Bike Mexico: Riding Through Mexico on $5 a Day

In the winter of '78-'79 Nancy and Phil Zito rode their own bike Mexico tour from Tijuana to the Yucutan peninsula and back up to Matamoros, spending an average of only $5.00 a day.

| January/February 1980

  • Bike Mexico - road photos 2
    TOP: You can keep your food bills low when you buy fruits and vegetables from colorful markets like this one in Oaxaca. BOTTOM RIGHT: This jungle farm north of Puerto Vallarta is in sharp contrast to the deserts of northern Mexico. BOTTOM LEFT: Roads vary from excellent to unpaved. Here is one of the better stretches of the Baja highway.
  • Bike Mexico map
    Map of the route the Zitos followed on their bike Mexico tour.
  •  Bike Mexico - road photos 01
    TOP LEFT: You can camp most any place where an embankment or vegetation offers some privacy. RIGHT: The highway from Tepic to Guadalajara cuts through an awesome old lava flow from a nearby volcano. BOTTOM LEFT: It's easy to hitch rides on produce trucks, such as this vehicle that's about to be loaded with agave, the tequila cactus

  • Bike Mexico - road photos 2
  • Bike Mexico map
  •  Bike Mexico - road photos 01

Last winter, my husband Phil and I (with our three-year-old daughter Amanda) took our own bike Mexico tour, riding down one side of the country and up the other. Our trip began in Tijuana the day before Thanksgiving, and ended in Matamoros—on the Texas border—during the last week in February. It was a delightful and sometimes difficult experience, but certainly never dangerous (as many well-meaning advisers had predicted the jaunt would be).

The majority of the Mexican people, we discovered, live their whole lives with far less material abundance than many of us in wealthier lands throw away in a year's time. Yet these same "poor" people—who seem to value life itself, rather than the comforts it might bring—were extremely generous to us, often to the point of sharing their homes and food.

Fancy Transportation

We purchased new Raleigh Gran Prix bicycles in preparation for the trip. Our rationale for such extravagance was that these bikes—with their sturdier frames and larger fifth gears for hill climbing—were superior to our old models. Also, by having identical bicycles, we could be sure that whatever spare parts we were able to take along would accommodate either machine. Our three-person backpack tent and full-size frame packs were also new, and we carried two down sleeping bags and one made of PolarGuard.

The bikes, of course, did limit the amount of equipment we could pack . . . but even so, the costliness of our gear—as compared to the bare necessities owned by most of the people we encountered—often made us feel that our possessions were somewhat excessive.

"How much did the bike cost?" was a constant question, for—while many Mexicans propel themselves on two wheels—their cycles are usually the one-gear-fat tire variety. And, when asked the price of one of our sleeping bags, we found ourselves somewhat ashamed to admit that we'd spent $60 on an item that—to the Inquirer—seemed to be little more than a fancy blanket.

Yet despite the occasional unpleasant feeling that our belongings were disproportionate to our needs, we didn't—on the whole—regret having brought along the items we'd chosen.

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