BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
Clarkston grad Chris Haag and his wife Sophie George ran into a familiar sight in Mexico, during their hemisphere crossing bike trip.
“Clarkston has a funny connection with Mexico City,” said Haag in an email from the road, approaching El Salvador in their years long trip from Alaska to Argentina. “Franco, who used to run the kitchen at the Union, although I believe he works at Honcho now, owns a restaurant there, his son Francisco runs. I made it a mission to find him the first night we got into town.”
They found his place, and saw there was a Clarkson Union logo on the awning above it.
“It has sort of been a legend for years that Franco’s restaurant was also called the Union,” Haag said. “I spent a few evenings with Francisco eating tacos and talking about when we worked at the Union together.”
The best part of the trip so far has been cycling through the Sierra Madre.
“People will generally tell you to stay out of this area because of the Sinaloa Cartel,” he said. “There is an old road called the Espinazo del Diablo (Spine of the Devil) which snakes through the mountains. They built a highway a few years back that has over 100 bridges and 60 tunnels that cut the time through the mountains by six hours. The old road doesn’t get much traffic anymore. The towns were incredibly quiet and the people were some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered.”
Lessons learned so far on the 20,000 mile trip include Mexican hospitality.
” Nobody is going to let you buy a round of drinks or dinner when passing through their town,” he said. “We’ve been blown away at how interested people are in talking to us despite our limited Spanish, and how quick they are to invite us into their homes.”
Mexico City is also shockingly cosmopolitan, he said.
“It makes most U.S. cities look a bit backwoods,” he said. “You can get anywhere on public transportation. It is very walk-able, and considering the number of cars is relatively bike friendly. We purposely built our bikes up with relatively primitive parts because we were told that it would be difficult to find new and high end components. I had to get a new wheel there and all of the shops looked at me like I was crazy for having the old sized rims.”
The mountains of Mexico were also surprising.
“I had no idea it was so mountainous,” he said. “I guess I looked at the map at some point and knew they were here, but in the states it seems like there is usually a good place to stick a road. That is never the case in Mexico and the feats of engineering that they go through in order to connect some of their cities are astounding. It also makes for slow and difficult riding.”
Mexico is loud and lively, a bit like Detroit in that music is everywhere, he said.
“Whether it is a band playing or somebody listening to old troubadours on the radio, it is great to be in a place that loves music,” he said. “I’m also amazed at how they value art and creating visually appealing public spaces in a way that we don’t. The country idolizes a female artist name Frida Kahlo. Her image is everywhere, including on the currency.”
He found Mexicans have a very positive view of the U.S.
“When talking about international politics, the overwhelming majority of Mexicans will say that the United States is their friend and neighbor,” he said. “Most importantly I’ve learned that the only way to know a place is by going there.”
Mexico is so much more like the United States than he imagined, yet vastly different in many ways, he said.
“We’re a very young country in comparison and I think that because we are almost completely a land of people that have immigrated in the last 150 years we don’t maintain the same connection to our history that they do,” he said. “This gives us a very different worldview.”
They plan to soon cross the border into Central America, though after some time off.
“I have a broken hub and I am waiting for the part to arrive,” he said.
Many negative things are in the news about El Salvador and Honduras, but so far the vast majority of people are incredibly friendly, he said.
“In some cases I think they are more friendly in an area with a bad reputation because they don’t like that they are seen in an unfriendly way,” he said. “We’ve been to Nicaragua before, so on one hand we might move quickly through it, but we also know that it is a very beautiful country and the people are incredibly friendly so we could end up spending several weeks there.”
Keep up on their adventure by visiting their blog at www.ThePlacesipee.com.
BY PHIL CUSTODIO