It was an old road, of that I was certain. Could it be that I was cycling the Aztec Roads. The cobbled stones were carefully laid in such a way to make cycling difficult. Motorised travel was a repair shops dream. I wondered how old the road was. Could it be one of the original Aztec roads that linked the major ancient sites and trading centers. I was not sure.
A local on a bicycle caught up to me. He was dressed in his finest cowboy outfit. A large wide brimmed hat that was shiny white, blue jeans with a large belt buckle and leather boots. We exchanged greetings.
Cycling the Aztec Roads
“How old is that road“, I asked. Of course I spoke my best Spanish, not English.
“Very old“, he said. “From the Aztecs“. He then spoke in long complicated words that I did not fully understand. But he assured me this was definitely an ancient road made by the Aztecs. Constructed long before the Spanish arrived.
He cycled off to the local school to pick up his daughter and I continued downhill on the ancient road. I stopped to look at my maps. Often, when I cycle, I load my starting and my finishing point into Google Maps. For an adventure I select the walking option or the cycling option. Sometimes it means for impossibly slow travel. Other times I find myself in a farmers field with a locked gate barring my way. Google is good, but not that good. It is my version of creating a bit of adventure in my travels.
I looked at Google maps. It told me I was cycling the ‘Avenida Camino Real’, the ‘Royal Road’. I was cycling the Aztec roads. I asked another couple of locals who all confirmed that the road was here before the Spanish arrived. But surely it has been upgraded with cobblestones. Why was this not a well know destination. Maybe there were hundreds of Aztec roads in this part of Mexico and it was no big deal. Maybe the locals were just playing with me. Making up the stories to impress. All I know was that I was having a great day. Soon I would be in the town of Tula to visit their famed Toltec ruins.
Back on the Bicycle
Several days earlier I left the relative comfort of my home away from home in San Miguel de Allende. I split my time staying in two different hostels, Hostel Inn and Hostel Alcatraz. Both were comfortable and quiet places to allow my body to relax and both had space to store my bicycle.
I planned a rather easy route to the old mining ghost town of Mineral de Pozas which was not far away. My route was a combination of main roads, side roads and trails through farmers fields. Some of the farmers fields were behind closed fences which I opened and let myself in.
On the first day my legs let me down early. With only a relatively short distance covered for the day I set up camp among the stunted cactus bushes. Nearby I could hear the barking dogs and blowing horns of the trains. It was great to see the stars again as I sat outside my tent reading and stargazing.
Mineral de Pozas
It was a short ride into the town of Mineral de Pozas. Old buildings in various states or disrepair greeted me, but it was not the ghost town. I pictured abandoned buildings, maybe a lone person on a horse riding down the street but it was full of people.
A small family restaurant offered me a nice second breakfast. I asked the young school aged girl serving me where all the ruins where. She pointed me in the direction up the hill. After my feed I set off up the hill. There were some abandoned buildings, it was not what I expected.
I had seen a famous photo of the area with three pyramid shaped buildings. But I could not find them. I asked four or five other people for directions. In true Mexican form I received three different sets of instructions. Anybody who travels in the remote areas of Mexico is used to this kind of information. After a fruitless search I cycled out of town.
As I cycled the outskirts of town I spied the buildings I was looking for off in the distance. I quickly looked at my map and backtracked through farmers fields to get there. Alone next to the mining structure that was built some 500 years ago. I don’t know what they were, or what they were used for, but they looked cool.
I had plans to cycle some crazy roads in the Sierra Gorda mountains in the Mexican State of Queretero. Again, my body let me down. I just wasn’t feeling it. My body wasn’t strong. I looked my maps and made other plans to get out the crazy mountains and cycle some easier, flatter roads. The first couple of days on the bicycle were always going to be tough.
Reluctantly, I set my route south to look at the ancient ruins of Tula. Not before I spent a lovely couple of days in the mountains. I don’t regret the change of plans but there is a part of me that has a hankering to be in the jungles. To be exploring remote jungle roads full of monkeys and jaguars to little known Mayan ruins. I must move south.
It was on route to Tula that a found myself cycling the Aztec roads. I have a keen interest in the ancient world. The archeological sites of the Aztecs, Mayan and all those that come before them interested them. Tula was a site I really wanted to visit.
Tula is a pre Aztec site believed to have been constructed and ruled by the Toltecs. The Toltecs were considered one of the first Empire Builders of the Americas. Tula was considered by some scholars to be the capital of the empire but there is still much debate. There are several pyramids and courtyards that have been restored. It is a little visited site, I can’t really understand why.
A long time ago, maybe 1000 years ago the Toltecs had a king named Topiltzin. Unlike many of the peoples of this part of the world he sprouted a thick dark beard and was light skinned. This king was said to be a peaceful king. Worshiping the animal deities of the time.
The god of the witchcraft and warriors, named Tezcatlipoca, had a large following in Tula. His followers required human sacrifices. This was in contrast to the beliefs of the the kings and is said to have bought much conflict.
One day the God Tezcatlipoca got King Topiltzin very drunk. He was humiliated and departed Tula for the lowlands of the coast of Veracruz. From there he sailed eastwards on a snake raft with a promise to one day return and claim his throne.
Around 500 years later the bearded, fair skinned Conquistadors arrived. Led by Cortez they had little trouble overpowering the Aztecs. Their leader, Montezuma, believed the prophesy of King Topiltzins’ return. He thought the Spanish conquistadors to be the King Topiltzin. Montezuma put up little resistance and thus started the European conquest of the Americas.
Intricate carvings at Tula
When Things Go Wrong
I left the ruins and cycled down a series of farmers fields and small roads. It is so much more enjoyable on the peaceful backroads of Mexico with the friendly people. I received a message from my hiking buddy Spontaneous. He is cycling with his wife, Sky. Her bicycle was run over by a bus.Not the best message. They were also adventure cycling through Mexico. They were about 2 days ride from where I was so I decided to head to the large city of Puebla to visit them.
To get to Puebla quickly I rode on the Autopistas, the Toll Roads. Technically, cyclists are prohibited from cycling on the Toll Roads. Most of the time people turn a blind eye, other times they help and encourage us cyclists. Having said that, I have been kicked off the Toll Roads before in other parts of Mexico.
Cycling Toll Roads
When I entered the first of the Toll Roads about 120km from Puebla a guard came out to greet me. He stopped me to tell me I could ride on the road but I was not allowed to go through the Toll booth. He told me I would be seen on the cameras and he would get in trouble. With a ‘nudge nudge – wink wink’, he told me to push my bicycle around the fence of the pay station then enter the road about 100 meters further up. I followed his instructions. I was not cycling the Aztec Roads anymore.
It was a speedy ride down the road. The great thing about the Autopistas is a combination of a wide shoulder on the road which makes it safe and the trucks that rush by provide a much appreciated tailwind. It was not my idea of great riding but the miles came quickly. I put some headphones in my ears and alternated between audiobooks and music. I was no longer cycling the Aztec roads.
It was mid afternoon when I reached Puebla and caught up with Spontaneous and Sky. Luckily, Sky was unharmed but her bicycle was flattened like a pancake. A bus revered over her bike, she was able to get away from it. She spent some time contemplating what to do but decided to buy another bicycle. The three of us are hatching a plan to climb some nearby volcanoes, so stay tuned.
Merry Christmas to all
This will be my last post before Christmas, so, Merry Christmas to all.
Stats and Maps
10 days of cycling for a total of 562km