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National park hopping featured highly in our meandering route on from San Luis de la Paz, though some of the bits in between were in every way as stunning. In San Luis we had planned about 450 of the 570km we’ve travelled since, with the difference featuring our further forays into Spanish direction seeking. From this we learnt that no-one knows how far anything is from anywhere. When we asked about relative terrain between two options we also discovered that despite hearing that we’d come from Canada, the locals don’t believe it’s possible to bicycle up-hill.

We eventually left San Luis de la Paz after lunch. Approaching dusk was accompanied by a very Scotland-like dense mist. As cover for our stealth-camping efforts it worked very nicely indeed! The prickly, dry landscape we’d got used to continued for a day or two, then almost overnight (and after a 28km hill) everything got very green. Frida in Durango had recommended Mexican Highway 120 and the Reserva Biosfera Sierra Gorda to us, and we thank her muchly. The grind from Peñamiller up and up via Camarco, leveled off in verdant temperate forest just short of Pinal de Amoles.

Futbol is very important to Mexicans - to the extent that when you live on a steep hillside you get the excavators out to create a flat pitch. This one in Camarco, halfway up the 28km climb from Peñamillar.

Lunch that day happily coincided with a little café serving a set menu of cheese and refried bean tacos. Entertainment was provided by a chicken that insisted on walking around the yard backwards while trying to get at its fleas (we presume).

After Pinol de Amoles we ducked off the swooping highway to find a place to camp. About 2km along a dirt road we found a nice flat spot by a babbling stream - time to use readily available water to find all those holes! A while later I'd mended 5 tyre punctures and found 2 more mat leaks... (photo S.Hedges)

Japlan de Serra is one of 5 towns along this road in the Reserva Biosfera Sierra Gorda that has a Franciscan Mission church. We rested up and enjoyed the local Neveria (ice-cream shop). My bike has recently acquired a new frame-bag from Scott of the Porcelain Rocket.

Landa de Matamoros has another of the Mission churches

We eventually got our reward in ‘down’ on the way to Japlan, before heading back up a few kilometres later. Maybe it’s the head-space you’re in at the time, but neither of these hills felt that bad. The second was capped by our discovery of an empty campsite/eco-lodge. We were happily sitting in our first official campsite in Mexico when some of the care-takers drove past, waved, didn’t ask for any money, then drove away again. The next morning we discovered that they’d locked us in! Thankfully there was a hole in the fence just along from the gate.

Our route-finding approach has thus far involved picking a string of national parks, then looking for a way to link them using the smallest roads on the map. The little and ‘big’ roads from El Lobo onwards until we got the the next Biosfera followed a couple of patterns. There was the ‘follow the ridge-line with hamlets perched in improbable places’ and the ‘plunge steeply into the deep dark dell and inch back out again’. All with much twisting and turning, green-ness and even near-tropical humidity.

With all the green came humidity, and a few kilometres short of Agua Zarca we stumbled upon this Portmerion-esque waterfall-fed swimming pool tucked away in a gully nearly hidden from the road. The water was very, very refreshing, but the sunshine and peaceful dappled shade helped the recovery.

The deepest of the latter was down to the Rio Amajac after Santa Ana, and the inching back up took us a couple of days culminating in a short, much needed ride in the back of a truck to Tlahuitepa. The people we talked to along these roads were astounded and openly glad that we’d come to their villages. There were a constant smattering of Mexicans who’d worked in the USA, a lot illegally. A pervading theme of difficult economic straits forcing their return to México prevailed.

El Rio Amajac in its full humid sultry glory. The low point of this sector before a long and sinuous crawl to the cloud-topping heights of Tlahuitepa (2 days later). Our campsite on the grass next to the river allowed us to patch up a nice big hole Sarah made in her knee on the final part of the descent.

Every night cloud descended, sometimes clearing as we packed or continuing with rain. This time, shortly after Santa Maria we rose above it by mid-morning and got some welcome sun at lunchtime to dry our tent.

Our Camino Sinuoso disgorged us at the Laguna de Metztitlan and the Reserva de al Biosfera Barranca de Metztitlan. After curving down the final descent at Hualula everything was suddenly very, very flat. The shores and land around and beyond Metztitlan are all given over to growing food. The water level in the Laguna fluctuates changes in water level often cover the fields immediately nearby. The rest of this food-bowl is irrigated with a vast system of ditches. In El Pedregal as evening closed in we stopped to chose between two possible roads to Metztitlan. We must have looked sufficiently lost because a couple of local girls dressed up to the nines for a Saturday night out dancing came over to talk. ‘You could go on the main road, but it’s pretty hilly. The other way’s prettier and flat’ Pretty and flat – no thought required on that one! The next morning after a brief stop in Metztitlan for food and internet we consulted some more people to help choose our route out to highway 105. In the end no-one considered our little windy road option possible on a bicycle, and the main road was also pronounced too steep as well. We gladly spent the rest of the day pottering along a network of farmer’s tracks on the other side of the river from the highway.

La Laguna de Metztitlan - the epicentre of a large irrigation system growing a cornucopia of vegetables. Also a weekend tourist destination from Pachuca and Mexico City. More importantly, it and the land up river is FLAT! Wonders :-)

Highway 105 was a bit of a shock after days on little roads. We stopped in Atotonilco for lunch and to buy dinner food. On our way out of town we stopped at a junction to talk about food shops when the truck behind us ran over Sarah’s trailer! As seems to happen with Sarah’s mechanicals all was fixed very quickly. It turned out that the damage was more limited than we’d feared. The trailer wheel rim was ‘muntered’ and beyond repair resembling a moebius strip. After a moment to get the truck to reverse off the wheel a man pointed us to the local bike shop just up the road. An hour later the owner of the truck had paid 100 Pesos (8 US dollars) for a new rim and wheel build and we were back on the road.

Now we’re in the Parque National Mineral del Chico, just north of Pachuca; and there’s going to be rock climbing tomorrow.

A rock shot - Mineral del Chico has lots of limestone outcrops dotted around the hill-tops. I couldn't be dissuaded from sampling some of this. Sarah isn't sure that the cold hands were worth it this time, but I was smiling a lot so that helped a bit. My mission is to find some warmer rock for next time.

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