Monday, July 6, 2009

Leaving the Sierra Madre Mountains

June 11th to 14th

England is quite a small country. When I ride there I might climb for a mile or maybe 2 if it's a big one. We leave Mitla and climb for 10 miles straight. That's constant climbing with no flat bits at all, just a never ending series of switchbacks revealing the next false summit. Then we descend for 20 miles!

And climb again another 10 miles, before dropping 15 more. We've ridden this kind of terrain often in Mexico, but I just wanted to put the scale of this place in to perspective as we cross from valley to valley.

We pass through Matatlan, south of Mitla and home to a thousand Mezcal stills. Everywhere there are ovens roasting pinas - the heart of the maguey plant after it has had it's leaves removed by machete. The air is thick, sticky and soporific from the aroma. A truck brings in fresh crops from the agave fields....

We're leaving the Sierra Madre ranges behind for good now, after around 1500 spectacularly gruelling, jaw droppingly beautiful, painfully tough and exhilarating miles of mountain riding. The ride from Oaxaca into Chiapas, the southernmost and for us the last Mexican state is said to be incredible. You drop from 2200 metres down to 400 or so onto a sweltering jungle plain before climbing the green cloud forests of the Sierra Atravesada range into Chiapas in around 10 days of awesome riding. I now know it's beautiful as I shortlist the photos for this blog and come up with 20! That's way too many and then I realise that was just the first day's ride.

Sue ponders how we're going to edit the list down....

As we take the road down and fall off the mountainside....

It's so green now after the month spent in Oaxaca. It rained almost all of the days we were there. The hills have come alive and cactus bloom in flower everywere. Some sport white sleeves like the covers on golf clubs....

Others look like their spikes have picked up red sponge balls like velcro....

There are open flowers of bright yellow and orange, or lime green pods, others have open tops and look like they have been filled with soup the colour of amber. The variety is amazing.

Now the deluge of rain is beginning to fill the rivers once more. Despite the prodigious volume of water however, the rivers still only trickle as a million miles of parched roots slurp greedily, slaking their thirst after 6 months of abstinence. Only the smallest amount of water escapes and makes it all the way down to the dry river bed..

The symbol in the centre of the Mexican flag is that of an eagle fighting a snake. The eagles beak closes round the snakes head as it's talons fight to grip the slippery body. I sweep round a bend and see that very image as a caracara bird tears a strip of meat from a serpent's side and begins to feed. As I fumble the camara at 40mph, it drops it's booty to the road and takes flight.....

Even after all these months and miles, the mountains can still throw up the unexpected as we ride though an area of huge, rock formations. A giant gorilla's head laughs at our surprise....

We begin to believe we are on the final descent as we drop to around 1000m and start to look forward to some flat riding, but after El Cameron we climb again for 20 miles! It's a cruel sting in the tail as the Sierra Madres refuse to let us go without a flight.

Then it is downhill, all downhill; for almost an entire day, the temperature rising as quickly as the land falls. Pockets of scorching air singe past us as we race downwards and the land grows ever more green. We finally reach Tehuantepec with it's impressive statue at the gateway to the city and take a long, last look back at the mountains that have held us for so long. Now they are already fading back into the distance....

Suddenly, after all that time at altitude things have changed. The humidity is total, the temperatures incredible. Winds have picked up as the land has flattened and the mountains no longer impeded air movement. It's a hot wind full of moisture and we are instantly slick from sweat. Insects and butterflies swarm in the air and giant ants crawl over everything. We take a snack break and dropped bread crumbs begin to move as they are carried away to unseen lairs. We experiment, dropping larger and larger pieces and watch amazed as teams of ants are marshalled to haul away credit card size chunks of tortilla.

The road has changed too. Gone is the 3 dimentional world of climbing twists and turns. Now there is a shimmering black ribbon of tarmac arrowing dead straight all the way to the horizon....

The skies are big again and we run in a tiny groove of civilisation cut through the ranks of dense vegetation stretching miles and miles to either side. Stage one of the ride to San Christobal is over, the mountains are defeated. Now a flat scorching run across the green, green plains and then yet another mountain range to tackle....


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