May 01

Halfway to Colombia… Maybe

Piramide de Sol, Teotihuacan near Mexico City

When I arrived in Mexico City,  the trip odometer ticked over at 5,920.6 km.  I am now roughly halfway to Colombia.


You see, the thing is, this Tour de Zack – which I started over five months ago – has proven to rarely go as I expected in terms of time and distance.  Which, I suppose, is to be expected as it is my first time traveling by bicycle.  Here are a few examples of misjudgments I made at the beginning of this trip:

  • I projected the total distance for the Tour to be about 8,500 km.  Now I expect that total distance to be 12,000 to 15,000 km
  • I estimated that I would be able to reach Colombia as somewhere between April and June.  April has already come and gone, so now I am projecting that I may arrive in Colombia by December.
  • Never, never, never in my wildest imaginations did I expect to use the full 180 day allowance of my Mexican Visa.  Four months maybe, but six?!  Never.  Now, I am starting to race against the clock to leave Mexico before my visa expires in two months.

Zocalo, the main square in Mexico City

Looking back at Stage 3: Western Mexico (AKA Operation Tequila)

Stage 3 of the Tour de Zack gives a good indication of how this tour is going; 1500 km became 2500 km and one month turned into 71 days.  The result of the extra days and extra distance has been the best stage of the trip thus far.

It was a stage filled with spontaneous adventures from day 1 when I decided to take the ferry to Topolobampa instead of the long planned Mazatlan.  This led Tony and I to the Barrancas de Cobre (Copper Canyon) in Chihuahua and there my one week detour quickly evolved into a 3 week life-changing experience in the incredible home of the Tarahumaran people.

There were many other incredible memories made this stage.  I can clearly remember being a ball of pain as I tried to sleep on the side of a Sinaloan highway after riding more than 200 km in a day.  In Tequila and Guadalajara, I not only got to learn about (and drink) tequila, I also got to drink and learn about sotol, tepache, pulque, tuba, and aguamiel, while washing down larvae filled tacos.  I can still hear the chants and the horns of the thousands of cyclists flying through the tunnels of Guadalajara on the Paseo de Todos.  I can still feel the burning air scalding my nostrils during the temazcal cleansing ceremony in Ajijic.  Not too long ago I was following troupes of funny dressed musicians through the medieval streets of Guanajuato, going to a mexican house party in Queretaro, and hanging with new friends in San Juan Del Rio; all before tackling the big hills into Mexico City.

One of the reasons this stage has made such an impression on me has been all the new friends I have made.  There were the ultra runners in the Barrancas, the cycling community in Guadalajara, the travelers in Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, my hosts in Queretaro and San Juan Del Rio, and the friends of my old friend Polo here in Mexico City.  Alongside with exploring nature, meeting new people and “getting in with the locals” is the aspect I love the most about traveling.  It is a special experience to be given a glimpse into the lives and stories of people from all around the world.  I can only hope that as my Spanish continues to improve even more glorious friendships will be made in the next stage of the Tour De Zack: Stage 4: Southern Mexico AKA Operation: Glorious Ruination!

If you missed out on Operation: Tequila! Tequila!, I have compiled the photos and the blog posts for the stage here


The Big Taco

So I am relaxing here now in Mexico City, less than speck of dust on the mountain of history behind this metropolitan sprawl.

I vaguely remember studying the history of the Aztecs in my World History class when I was 12 years old, and reading about the history again has revealed to me that I was severely let down by my history teacher at the time.  The story of Mexico city is straight out of a fantasy novel, and how my teacher at the time managed to make this class boring for a group 12 year olds is beyond me.  You couldn´t make this stuff up it’s so good.  Stories of the aztec warriors delivering 8,000 human ears as proof of conquest to the ruler of the area before flaying the skin of the ruler´s daughter as a tribute to their god of war were overshadowed by a tiresome litany of dates and unpronounceable names.  The story of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán being founded because the then nomadic Aztecs saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a nopal cactus – a sign from the gods – is right up there with the stories of the Lady of the Lake rising from the water to give King Arthur his sword Excalibur, but I don’t remember being taught this.  One of the best war stories in history is that of Cortes and his crafty conquest of the Aztecs, but again, I remember dreading that 45 minute history 8class with its heavy textbook and boring photographs.  You failed Mr. McCoy.  You failed.

Hangin with the girls in Mexico City

In any case, Mexico City is old.  The Aztecs saw that bird eating a reptile on a spiny plant in 1325 AD.  The fact that the above mentioned cactus was on a small island in the middle of an inhospitable lake was a tiny detail – you don´t argue with the gods – and so they proceeded to build their city on top of the lake until it grew into the mighty centre of an expansive empire.  Then in 1519, the Spanish arrived (led by Cortes – who at the time was a wanted man) and just two short years later, the great city of Tenochtitlan was conquered and razed to the ground and a new city was built on top of the smouldering ruins (Ok, McCoy I’ll give you credit, I remember that bit).

Today Mexico City is an enormous, glorious mess.  With over 22 million people, it is the largest city in the western hemisphere.  Town and cities that were once far from the city have now long been swallowed by the beast.  It’s all very desmadre as the city infrastructure races to keep up with the growth, but it is also exceedingly charming and has come to represent the cultural heart of modern Mexico.

Michelada con Clamato made with Corona Oscura. It is impossible to avoid this Mexican Creation. Possibly the best hangover cure...

As a matter of fact, in the eyes of it’s residents, Mexico City is Mexico.  I find it endlessly confusing that Mexico City is simply called Mexico, especially when many of the conversations I have are about traveling.  How long have you been in Mexico?  Do you like Mexico?  How much longer will you be in Mexico?  My Rough Guide likens it to New York City and New York… but considering Mexico is bigger than New York, AND Mexico is much much much bigger that New York, I don’t think the comparison is valid.  At first I couldn’t understand how people could stand the casual ambiguity, but now I have come to the conclusion that the people in Mexico have developed a simple system:  When in doubt, Mexico means Mexico.  This system works because even if Mexico means Mexico and not Mexico, it is not a detail worth specifying, because Mexico for all intents and purposes is Mexico – from the perspective of the city slicker.

The city is an enigma.  Fancy high-end restaurants compete with the cheap street food just outside.  The manic chaos in the streets above sharply contrasts with an incredibly cheap and efficient metro system in the tunnels below.  Here the division between rich and poor is most apparent as well dressed businessmen jostle for room on the pavement with old ladies selling chicle.  You will be walking down a dusty, dirty street and then turn the corner to find yourself in shady tree-lined avenues filled with cafe’s and cute looking bars.  One neighbourhood will be filled with “gentleman clubs” and machismo-seeping cantinas, and the next neighbourhood over you will be the only non-gay in the village.  As you move away from the centre the extremes often only get more pronounced, for example driving through the colonia Sante Fe with Polo’s flatmate Raquel: one minute she is locking the doors of the car as a matter of safety, but the next minute we are passing through millionaire-ville and their big walled-in compounds that they call houses.

You can find anything here.  I have already located two craft beer stores.  In the last two weeks alone Radiohead (missed it) and Roger Waters (vocalist from Pink Floyd) have held concerts here.  The other day we went to a “4DX” cinema in a massive shopping centre.  If you are into museums you could spend years here.  If you are gay, congratulations you found the gay capital of Latin America.  If you are a foodie, prepared to get fat.  If you a football fan, there is an intense and passionate league for you to get into.  If you like dogs, there are dog parks.  Anything.

For a tired cyclist who still has 6000 km to ride, Mexico City is far too big for me to get my head wrapped around.  Cortes conquered the city in two years, but for me to do the same today would probably take much longer.  So I am contenting myself with taking it easy while I am here, with occasional attempts to scratch at the surface.  The Mexico I am getting to know is through the eyes of my friend Polo, his friends, and his very kind flatmates.  When they are busy I am researching (read: drinking) the local craft beers, giving Tony the attention he needs, and tossing in the infrequent touristy obligation.

So far my stay as been great.  For example, already Polo has treated me to two unique experiences:  getting a backstage view of the trashy talk show “Laura” (most famous of it’s type in the Latin America) and going to catholic mass on the day of Saint Judas, a very popular day to go to mass in Mexico (apparently St. Judas is the patron saint of thieves…).

The historic centre of Mexico City

Stage 4: Southern Mexico (AKA Operation: Glorious Ruination!)

At the end of this week I am planning to move on to Stage 4 of the Tour de Zack, otherwise known as OPERATION: GLORIOUS RUINATION!

The longer I stay in Mexico, the more I fall in love with this country and it’s super bueno people.  For this reason I will be staying here as long as possible, for the full six months of my visa.  This gives me two months more in Mexico so I have amended Stage 4 to include not just Oaxaca and Chiapas, but also the fabled “Yucatan Loop”.  Last night I did some research on the areas Tony and I will be passing through and well… I am very, very lucky boy.

Stay tuned.


Some links you should check out:

Compilation of photos and blog posts for Stage 3: Western Mexico (AKA Operation Tequila! Tequila!)


Newly updated ZACKTRACKER


  1. jesse

    i have been looking into supplies and tips for bike touring and your site has filled me in with what i have to look forward to great blogging man i hope to meet interesting down to earth natives myself

    1. Zack

      Glad you’ve been enjoying it Jesse! My main advice if you aren’t getting a “touring” bike is to get a bike with only shimano components, and with 26″ AND 36 spoke wheels. That is what you can find out here. Have a good trip!

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