On Sunday, I was invited to join Alberto, Eeke, Ernesto and one of Ernesto’s many friends (Juan Manuel, I think he said *sigh*) on another mountainous ride. This time, we passed the road Vicente Guerrero which took us to San Bernardino, and went on to Fresnel, a tiny community about 45 minutes drive from Tehuacan. If you look on a map, none of these places appear. They’re very small but charming nonetheless. The road into Fresnel was not as windy as the one we took the previous weekend, but it was high in the mountains. I felt my ears pop twice as we drove and realized then that I was in for an adventure.
Arriving in Fresnel, we were greeted by a farmer herding his single, unwilling cow up the steep incline and a man on his donkey. There were roosters crowing and turkeys gobbling, as with every community here. Even the yard across from my primary school has a rooster in it, and he welcomes us to his block every morning.
The roads in town were paved (oh joy! oh bliss!), unlike those just two minutes out of town, on which we rode. These were formed of hand-placed rocks and stone, which is much more passable than any I’d seen yet, but they were still hard to cycle.
As I watched Ernesto untie the bikes, I realized my seat was the lowest and the least fancy schmancy. Still, Lola and I were eager to get out there.
When I had Juan Manuel’s bike pointed out to me, I realized just how fancy schmancy it was.
Heading up the mountain, we hit a steep ascent almost immediately. The altitude was as hard on me as I’d expected: I had to get off and walk within the first three kilometres. Twenty minutes later, I caught up with the other cyclists at a rest stop.
“I’m very proud of myself. I rode every inch of the flats!” I panted.
Being a fast walker and wearing my Saucony running shoes were two big advantages. It meant I wasn’t far behind the others. The heat was harder on me this trip than the other two, even though we started at 7 a.m. It’s been getting up to 35 degrees by mid-day and since we’re in the rainy season there’s humidity on top of that. I was sweating through every pore I owned and a few I didn’t know about. At first I was embarrassed at having to walk so much of the climb, but I realized quickly that the stress of the past couple of weeks has been hard on all the teachers, so this was more than just a tough ascent and altitude training. I was feeling punk from everything. Still, it didn’t stop my revelling in the most beautiful surroundings with supportive friends.
This ride was circuitous. We rode (sorry, they rode, I walked) to the top of one mountain, from which we enjoyed a most spectacular view of another volcano and several quaint villages in valleys, then down and across to another mountain. The downward ride was somehow harder. “Gu Gu Gu” went my teeth; “cling cling cling” went my bracelet; “gu gu gu” went my brain in my skull. You *want* to whip down the hills like the pros, who would kindly wait for me at one turn and then would hurtle by my side, sounding like a passing freight train.
On the final hill rests the town of Esperanza, where we stopped for lunch. Alberto claims this as his favourite roadside taco stop and I could understand why. There were hot, soft taco shells into which we loaded scrumptious beef and hot chilis, and a bag of crispy taco shells with chicken in them. The men had walked over to a store for soft drinks and some “dessert”. The dessert was one of those Joe Louis type things with chocolate cake and a jam and gooey white filling, something I haven’t had since I was a teenager. So yummy, and perfect after the gruelling ride.
At the taco stand, Eeke sat beside me.
“Are you okay?” she asked, a little worried. “Do you want us to go get the truck?”
“Oh no!” I said. “I’m fine!”
We went back and forth like this for a few minutes and then I realized I was obviously not going to make the ride back up the hill into Fresnel. Eeke, Ernesto and I would ride casually back while Berto and Juan Manuel would ride ahead and bring the truck to meet us. I really am a faster walker than the others, so I told them to just stay on their bikes whenever we hit an ascent, and I wouldn’t be far behind. We met the boys about six kilometres from Fresnel: the entire ride that day was about 42 kilometres.
On the way back into town, I slept in the truck. Back at the house, Ernesto’s dear wife brought out bottles of beer and snacks. She put on some delightful ranchero music from her home village of Agua Calliente, which literally means Hot Water.
“Have you ever had a mifrolada?” Berto asked me. I thought he was talking about an enfricolada, which is a taco variation. He wasn’t. Apparently my having slowed the ride down today didn’t put a damper on our friendship because the family treated me to a beer in a frosty mug that was mixed with lime juice, hot sauce, Worcester sauce and a liquid form of Marmite. It was astoundingly good.
Then, Ernesto brought out the tequila.
“Every Mexican home has tequila in it,” he announced proudly as he poured me a glass. My eyes bulged as I saw how much my glass contained. The others laughed and said I had to watch Ernesto because he could be generous. He arose and came back a few seconds later with a bottle of something that looked BBQed. It was full of cooked worms.
These worms are harvested from the plant I mistook for Aloe Vera two weeks ago. When the leaves turn yellow, it means there are worms inside. Once harvested, the worms are baked and coated in a hot seasoning. I wasn’t sold on the appearance of them, but if Ernesto was going to share these expensive savouries with me, I certainly wasn’t going to say no.
You eat a couple of worms (they’re crunchy and quite tasty!), then drown it with a swig of tequila followed quickly by a squirt of lime and salt. It was a big hit with me. No, really! I’m not making this up!