August 31 to September 17- Red, White and Green

Although our original plans had us biking up to Mexico City (even potentially to the Mexico-U.S. border), current events can shift comfort levels, and plans can change. To err on the side of safety, we decide to stay an extra week in Guatemala and bus through Mexico from the border up. But let’s face it—we have all fallen helplessly in love with Guatemala and none of us are too disappointed about prolonging the end of our tryst.

 

Guatemalan country road

Tuesday morning we shuttle up a long, steep grade to Nebaj. The incline is daunting to say the least, and Alyssa’s bike is also in no shape to make the journey.

We arrive in the city, only to be swarmed by a group of unremitting street-smart boys who are determined to help load panniers onto bikes. Several even offer to polish our flip flops and Chacos with their shoe-shining kits. Their zealous attempts to help are both sad and irresistible. We’re cautious to reward their generosity, our minds burdened with the nagging thought that their helpfulness might be disingenuous. The boys know their math:  cute smiles + faces smudged with shoe polish + offering help = money/food from the gringas. Their charming persistence wins out in the end, and we allow them to escort us to the bike repair shop. We soon realize that two of the boys are in cahoots with a plan to outlast the others while repairs are made on Alyssa’s bike. Vigilant, they stick it out to the end, and ultimately, we offer to take these two out to lunch. While supping on some steaming beef soup, we ask questions about their lives. Are they orphans? Where do they live? Do they go to school? Why are they working on the street? Soon, we realize that their stories don’t add up, and sadly, we can’t separate truth from reality. Although our questions aren’t clearly answered, the boys remain as cute as can be. We part ways feeling a strange uneasiness, shrugging off the uncomfortable reality that our meal ticket could not solve the larger problem at hand.

Next item on our list of things to do: exterminate the FLEAS. According to certain sources, Guatemala has a flea problem, and to our chagrin, we’ve been experiencing it firsthand. To mitigate the issue, we haul our clothes to a laundromat and pray that the clothes we’re wearing (the ones that aren’t being washed) aren’t hosting a fleet of fleas plotting a counterattack. Thankfully, our strategy works, and, in a few days, we’re flea-free.

Wednesday we devote most of the day to bike maintenance…without Logan. Alyssa buys a replacement tire for her shredded one and executes a quick-fix repair job on her brake handle. The others tweak and tease their gears into alignment. After a day full of cursing, learning, trial and error, we come out of it with better bikes, a heightened sense of expertise, and clothes covered in bike grease.

Women of the weaving cooperative

The following morning we ride about 16 kilometers to the highland town of San Juan Cotzal, to visit a women’s weaving cooperative that uses natural dyes. The intensity of the hues is so astounding, we almost find it hard to believe these colors are rendered from natural resources like avocados, oranges, coffee, insects, and berries. We are impressed by the cooperative’s ability to start small, without the help of loans, and to continue to grow slowly into a successful business, which empowers widowed women to earn a living by making products they’re proud of.

Beautiful textiles calling our names

We fall in love with more of the textiles than we can afford, but support the cooperative by buying what we can. Panniers stuffed with unique, beautiful souvenirs, we take a bus back to Nebaj and then to a crossroads where we hop back on our bikes and ride to the town of Cunén to stay the night.

In the morning we cycle a hilly, exhausting 20 kilometers to Uspantán where we eat lunch. We plan to cycle the rest of the way to Cobán, but are told that the road has been wiped out in numerous places by massive landslides and making our way by bike would be a long, muddy, tedious slog. So, we board yet another bus and wind our way through truly awe-inducing landslide territory. Whole sides of mountains have been carved out by the devastating effects of rain and gravity.

 

Cardamom pods

From the city of Santa Cruz, it’s a pleasant 13  kilometers to Cobán, where the acres and acres of cardamom farms have infused the air with the thick scent of spice. We dine at a more upscale restaurant for dinner, and delight in a warm, spicy ancient Mayan chocolate drink. Kate braves an order of chile rellenos, which we all take turns sampling. The heat is intense, burning like the fire of a thousand red ants, both going in and, eventually, exiting our digestive systems.

Onward ho!

Saturday morning we enjoy a lovely 62 kilometer ride from Cobán to the gravel road turn-off for the town of Lanquin. We breeze by pine-covered hillsides and expansive vistas of rolling hills and deep valleys. Not even a kilometer down the gravel road to Lanquin, we decide that when the going gets tough, we get on a truck. We flag a flatbed and pile our bikes precariously in the back. After a car-to-car transfer, we reach our hostel for the night, managed by a group of young, Guatemalan guys who are more than happy to host a group of young American women for the night. We order up a round of dulce cariños (tequila, honey and lime), and play a cutthroat round of the card game Spoons. After a brutal battle playing by the rules of “anything goes,” Alyssa’s reaction time is just a split-second too slow and she loses the game, much to the delight of Devon, who, by everyone’s bets was doomed from the beginning. As punishment, Alyssa must, of course, endure a bit of public humiliation and perform Michael Jackson’s moon dance to the incongruous rhythm of Reggaeton from designated Point A to designated Point B. After a good laugh, we hit the hay.

We wake the next morning to discover that our bread and other foodstuffs have been ravaged by a small band of night-prowling cats. Furious at these felines, we stomp around and assess the damage. Although terribly offended, we try to let it go.

Semuc Champey

We subsequently seize the day by strolling down to Semuc Champey, a beautiful natural phenomenon—a massive limestone bridge under which the Cahabón River surges. A terraced succession of aquamarine pools cascade down the limestone, which forms an idyllic swimming spot. We splash around in the turquoise water, and of course, take action-jumping photos and choreograph an impressive synchronized swimming routine. Sadly, our time spent here is much too short, as we must return to the hostel to catch our bus back to Cobán.

 

Our best superhero jumps

It’s time to backtrack. We observe the speed rewind of the terrain we’ve crossed over the past week. We spend the night in Cobán and rise the next morning to hop on another bus back to Uspantán. We make a bus transfer in Uspantán and make it almost to Sacapulas before we are stopped by the recent aftermath of a landslide. We learn, to our dismay, that the earth had unleashed its wrath on the road only a half hour before our arrival to the scene. We gaze up at the naked hillside, with still more mud oozing down and sporadic rock falls. It’s obvious that people aren’t quite sure what to do about the situation. A work crew has arrived to shovel a path across the highway. But, no one is shoveling. Some people are tiptoeing across the debris to reach the other side, taking their chances with fate and gravity. Some motorcycles and 4-wheel vehicles make the passage, after getting stuck several times in the mud and goo. We watch nervously and impatiently as the scene unfolds, unsure as to what the next best step will be. Suddenly, we hear the deep rumbling of earth loosening its grasp on the surrounding flora, and a chunk of land comes cascading down to the highway. To be safe, we dash further up the road.

We decide it would be a stupid move to lug our bikes through the aftermath, as we would be slower-moving potential targets. A few hours pass, and when we see trucks and buses begin making the passage, we transfer our stuff from one bus to another and hope for dear life that the stars have aligned for our safety. Holding our breath, the bus slurps and stumbles through the thick ooze, and before long, we reach the other side! Back in Sacapulas, we change buses and zoom the rest of the way (incident free) to Huehuetenango to stay the night.

Around three in the morning, Devon wakes to a bout of intense vomiting. Alyssa follows suit about 10 minutes later, with strikingly similar symptoms. The night proceeds for the two of them in a miserable blur of uneasy sleep and a lot of bathroom time. Sadly, the next morning the two of them must stay behind in Huehuetenango to rest and recuperate while Kate and Melissa bike the final leg of the Cycles of Change tour.

 

Melissa gives the Mexican Border a thumbs up

After parting ways with the poor invalids, Kate and Melissa fly down the valley road from Huehuetenango towards the Mexican border. Eighty-six kilometers later, they reach the border town of La Mesilla and jump on a bus to safely head north to San Cristobal de Las Casas from there. Upon arriving in the city, they are struck by the beauty and inviting feel of this metropolitan hub, replete with sidewalk cafes, artisan crafts, organic food and a parliament building illuminated with the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white and green.

It’s a happy reunion when they stumble into Jim on their way to the hostel. Jim is a friend and fellow former Peace Corps volunteer from Panama who plans to spend the next week hanging out with us in Mexico. Kate, Melissa and Jim celebrate with a long awaited meal of chicken mole, tortilla chips, guacamole and beer.

Meanwhile…

Bedridden and bathroom-dependent, Alyssa and Devon spend the majority of the day at the hotel, that is, until Devon decides it’s time to eat. She and Alyssa make their slow, beleaguered way to the bakery. As soon as Devon sits town with a cup of tea in hand, she blacks out. When she comes to, she admits that it’s time to visit the hospital. Alyssa and a bakery employee assist Devon to a nearby clinic, where she’ll spend the next 20 hours hooked up to an IV, getting treatment for a bad case of salmonella and amoebas, subsisting on white bread and purple Jell-O.

Meanwhile in San Cristobal…

 

San Cristobal all decked out

Friday calls for an even greater celebration: Melissa’s birthday! Kate, Jim and Melissa walk the streets, visiting markets, and feasting their eyes on all the delicacies. They devour a delightful brunch at La Casa de Pan, an organic vegetarian restaurant that sources food from local farms.

 

Spices at the market

An adjacent store sells everything a sustainable foodie could dream of: chocolate, coffee, whole bread rolls and pastries, teas, and spices.  For dinner they eat tacos from a street vendor.

A day well spent, they finally return to the hostel to wait for Devon and Alyssa, where they play a few rounds of cards and drink the new favorite Cycles of Change drink, dulce cariños.  They wait patiently, telling themselves they cannot eat any of the delicious birthday cakes they bought at the specialty French bakery and cake shop.

Meanwhile, Devon and Alyssa have been trying to wrap things up at the hospital and Devon asks the nurse to increase the flow rate of the IV so they can make it to the Mexican border before dark. After processing the necessary paperwork, taking showers, and making runs to the pharmacy, Alyssa and Devon make a hectic exit out of Huehuetenango, on a bus bound for La Mesilla. Still wading through the post-illness haze, it takes a minute for Devon and Alyssa to realize that the bus has stopped. In Mesilla? They’re not sure. So Devon turns to the man behind her and asks, “Este pueblo, es Mesilla?” (Is this town Mesilla?) The man responds by saying, “I no speak English.” Devon stares at him for a moment, perplexed, slowly processing the interaction. She shrugs it off and asks a different man, who promptly replies, “Sí.”

Alyssa and Devon cross the border and bike a lovely four kilometers through dramatic Mexican scenery. They reach the immigration office by dusk and after a rather hasty and stressful money exchange, they board an expensive (but safe) shuttle bound for Comitán. They transfer shuttles again in Comitán and arrive in San Cristobal around midnight, just in time to wish Melissa a happy birthday before the day has passed completely by. They savor a sampling of decadent desserts and rejoice in being reunited again.

 

Happy Birthday Melissa!!!

The next morning, while Devon takes it easy, the rest of the crew ventures out on a cycling adventure through the more rural outskirts of the city. The ride is lovely and our guide fills us in on the history of the area, in addition to imparting interesting tidbits about Mayan medicinals.

Devon joins us for the afternoon at the Mayan medicine museum, where we learn about ancient traditional healing practices, many of which, to our dismay, involve Coca Cola. For dinner, we enjoy a round of soup at the organic restaurant and end the night with a movie. The documentary features a historic account of the Zapatista movement. By the end of the film, the bandana-clad image takes on a whole new meaning—one which symbolizes the indigenous peoples’ struggle for equal rights and respect.

The next day, Kate, Melissa, Devon and Jim visit a women’s weaving cooperative to admire the Mexican-style dyes and patterns. In Mexican weaving tradition, when a girl is born the family plants the placenta with a seed and the tree grows with the child. The girl learns about weaving from the tree, and about magic and stories from the roots and branches. On a woven textile, the vertical lines represent the umbilical cords that unite the magic of nature with the magic of the girl, which is a sacred cycle. Along the horizontal lines, she tells the story of her life in pictographic form. Through this practice, weaving becomes her way of learning about and teaching about the world.

After Alyssa miraculously reclaims a lost pannier she left on the night shuttle bound for San Cristobal, she and Jim visit a Mayan pharmacy, stocked with all sorts of herbal medicinal remedies. In the evening, we bid San Cristobal farewell and board the overnight bus for Oaxaca.

Saturday morning we wake up to a southern Mexican sunrise. We are in Tequila Land. The bus speeds by acres and acres of agave plants, the source of both agave nectar and tequila. Soon, the scenery transitions from vast stretches of cacti to a more urban flavor. We reach Oaxaca semi-rested and hungry for Oaxacan cuisine. We soon happen upon food vendors in a park, and delight in squash blossom quesadillas for breakfast. For lunch, our hostel arranges for the guests to explore the nearby market to buy fresh ingredients for guacamole, salsa, mixed drinks, grilled vegetables and meat seasoned with Mexican spices. Not only is the food delicious, but bonding with our fellow foreign travelers is a fun way to experience the city.

 

Dried fish or crickets anyone?

With only one day to enjoy the sights and tastes of Oaxaca, we decide to seize the remainder of the afternoon. Jim and Alyssa explore the Botanical Museum while Devon, Kate and Melissa wind their way through the streets and cruise through the Zócalo, the main city square. For dinner, Kate, Jim and Devon savor plates of tender chicken surrounded by a sea of rich, dark, spicy mole. As we dine, we ignore an onslaught of spoon-and-comb-and-bookmark vendors. We have become masters at the art of ignoring these women.  Throughout the day, we have found ourselves confronted by aggressive saleswomen waving spoons, combs and bookmarks in our faces—things we really don’t need, and thus feel all the more guilty somehow when we refuse to buy them, time after time after time after time. Although we feel mildly heartless, ignoring them has become our only successful tactic to avoid their plaintive stares.

Sunday morning we leave Oaxaca on a bus bound for Mexico City. As we begin entering the outskirts of the largest city in the world, graffiti becomes increasingly more prevalent. Political and anti-oppression sentiments are as numerous as gang tags. We look out the windows of the bus at the sweeping expanse of this mammoth-sized city. Here we are in Mexico City, heart of the land of famous revolutionaries, writers, drug lords, artists, political activists, and musicians. This city is positively pulsing with life. It’s as if you can feel it has something to say.

And the something it says upon our arrival is: “Let’s party!” After squeezing ourselves and our bikes into and out of the subway, we emerge from the Metro tunnels into a country-wide birthday party for Madame Mexico herself. She’s turning 200 this year, and we’ve made it just in time to join the shindig.

 

Celebration time!

The main thoroughfare of the city has been cordoned off as pedestrian-only, so we merrily join the throngs of people moving down the middle of the street. The natural migration leads us to the Zócalo, where we behold the beginnings of the week-long bicentennial celebration. Mexican cultural designs of tinsel and lights festoon the buildings surrounding the square. Nearly everyone is sporting some sort of Mexican pride paraphernalia in red, white and green: sombreros, wigs, mohawks, fake eyelashes, dresses, headbands, face paint, and crowns.

We find a hostel near the main festivities and then attempt to find food, which is a more difficult task than one would presume. One might think that with so many people who are bound to be hungry, there would be street vendors aplenty. Not so, warn the policemen, who patrol up and down the streets looking for someone to even try selling food to a hungry partygoer. No license to sell, no sale. Despite the authorities’ best efforts to thwart our plans to find street food, we soon spy people eating giant hard shell tacos piled with cactus, cilantro and cheese. We follow the taco train back to its source, which happens to be a clandestine operation headed by a woman with a canvas bag full of the necessary ingredients. Her right-hand man stands by her side, watching for any signs of police intervention. When he spies a cop car he signals to the woman, who then hastily bags up her food and starts walking, posing as just another innocent, foodless pedestrian. We surreptitiously snag our Black Market food and make our way back to the Zócalo where we join hundreds of people waiting for the opening light ceremony.

Word on the street is that the lights will turn on at 8 p.m. But, 8 p.m. comes and passes and still no lights. After what seems like an eternally long and chilly wait, a stream of blue lights shoots up toward the sky. The color fades from blue to purple, to red, to green. While all of this is mildly exciting, we decide to forego the rest of the visual wonders to brave our way slowly back to our hostel, through crowds of people pressed so tightly together we begin to envy the spacious confines of a sardine can.

 

Prepping for the celebration

The next morning we begin our exploration of the city. We are amazed by the thousands of men and women in the police force walking the streets, training for the big bash. The government has issued 14,000 police officers to guard the bicentennial celebration, using snipers on rooftops and metal detectors at all the entrances. Mexico City is taking no chances for breaches in security.

The candy market

We venture to a market to beat all markets. We wander through the candy aisles, a flurry of bees buzzing around us, attracted to the mounds of bars, blocks, pies, and balls of Mexican candy.

 

Mmmm Mole

Next, we peruse the section of the market where mountains of mole are piled high in varying shades of black, brown, rusty red and olive green. After filling plastic bags full of mole, Jaimaca tea blossoms, and blood red dried chiles, we eat lunch under the fluorescent lighting of a market restaurant. Alyssa and Devon decide to tease their taste buds with a Huitlacoche quesadilla. Huitlacoche, or the “Mexican truffle,” is a black mushroom that grows on corn that earned the name of “filth of the raven” in pre-colonial Mexico. The smooth taste, texture, and aroma of this delicacy resemble a cross between a portobello and a shitake.

Fungi galore

For Melissa’s last night in Mexico, we travel to the more upscale part of the city to celebrate our journey together. We choose Italian and sip glasses of red wine while beggars pass us by, pleading for milk for their child or other necessities that shame us and our perfect gourmet pizzas.

In the morning, we are down to four, after Melissa climbs into her airport-bound taxi. Again, tears and hugs all around. We miss you, Mama Frita!

Alyssa and Kate spend the day wandering around the city, disappointed by all the museums that have inconveniently closed this week. In the evening we venture to Plaza Garibaldi, famous for its live mariachi bands scattered around the square. We stroll through the scene, marveling at the flashy, sequined sombreros, jackets and pants, Three Amigos style. Couples sway, holding each other and dancing in the middle of these bands, lost in the serenade.

We dine at a restaurant known for its traditional food, great drinks, and mariachi bands that make their rounds from table to table, offering a song for 80 pesos. Jim buys us a song and we smile and sway to the rhythm of “Guantanamera,” which happens to be a patriotic Cuban song.

Following dinner, just as we reach our hostel, we turn around to the sound of shouts, the squealing of wheels on pavement, and pounding footsteps. The police have found the food vendors! In a rush of panic, food vendors grab their carts and wheel them frantically down the street while policemen follow, hot on their heels. The whole scene is dramatically surreal in a comically action-packed movie sort of way.

After a memorable night of good food, great music and an epic chase, Jim leaves around dawn for his flight and we are down to three. Glad you could join us, Jim!

Wednesday morning we visit the Frida Kahlo museum, which is appropriately located in the cobalt blue house where the Mexican painter was born and ultimately lived out her days married to muralist Diego Rivera. The entrance to “Casa Azul,” or the “Blue House,” leads into an open-air courtyard, the house wrapping around it in a natural flow, well-designed with big windows and tall ceilings. Several rooms of the house have been converted into a gallery of her art, including pieces of her early works, unfinished portraits and some of Diego’s landscapes. The rest of the house has been restored and preserved in its mostly original state, displaying the couples’ art supplies, poetry books, political paraphernalia, cookware, and clothing.

The photos, paintings, literature and other memorabilia from Frida’s life speak volumes about the couple’s passionately tense marriage, their politically charged bohemian lifestyle, and her tormented identity as an artist and the mother she physiologically could never be. Although her work is often considered flat, folkloric and characterized as Naïve art, her vivid colors and evocative images are all her own and intensely powerful.

The girls at the Frida Museum

For lunch we happen upon the most exciting taco stand yet—you choose con carne or vegetariano and they hand you soft tacos to fill with an unprecedented variety of veggies, picante condiments and beans. To quell the heat, we gulp down papaya and banana licuados (smoothies) for dessert.

For the rest of the afternoon we lie low before the Big Night—the bicentennial celebration show. After dark descends, we make our way down to the entrance of the festivities, only to find that the police guards are selectively letting people through. Clusters of swat team members have formed human barricades at all the street entrances to the central square.

 

Swat team gear and all

They have to prevent the overflow of people somehow, and as a result, thousands of expectant Mexicans are crowding just outside of the Zócalo, angry and disappointed to be missing the biggest city show in 200 years. As luck would have it, our hotel is located just inside the perimeter of the blockade and we are waved through both checkpoints. Although the security guards won’t let us bring our water bottles in, Devon somehow gets away with smuggling in a bottle of pepper spray—the only item in her purse.  Guilt rushes through us as we pass easily through the gates, looking over our shoulder at all the agitated faces of Mexicans who should be given priority seating for the show, but instead are forced to remain just outside the party.

 

Ready to celebrate

Too far away from the main stage to make out the tiny figures dancing across it, we rely on the big screens positioned around the square to watch the show. First, a trio of mariachi singers colored head-to-toe in red, white and green perform a dramatic ballad.

The act is cute, but a tad amateur and campy given that the government has spent $230 million on this celebration. The next act is even worse. Cheerleaders bounce and bob around the stage, trying to rally the audience members to get up and dance with them—a 10-step choreographed routine. Four steps may have been reasonable. But asking any more than that is one more step towards inciting a riot. By the time the cheerleaders get around to the seventh move, the audience loses patience and begins to boo the girls off stage. The general malcontent is fomented by the fact that many Mexicans believe the $230 million could have been used in more beneficial ways, like funding important public services for a country that is staggering to get back on two feet.

From behind Devon hears a couple of young Mexican guys heave huge sighs over the sorry state of the performance. One of them says, İAy! İQue aburrido esta fiesta!” or, “This party is so boring!”  Devon looks back and laughs with them, making eye contact with the loud kvetcher. He looks at her in surprise and says, “Tu hablas español?” To which she says, “Sí.” Suddenly, we have found ourselves some people with which to commiserate. The speaker’s name is Leo and the other guy is Miguel.

Soon, we realize we’re hungry. The problem: the police have laid siege on the city square. Although we see restaurants, paltry as they may be (McDonald’s and the like), a mere 50 feet away, we can’t gain access, as our passage has been blocked off by fences and a wall of policemen. While we have the option of leaving the area, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to breeze through security to get back in.

 

The crowded Zocolo

We watch the parade for a while, which is impressive. Fancy floats, creative costumes and a giant blow-up centipede thing pass us by.

 

An aerial dancer above the crowd

Face in the parade

But soon, however, we realize that simply the idea of food being just outside our reach is magnifying our hunger. Leo and Miguel persuade us to follow them out to grab a bite to eat. In a stroke of irony, we feast on burgers and American-style nachos on the most patriotic Mexican day of the year. We watch overhead TV as the aerial dancers spell “Mexico” on a vertical dance floor, not too disappointed by the fact that we could be watching the live show just a block away. But when gigantic flames start issuing from the presidential palace, we bolt out of the restaurant to make it back to the Zócalo in time to see what resembles a revolutionary uproar or a smoldering coup d’état. Alas, we make it through security and back to the finale just as the flames are fizzling out. To our delight, however, we learn that the show isn’t over. Before long, fireworks are flying from the top and sides of the cathedral located right next to our vantage point. The charred firework shells rain onto our heads and upturned faces. But the display is phenomenal. The pyrotechnics make it all worth it. The wait, the disappointment, the hunger. We would go through all of it again just to see the cathedral, the square, and the thousands of onlookers lit up with dazzling flashes of red, white and green.

The Cathedral with 8 tons of fireworks

The celebration

 

Through the smoke

After the last firework fades into smoke, we leave the square feeling elated with Mexican pride. We wander the streets with Miguel and Leo, following the natural flow of people through the city. It feels as if we’re walking through a dream land. Confetti flies through the air, along with showers of shaving cream. A multitude of people decked out in Mexican pride paraphernalia stroll along smiling. Cotton candy vendors shoot tufts of sugary fluff into the air with their cotton candy spinning machines. In Willy Wonka-like wonder, we pluck the pink stuff out of the air as we walk.

Soon, we reach the first of the five mega concerts staged across the city. We walk from concert to concert, enjoying the range of Mexican musical tastes, from rock to ranchero. We station ourselves at the last concert, where we weave through the crowd to get up close to the stage. After the last song, we make our way back to the center of the city, stopping and sitting at the various chair-art installations lining the main street. A night filled with fun and new friends, we promise to see Miguel and Leo again before we leave the country.

Thursday morning Alyssa and Kate attend the bicentennial military show, which is essentially a heaping overdose of militaristic madness. The central square is a sea of uniforms as troops parade through while fighter jets rip through the air overhead. That’s basically the gist of the show: lots and lots of armed forces people doing armed forces things wearing armed forces clothes.

 

Pretty intense parade

In the afternoon, we begin the half-sad/half-exciting process of disassembling our bikes for their impending confinement within the strict box size flight regulations.

Friday is a special day, not only because it’s the day before we fly back to the states, but more importantly because it’s Kate’s birthday! We postpone the celebration till evening, scrambling around the city and our hostel to secure three bike boxes, pack up our belongings, finish up the second-to-last blog post, and do all those last-minute chores where you underestimate the time it will take to do them.

By dinner, we are exhausted, but ready to give Kate the birthday bash she deserves. We meet Leo and Miguel in the middle of the Zócalo. From there, we walk to a restaurant that allegedly serves authentic, pre-colonial dishes. We excitedly entertain the idea of trying mezcal con gusano, or the type of tequila that hosts a worm at the bottom of the bottle. But, we arrive at the restaurant only to discover that they are no longer serving. With shattered dreams of wormy tequila, we slump out of the restaurant and take an unbearably long taxi ride back to the vicinity of our hostel. We laugh at the realization that we would have halved our time had we just walked. The next restaurant we consider is more upscale and seems to fit the bill for a suitable birthday venue. While we wait for our party to be seated, we wander to a nearby cathedral, where we sit in the pews and are overcome by fits of giggles brought about by the all-too silent sacred space. We politely excuse ourselves and get back to the restaurant in time to be seated.

 

The church giggles

Our dinner is one to remember, with delicious food, a lovely ambience, and live music. For dessert, Leo and Miguel surprise Kate with a slice of cheesecake and a restaurant round of “Feliz cumpleaños” or “Happy Birthday.”

 

The birthday dinner

After leaving the restaurant, Leo and Miguel give us a whirlwind tour of the city, like they promised. Leo astounds us all with his mastery of the English language, firing off jokes with all the timing and wit of a standup comedian. Miguel’s more subdued and quiet demeanor is charming when paired with his chivalrous way of ushering us around the city. We lounge at trendy bar in a more upscale section of the city. We drink and talk, our voices competing with the live band in the next room.

After some celebratory wine, we make our way back to the Zócalo, where Miguel and Leo show us one more sight: an elaborate ceiling of stained glass. We crane our necks to take in the splendor of the design. We snap group photos in a vain attempt to capture the memory of our final night in Mexico.

Saddled with sadness, we wander back to the hostel, where we bid farewell to our two new, wonderful friends. We miss you Leo and Miguel! Your humor, generosity, and gracious tour of the city left a sweet aftertaste at the end of our long journey. If you ever make it to the Pacific Northwest, we would love to show you around.

The morning is a blur of grogginess, carrying bike boxes down four flights of stairs, arguing with the shuttle driver about the cost of the ride, and standing in a long line at the airport ticket counter. The airport’s computer system is malfunctioning, and thus, the process takes about three times as long as it should. In addition to the unfortunately long wait, Alyssa must pay an extra $100 overweight shipment fee for her bike. Finally, after a more stressful morning than we are prepared for, we board our flight bound for Los Angeles.

 

About to move the fastest we have been in months, through the air

In L.A., Devon and Alyssa must say goodbye to Kate, the ringleader and longest-hauler of the trip. Alyssa and Devon are planning to cycle north from L.A., while Kate is taking a connector flight to Seattle. It’s a sad moment for Cycles of Change. Because after we part ways, we are down to two. We miss you, Kate! Your family must be so happy to have you back!

And here ends the Cycles of Change Tour. Alyssa and Devon continue to have adventures, the most memorable of which include a night camping in a dog park in an upscale neighborhood, Alyssa getting sideswiped by a car in Monterrey, and meeting kind, hospitable people along the journey. Along the way they cycle through coastal fog, wine country, up and down beachside bluffs, and across scenic sections of highway. Devon parts ways with Alyssa when they reach Aptos, California. At that point, they have cycled 430 miles in seven days. Alyssa continues on to San Francisco, where she meets up with our friend Collin Stackhouse. They continue to cycle and adventure up to Crescent City, California. But by that point, Alyssa’s wrist injury from her Monterrey car accident has become so uncomfortable that they must forfeit the remainder of the journey north. Both Alyssa and Collin are now safe and sound back in the Pacific Northwest.

While the Cycles of Change Tour has now ended, Cycles of Change will continue. This will not be the final blog post, nor will this be the final tour (hopefully). Our loyal readership, please stay tuned for a concluding blog post that will consolidate our group’s reflections on the trip. Also to come: polishing up the blog and a collaborative media project headed by Peter, Devon and Kate. Although the trip is over, the journey continues!

Thank you again to those of you who have supported us along the way, whether through donations, moral support, or your loyal readership. We appreciate it all, immensely.

1 Comment

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One response to “August 31 to September 17- Red, White and Green

  1. aytesl

    Hooray! I wish I could make it to the PNW for New Year’s Eve to see some of the team. I hope we can reunite soon.

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