Everyone arrives in a country wth their own ideas on what to expect and the riders of the 2022 North American Epic were no exception to this. Our Content Creator, Alicia Arellano Nava, herself a native of the country, examines how accurate their preconceptions were.
Most of the riders were expecting very hot weather in Mexico. I don’t know why foreigners imagine Mexico as an eternally hot place. Probably because tourists usually go to beaches, which is where weather tends to be like that. It is true that we had sweltering days, especially when we got closer to the sea, but in general the weather was mild and cool most of the time. It all depends on where you go and the time of the year.
There’s also an idea that Mexico is a small country that can be traveled through in a few days. Nevertheless, this is the country where the North American Epic spends the largest number of days: 54 while in Canada it is 47 and in the USA it is 37. In fact, Mexico is the 13th largest country in the world and possesses a great diversity of ecosystems within different climates. Forests, jungles, deserts, grasslands, mangroves, islands, dunes, reefs and beaches abound. To the west, the waters of the Pacific Ocean bathe it and to the east those of the Atlantic.
This country is crossed by two mountain ranges and its highest peaks are three volcanos that exceed 5,000 metres in height. Days before arriving Mexico City, cycling through one of these mountain ranges, we reached an altitude of 3,000 meters and had to put our jackets on. On our journey south, we crossed 10 states of the 32 that make up the country, each one encompassing various regions of Mexico, where different indigenous cultures such as the Zapotecas, Mixtecas, Purépechas, Mayas inhabit.
People and culture
You can feel Mexico the moment you set your eyes and feet on it. The Mexican culture is openly expressed through all the senses: smells, sounds, colours and flavours. In the United States and Canada, European and South African cyclists often asked “Where is everyone? I have not seen a single child.” It seemed that the towns were deserted. Mexico is the opposite. It seems that everyone is outside and nobody wants to stay at home. The laughter of children is heard in parks, streets and beaches and it is easy to observe the daily life of people. The streets are adorned with colourful papers, music, food stalls, and handicrafts.
Michel Lebel, from Quebec, tells me he’s fascinated by the kindness and hospitality of Mexicans. Trucks and cars keep a safe distance from cyclists and greet them. The people, although they do not speak English, offer a smile and do not hesitate to help and share the little they have. Every town we went to had a festival or cultural event. It’s hard to feel alone when you walk on the streets and find so much life. In our time in Mexico (October and November), we witnessed the Day of the Dead celebration, the International Cervantino Festival, and the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. Riders and staff were amazed to find so many things happening!
Maybe you think that in Mexico we only eat tortillas, tacos and beans. However, after visiting a few Mexican restaurants or street food stalls, the taste buds of the riders were met with an explosion of flavours from the various Mexican dishes and ingredients. The culinary diversity that the country possesses is impressive, so much so that it is considered a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Unfortunately, stomachs can also suffer from a diet change. The first day we arrived in Mexico, I told riders that in order to survive here they needed to consume vitamin T, a local vitamin that includes tacos, tamales, tortillas, tlacoyos, tequila, tlayudas, tortas, tostadas… A small tasting of a very authentic cuisine.
Anyone visiting Mexico will be surprised to discover that nachos and chilli con carne are practically unfamiliar to us. The dishes that shine in Mexican cuisine are pozole, mole, chiles en nogada, sopes, enchiladas, chilaquiles, tacos and unique dishes from each state or region. By the way, tacos are not per se a dish, but a way we eat our food. We wrap any kind of food inside a tortilla. Roll a tortilla and then you have a taco! Therefore, we have several kinds of tacos. Tacos al pastor are one of the most famous ones. You have to try them. There is also a vegan or vegetarian version. Travelling Mexico without tasting it is missing a great part of the country. You need to have a stomach and a palate willing to experiment. And if coriander is not your thing, don’t forget to say “sin cilantro por favor”, as the herb is a big ingredient in Mexican cuisine.
For some riders, the hot and humid days we had next to the ocean presented a challenge, as well as the cobble stone roads, potholes and speed bumps. Welcome to tope country! You see so many. Tope is the word for speed bump in Mexico. Mexico also has an international image linked to corruption, insecurity and drug trafficking. The tranquility of the country has been affected by criminal organizations that create distrust among the population, however, throughout the entire tour we experienced the opposite. It is impressive to see the kindness of all the people and their willingness to help.
One concludes that its inhabitants are not defined by its government or by drug traffickers. The blockades that we find on the roads, due to local protests, tell us that it is a very active country in social struggles and that the population is interested in recovering the tranquility and civil rights that were taken away. Perhaps the biggest concern were street dogs, who seem to have fun chasing bikes, but the riders have been learning how to deal with those situations.
México lindo y querido
Mexico is a very diverse country in every sense. The colours of the flag are seen everywhere, even on dishes. Every state and every corner has something magical to offer. Its history is fascinating and the archaeological ruins of the civilizations that previously inhabited Mesoamerica can be seen throughout the country. As a Mexican, many aspects of my culture go unnoticed when living every day in my country. However, after spending a month riding in the United States and coming back to Mexico, the change from one culture to another is very evident and it is easier to appreciate one’s own and recognize contrasts and differences. I think this a very positive aspect of travelling slow the way we do it – recognizing our countries in both their strengths and shortcomings.
North American Epic
Cycling from the Arctic Ocean to Panama City will take you through 9 countries and countless variations in landscape, culture, language, cuisine and...