A network of precarious mountain roads connects the remote, rugged villages of Mexico's Copper Canyons. Little more than glorified mule-trails, these routes take time and patience to navigate. A strong stomach helps, too. Five enormous canyons and more than 200 labyrinthine gorges carve up the region; it's more than enough to leave a vertigo sufferer such as myself in a cold sweat.

"I'll drive you to the rim of Batopilas Canyon," explains Julio, my guide, laying down the plan. "From here, you get out of the truck, mount your bicycle and ride 10km downhill through all these turns and switchbacks, all the way to the bottom."

He looks at me carefully, sensing my anxiety.

"Look man, just keep your hands on the brakes and you'll be fine."

From Creel, our starting point, it's a four-hour drive to Batopilas canyon, and Julio proves adept at handling the vehicle at high speed. Perhaps it has something to do with all his time on the US border. When we nearly collide with a giant black cow, he slams on the brakes and emits a torrent of Spanish expletives that should certainly make the cow (and its mother) blush. But it just stands there, eyeing us gravely, chewing and drooling and swishing its tail.

Finally we arrive at the edge of the canyon, where the "road" – roughly hewn and littered with stones – snakes wildly to a tiny river below.

I mount my bicycle and commence the descent, quickly gathering speed. I cling to the brakes and handlebars, the bike rattling madly, rounding the corners with flurries of dust, faster and faster, shaking, bouncing, skidding, the hungry canyon eager to swallow me whole.

When I eventually reach the bottom I'm caked in dust, sore and thoroughly exhilarated. At the point of imminent oblivion, terror and excitement are completely indistinguishable.

Footprint's 'Mexico & Central America Handbook' is now available, price £16.99

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