Ride South – New Years with Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl

It was an early enough morning for us waking up in our tube hotel. Today an interesting challenge awaited us: circumnavigating the periphery of México City as we pushed eastward through the old Pass of Cortés (aka ‘Paso de Cortés).

It’s a pass drenched in history; supposedly Cortés, the Spanish conquerer of the Aztecs, marched his army through this pass to bring the native Mexicans of yore to heel. They fought the Mexicans at Cholula (yes, like the hot sauce…) and then went right up to Moctezuma’s home. Some strong tales of soldiers going into the volcanoes nearby to extract sulfur survive. Hmm, we should try doing that…

Nah, all that wasn’t really on our mind today: it was a lot of miles there, and we’d had some scattered reports that the path which ran through the saddle between two mighty volcanoes was pretty tough. Wikipedia listed it as ‘at least sometimes drivable’. That’s perfect, sounds like fun!

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Our route for today. We rose from our tube home

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And got some really rather great breakfast at the local haunt Les Colorines.

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It’s a beautiful pink building and you can grab some of the pulque this area is so known for. We also ran into some fellow adventure riders from Mexico City!

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Ahh, this isn’t helping Stu’s KTM envy at all.

Anyway, time to hit the road. I turned the key on the HP2 and it instantly popped my taillight. Cool, nice.

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Popped a new one in there. On to the highway!

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These roads.
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Have utterly.

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Incredible views.

We had a bit of highway slabbing until we made it to the short paved section up to the pass. Mexico never gets enough credit for how spectacular its roads are; this is right outside of Mexico City and it is breathtaking. Smoldering volcanoes lie asleep between rolling hills as you ascend slowly through corn fields, lush forest and small farms.

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This dip-in was the beginning of a pine tree-studded road absolutely riddled with turns. You couldn’t keep the bike upright for more than about a third of a second. It was pure joy and we took zero photos. Seriously. what a fun road. We saw absolutely nobody go up here and made it up the pass in about an hour or so.

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There’s a small cultural center at the top where you can learn about the history of the pass but also the volcanoes. There it is: Popo. Popocatépetl. The big pope.

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Not only is it a massive volcano, it’s actually still active. It has small eruptions all the time and you can see the plume of its smoke coming out of it here. It’s quiet.

Perhaps too quiet.

This thing is the 5th highest peak in all of North America, and the 2nd in Mexico. It’s kind of insane that it is sitting within striking distance of the most populous area of Mexico, with all of its massive power able to probably wipe out millions of people. For now, it’s a great backdrop for a motorcycle.

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We kept our guard, of course, in case this would suddenly turn into a scene from the 1997 disaster flick ‘Volcano‘. With some help, Tommy Lee Jones would suddenly appear too. Or Anne Heche… on second though, we’d rather have her around.

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Glam shot time! Which one is your favorite? I have a favorite. It’s the blue one.

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After our incessant clicking away with cameras we rode to the visitor center and met this huge fantastic family from Puebla! They loved the bikes and we took a ton of photos with them. I love how friendly they are around these parts, they even offered us candy and snacks (and soda, always soda…).

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Anyway, it was time to make it down that supposedly ‘sometimes traversable’ dirt road.

It’s beautiful. As soon as you start descending from the visitor station, it’s a rather sandy and dusty affair, but the views are insane. The entire valley soon stretches ahead of you with Puebla and Cholula in the distance, and turn after turn drops you slowly through forests of pine trees which give way for deciduous forests that grow on crumbling hillsides. The volcanic rock that sticks out at times is beautiful and jagged, and roots and sand washes keep it interesting.

We both kept a pretty good speed and as I’m perhaps a middling dirt rider I’d rate the route a 5/10 in terms of difficulty. There’s definitely some gnarly parts that could wipe you out if you’re not paying attention as well as some deep sand that’s always fun to wiggle around in at speed, but nothing you can’t handle if you take your time or pay attention. We did a bit of both.

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We stopped only once for a sip of water. What a ton of fun this road is. We again, didn’t run into anyone else, and quickly flicked the bikes around the final turns down to a disappointingly well paved road.

There it was, we’d finally cleared the pass. Much like history and Cortés, it now lay behind us, and Popo smiled as we left it growing smaller and smaller in our rear view mirrors. I was daydreaming about the pass and the magnificence of the volcanoes… and trying to steer around a pack of stray dogs when I saw Stu’s KLR hit a tope at speed in front of me and narrowly managed to avoid his panniers which comically flew off with a big arc.

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He should really fasten these things a bit better, a tope always sends them flying. There they are!

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A nice opportunity to snap another headshot. Calm. It stopped smoking. Probably better for its health.

We had a brief stop in Cholula! Right next to a historic buried pyramid and beautiful church, there’s an ostensibly Dutch bar. They might have the snacks I crave the most from home: bitterballen. Fried little balls filled with meat ragout. Alas, they were closed. Holidays.

Pretty church, though.

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We weaved through celebration traffic (seriously, there was a ton of traffic) to the downtown area of Puebla, where we were sure we could find somewhere to stay.

Did we mention we really never make reservations? We figured it’d be easy enough to find a hostel or somewhere else so we could enjoy the festivities right in the middle of town. We parked on the zocalo (the main square) and started looking around for hotels.

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Such a beautiful square. Puebla is a gorgeous town. It’s also a pretty busy town when it comes to festivities, apparently, because we couldn’t find a single hotel anywhere. Just when we were about to give up, we found a sort of refurbished governor’s mansion that was turned hostel… and it turned out they had a spot for us!

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What a spot!!! This might be the most beautiful parking spot we’ve ever had on this ride. Did we mention this place was a steal? The only catch was that they were having a gala that night. We weren’t invited, and we’d have to move the bikes into a hallway near the kitchen. Fine with us! We got a spot!

We met some of the fellow travelers at the hostel and went out with them to grab…

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Ah, the life giving dark Bohemia beer. I really love this stuff. Damn. As usual there’s several local Mexican treats to try here, and Puebla has a bunch of great ones. Mole Poblano is pretty well known, but the ‘Cemita’ is less famous. It’s a sesame seed sandwich with chicken or pork cutlet, mayo, avocado, and just tons of good stuff. It’s probably one of my new favorite sandwiches!

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Mei is one of the backpackers we ran into at the hostel. She’s an NY film student and was fending off practically the entire male population of our hostel, who were all trying to get lucky with her on New Year’s Eve.

Her way of dealing with it was beer. Always a good idea.

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After dinner and beers, I did some work on my laptop as Stu got ready for a date with a girl.

As droves of people celebrated in the city, I went to a local bar to make some new friends and drink my favorite dark Mexican beers until the celebration and dancing reached a crescendo at midnight. I couldn’t have been happier to ring in the New Year.

The next day I woke up with a blurry brain, a soft pounding reminder of walking the bustling streets into the city, the round of Heinekens I bought my newly made Mexican friends and a New Year’s Eve party at another hotel rooftop that I snuck into at 2 AM.  It was a night to remember, and a great way to kick off a year of adventure.

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