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Scott and Penny Gillie - Cycling Around Oaxaca

Penny and I rented well-maintained bicycles from Pedro. He and his friendly employees will guide you on tours in the Oaxaca area, or he will provide you with excellent maps for exploring on your own (as we did). As Pedro says, "Se puede preguntar." Translated, "You can ask somebody." We did that and learned about the extraordinary politeness of folks in the countryside. They will gladly provide directions, even when they don't know how to get there. get somewhere else.

In the pages that follow there is a brief account of our bicycling trips on the back roads south of Oaxaca in February of 1999. By way of preface, let me say that our imaginations now contain images impossible to capture with a camera or with words. This part of Mexico is welcoming, majestic, and far away from our time and place.

Scott Gillie (

(Click on pictures to view in high-resolution)

Cycling to Monte Alban
In February of 1999, Penny and I took two bicycle trips to villages near Oaxaca. On our first trip, we started out with Arrazola as our destination.

We set out to ride around Monte Alban, which is both the name of the mountain and the name of the pre-Columbian settlement on top of the mountain. Thanks to some serendipitous misdirection, we rode around Monte Alban about half way and then rode to the summit. As we climbed, we knew we were on the wrong road, but we figured that we were supposed to ride to Monte Alban, one of the most important archeological sites in Mexico.

Traffic on the Camino

Basquetbol en el Altiplano
Somewhere along our wandering path (nowhere near a village), we encountered a site for Hoosier hearts. I guess you never know when the urge to shoot a few hoops will hit you.

Coasting along the Road to Arrazola
The route to Arrazola is exactly as Pedro told us, "Muy suave." Not long after this photo was taken, we ask for and follow directions from one of the locals. "Todo a la izquierda..." Soon the gentle inclines give way to some steeper climbs, and we're on our way -- up to Monte Alban. We soon realize that we've gone astray, but we're having a great time being lost.

The Road to Arrazola
The light area in the upper right center is the road to Arrazola. Just after this picture was taken, we turned left.

Resting at the Top of Monte Alban
With Oaxaca in the background, Scott contemplates lunch and the long ride down the mountain. The vista in the background, amid the air of antiquity, conveyed something of the power and sacredness of Monte Alban. On the ride back to Oaxaca, we coasted the entire distance, keeping a tight grip on the handbrakes for a full fifteen minutes. By the way, lunch at the museo was delicious.

Cuilapan in the Distance
On our second trip around the mountain, Penny and I found the right road to Arrazola. But this time we were headed to Cuilapan and Zaachila instead. In the distance is the spire of the never-completed church at the exconvento of Cuilapan. About fifteen minutes along the highway south of Cuilapan is Zaachila, where we happened upon a children's celebration of Carnival.

Carnival in Zaachila
In Zaachila, los niños celebrate Carnival, promenading on a patio at a school. Unknown to us, Pedro's wife has brought their children from Oaxaca to participate in the celebration.

El Camino Real
At about six in the evening, we considered putting our bikes on a bus for the return trip. After riding for about 40 kilometers we were feeling the effects of the altitude and exertion in the tropical sun. Nevertheless, we summoned the energy to ride back to Oaxaca. From Zaachila to Oaxaca, we followed El Camino Real. The road ran straight and suave, a welcome respite at the end of the day. As we travelled el camino, we thought about the thousands of years of travelling that preceded our traversing this ancient road.

Pedro Martinez
Dueño de Bicicletas Martinez
J.P. García 509
Oaxaca, Oaxaca
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