(February 16 – written by Dave)
In yesterday’s blog we reported on wind and earthquakes. Well, that turned out to be just the warm-up act for the main event which followed over the next 24 hours.
First earthquakes. Nancy felt the bed move around 8PM last night. I didn’t feel it. Believe me, nothing exciting ever happens on a bicycle tour, especially after a windy, hot and tiring day out on the bike. There had to be a more logical explanation. I looked in the hallway – no new clients moving massive bags into their room. So I checked the web. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the image below popped up on the USGS website.
We sort of had earthquakes on our minds all night, ready to bolt for the door if need be. Spare a thought for the locals – I’m sure that it wasn’t their first aftershock. At some point you’d think about moving somewhere more stable if this went on for very long.
Now to the wind. We were up early, actually riding at 6:20 just as it was getting light. We rode with our flashing rear lights and headed northeast out of town. For about 15k, we had wind coming at us from the front/left. It wasn’t too bad, being early, we just had to pay attention for the gusts. At Ventosa, we turned right, east-ish. I had visions of tailwinds and feet up on the handlebars.
Boy was I wrong. This section was from Ventosa to Venta. Vento means wind in Spanish. One can only guess it will be windy between towns named “wind-something”. We had severe, and I mean severe, cross winds at this point and for the next 13k. The first 3k, there was no shoulder but cars gave us room. Gusts were pushing us all over the road – leaning a good 30 degrees at times. After 3k we met up with Highway 190 and gained a shoulder. The cross wind strengthened. I got blown off the road once (there was an ok verge) and both of us had to put both feet down a couple times to keep from tipping over. It was real white knuckle stuff.
Nancy yelled something at me. I think it may have been related to how stupid this was and that we should have taken the bus. Probably just as well that I couldn’t hear her above the wind.
At 28k we reached Venta where town is cut off from the highway by a long, solid earth overpass. We decided to ride the side road, hiding in the leeward side out of the wind. We had decided that we’d throw the bikes on one of the pickup-buses hanging out at the junction. The language barrier was an issue but really, the drivers said that we didn’t need to take the bus now as the “strong” wind was only from Ventosa to Venta. As they said this they laughed.
Left with no choice, I shook their hands, laughed with them and we headed back out into the wind. Well, what do you know, the wind calmed down almost immediately and we even grabbed a little tailwind as we turned slightly more southerly. I guess you have to trust the locals.
One nice thing about all the wind is that Mexico has installed a massive wind farm here, so at least they are taking advantage of the natural resource. The farm is called La Mata – La Ventosa Wind Farm and is Mexico’s first wind farm, installed in 2010. For those who care about megawatts, it produces 67.5 MW. The farm’s website reports that Wal-Mart buys all the power but if the wind blows regularly like today, the farm would produce enough wind to power every Wal-Mart in the world.
A little after the Venta bus guys gave us the good news, we ran into Arthur, a cyclist from France. He started in Ushuaia about 14 months ago. We don’t expect that it will take us that long to reach there but that’s our ultimate goal as well. We discussed the wind with him and warned him of what he was going to get at Ventosa corner. He had already had a very long morning as the tailwind we had in the last few K was his headwind. And he still had to get through the crosswind.
We stopped for morning tea just after meeting Arthur. Now we had heat as well as wind. I drank a litre of water at our tea stop. Lunch was taken about noon at a small burg called Santo Domingo Zanatepec. We stopped at a small store, drank another litre of water and ate our sandwiches. By now it was getting seriously hot. Soon after lunch while riding, both of our thermometers read 43 degrees. The last 23k to San Pedro Tapanatepec was hot but the wind not too bad but when we arrived, my computer had reached 46 degrees (about 115 degrees F)
We settled into Hotel Ribena after cold drinks from the store next door. I did the noble thing and asked for the room with AC, not just a fan. After the morning’s wind episode, I have some points to earn back.
In that last 23k we passed tons of mango trees. This is where Mexican mangos must come from. The boys were out harvesting them in force. Plus we saw lots of trucks loaded headed for the market. I stumbled on what was clearly a collection warehouse while out walking around. The guys working there and the crew dropping off their harvest were all in good moods. I had a good time figuring out the pickers that they use and checking out the warehouse. They even gave me a fresh ripe mango (that I added to dinner – see below).
After the mango warehouse, I went out in search of a bus to get us to our next town. The wind forecast for tomorrow is about the same and we’ve read at least three blogs where other riders have been blown off the road in the next section. One of the riders noted that walking in the gutter on the wrong side of the road for 5k made it possible for him to make it. And another noted that he was “lucky that the major gusts never corresponded with traffic”. You make your own luck, we’re going to give the Isthmus of Tehuantepec the respect it deserves. It was time for a day off anyway – we’ll just spend it (or one hour of it) sitting on a bus.
For dinner we had roasted chicken and avocado (and sometimes mango) sandwiches. This is our new favourite “safe” dinner in Mexico. There are heaps of wood roasted chicken stands where you can get a half chicken right off the spicket. Throw in a fresh avocado with a lime squeezed over it and a roll from the local bakery – well, you have a winner. No cooking and mostly we can feel good about eating something healthy for us.
So, we’ll see how the bus works out tomorrow. We tried to explain several times that we have bicycles and need a big bus with a luggage compartment but you never know. If we can’t get on the bus we may try to nab one of those collectivo buses or anybody with a pickup who looks friendly.
UPDATE: See comment below. We just learned of the earthquake noted on this image. We are the blue dot and did not feel it. We are safe.