Some three days ago while Zoe was surfing the net in the courtyard of our hotel, Our host, Miriam, approached with a Mexican cyclist. He was tall, friendly and spoke good English. Alejandro turned out to be a great person, extremely honest and generous… so generous in fact, that he loaned Zoe his sweet front suspension rack and provided us with a treasure-trove of useful information about Mexico.
Alejandro, or “Jano”, pronounced HA-no, was so eager to help, we learned so much about Mexican maps:
- The best printed maps are made by the Instituto Nacional de Información Estadística y Geográfica (INEGI), National Institute of Statistics and Geography. Their maps are: up to date, topographical accurate and include even the newest little roads.
- Good digital maps can be found at the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT), Ministry of Communication and Transportation in PDF format: Yucatan, Campeche, Chiapas. The STC website also calculates distances between chosen cities, towns, villages or even little communities. You can also Google “Rutas punto a punto SCT“.
Computer said no, but the humans showed heart
Check this happy case of bureaucracy and digital work aids.
I went with Jano to the local INEGI office to get some paper maps for Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas, the three Mexican states we will be crossing on the way to Guatemala. Jano mentioned that it is kinda difficult to get INGEI maps; but, it wasn’t 100% clear to me what he meant until we reached the office.
The INGEI clerk checked his computer and offered us a plotted map of Campeche for 60 pesos and a photocopy of a Tabasco map for 20 pesos, about six or seven dollars for both. The clerk checked his computer, “the Chiapas map no is available.” He excuses himself and disappears into the back to check in some archives at the back of the office and returns with a colored brand-new map of Chiapas. I am so happy! Soon after the Chiapas map miraculously appeared I find out I cannot buy it since, well, it is not in the system. The computer says: No!
The physical map is laying in front of the clerk but the digital proof of its existence is missing from his computer screen. Not knowing what to do he excuses himself to ask his boss how to handle this tricky case. The Chiapas state is very mountainous and it would really be good to have a reliable colored topographic map while touring it. Just like the one I am holding in my hands. The clerk returns saying, he cannot sell it to me. This map has to be send to the INEGI office in Chiapas and will be destroyed over there. Jano and myself smile at each other puzzled and shake our heads in disbelief. The clerk seems to feel awkward and joins in shaking his head. I am saying to him with Jano’s help and I am only half joking: “I am tempted to leave through the door and run away with this map”.
He gets called in to an office next door and returns with the bosses permission to give the map to me as a gift since they cannot sell it to me… and the Chiapas office will never ever find out about it anyway, unless, of course, they’re reading this. We payed for the Campeche and Tabasco maps and got an invoice, although I said that I didn’t need one – but hey it’s a governmental office, you need to go through the paper work! We left quickly before the boss had a chance to change her mind.
We talked a bit about camping with Alejandro since we brought our tent with us but never dared to wild-camp anywhere. Alejandro couldn’t recommend camping in the jungle and our new friend, Gilberto back in Cancun, told us stories about how six of his seven guard dogs were killed by the wild pigs living in the jungle. While cycling on the road, we caught glimpses of the local fauna, usually flat glimpses: squahsed snakes, iguanas even a beautiful jaguar baby… with tire tracks over it’s back. All this scared Zoe enough that she didn’t want to camp in the jungle but rather somewhere closer to human settlements.
Alejandro advised whenever we come to small communities we should look for an alcalde who serves as the town head, or mayor, if you will. Alcaldes know best where there would be a safe place to put up a tent. They might send you to some local cenotes (water holes) or grutas (caves) or tell you if it is possible to camp at the church. We saw a few tents set up at the church in Izamal.
Jano also mentioned Oscar Cañón [ Spanish language website ], who is one of the best touring bikers, he has ever met. [ editors note: other than the warriorself couple ] The website includes detailed descriptions of many routes he took in North, Central and South America. A good source of information for planning a trip.
We were looking at Jano’s bike and something seemed different about it. It all looked like a normal mountain bike setup with touring bags on the front and rear but something seemed… special. After a closer inspection we realized that he has shocks on the front fork! While normal telescoping shock absorbers are about as common as wheels themselves on today’s mountain bikes, and bike bags, a.k.a panniers, are equally ubiquitous among the touring cycles on the road, even on the front wheel. But the combination of both bags and shocks is quite rare. In fact, it’s shocking.
No sooner had we mentioned the fact that Zoe’s bike was in need of a similar setup, when kind Jano went to work disassembling the rack from his bike and attaching it to Zoe’s bike. She was thinking if she even needed the rack & panniers because this was nice German gear, not some plastic gadget, and we had to be sure we were ready for the responsibility. Jano was quick to assure us that everything would be alright.
The rack attaches to the suspension fork and can take up to 16 kg of extra baggage. Distributing the load evenly to both front and rear wheels will help with the handling while descending the mountains of Guatemala and also the front bags make for easier access to cookies. Zoe decided to accept Jano’s wonderful offer and borrow the whole setup: Hoogar rack and a pair of Ortleib dry panniers. The plan is to send them to Jano in Mexico City once we are done with this touring trip. Who knows, we may end up getting a rack for ourselves once back in Germany if it turns out to perform as well as Jano said it has.