It finally stops raining and I leave Zacatecas.
I am armed with detailed maps, obtained from the Secrectaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes, of the states that I will pass through next. These maps are the only ones I’ve seen that detail secondary roads and dirt tracks with any degree of accuracy but acquiring them is a feat that requires some patience and persistence. First, you must be in a state capital and then you face the challenge of finding the appropriate SCT office amongst the many that perform various functions. Next you have to get there, paying attention to the idiosyncratric opening hours of government agencies. Once there, in the office, you can only hope they have the maps that you are after because their collection is by no means complete. Having selected the appropriate maps the staff are supposed to print a form which you then take to the bank to make the payment before returning to the office with the receipt in hand to collect the maps.
At the office in Guadalupe, near Zacatecas, the computer system was down when I visited and so it was impossible to print the form that I was supposed to take to the bank. Confusion ensued but, after much discussion, the women in the office decided it would be possible for me to give them cash which they would deposit at the bank themselves later when the computer system was functioning again. However, just as we were about to complete this transaction, a superior appeared and when he was appraised of the situation he looked looked very stern.
The man sat me down and explained that government offices were not allowed to accept cash because of the temptation to corruption that cash poses and, for a second, I thought I would have to walk away empty handed. I pleaded my case to him, explaining that I was travelling on my bike and that these maps were essential to my well-being, and finally he relented on the condition that I provided him with an address to which he could send the receipt which would prove the honesty and transparency of the deal. I dutifully wrote down an address in London which I haven’t lived at in over three years, handed over my 160 pesos (approximately $12) and left, gratefully, with my maps.
Maps notwithstanding, getting out of Zacatecas/Guadelupe proves something of a challenge and it isn’t until around 4.30pm that I find myself turning off the highway leading out of Guadelupe towards Aguascalientes onto a dirt road, south, in the direction of San Luis Potosi. I ride in the afternoon sun through rolling hills dotted with joshua trees and prickly pear on a viciously corrugated gravel track, glad to be back on the road.
I only ride about 20 kilometres before setting up camp in a field amongst the cactus and thorn trees.
In the morning I set off again, on the road which winds through a series of small villages until it emerges in a sizeable town.
The terrain and the climate is much milder than the more mountainous northern states I have ridden through in Mexico so far. Spring is in the air and as I ride, I note that some of the joshua trees are flowering.
Travelling alone again, I find that the kind of attention I attract and the people who speak to me when I pass through villages are very different. Suddenly the world seems full of women and children, all of whom smile and wave at me and stop me to ask where I am going, offer me food, and invite me into their houses.