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0045: Welcome to the Jungle

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"I've been robbed!" I called to Charlotte as she walked towards me.
She looked at me stunned as she looked over her bike, then mine and back at me.
The colour all the while draining from her face.
"Where?! how?! You haven't left the bike unattended?!"

It was now I realised what I had said.
I was sitting on the kerb outside a tourist restaurant drinking a can of coke in the sunshine.
"Haha! Calm down. I'm sorry. I didn't mean that kind of robbed. I just paid 25 Pesos for this can of coke!"
I was robbed, knowing the next corner store would have charged me between 6 and 8 pesos for the same thing.
Her colour returned and I think Charlotte could have kicked me at that point!
And deservedly so.
The sun was out and the heat of the day was becoming more intense as we enjoyed the first sunshine in a few days.
Struggling along the Campeche coastline the flat land and coastal road lies only a few metres above sea level. And the low bushes, plants and reeds in the marshes and lagoons do little to slow the force of the wind. Ad we had it directly into our faces!
We sat for a few minutes chatting about the route ahead before getting on the bikes to face the intense wind again.

Only a week or so before we were descending from the high Mexican plateau we had ridden on since Guadalajara back down to sea level on the Gulf of Mexico coast. At highest we passed 2850 metres then what we thought would be a relatively quick descent down to sea-ish level turned out to be a 2 day hike! The last of the plateau and the first of the wind, was at Esperanza. A shallow climb with the wind in our face initially then turned into a steep climb as we passed by the Citlaltepetl stratovolcano. Which I have since found out is the highest peak in Mexico at 5,636 metres (18,491 ft) and third highest in North America.
The road was generally good, passing through little villages with smiling people all taken aback by this odd travelling couple. One on an odder bike.
The response from people has been overwhelmingly positive and curious crowds occasionally gather where we stop for a break.
The volcano straddles the border between Puebla and Veracruz.
Yet another state to add to my Mexican collection. And not the last by far.
Descending into the Orizaba valley the wind died down, but the thick cloud we could see in the valley below cooled the air quickly. Moist droplets stuck to every surface as we decended.
The town of Orizaba was our return to civilisation and a first real taste of tropical humidity.
Even though still dscending, the occasional pedalling brought on furious sweating and discomfort. The increased traffic didnt help much as we pedalled towards Cordoba.
I was hoping to stay here as having visited Cordoba in Spain and will also visit Cordoba in Argentina, it was a sort of landmark.
Charlotte rightly suggested passing through the town to avoid the traffic chaos the following morning.
Cordoba was not the pretty little town I was hoping for. But very much a dirty industrial city with a scruffy appearance. As we continued through it became more industrial and the derelict nature of some buildings made me think we were in a decidedly dodgy part of town.
The staring eyes looking on the odd cycling couple did not smile and wave as usual, but just stared and ignored adding to the slightly more uncomfortable feel.
As we approached the edge of the city, the Hotel Venecia appeared.

Well presented from the outside, a big banner proclaimed the monthly promotion of $250 for a night. It seemed ok to us.
Tired and weary we rolled up to reception and I asked about a two bed room.
"All the rooms only have 1 bed" said the owner with an odd look. We decided to flip a coin for it. We paid and waited to receive the key.
"No key" she said "Just lock it from the inside" "What if we want to leave?" I asked. Another odd look, "Well there is a button on the garage door to close it from the outside, nobody will disturb you..."
Odd, I thought.
I wasn't happy about leaving our bikes and gear in an unlocked garage. But we walked round to our room and almost got knocked over by an elderly Mexican man driving away rapidly from the "Executive suite" with a young woman in the passenger seat.
The room was accessed through the Garage and was very private once the door was closed.
We unpacked and carried our bags up to the very clean room.
Well presented, with its large mirrors over the huge bed, mood lighting and see through shower door?!
Little cards on the table and a discreet trapdoor allowed you to order room service without being disturbed and a second card had a large and varied selection of very adult toys!
Ah! The sudden reality of where we were hit us.
A Mexican love motel!
Edge of town, Single beds, Locks on the inside. Odd responses from the owner and a departing elderly customer with his very young "friend"
It all made slightly embarrassing sense now.
Being tired and perhaps a little naive we didn't see the signs, but the reality was we were here now. We were tired and it was getting dark.
It was a very clean room and after inspection, a few jokes and childish giggling, we decided to stay.
I left soon after to find food and to give Charlotte some privacy while she had a shower but found not much along the sleazy road outside. Small tacos, Potato chips and some water to add to our leftover bread and Nutella. This was Sunday night in the rough end of Cordoba.
Joy of joys was an English movie channel on TV.
So with Tacos in hand and a film to watch an exciting fun packed night began probably with me snoring soon after!
We were both exhausted and had a surprisingly good sleep.
Another cold start the following morning, and a continuation of our descent. Now from 700m to around 300m.
The landscape became tropical agricultural.
Sugar cane plantations appeared everywhere and we soon turned off the main road to see vast forests of Sugar on the roadside.
Trucks passed us every few minutes stacked way too high with the harvested canes. Black smoke billowed from the many processing plants in the region and the few low hills we climbed showed the massive extent of the fields on the low ground and thick verdant forest climbing the hillsides.
Coffee, Avocado, more sugar canes and Mango trees filled our vision as well as the whole back catalogue of plants and shrubs available in pots from Ikea!
Acatlán was our lunch break stop and the market square was filled with Police and Military.
There appeared to be some construction work going on at the bank so we assumed the security presence was due to that. Looking at the map we had barely crossed the border into Oaxaca from Vera cruz.
We sat and ate lunch and curious locals and vendors came over to ask the 'standard' questions and give us free tacos.
After relaxing for an hour or so in the sun, we packed to leave.
"Wait, I want to talk to you?". A journalist from a local radio station approached and wanted to record a quick interview about our travel experiences. I wasn't in the mood for a difficult conversation in Spanish but agreed to give it a go.
The interviewer, began speaking rapidly and with an intensity that had me asking several times to repeat the questions but I struggled through giving my views and opinions on Mexico, travelling and life in general.
Eventually we got back on the road and continued our journey.
Peter, from Germany was our first cycle tourist in a good long while. We almost passed him at the Amate junction.
He was headed in the opposite direction looking for a motel and we exchanged a few road notes then carried on.
Oddly he had also spent time with Dane and Andy who I met back in Tepic. The cycle tourist world is very small indeed!
Our back to normal motel that evening had a very nice surprise in the form of a swimming pool and a fantastic restaurant.

Mid afternoon the next day, we came across Peter again. Taking a beer break in the middle of the day.

We got chatting and it turns out he is into year 3 of a 5 year adventure travelling between continents and visiting the offices of his former employers, Siemens giving motivational talks to employees.
We exchanged contact details and my bike nerd alarm went off when I realised his full name.
"Peter Smolka! I recognise that name?" "Yes" he replied " I won the Golden Rohloff competition a few years ago.

Rohloff Gearbox hubs are often chosen by discerning long distance cyclists as the are notoriously very reliable and maintenance free. This one was specially made to mark the manufacture of number 111111 in production and given away as a competion prize. Peter won it, and subsequently auctioned it to raise money for his charity.

During my time in Spain, I visited the Eurobike show in Friedrichshafen, Germany and had actually seen this one off gold plated hub with the unique serial number.
Again, Cycle tourist small (slightly geeky) world!
We ended up sharing a hotel in Rodriguez and had a long probably dull, bicycle/touring related conversation much to the dismay of Charlotte!
Sorry...

In Acayucan the following evening, we had decided to jump ahead by bus as time was running out for Charlotte.
Juan Manuel, our warmshowers host confirmed and we pedalled to the bus station.
Always nervous about public transport, we loaded onto the bus under the instruction of the baggage handler.
"This isn't their bus" said his boss as she waddled over. "It's the next one!" We unloaded again and ran round to the next bay where the slightly annoyed driver ushered us onto the now delayed bus.
The journey was comfortable and we arrived in Villahermosa on schedule.
A day off in this unexpectedly dull city.
"It's an oil town" said Juan Manuel " There isn't much of a cultural centre here" But he did recommend a great park and outdoor exhibition.

Back on the bikes we had a strong tailwind and managed 185km's in a day and a very exhausted but proud Charlotte was happy to have achieved her second lifetime 100+ miles day.

"They were both with you!" she exclaimed, reminding me of her first back in Canada when we rode with Lulu.

The next day we got our payback.
Headwinds. A tough day along the same flat marsh swamp.

Charlotte dream of finding a nice white palm tree littered beach to relax on for the day dashed like the cold grey waves on the rocks to our left.

So now we sit in our final motel room in Campeche.
We didnt quite make it to Cancun, given the wind and time limit.
Charlotte is taking an overnight bus to Playa del Carmen to arrive ahead of her friend before continuing her own adventures through Mexico and beyond.
I will rest here for an extra day then also cycle the rest of the way to Playa del Carmen and hopefully I will have received a message from a host by then as I would like to rest for a week or so and plan my route into the next upcoming countries.
I'll miss riding with Charlotte.
We have managed to see a huge chunk of Mexico together and I have enjoyed her company immensely.
It is always difficult riding with another person. Especially as independent single people as you both have your own ideas, plans and itineraries.
But we have managed to strike the balance between travelling, tourism and time limits.
It has also shown me that it is actually good to compromise and share the expenses of travelling.
There is also the additional security, and conversations of another traveller.
The joy as she discovered something new and exciting.
The strains and stresses of long days in the saddle. And the mutual respect one gains from allowing peace privacy and solitude if necessary.
It has been difficult at times, but mainly it has been very enjoyable and I really hope we can meet up again in the future to ride together again or at least to discuss our adventures over a drink or two.
I wish her fond memories and safe travels wherever her road takes her.
For me, I now begin to look south and my next country.
Guatamala and central America....

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Post by Matthew Hopkins

An avid cycle tourer and Bicycle Mechanic, I also enjoy cycling, cooking, camping, cinema, computers, internet and tech.

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