To the Gulf of Mexico Third time lucky Crossing the Sierra

I made it. Its been a bit of a struggle on the bike recently. A bit of a lull after some illness and a corresponding lack of progress. But i made it to the next target I’d set. I’m here at the southern-most part of the Gulf of Mexico in the city of Coatzocoalcos in the Mexican state of Veracruz. It’d been 3 hard days spin from Hierve El Agua across the Sierra – the downhill section to the coast still entailed nearly 4000m of climbing! And it was day 6 on the bike since Oaxaca city where I’d last had a break.

As of today I’m back by the sea – and a new sea! The last time I’d seen a large expanse of water was the Sea of Cortez, and before that the Pacific Ocean. It was nearly a year ago that I flew across the Atlantic to Alaska, and now, for the first time since then I’m sat back by a river estuary that drains ton the east side of the Americas.

Coatzocoalcos seems like a town in decline, having had its heyday maybe 20 years ago. The litter strewn seafront with its shabby apartment blocks, many of which lie in an incomplete state, the projects having gone into receivership before they made any money. A familiar sight across some parts Mexico. I’m here to catch a bus to the north. Which in this town could be said to be the best reason to be here!

I’m riding back north on the overnight bus. Twelve hours to the town of Merida which is back up further to the North than the latitude of Mexico City. I’m close to the Guatemalan border already but heading north to the Yucatan to ride down the coast into Belize. That after passing Cancun the, I’m told hideously, touristy resort town that marks the end of Mexico and as such the end of what politically can be considered North America. From there its on down into Belize and the rest of Central America to Panama and so to complete the length of the continental landmass that is North America.

Back into the mountains and away from the main roads

Riding North from Oaxaca, Mexico, and everything I saw in it improved. Maybe it was getting onto the back roads – something that I’d been missing recently – maybe it was the clean mountain air, maybe the scenery or maybe it was just changing direction. But one thing was for sure, as i moved away from anything remotely touristy, people became much friendlier. I met people that were genuinely interested in seeing a bicycle going somewhere. People stopped assuming I was American – hearing my clearly-not-native-Spanish I actually got asked whether I was Brazilian at one point – though people are still all too keen to practice their English!

There’s a reason why things become touristy. Mainly because they are nice (or sometimes just famous – and not particularly nice). And in that people realise they can make money out of them. Travelling gets better away from the tourists. Life gets real. Though I have interest in people, the more I travel the more I realise that I have little interest in the displays of culture that frequently get used to classify a nation. The interest sits in the nature and the changing landscape I’ve been passing through and in the adaptations that humans make to live in an area. Getting away from the tourism this becomes all the more real.

I should look up how culture is actually defined, but for the time being I’m going to assume it means the nuances of the way of life. But displays of culture seem to be a bit of a farce. Human kind is very adept at surviving and adapting to make the most of their situation, and taken in relative terms, to thrive. With that people are very good at enjoying life and the displays of culture we perceive as representative frequently add to this. Sometimes they are a show put on for tourists. Other times they are more genuine. But either way they are often special events, dress is not normal day to day dress. Normal day to day dress is more often than not jeans and a t-shirt. Dressing up is all well and good but my interest in people sits better with the manner in which they adapt to their surroundings. The way life functions with what you have to hand, what you can acquire and the limitations that a situation bestows upon us. That likely comes from the engineer in me rather than the artist. But what eclipses human activities is the wonder of nature, the natural beauty of this planet. The ignorance you can see can be depressing but whatever humankind does to mess the world up, one thing is for sure that the earth will likely still exist and time will carry on.

A couple of days from now I’m going to swing past Chicxulub, the site of the meteor impact that triggered the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction – ie the demise of the dinosaurs. There’s nothing there to see but I’ll be passing just a stonesthrow (in bicycle rather than astronomical terms) away anyway so I though why not!

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