About six weeks ago, our camera made thunderous contact with a pavement somewhere on the Yucatán Peninsula. Since then, a thin, faint smudge has appeared near the centre of every photograph we’ve taken with it. See if you can spot the smudges on this month’s collection of disparate snapshots, which have even less connection to cycling than usual. Previous, blemish-free months can be found by clicking here.



The stretch of Gulf Coast between Villahermosa and Coatzacoalcos is dominated by Mexico’s oil industry. We’d expected more bleak industrial horizons than the highway presented to us, but this grim vision made up for the absence of many others.
15km east of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, Mexico
3 December 2014



The ghastly-looking thing in Ruth’s unsteady hand is a michelada, a kind of beer cocktail in which characterless Mexican lager is lent some measure of flavour by the addition of lime, salt, pepper and a variety of other spices such as Worcestershire sauce. Ruth has grown rather fond of them.
Acayucan, Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, Mexico
4 December 2014



When we ran into a line of trucks on the southbound highway to the state of Oaxaca, we initially thought it was a common-or-garden traffic jam. It turned out to be the result of a roadblock set up by protesting teachers in the distant town of Matías Romero. The queue stretched for more than 25km, and the trucks at the front had been stuck on the road for three days. Three days. We cycled blithely past the static traffic, occasionally calling, ‘¡Amigo! ¿Es más rápido en bici, no?‘ to weary smiles from the waiting drivers.
24km north of Matías Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico
5 December 2014



Perhaps the most bijou campsite we’ve enjoyed so far, wedged into a tiny but blessedly flat surface – note the slope of the road – between a mountain of firewood and a decrepit pick-up on the long, winding climb over the Sierra Madre del Sur. We’ve generally been using the word carpa for our tent, and have generally been understood. In Mexico, though, it turns out that a tent is known as a casa de campaña – literally, and wonderfully, a ‘country house’.
Santiago La Galera, Oaxaca, Mexico
14 December 2014



Found, and left, on the shelves of a second-hand bookstore in Oaxaca.
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
19 December 2014




If you’ll indulge us, a little bike nerdery. (This is meant to be a cycling site, after all.) One of the advantages of touring on a bicycle with a Rohloff hub is that the hub and its related parts require next to no maintenance. Next to no maintenance, however, is not the same as none, and a week-long stay in a city with a couple of good bike workshops proved a fine opportunity for some renovations. In the first picture, that’s the rear sprocket, heavily worn but still just about usable. In the second is the front chainring, ground down into a ninja star – compare the razor teeth to those of its replacement – and very much at the end of its natural life. Both were good for an astonishing 22,000km of service. Along with the chain, both have now gone to the great bike graveyard in the sky.
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
19 December 2014



What’s Christmas without Handel’s ‘Messiah’? About three hours longer, for a start. Even so, we stopped to take in a big-screen presentation beamed in live from Mexico City.
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
20 December 2014



We’re always looking for opportunities to improve our Spanish. For once, though, the boot was on the other foot when Will was approached in the street by a group of about 15 nervous schoolchildren of various ages, all clutching pads and pens, who had been brought into Oaxaca from the nearby town of Zaachila in order to practice their English. With teachers and parents looking on, a stilted but not unsuccessful quarter-hour conversation followed, until one of the more voluble girls asked, ‘Do you know Christmas songs?’ I do. ‘Please will you sing with us?’ Whereupon followed two choruses, in heavily accented English, of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
21 December 2014



A tree. Or, to be precise, the thickest tree in the world. The trunk of the giant cypress at Tule, about 10km east of Oaxaca, has a circumference in excess of 14 metres. Coach parties adore it.
Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico
22 December 2014




More ruins. The Zapotec site of Mitla is distinguished by an array of friezes and mosaics in geometric patterns, the significance of which has never been determined. We found them hypnotic.
Zona Arqueológica de Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico
22 December 2014



What vines are to the South of France, so agave plants are to the Tlacolula Valley. This is the heartland of mezcal, a potent spirit made from agave. A two-day loop ride through the region took us past more small-scale mezcaleros than we could possibly have visited, though we did make it back intact with a couple of since-drunk mementos.
Santiago Mazatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico
23 December 2014



After a skinful of red wine on what Mexicans call Noche Buena, we awoke with slightly thick heads on Christmas morning. A quick 400m climb out of the city helped clear the air…
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
25 December 2014



… Before we were rewarded with views across the Oaxaca Valley from the hilltop ruins of Monte Albán, one of Mexico’s most dramatic archaeological sites.
Zona Arqueológica de Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico
25 December 2014



The seeds on the kapok tree, native to Mexico, bloom into a curious, cottony fluff. It’s apparently a beast to weave, but it’s widely used in insulation and upholstery.
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
25 December 2014




We planned our route north from Oaxaca around visits to a pair of immense, impressive churches that were founded by Dominican friars soon after the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. This is the imposing church and former monastery at Yanhuitlán, which dominates the valley in which it sits. We then headed north over the hills on the friars’ original road, barely used these days but still rideable.
Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, Oaxaca, Mexico
27 December 2014



We were sitting quietly in the square at Santa María Chachoapam, a dusty village so small that it doesn’t have a sign at its entrance, when a chap walked towards us wearing a big grin. His name was Miguel, he runs a plant hire firm in nearby Asunción Nochixtlán, and he just wanted to say hello. We were soon joined by two of his five children, Filadelfa (an architecture student; second from right) and Melina (left). When we asked if they knew where we could get some lunch, they shepherded us from the square to an unmarked building in which Pilar (right), a softly spoken woman who lived for six years in the Italian city of Florence, runs a modest grocery store with a small kitchen on the counter. A splendid lunch soon arrived, before we all went our separate ways. We have encounters like these all the time, each one quietly unique and each one both a privilege and a joy.
Santa María Chachoapam, Oaxaca, Mexico
27 December 2014



Panoramic mountain views, comfortable climbs, swooping descents, glorious weather and virtually no traffic equals road-runner heaven.
Ruta 135D, 10km south of the Oaxaca-Puebla border, Oaxaca, Mexico
28 December 2014



Cactus. Cacti.
near San José Miahuatlán, Puebla, Mexico
28 December 2014



‘A different place’, reads the tagline. We didn’t stick around to find out what it means.
Tlacotepec de Benito Juárez, Puebla, Mexico
29 December 2014



Happy new year.
Cuatro Veces Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla, Mexico
31 December 2014



from Cuatro Veces Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla, Mexico