Archive for January, 2006

Durango to San Luis Potosi – 6 days, 313 miles

Thursday, January 26th, 2006
Brooks in the High Desert

   In the past week, I have cut across the high central plateau of Mexico. This plateau is dry without great changes in elevation, and the road has stayed between 6,000 and 8,000 ft above sea level.

   This dry region is rich with minerals, and every town has impressive architecture dating from 16th through 18th centuries, when mines brought these towns (and Spain) great wealth. According to a doctor I stayed with in the town of Fresnillo (met him on the street while asking directions to the firehouse), the area is the world’s second largest producer of silver.

   The most impressive city visited was Zacatecas, which, at 8,000 feet and 350,000 people, contains a great maze of cobblestone streets and buildings. I stayed an extra day in Zacatecas, talked with a school, and then camped atop a building in the center of town, where I encountered my first rain in Mexico. (The shot on the right is of an epic battle I had with Pancho Villa).

Biking in Zacatecas
Atop the hostel in Zacatecas, the first rain in two months
Me and Pancho Villa, Zacatecas

   I have ridden since Durango with Gregg and Brooks, who are riding from Alaska to Argentina to raise money for Diabetes research. I met Gregg and Brooks back in San Diego, only to split ways when my passport was stolen. No, we are not racing, as the movie on the right suggests….(I say this only because it looks like they will beat me).

Gregg, I, Brooks, Tropic of Cancer
Gregg and Brooks
A race to Argentina

   It is a different experience riding with other cyclists. The bicycling is more enjoyable, and hotels, when split three ways, sometimes fall within my acceptable limit of $5 a night. Yet interaction with local peoples is far less, as a group of gringos is more intimidating than an individual. I hope to ride more with Gregg and Brooks in the future, and there are a number of people that I hope will join me on this trip. But it is also clear that there are great benefits to being alone on the road.

El Tec de Monterrey, Zacatecas Campus

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

   Today I visited El Tec de Monterey, a private school in Zacatecas. Here I found yet another power point projector as well as two auditoriums full of students psyched to get out of class for a traveling Gringo.

Zacatecas Private School
Zacatecas Private School
Zacatecas Priate School

   Mexico is, on average, a much poorer country than the United States, yet it is also a much more unequal one (see my fact comparison). While most people in Mexico earn the minimum wage of $5 per day, many others live at first world standards. Many of the students at these private schools live at first world standards, and I am excited to talk to them not only because many use resources similarly to those of us in the U.S., but also because they are in a position to make change in their country.

American School of Durango

Friday, January 20th, 2006
American School of Durango - Biology Class
American School of Durango - Chemistry Class

   I visited American School of Durango, a private school where all classes are taught in English (although I did my presentation in Spanish–I think the kids pay more attention to a Gringo if he tries to speak Spanish). Using powerpoint and a projector, I talked to one biology class and two high school chemistry classes. The classes are usually taught by Bryan, who is from Ohio.

Copala to Durango – 4 days, 163 miles

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

   I spent two days in Copala, a picturesque town of about 1,500 people in the steep foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidente, a massive mountain range that hugs the west coast of Mexico. Copala, a former mining town, now appears to have an economy based on tourism and livestock that make noise early in the morning (mostly donkeys and chickens).

Copala, a town in the foothills
Dr. Carlos
Dora and Luis

   In Copala I befriended a doctor and former cyclist who raced in the 1961-3 Tour de France, an artist who spends one month a year in a vow of silence (not this month), and a young hotel manager who is married to a man more than twice her age (something that I’ve seen more than once here). In addition to companionship, these people provided me with food, medicine, highly discounted lodging, bicycling advice, and organic, herbal remedies.

   Departing Copala, the road climbs to over 6,000 feet in 30 miles, and then continues to climb while hugging an impressive cliff-lined ridgeline literally called ‘the spine of the devil.’ It is the only paved road through the Sierra Madre Ocidente for hundreds of miles to the north and south. Eventually, the terrain becomes less steep, entering pine forests, but the road continues to climb to over 9,000 feet.

Climbing into the Sierra Madre Ocidente
Cliffs overlooking El Palmito
El Espinazo del Diablo

   The second night out of Copala, while camping in the forest at below freezing temperatures, I awoke to find a forest fire (slowly) approaching my tent. I decided to move camp.

This fire was getting close to my tent.
I stayed in the first house on the left

   The third night out, I stayed with the family of the doctor’s mother-in-law, who lived in the village of Llano Grande high in the mountains. All employment in the village is based on harvesting wood from the forests. About eight members of the extended family shared a lot. Dinner was cooked on a wood stove, and I turned on and off the light in the extra room they had by unscrewing the bulb from the socket. I was the first or second gringo that anyone in the family had ever talked to. (When asked, they said not to put their photos on the internet for the world to see).

Cathedral in Durango
Durango Hotel: We don't have to share a bed tonight!

   I am now in the city of Durango, staying for free at a hotel because I have befriended a man who runs an excellent bicycle touring company and has connections to the tourism industry. If you want to do an economic supported bicycle tour near Durango, check out their website! Durango, with a scenic colonial downtown, sits at about 6,000 ft and is filled with about half a million people.

Mazatlán to Copala – 4 days, 56 miles

Friday, January 13th, 2006
Bomberos of Mazatlan

   After one day in the marina attempting to recover from seasickness, I tried to leave town. After eight miles, realizing I was still too sick, I pulled into the firehouse, where I spent the next 12 hours mostly asleep while the firemen traded ringtones between their phones.
   I pedaled an easy 30 flat miles the next day, arriving in the town of Concordia at the foothills of the mountains. Immediately upon leaving town, I was struck by the greenness of the place–there are forests, singing birds, and even a few lizards on the roadside. Most of the rain falls here in the summer months, and this is the dry season, yet, in comparison to Baja, it was incredible.

Green Roads near Concordia

    I tried to leave Concordia, a town of about 10,000, the next morning, but puked and returned to my cheap hotel room for the rest of the day. The following morning, I thought I was well enough to bike, and I rode 15 miles uphill to the small town of Copala. Unable to continue, I sought out the local pharmacy and decided to stay put until my stomach stopped doing the things you don’t want to post about on the internet.