Police

5 Day On a Bike – Puebla – Oaxaca – Part 1

I have started to write this post more than a week ago which makes it appropriately long (will be published in 2 parts).

My journey south continues. Not really on the most direct line but generally I’m sticking to the right direction. After cycling past the volcanoes of central Mexico I have stopped for a day in Puebla in the shadow of a still puffing Popo (Popocatepetl). Enjoying the hospitality of Mariana and Jose (Warmshowers hosts) I managed to relax for a while before continuing to Oaxaca. Google maps informed me that there is approx. 370 km in front of me which I have transformed into 5 days of cycling. Here is a short summary of this route.

Day 1 – 42 km
Saying goodbye to friendly hosts is always hard and it does not get easier with time and encountering different people. This meant that I have left the apartment of my host only at around 11h and then spent another hour and a half “talking” to Lou and his front wheel in the garage (the content of these “talks” is not confidential, but it’s more appropriate for a few lines from the Simon’s Brightest series, so I’ll keep it for there). Getting out of a city can be stressful and this time around was no exception. Lots of traffic on sometimes too narrow streets. The worst kind of drivers comes in the shape of bus drivers who continuously cut you off and are completely ignorant to whether you will be able to stop in time or not.
Given the fact that the route into the city was a gentle downhill, I was well aware of the fact that the route out will be uphill. With some stops I managed to do it.
My progress at the end of the day reflected all of the above mentioned and the odometer stopped at 42 km. Since I was not keen on camping, I headed towards the firefighters in the town of Tepeaca. Here in the state of Puebla the firefighters (as well as the ambulance) live under the same roof as the state police. This meant I had to go to the police since they are in charge of the security of the station and ask them if I can camp there. Friendly policemen first took my data and insisted on verifying that there was no tank hidden in my bags and then they let me camp on their driveway. Concrete floor are not he most ideal place for camping, but it’s doable. I was especially glad of this fact the next morning when the tent was dry, no condensation inside.
While preparing to set up my tent, a policeman approaches me and starts a conversation that leads to him offering me dinner. Tacos, this is Mexico after all. Accepting the offer I eat my way through some tasty goat tacos.
After dinner comes setting up my tent and a quick wash at the toilet before snuggling into my sleeping bag and writing my diary. Outside there is a pack of dogs barking. One of them is especially loud but after my intervention when I go out of the tent and chase them away, all becomes quiet again. The night passes without incidents.

Day 2 – 114 km
The morning is cold, but having my tent on a concrete means no condensation for which I am glad. Morning ritual encompasses cleaning up my tent (sleeping bag and similar) and then taking down the tent. I cook my breakfast at the police and say goodbye to them a bit after 8h. The sun is strong enough so that I can cycle in short sleeves. After a short climb the road starts to descend. A nice 4 lane with a shoulder is soon interrupted with a sign roadwork. This in Mexico can mean several things from “no pasa nada” (a sign that was forgotten or they have forgotten to start working) to gravel road and a construction site. Well in this case it was the latter. Tarmac gives way to gravel and after a few km when tarmac reappears, I’m well shaken.
The road slowly turns into a gentle descend which with a few interruptions follows me for the rest of the day.
At one point I manage to merge with a group of 100 or so cyclists whom turn out to be pilgrims. Not to talkative bunch of people so we all turn our pedals in silence. At least until the first climb when they run away. They are not cycling on a fully loaded bicycles.
In a town of Tlacotepec I stop on a bench in the main square. It’s time to treat myself to some peanut butter sandwiches whilst listening to “Feliz Navidad” coming from a loudspeaker from a nearby stand.
The rest of the day I’m accompanied by headwind which I have not invited. Since I’m still descending by the end of the day I manage to pass 100 km mark. My second time in Mexico!
Before stopping for the night I do have a close encounter with the tarmac. In some small town there is a speed bump across the road (they are very popular in Mexico) whilst the shoulder is without it. But there are some descend sized stones on the shoulder intended to prevent cars from bypassing the speed bump. But they are intended for car, not for bicycles, right? And so typically – is the gap between the rocks wide enough for my loaded bicycle? Sure it is! – Well, it wasn’t. My right front pannier hit a rock and what followed was a short but passionate and dynamical tango by Lou and yours truly. It ended up way less spectacularly with a fall into the only puddle for miles. My first fall on this trip!
Evening finds me pitching my tent next to a football field adjacent to a gas station.

Day 3 – 64 km
Day 200 of the trip. Morning is cloudy and it does look like it is going to rain, but it doesn’t. I load up Lou and pay a quick visit to the toilet before hitting the road. Short on water I head into the first town to look for a so called “purificadora”, filling station for purified water. Friendly employees fill up all my water bottles and a 6 litre water bag. When I want to pay they just wave me off.
The road which has already taken the shape of a shoulder less two-lane soon transforms itself into gravel. This time for a longer period that yesterday. While being tossed around on holes and bumps car and trucks pass me by leaving me in a thick dust clouds. At least I’m not hungry but for sure I’m extremely well shaken like some James Bond martini – Shaken, not stirred.
Today the first hills start to appear, but they tend to go gentle on me. More than by the hills I’m impressed by all the greenery around me. Not that central Mexico was all desert but for sure it was less and not so intensively green. Everywhere there are trees, palms and in between there are even cactuses of all size and shape.
I finish the day in the town of Santa Maria Tecomavaca where I pay a visit to a small store for some essentials (toilet paper). Since they do not stock fruits I go to the neighbour, Santiago for some bananas. After a short chat he gives me a nice bunch of bananas and some apples as well. Yet another example of Mexican generosity.
Camping under arches on the main square. I really do not feel like going out of town and look for some wild camping.

Cactuses of Different Shapes and Sizes
Cactuses of Different Shapes and Sizes

Hello Donkies
Hello Donkies

It's Getting Green In Mexico
It’s Getting Green In Mexico

It IS Green
It IS Green

Little Uphill
Little Uphill

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

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¡Ah Chihuahua!

It has been six days since I have arrived Chihuahua, the capital city of the Mexican state of the same name, and here I’m now “gathering strength” to continue. After days in the desert it feel so nice to rest for a while and besides I had some errands to attend to. In US my tooth has cracked and since the dental services in US are something that a modest traveller on a bicycle can barely afford, I have delayed a visit to the dentist until I reach Mexico. Apart from that there are some standard things I have to do like laundry, writing this post, planning my next steps,…

Before entering Mexico I had to leave the US first. Mostly routine procedure with Border patrol officer checking my passport and allowing me to continue. But it would be out of my character if I would not go and complicate the situation. My passport has a stamp that allows me to stay in the US only for 3 days and this has already been the source of some complications. Since I have not seen the border patrol officer to register in the computer my departure from the States I have returned to him and pointed out that I have this stamp that only allows me 3 days. Before I have managed to ask him for an exit stamp (I do not trust the computers) the situation became somewhat complicated. I was almost registered as illegal immigrant (overstaying my visa) but for sure I was a special case. So my departure from the States was delayed for about 45 minutes. First I had to wait then I had to explain my story in a long and detailed manner and then I had to wait again. After about 45 minutes another Border patrol officer came with my passport and she said I’m free to leave the country (amazing). I think they have rather given up on me than really dug into my case and check all the facts with all the necessary parties involved. But I’m not complaining, as long as I’m free the leave the country! But before I go, I still politely ask for an exit stamp. As one might say “You never know!”

Exiting_US
And I got it!

Entry into Mexico was different. Some small talk with the police using little Spanish that I know, paying 25 USD for a tourist permit and a stamp in my passport that allows me to stay up to 180 days in Mexico. At least I think so. After all my knowledge of Spanish is limited.
Quite quickly I have left the border town of Ojinaga. All border towns tend to be places that I do not want to linger around since they tend to be dirty and have their share of dodgy characters. In front of me there is again an empty road, the desert and soon enough mountains. Climbing these mountains unravel views into the distance and from the height I have the opportunity to watch the softness of the landscape below. Distance transforms all those roughly cut dry creek beds and rocks, bitten off by the winds, which I have not long ago cycled past, into gentle, soft wrinkles of the land below.

From_A_Distance_Chihuahuan_Desert
From a Distance

Luckily for me the day was cloudy so the temperatures were completely bearable and also the climbs, which were not that rare, have not been too hard. Still I have not managed to reach some sort of a settlement where I would be able to find a place to sleep. Before reaching Mexico, I have been advised not to rough/stealth camp since it would not be such a smart thing to do. And since I have not reached any populated settlement, I resorted to improvisation. At a military check-point I found out that my broken Spanish actually is not so bad that I would not be able to ask for permission to camp. It was a good thing since none of the soldiers spoke any English. Still we managed to communicate and so my first night in Mexico I was camping next to a military check point.

Hosts_For_A_Night
Hosts For a Night

First_Camping_In_Mexico
First Camping In Mexico

The next day promised lots of emptiness and a great deal of sun. After the soldiers stocked me up with water, coffee and food for the road, I have hit the road (uphill) and cycled all day. Most of the time we did not get along well with the wind since according to a well-known, old rule it was headwind. Also the fact that it was sunny with no shade by the roadside did not really help. Nevertheless I manage to cover more than 90 km on this day.
As the end of the day was approaching I started to look for the village which, according to my map, should be just next to the main highway. Boy, was I in for an unpleasant surprise when the road workers, which were probably there just to help me, told me that the village is quite some km over the horizon away with only a small, barely distinguishable dirt road leading there. Instead of taking this dirt road in hope that there actually is a house at the end, I took the offer from the road workers to give me a lift to the next town. The ride on the back of a pick-up where with one hand I managed to hold Lou upright while with the other hand I held down all the stuff so the wind doesn’t blow it away (partially successful since I have ended up without one already torn glove) seemed surreal. Empty road through an empty landscape, wind blowing through my hair, dark, black clouds that have soon produced heavy raindrops, which have, due to the speed I was traveling with, felt like tiny needles penetrating my skin. And at the same time there was this this warm feeling of a long, hard day of cycling is coming to an end. I only had to find myself a place to sleep. And since I have ended up in a small city finding a place to pitch a tent becomes a bit larger challenge. But there are alternatives so I have headed towards the fire station where I have once again tested my Spanish skills. Apparently I can communicate since that evening I managed to sleep in a proper bed after taking a nice, relaxing and refreshing shower that washed away the dirt and tiredness of the day. And I have also managed to cook myself a dinner in their kitchen.

Aldama_Firemen
Aldama Firemen

Without a doubt, in Mexico I have received a warm welcome by very friendly people!

Traffic has been light so far (on the road from the border to Chihuahua only about 4-5 cars hourly on average passed me by) so this challenge still awaits me somewhere down the road.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

PS
For a while I’m saying goodbye since I’m about to go what one could say masochistic exploration of the Copper Canyon which is larger and in some cases deeper than the very much known Grand Canyon in the US.

Encounter With The Police

Beautiful sunny day greats me in an old Airstreamer behind a restaurant Mana Dew in Middleton, NY. Today’s plan consists of a morning coffee after the breakfast and just under 60km of cycling to Poughkeepsie where I will have a short break before heading to New York City. Considering the fact that I do not like cycling into (and especially out of) big cities, I have decided that for a first time visit to NYC I will take the train. But all this is still ahead of me. First I had to enjoy this beautiful sunny day.

Just outside of the town the hills have begun and since I’m fully loaded it went slowly and also left and right. Beside the main climb there were several smaller just behind it. And on one of these smaller ones I notice in my rear view mirror a jeep that was going veeeery slowly behind me and just sort of half way of the road. It seemed odd but then again I thought to myself that it might just be that the driver wants to take a side path and he’s waiting for me to that I with my lightning speed go past that point.

And then a sceen from a movie has started. The lights went on an the siren too. I have momentarly froze and realized the jeep behind me is the police and they are pulling me over. So I stopped. The way you see it in the movies in which the main focus is not running away from the police. Standing half way up the hill I turn aound and a policeman comes out of the car. We quickly understand eachother that I might be wiser and safer for all if I pull over on the first side road. Couple of minutes later I do so.

Standing on the side road, police (sheriffs) jeep behind and to sheriff’s deputies come out. One with and the other without sunglasses. We greet each other (»How are you doing?« »Fine, thank you sir. Adn you?«). ID and who am I and what am I doing here. I reply politely as I can. Soon the one with the sunglasses assures me that I’m in no kind of trouble. They just received a call that a strange cyclist is zig-zaging on the road. Concerned citizens (probably not as concerned about my safety as theirs. There is a good explanation about why the drivers pay so much attention to the cyclist in Canada that I heard: »Probably it’s just too much of a hasle if you run over one). Naturally I zig-zag. What other way can I get my humble 70kg and 50kr plus oof fully loaded Lou up the hill? And when it’s flat or going downhill I zig-zag to avoid all the holes and the bumps on the road (still less of those here than in Canada).

This unscheduled rest lasts for about half an hour. While the one without sunglasses is in the jeep checking if they can let me go I talk with the one with the sunglasses. »We are just checking that you are not wanted for smuggling guns or drugs!« he tells me.

Since I have nothing like such with me I generously suggest that they can check my baggage. »But it will take us a while!« I add. Sunglasses smiles at me and sais: »Exactlly!« I do get a feeling that nobody is in the mood for browsing through my bags. And then he adds: »Well if you are smuggling drugs then congratulations for making it pass by me!«.

It turns out that I’m not wanted by anyone and that I can go. They both wish me good luck and tell me to take care. After what I have seen on TV, read on the internet and heard from others, my first experience with the American police was all but typical. And by that I mean in a very good way.

Hope that all the potential future encounters with the police will be as positive as this one.

A day that started rainy and ended sunny

I woke up in a tent on a grassy edge of a parking lot behind the town hall. The construction workers that are repairing the street in town have already went to work (I know this because of all the beeping of the machinery driving in reverse). As I’m sort of short with water I have to give up on my morning coffee with my breakfast. But it does not matter since I will surely find a café where I will be able to spend the last of Canadian dollars. Today it will be decided if I will be allowed into the US or not. This question has been bothering me since my arrival at the Boston airport where the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer has frightened me saying that it is possible that since I’m unemployed and living off my savings, these savings might not be sufficient to let me into the US for a longer period of time.

So I have packed up my camp, ate my breakfast and loaded up Lou. As I was just about to finish, it started to rain. Wonderful, just what I needed as a morale booster. But the weather is something that we cannot control. So I set off in search of my morning coffee. A café that I have somehow missed yesterday evening is actually just 50m away.

I enter, take a seat and a man brings me a menu for breakfast. “I’ll have just some coffee!” I say and I get it. We start a conversation about who I am, where I come from and what am I doing here. Answering these question, the man says “Wait, I’ll bring you something for the trip!” About 10 minutes later a he comes back with a full plate of food. A breakfast, typical North American with eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast. Pleasantly surprised a dig in even if I’m not that hungry. But you never know on a bicycle what’s in store for you and besides I burn so many calories. Since it continues to rain outside I stay at the café for about 3 hours and when it looks like there might be a break between downpours I start to set off. Just before I leave the owner and the cook additionally boost my morale by saying that the border check might be stricter than usual since a few days ago two convicts have escaped from a prison about 50km from the borer and they are still looking for them. Well isn’t that just great.

So I set off in a drizzle and head for another encounter with American border officials. The border is only about 5 km away and I have no idea when they passed by. Canadian side is only a ramp that gets lifted as I approach but then a sign “All vehicles must stop in 200 feet!” Definitely approaching the American side. I stop at the stop sign and wait for green light. This stop I use to remove all the unnecessary equipment on me (helmet, cycling gloves) and wipe off my glasses. From the border post a woman in uniform comes out and kindly asks “Have you been waiting long?” “No, not at all!” I reply and cycle towards here. Fairly quickly we realize I’m a bit of a special case so she tells me to park my bicycle and step inside. There are more CBP officers there. Another woman takes over my case and the interrogation begins and a more official and intimidating way. Where are you from, what’s your name, how old are you, where are you going, how much money you have, do I know anyone in US,… This goes on for a while before she starts to check my data in the computer. At that moment another officer starts a conversation in a more friendly tone. But I do notice that he is actually indirectly asking me the same things as the woman before him did. So they are checking if my answers were something I have learned by heart or are they really the facts since I can repeat them through a conversation. Fine by me.

The woman turn back towards me and say that everything is OK and that I will be allowed to enter. But I should pay attention not to overstay my visa. “But how long can I stay?” “6 months from the day you have entered the country in Boston.” “How come? The officer in Boston said he gives me 3 days. In addition to that he also writes it down in my passport next to the stamp.” “Well it has been entered into the system that you have 6 months and I cannot change this.” There is nothing left for me but to agree with here and happily go out to take my bicycle. Immediately I notice that they have checked my bags as well since not all is the way I have left it. But that fine. I firmly attached what needs to be reattached and with a Smile on my face I cycle on. Apparently all the worries and insecurities of the past month were completely unnecessary.

About 3 km (OK, I’m in US now, so 2 miles) further down the road the sun emerges from behind the clouds. And it follows me until the evening which I send with my couchsurfing host John and his lovely family.

Welcome to the US!