Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mexico Part2


Our good friend Jose Juan Escobedo, a native of Hidalgo, was kind enough to scare up some bikes, offering us an opportunity to do a mountain bike trip into the desert northwest of Potrero Chico. JJ is the town’s most serious cyclist, and he is no slouch: he has been bike-commuting 40km (one way) to Monterrey every weekday; on a flat but scary highway. He makes it to work in just over an hour, riding a mountain bike! Since we last saw him he has worked a stint in Switzerland, where he also did justice to the Alps, cycling with a former Tour de France racer (he is seen here wearing an authentic TDF yellow jersey he received as a gift). Truly, he has attained superlative form, and on this 157km tour, mostly on dirt roads, he left us literally in the dust. We were left humbled and awed both by him and by the desert scenery on this clear, magical, last day of 2005.
The land here forms a plateau, with awesome looking rocks and mountains jutting out here and there. The road stays on the flats, but since the plateau is inclined, one ever so gradually climbs from 500m to a high point of about 950m in the vicinity of la Popa, a mountain with kilometers of rampart-like, 400m high cliffs. The rock’s solid appearance is, however, deceiving. Two years ago, we were part of an expedition to add a third route to the only two (crazy) other routes that exist here. We scared ourselves silly and backed off after less than 100m. This defeat, however only seemed to add to the mountain’s beauty: there is a feeling here of something truly wild and untouched, indeed nearly untouchable, by human hands.
The plateau is sparsely inhabited by ranchers and their cows and goats, which graze on the scant, thorny vegetation. (The cows amazingly can devour cactus, spines and all; in fact they prefer it to other plants.) A well with a wind pump provides water. A few natural springs with villages clustered around them can also be found. Yet everyone says that the place is slowly drying up; global warming will eventually turn this landscape into high desert.
As one travels west, the land becomes visibly more arid and depopulated. Jagged mountains encircle the distant horizon. The topography is unique and fascinating; on a satellite image the area looks downright bizarre. See for yourself; try Google Earth with these coordinates: N 26 deg 10 min, W 100 deg 50 min.
Cerro Gordo is another spectacular peak and probably the only other place that has any climbing routes established. The summit can be reached via a loose and dangerous 5.10c route that follows the right skyline. It is climbed perhaps once a year; even finding the way to the base is a challenge.
We now begin to descend gently from our high point at la Popa to the historic but tiny village of Paredon, from where a paved road promises to take us the final 60km back to Hidalgo. Though it is mid-winter, it is uncharacteristically hot with the temperature in the 30s C.
We take a lunch break to relieve our aching wrists and buttocks. Riding these rocky roads on the somewhat ill fitting bikes is slowly taking its toll. After a short break we continue down the empty road, the distant scenery barely changing as we pass the kilometer markers, the only signs of forward progress.
Along the entire way we pass maybe five or six small communities where refreshments can be bought at a tiny store while the village’s inhabitants look on with great curiosity. People lead a simple life here and are always friendly; the children a bit shy but willing to pose for a snapshot.
Paredon is a dusty railroad junction in the middle of nowhere, but is locally well known because the revolutionary train ‘la Cucaracha’ of Pancho Villa passed through here.
This is commemorated today in the name of a local watering hole “Pancho Villa”. It is also said that the town takes its name, which literally means ‘the wall’, from some executions by firing squad that may have taken place here around that time. What a bummer it must have been to meet one’s end that way in such a desolate place as this.
The sun is inevitably on its way toward the horizon as we begin our return. Fatigue mounts for us, but JJ is still full of energy and surges ahead at great speed from time to time. We are behind schedule and won’t make it back by sundown, which is inconvenient because the last 12km are on a national highway and fierce headwinds blow nightly there through the wide gap between the mountains, energized by the climatic differences between the desert and the lower, more vegetated plains on the other side. Not much can be done about this, so we enjoy sunset at the 500 year old ruined church of El Muerto, situated in stark and desolate surroundings, its adobe walls slowly crumbling away.
Luckily it turns out the winds and the trucks are kind to us and we arrive back in Hidalgo in good time and in one piece. JJ, still fully stoked, goes on to party all night (it is New Years Eve after all); we greet 2006 a little more quietly and go to bed shortly after. There’s more climbing to be done in the early morning, before the heat of the day.


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