danger and being uncomfortable. When I bicycle, I expose myself to difficult elements of life and deal with situations that I don’t normally encounter in the comfort of my own home.
c. To fly; On a bicycle I levitate above the things that hold me down. With two wheels that take the form of wings, I have the ability to carry myself anywhere the heart desires.
Since the early 1800’s, bicycles have been utilized all over the world in a number of ways ranging from transportation to exercise and everywhere in between. It has been calculated that when taking into account the amount of calories, or energy a human uses to travel a certain distance, that the bicycle is the most efficient means of transportation available.
In addition to supreme efficiency, the bicycle has a different significance for every cyclist that decides to hop on the saddle. Below, you’ll see heartfelt responses from passionate cyclists from all over the world that we’ve had the pleasure of meeting on the road, and see what exactly the bicycle means for them.
What does the bicycle mean to you?
“My bicycle’s name is ‘Libertad’ (in English, ‘freedom’) because it is an instrument that provides me with just that. But more than that, it provides experiences that enrich myself physically, economically, intellectually, and emotionally, making me a better version of myself. I’m convinced that our main responsibility as humans is to be better, for everyone and everything.”
– Raul Morales (San Luis, Sonora, Mexico)
Raul is touring with his bicycle throughout all of Mexico and reporting back to his town’s local newspaper. In addition to being a great reporter, Raul is also a master behind the bar – some say he can pour up the best margaritas in Mexico!
“My bicycle and choice to travel by bike breaks down social barriers. Somehow, it creates a conversation bridge between me and all kinds of fascinating people and I can’t get enough of that!”
– Christina Vietinghoff (Canada)
Christina is an inspiration for people feeling like their routine-centric lives could use some more adventure! She decided that a desk job wasn’t quite giving her the vitality she needed, so Christina hopped on the bicycle in Canada to start a solo journey with one destination in mind: south!
“I ride my bike to try to find the soul of the places, going slow makes you part of the landscape, part of the society for a moment. The bike doesn’t intimidate people. It invites people to talk and to help to be real. For me the bicycle is the instrument to find that.”
– Tomas Rebora (Córdoba, Argentina)
Talk about a legend… Tomas lives on an island off the coast of Africa, has spent time living in the Amazon, Spain, Argentina, and more. He started in Alaska, and has made a big name for himself in the bicycle touring community of Mexico, as he has been traveling with a trailer carrying a surfboard! Legend! Check out his professional photography here.
“Our tandem bike is like a metaphor for marriage. We got married just before starting this tour 6 months ago, so as we learn more about the bike we’re learning more about communicating with each other. The tandem bike balances out our abilities, unites our strengths, and combines our efforts. It also teaches us to compromise, be patient, and to work together for a mutual benefit. It means that together we can go to places we might not both reach on our own.”
– John and Lydia (Australia)
Some get married and buy a house, and others get married and decide to ride a tandem bicycle from Alaska to Patagonia… I think John and Lydia have the right idea! Check out their blog here.
“The bicycle is the best way to tour the world. Slower than a car. Faster than feet. It’s like adventure. You never know where is your home, your destination, and your girlfriend. Haha. I very much enjoy it.”
-Su Yaowu (China)
Su can be found with a smile on his face 100% of the time. This young bicycle tourist has already cycled throughout many countries in Asia, and is now tackling the famous Alaska to Patagonia ride.
“La Bicicleta me ha enseñado La Libertad, El Respeto y La Compasión hacia outros seres. La Bicicleta me he llenado de Histórias que contar de pueblo en pueblo. Rodando por los pequeños caminos de Tierra, admirando el Verde pasto y el Bello Cielo, mire dentro de mi y supe que era Feliz.”
-Ana Galván (Argentina) and Adrien Vedrune (France)
Ana and Adrien are our bicycle touring role models. This incredible couple has been traveling throughout the Americas for over three years on bicycles, and has left their wonderful mark on every person and place they have encountered along the way.
“A bicycle is a way to fly through the forest and taste first hand the oxygen from the trees. The bicycle is a way to connect to the country, to the land, to really know your home, where you live, the landscape, the trees, the forest types. A bicycle is a way to explore new neurological pathways in your mind by exploring new ways of traversing the landscape of our planet.
A bicycle to me is a way to discover freedom in the moment, and push beyond our self-imposed limitations to taste what we are capable of. It can take us outside our comfort zone, into the realm of growth and discovery.
It is a a self initiation device, exploring the textures and tones within your internal landscapes. It is a way to journey into your true self. To let go of who you thought you were or should be and become who you really are. To find yourself anew. Over and over again, like the spinning wheels on the bicycle or the Earth itself rotating around the sun.
The bicycle has shaped who I am by expanding what I thought I was capable of. It has helped me to see the world through the eyes of beginners mind. Through the bicycle journey I’ve been able to see my place in the land and my connection to the bio-cultural landscape in a fresh way.”
– Paul Daley (Australia)
Pauly is an organic human being (who I am more than proud to consider a brother of mine!), who has ridden his noble steed throughout the continent of Australia, and more recently throughout the Western region of the USA. His passion for self discovery and self awareness serves as an inspiration to everyone lucky enough to cross paths with his life. And you should hear his bird calls… Paul can sing bird notes that blue jays can only dream of!
The bicycle, among many other things, is a privilege. It’s a privilege that not everyone has the fortune to experience – especially some of the people who could use it the most. Some students have to walk four hours to get to school, some mothers travel incredibly long distances to get food to provide for their kids. World Bicycle Relief is doing phenomenal work to bring bicycles to those that are in desperate need. If you want to improve the lives of humans in need through the magical life enhancement found within two wheels, you can find the link to our donation page here.
After riding up these mountains of Mexico, I’d be comfortable just about anywhere: between two broken down semi-trucks on the side of the road or on a bench outside the fire station, for previous examples.
Sometimes we get the chance to rest our legs in the comfort of someone’s house. Casa de Ciclistas open their doors for any cyclist passing through. And through their generous hospitality, these houses unite members of a worldwide community of cycle touring.
This group of two-wheeled travelers has a familial bond upon introduction. They speak the same language, not necessarily in words but in the experiences that come to the tongue, like knowing the feeling of being on the side of a busy freeway changing a flat tire while dozens of 18 wheelers race by.
Stories of getting lost, robbed or being trapped without water build up this community of cyclists. And the Casa de Ciclistas is where these stories are best understood. Each one of these crazy travelers, whether by going from Alaska to Argentina or Avenue A to Avenue B, is dedicated to making their world have a little less contamination.
The owners of these houses, such as Guerrero in Guadalajara, Othon in San Ignacio, Tuly in La Paz and Alejandro in Mexico City, gladly open their doors to this community. Despite them having no idea who they are or where they come from, they know what it’s like to be traveling by bicycle, and how grateful they were to have a warm and welcoming place to rest.
Su, his first time in the Americas, spends hours sharing recipes with Kevin, an American cyclist, who both are crossing the span of the continent on two wheels. Local journalist Raul is teaching them both over a warm meal the importance of December 12th in the Catholic celebration here in Guadalajara. Two British gentlemen, Toby and Jamie, excited to take a break after riding all the way from Canada, bring back beers to enjoy after dinner. And a Canadian cyclist, Kristina, having suffered through a broken gear adjuster in the middle of the desert, cools down with some chocolate ice cream.
Each traveler signs a guest book, that becomes more or less of the family photo album. Painters leave a picture, the talkers leave a story, the chefs leave a recipe for a delicious meal, and the friends made along the way leave an impact.
And it’s the ability to spend days in the comfortable environment of other cyclists from around the world that really makes this feel like being home for the holidays.
One road to go up, one road to go down
One road through fields, one road through town
One road to fly away, one road to return home
One road to unite friends, one road to be alone
One road for cyclists, one road for 18-wheelers
One road for gift-givers, one road for tortilla-stealers
One road to the water, one road to the land
One road paved with gravel, one road dirt and sand
One road to take your time, one road to get there soon
One road under the sun, one road under the moon
One road very short, one road in the distance
One road lasts forever, one road just an instance
One road cracked and bumpy, one road smooth as ice
One road long and hard, one road super nice
One road over mountains, one road through the desert
One road full of glory, one road full of hurt
One road to bike, one road to drive
One road to lose yourself, one road to survive
One road to go South, one road to go North
One road to go back and one road to go forth
Music: Take Me Home, Country Roads – Toots and the Maytals
La tierra no nos pide mucho, pero cuida por todo.
El cactus nunca mendiga agua, pero nos da pitayas jugosas.
La palmera datilera no necesita azucar, pero produce datiles con el sabor de la miel.
Las lagunas no requiren tranquilidad, pero con cada olita nos regalan la armonía.
Cuando el sol sale y la niebla escapa, el rocío se evapora y libera el aroma de las flores.
Em cambio, los pájaros cantan canciones de gratitud, y recibemos el regalo del color en el cielo.
Como la tierra exhala, el viento sopla a través de las hojas, y las mariposas escuchan.
Escuchan, y bailan al ritmo del viento.
Viento. Un regalo de la tierra que ayuda los pelícanos a emigrar al sur, un regalo que dispersa las semillas de las plantas, que empuja veleros por el mar, que talla montañas, que genera energía para los pueblos. Pero el viento no quiere nada a cambio. El viento solamente da.
Dejarnos disfrutar los regalos.
Permite que las montañas te den respuestas, aunque no te hagan preguntas.
Somos regalos de la tierra.
- To have the health and strength, both mentally and physically to ride a bike, day in and day out
- Support of family and friends that instills confidence in what we’re doing
- We are spending our lives predominately outside; To fall asleep under the stars and wake up to fantastic sunrises
- Time of day to develop new talents
- Self-reliance; to be able to live on a bike in unfamiliar locations
- We are thankful to have teachers from all walks of life, mothers, chefs, carpenters, children, fishermen, ranchers, engineers and other travelers.
- The opportunity to extend a helping hand to others through World Bicycle Relief
- Encouragement of strangers in every interaction, whether at a taco stand or on the road
- Helpful hints along the way and the ability to spend three days going 500 extra kilometers to see something magical
- Hospitality of locals welcoming us regardless, and their patient help with language development
- We are thankful for those drivers who give us some space on the road to share, and especially thankful for those that wave or honk in encouragement
- 2 minutes of downhill after 3 hours of working for the top
- Silence only a bike can get you: an open road with nothing for miles
- The camaraderie of every other cyclist on the road
- Rain in the desert
- Sunsets in places we didn’t even know existed
- Spontaneity of having your entire life turn down a new road at any moment
- Having special gear and thoughtful presents within our 4 bags
- Ocean to jump into
- To have a second chance to appreciate the little things like wind at your back, a cold fresh juice at the end of the hot day, delicious food to satisfy hunger and the shade of a date palm to kick it under