Saturday, July 11, 2009

Coastal Plains

14th June to 16th

After the Sierra Madre ranges, the coastal plains come as a real shock - the cycling is just so different here. The physical challenge has changed from the brute force approach required to propel us up near vertical surfaces, to a brutal test of heat endurance. We have to be on the road shortly after dawn to fit in a brief few hours ride before temperatures rise to melting point.

We ride due East and there is no shade as the sun burns it's fiery course across heat hazed skies. By midday it is well into the 90's. Well that's the temperature in the shade - we cook in direct sunlight and water stops are frequent as we drip our sweaty paths in near total humidity. We carry 14 litres of water, an amount that disappears in just 5 hours. The terrain is flat, but it's tough going in this oppressive heat....


There are 2200 metre high mountains 20 miles to the north, but here the land is flat and lies at just a couple of hundred metres. That difference in height generates huge winds as the air literally slides down the mountain side. There is nothing to slow it as it races towards the coast 20 miles south of us. It's like riding into the open doors of a blast furnace as hot air hits us in the face. Lips and eyes sizzle, dry out and begin to cook in the face of this natural hairdrier blast. The locals take full advantage and the plain is littered with huge windmill farms, their blades scything and spinning in the rushing air....


But it is again a beautiful land. Low lying wetlands appear on previously parched land as the rainy season takes hold in the mountains. Everywhere there is life as bird calls screech and squawk - their cries and early warnings system describing 2 strange travellers invading their domain....


The skies blur and buzz with colour as a million butterflies ride the buffeting air waves of passing traffic. One takes a brief rest on the roadside, before riding the rollercoaster once more....


The heat begins to take it's toll and where we planned to cross the 110kms of flatlands between Juchitan and Tepanatepec in a day, we begin to reassess our plans. Almost magically, at the exact halfway point a hotel shimers into view in Niltepec and the sign displays my new favourite words - "Aire Aconditionado". For the bargain sum of just 200 pesos (15 dollars) we luxurite in cool air whilst the world outside boils.

Mexico's two southermost states (Oaxaca and Chiapas) share much in common. Firstly, a grinding poverty (they are Mexico's 2 poorest states) with higher proportions of indiginous Indian populations than other states. They are both based on a rural economy with many people eeking out a subsistence living growing crops of small homesteads. Mechanisation is rare and oxen and men plough the land in modern repitition of a centuries old tradition....


They are also fanatically religious with roadside graffiti invoking the power of various bible verses....


They are both also stunningly beautiful and new life is everywhere as the rains tease strange new colour from the green....


After 2 sticky, sweaty, debilitating days we reach the foothills of the Sierra Atravesada and we can at last begin to climb away from the sweltering lowlands. I have never felt so grateful to see the steeps....


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