A loud bang, followed by a judder. If you’re one to believe the horror stories about Mexico, you may fear the worst here – in the dusk, high up in the mountains between Puerto Vallarta and Mascota. Only a few lonely cowboys are leading their cows along the wayside. But the bangs and rattles are nothing more than noises emanating from our 35-year-old pick-up that is fighting its way up the steep mountain at 20 km per hour at a push, while sputtering away furiously.
When Daniel first told me about his idea of buying an old pick-up and then travelling all over Mexico with it from one mountain bike destination to another, I certainly was somewhat sceptical. Mexico – why, that’s the drug war country where pistols are always at the ready and you can easily get shot ... But before I even continue: we can’t confirm these preconceptions.
We experienced a country with unbelievably kind and accommodating people, the best food ever and sensational trails!
No more than a year later, we’re sitting in our newly acquired Dodge, with our bike bags packed to the brim on the loading area, and driving into the Mexican night. We’re on our way to Mascota, a little mountain village about 10 hours driving time west of the capital, Mexico City. There are loads of trails here, a small hut for sleeping over and the right workshops for getting the car back in order (again) for the next part of the trip.
And it turns out that Alvaro, our local friend, was not exaggerating as far as mountain biking in Mascota is concerned: the combination of rocks, sand and fine dust resembles an ice surface, and our tyres are struggling to grip the yellow pebbles. The only chance of keeping control of our bikes are the rocks on the side of the path, which serve as a natural buttress.
On our first day in this unfamiliar, challenging terrain I could swear that I don’t actually really know how to mountain bike at all!
But after two or three descents I get my bike legs back and follow my two companions down the trail at a rate of knots. Time and time again we need to duck the sharp agave leaves, though, which grow all over the country in rich variety and which are used to make Recilla, a type of tequila.
The days go by; we spend the mornings in the workshop with our truck, and the rest of the day on our bikes on the trails until late in the night. Whenever we ride into the small villages in the area at the end of a trail we receive a hearty welcome and are often even invited for a meal. We’re treated to all the different variations of tortillas – made from yellow corn, red corn and, yes, blue corn as well! And they always contain the most delicious fillings.
After a week, the pick-up is finally roadworthy again and good to continue.
We pack our gear into our bags and make our way inland. After a brief stop on the jungle trails in Puerto Vallarta directly at the sea, we continue via Guadalajara and past the city of “Tequila”. Way before we even reach the signpost, vast azure blue fields stretch as far as the eye can see. “Agave azul” (blue agave) is the main ingredient of the world-famous tequila.
Along the route, we pass through the most varied vegetation zones and different worlds: from the jungle with crocodiles, across forlorn desert regions, past the teeming crowds of Mexico City. Finally, sometime in the middle of the night, we reach Valle de Bravo.
Although we can still feel the long car journey in our joints, we sneak out of the house really early the next morning and load our bikes onto the pick-up. Today we want to explore the trails on the nearby Nevado de Toluca volcano – the fourth highest mountain in Mexico, almost 5000 m above sea level. I have never ever been so high up! Step by step we put one foot in front of the other, but the peak just doesn’t seem to get any closer. Then, several hours later we’re finally right at the top of the volcano. The world around us seems tiny and, lit up by the bright sunshine, boasts beautiful blue and brown shades. Filled with happy anticipation of the trail spanning several kilometres back to Val de Bravo, we jump onto our bikes and disappear in a large cloud of dust.