A Trip South: Dear topes

Tope (TOE-pay): A Spanish word for a road obstacle designed to slow the flow of vehicles in a particular area; a speed bump.

Dear Topes of Mexico,


Often I think of putting on giant ear-muff style head phones, cranking some death metal to 11, and coming after all of you with a malicious jack hammer. There is only so much I can take. It seems that we can’t pedal for more than 20 minutes without you making your presence known. Boom! Kapow! Bang! Your steep concrete contours never mesh well with our bikes. While drafting each other we are constantly shouting “Tope!” passing the message down the line to warn of the upcoming jolt. Still, you have managed to cause several crashes, flat tires, and have even strewn panniers into the busy highway. However, when I think back to our journeys in Mexico, you, tope, are the one consistent feature of such a diverse and incredible country.

We entered Mexico on the first of day of December and were immediately thrown into the hectic bustle of Tijuana. There you were, tope, welcoming our suspension-less bicycles into the new sounds, smells and atmosphere that is so uniquely Mexican. Traveling out of the cities, we continued south into endless deserts bursting with cactus and other fauna that appeared to be inspired by Dr. Seuss. With so much space and so few people, we thought that we might escape your antics. We were wrong. Near every abandoned structure, tiny rancho or jerry jug gasoline station, we were greeted with your presence. Pueblo after pueblo, bump after bump, you were always there to welcome us to the next roadside attraction.

And then, we crossed as crew on a sail boat to mainland Mexico. We almost forgot about your jarring punches as we relaxed in the smooth rolling waters of the Sea of Cortez. Through the night we took turns at watch, passing the time surrounded only by water, dazzled by the show of stars above. We caught fish, went snorkeling, paddle boarding, and saw this sights. What an excellent break from the bicycle saddle.

But back on the mainland, you started right where you left off. The humidity encapsulated us, the bugs ate away at our flesh and our pedaling rhythm continued to be broken by tope after tope. I kept hoping that the green vibrant jungle might send vines out and tear your destructive lumps from the road.

Once we got over the shock of the tropics, we began to find our pace. We arose early in the morning, moving before the onslaught of heat. Mid-day was usually spent in the shade, devouring fresh mangoes, watermelons and coconuts. And, when we were so fortunate, the afternoons were dedicated to sunset surfing sessions.

On we went.

The coastline sprawled out before us as we made our way through the many communities on the route. Every so often we were invited into a home, where we given invaluable insight into the Mexican culture, as well as ample opportunities to further adjust our ears and mouths to the flow of Spanish.

Really, you have been the only “bumps” we have encountered in Mexico. If not for the incredibly hospitable and welcoming people with whom you are privileged to share this country, I would not be so accepting of the joggles and jumps you have continuously thrown at us. Each day we had the pleasure of engaging in conversations with people from all walks of life; from the homeless to the street vendors, from firefighters to catholic priests. Always we were gaining new perspectives, adding further comment to the way of life between these borders.

And oh how helpful they all were! Constantly, we asked for directions, advice, places to camp and how to say something in Spanish. Without hesitation, we were always cared for. It seemed that we were instantly welcomed into each town and city as the long lost traveling sons who finally had returned home.

After more than three months traveling Mexico’s coastlines, from Tijuana to La Paz, San Blas to Tapachula, and thousands upon thousands of topes later, we have now crossed into the mountainous country of Guatemala. We’ve climbed seemingly infinite stretches of absurdly steep hills and we have gained elevation and distance from the memory of Mexico. From way up here, the thought of a tope does little to diminish the wonderful experiences we’ve had.

I could only smile when I learned that the difference between these two countries — Guatemala and Mexico — lies solely in the name; now the bumps are called “tumulos”.

Chris Hinkley is a member of A Trip South. For more information and updates from the ride, please visit www.atripsouth.com.


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