Great memories on both sides of the Paso de Cortés
Adventure of a lifetime sounds a bit cliché, doesn’t it? It’s hard to come up with another way to describe what we’re up to though. The last few days we’ve found ourselves the guests of a university professor / cycling advocate in Xochimilco, climbing the famous Paso de Cortés, and exploring the ruins of the largest pyramid on the planet! If not such an adventure, how would you describe it?
Last Wednesday, we cycled south from the center of Mexico City to meet up with Diego, our host in Xochimilco. We found him at the university where he teaches and received a mini tour of his place of work. From there, we made our way to his house to drop off our stuff but immediately got back on the road, zipping in and out of traffic on our bikes to connect with some of his cycling friends. If we had any reservations about cycling in city traffic, Mexico City has cured us of it!
As it happens, Diego had the day off work the following day due to the Columbus Day holiday so we again took off on our bikes to visit the Dolores Olmedo Museum, enjoying some of the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, followed up by a tour of the famous canal area of Xochimilco. If all that cycling around the city wasn’t enough, after a short rest in the afternoon, we took off across town to meet up with Diego’s cycling group to go on a nighttime ride across the city.
It’s worth mentioning that we typically don’t ride in traffic, we don’t ride at night (we don’t have lights on our bikes), and have never ridden in a group. Fortunately for us, they took it easy on us and we had a great time.
On Friday morning, Diego escorted us part way out of the city as we began making our way towards Amecameca (I like that name), a pretty large town on the western edge of the pass we intended to climb. Not long after our host left us to go to work, we found some nice dirt roads to ride. We made it to Amecameca just after 2:00 PM, leaving us with a decision: do we hold up there for the night and tackle the pass the next day or carry on up the mountain.
Dark clouds were looming on the horizon and our legs were a bit tired from the 50+ kms that we had already covered that day. Considering those two things, our decision was pretty much made for us. We found a cheap but clean auto motel to crash in. Our choice to stay was proven to be the right one not long after that when the heavens opened up, unleashing torrents of rain. Yeah, we were very happy that we stayed!
Saturday morning, we set off riding with sunshine over our heads. We had been warned by Diego and his friends that the ride up the pass was a tough one. We began the day at approximately 8000′ and had to climb to just over 12,000′, all in the space of 23 kms.
Shortly after we started climbing, we were treated to views of the snow-capped Ixtaccíhuatl volcano on our left, while the Popocatépetl volcano played cat and mouse on our right, often hiding behind the clouds. Fields of corn and wildflowers framed both sides of the road and our efforts were only rarely disturbed by the odd passing car.
Perhaps about 4 fifths of the way up the climb, we were passed by a motorcyclist on a Ducati. A minute or so later, we came upon him parked on the road, taking photos of us as we cycled towards him. We stopped and had a chat and learned that his name is Jesús and that he lives in Mexico City. He told us that he was heading back down the mountain but may ride back up again later in the day. Shortly after we parted ways, I mentally kicked myself for not asking him to send us copies of the pics.
Was the climb tough? Of course. There were virtually no flat spots on the way up so when we did stop to rest, it was on the side of the shoulder-less road. On the bright side, the scenery was incredible! That and the fact that there was next to no traffic, made the climb a 100% positive experience.
When we ultimately reached the top, we briefly stopped to catch our breath and take in the view. It was at this time that a young man came up and started chatting with us, inquiring about the bikes and where we were going. His name was Gabriel and he shared that he and his friend were just about to set off towards the summit of Ixtaccíhuatl where they intended to spend the night. He told me that this was his fifth time climbing the mountain and that his friend had been up more than 30 times! We exchanged contact info and he offered to have us stay with him in his house should we return to Xochimilco, his hometown. Yes, that is how generous the typical Mexican is!
Not long after our chat with Gabriel, we started our descent down the non-paved side of the pass, heading towards Cholula. The road was rough and I had mentally given up hope that we’d see Jesús, our photographer friend again. Surprise, surprise though… 20-30 minutes later he pulled up on an entirely different bike, one much better suited for the rough dirt road. He gave me his business card so that I could email him and then proceeded to ride on in front of us, stopping to take pics, and repeating the process a few more times. How cool is that? It was like we had our own private photographer!
As you can imagine, the ride down the mountain was considerably faster than the ascent. We zipped down the road, losing 5000′ in the process. When the paved road ultimately acquired too much traffic, we ducked off to ride some dirt back roads that we had also plotted. When we finally made it to Cholula, it seemed we as if arrived in the wealthy section of town. The roads looked recently paved with nice, new bricks, and the houses along the road had high walls to “protect” them. One thing we were happy to see was some well-marked bike lanes. That, and street signs signaling that bikes were welcome in town.
As we had been unsuccessful in finding a Warmshowers or Couchsurfing host in Cholula, we resorted to searching for a cheap hotel on our iPhone. When Google let me know that there was an auto hotel called Paso de Cortés only 3 minutes ride away, we knew Karma was smiling in our favor. Cost for the hotel? $270.00 pesos, approximately $16.00 US.
That night we realized that we had another decision to make. Since we had not yet truly sorted out our route south from Cholula, we could stay in and work to finalize that. Alternatively, we could remain in Cholula an extra day, rest our legs and plan our route the following day. We chose the latter. Once again, that turned out to be the proper decision.
Unbeknownst to us at the time (we need to do better research), Cholula is home to the largest pyramid in the world! In addition to getting ourselves organized for our travels towards Oaxaca, we also took a walk to explore what is now known as the Great Pyramid of Cholula. As we made our way around the ruins, we did so alongside a large number of other tourists and travelers. Also, being that is was Sunday, we found that there was a huge number of families out enjoying themselves. In the Zocalo, the town center, there was music, entertainment, food, drink, and sunshine. What’s not to like about that?
Tomorrow, we’ll begin what should be approximately a 6-day ride towards Oaxaca, the capital city of the state of the same name. Do we have these 6 days planned out in minute detail? Not even close. Although we have a GPS route that we’ll begin following, I’m sure our plans will morph as we ride south. No matter which way we go, I’m sure we’ll have plenty more exceptional experiences similar to the ones of the past week. Like I said, an Adventure of a Lifetime.