A forced rest day, but I think was much needed. We were able to skype the family, and then I left Jon at the hotel while I made my way to the bike shop. Problem! I can’t speak Spanish and they didn’t speak English. We had to communicate via google translater on their PC, and it didn’t look good when he said he didn’t have the part we needed. Luckily he then explained that another friend’s bike shop had it in stock, and it would be ready in 1 ½ hours. What a touch! If they weren’t able to help, the only way Ronnie would have made it to Cuba would have been in a box.
Even on a rest day there is always so much to do – we are trying not to think ahead of ourselves, but the week we arrive back in the UK is packed with press commitments (not trying to sound too nobbish!), but Holly has everything under control.
Another pikey lunch – this time eating footlong subways sat on the hotel driveway waiting for Berto who very kindly offered to put us up for the night (saves another hotel cost). Class! We felt bad when the security gate at his place jammed against his brand new jeep, but he was surprisingly chilled about it. It was cool being shown round Choluca (a lively student town), and we filled our boots with more inferno food, before looking round container city – as the name suggests it was a whole load of ship containers with bars and restaurants specifically for students – well cool.
One thing about downhill is the wounding realisation that we now had to make our way back up to 7,300ft today to reach Puebla. The heat is back and cooking us every mile we cover. Finding another toll road, we put our heads down and pushed down the thighs at a dizzying 9mph into a headwind – rubbish! When a landcruiser pulled alongside, Jon thought they had run out of petrol. I was more annoyed that they had stopped my sluggish rhythm. It actually transpired that Davide and his girlfriend Anna spoke perfect English and he was really keen on cycling and triathlons and wanted to hear about our adventure. They were so nice, and started trying to contact some friends along our route to see if we might be able to stay with them. It was refreshing for us to be able to speak English again to other people, and they really wanted to help us in any way they could.
One of their friends, Berto, lived just outside Puebla and Davide said to give him a call when we were nearby. Unfortunately we couldn’t get through so soldiered onto Puebla and decided to settle on a hotel instead. At our last breather (god these hills are killing me), I noticed a worrying wobble on Ronnie’s crank – it looks like the bearings have gone, and after kicking ourselves for not getting the buckled wheel changed in Chiang Mai, I knew that we needed to get to a bike shop quickly.
We hooked back up with Davide and Anna at our hotel and they very kindly bought us dinner (at least we knew what we were ordering), as well as introducing us to Berto who came along too. And he knew a bike shop owner in Puebla, and arranged for them to look at the bike in the morning. Another amazing occurrence on our challenge.
Explaining to the ‘Rodge the Yank’ that we were now heading to Cuautla, all he said was good luck. And when stopping at the traffic lights a Mexican yute driver raised his eyebrows when we told him. “Bro this aint a game of tidily winks!” You see today we were cycling cross country over a mountain range, off the safely of the more steady inclines of the toll roads, and up to the highest point of the Tropic of Cancer for Cancer Challenge – 10,400 feet, or 2 miles above sea level!
Luckily, the Mexican gang member Alberto cycled with us for 10 miles out of Toluca, which really helped point us in the right direction. We would have been proper lost without him, even though we were worried as we weaved through little shortcuts of his home town. We are in hillbilly territory now and I wasn’t liking the hills either, and we weirdly found ourselves in a Saturday morning cycle race. There were a few kids there who should have taken it a bit easy on the burritos, and Jon was loving racing them, until the map flew off his bike and got proper ‘trucked’ by about 5 artics!
He then got carried away and raced passed the junction we needed to turn left at. I was not happy having to chase him downhill, and then having to cycle back. Jon then lost concentration trying to straighten the tent and faceplanted the asphalt. Luckily he was going slowly uphill, but it was a stark reminder that even with just 12 cycling days left, we can’t take our eyes off the ball.
We are having to dig deep, harder than any training we have done, taking each 100ft of assent at a time, and after what seemed like an eternity (and several buckets of sweat later, we reached the magical 10,400ft peak! If we were in Europe now this would be a ski resort! Now it’s all downhill right? Wrong! We turned the corner and the best view in the world greeted us. We were literally up in the clouds and could see for miles across Mexico. Awesome! Squealing down the 1500ft descent (our brakes are cooked now!), Jon mentioned that we still had another pimple of a hill to do (250m) to get back to the toll road. More like a big angry puss-dripping hill bro, it nearly finished us both off. We managed 50m at a time, this was the steepest hill of the challenge – even a bloke on his rusty bike walked up the hill quicker than me!
But yes, we were on the toll road again, and had 35km of downhill. The view I can only describe as looking out of a plane window with your feet on the ground. It made you dizzy trying to take it all in. We could see two different vast plateaus, about 6000ft below us, and it was downhill all the way. This is without a doubt the most exhilarating cycling road on the planet, just trying to take it all in blew our minds! We just made it to Cuautla before dark, nailed a fajita feast and collapsed into our beds with the views of the day whirling around in our heads.
Left the stunning courtyard of the town centre hotel early, and headed off to Toluca. A 500m assent woke us up pretty sharpesh, but I was still struggling as Jon tanked on ahead. However the scenery was inspiring me on; the road weaved steeply up through pine forests, and the massive rigs gave us airhorn encouragement as we sweated like Mexicans in a chilli face off!
Toluca is one of the highest cities in Mexico at 2,700m, and 900m higher than our training in the Alps! And approaching the industrial city, we saw snow covered mountains glistening in the afternoon sunlight. Every day Mexico’s magical landscape continues.
Now onto Lonely Planet – we’ve downloaded about 10 chapters on the relevant parts of Mexico and we aimed for a hotel, El Gran, in the centre of Toluca, lured with the offer of free wifi. But could we find it? No chance, and even a taxi escort with the most useless cabbie I’ve ever met proved fruitless. Anyway, after a lot of huffing and puffing (just cycled 84 miles), pushing our bikes through the busy centre, we found the ‘renamed’ hotel (thanks useless LP), and Jon excelled himself in the first Mexican hotel negotiation.
3 days now without the right food was taking it’s toll on us, fortunately we did manage to find an internet cafe last night and re planned our route, we found a town with a choice of 5 hotels for tonight which must also mean good restaurants. We were right. We found a cool little authentic hotel cheap as chips with a good cafe restaurant on site, we also plotted a shorter cycle today which meant that we could eat twice after lunch and have a much needed rest. We filled our boots with delicious tacos, burritos, soup, cakes. It was awesome. We then retired to the room to catch a film on the laptop just in time too because it absolutely chucked it down.
After two days of not eating proper food we made the executive decision to stop short of another potential hill billy town and get to the slightly bigger town of Cuitzeo, well it was in bold on the map so it must be better right? Well yes and no. Again there was only one hotel and again the only thing we could find to eat was crap, nice crap granted, burgers with cheese, bacon and inferno insanity sauce but still not the right food for us. The cool colonial town was charasmatic where the streets were rows of terraced buildings and every one with the exception of the church was painted red & white. There was no advertising or shop signs anywhere and the only thing that distinguished the shops from one another was either by peering in or by the writing above the entrance which was the same small size and same font as the next shop.
The hotel we found was basic but good for one night. It was run by a Mexican/American family and the son was about Dom’s age, he gave us some advice on our route past Mexico City, we concluded that it’d be best to drop south from Toluca to Cuernavaca then onto Puebla. Mexico City is one of if not the biggest city in the world and skimming the outskirts on the toll road would be bonkers; lots of fly overs, junctions, traffic. We’d be knocked off for sure. That’s not even taking into account that it’s also one of the most dangerous cities on the planet.
Did some work this morning to catch up; Holly is going great guns on arranging PR for our return including a 6 sheet advert at Bank tube station! We went to town to grab our usual sandwich bits but realised after an hour back on the road that we forgot to get cash, this could be a problem. I found the cycle tough today, the pizza from last night didn’t sit well in my stomach causing me to loose my appetite which in turn drained my energy. Reluctantly I forced a tuna sarnie down which did actually help a little and gave me a much needed energy boost.
We ploughed on to a small ‘hill billy’ town called Panindicuaro within the bleakness of the hills, the next big town was beyond our cycling reach for the day. We did manage to find one rather shabby family run hotel but after having stayed in some less than impressive hotels in India it was fine. The town had one cash point which ironically didn’t work, so there we were in the middle of nowhere with only 100 pesos on us, the hotel was 300 and we needed to eat. We were in a bit of a jam.
We got Rich to send us a message in Spanish so we could show matey chops but he was too leathered on tequila to know what was going on although we did manage to understand that he could give us a lift to the next town in the morning. That left us with just enough money for a couple of firecracker inferno burgers from across the street, not ideal as we needed proper food but beggars can’t be choosers.
When we arrived in La Barca we thought we’d found a right touch in finding a hotel right on the toll road even better that it had wifi. Trouble was as it was a bank holiday weekend their restaurant wasn’t open and this was the same in the town. We did manage to get some pizzas though which isn’t the best food for two hungry cyclists but much better than some of the options in China. The pizzas weren’t great and didn’t sit well in my stomach, fortunately Dom was ok but I didn’t get much sleep and only a day after recovering from the dodgy mayo it was an episode I could do without.