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Day 393-401, 8-16 Aug 09: The Islas Bonitas of Belize: chillin on San Pedro & Cay Caulker

November 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Belize, Central America, Trip reports

Kiet, San Pedro, Belize
"Tropical the island Breeze, all of nature wild and free, this is where I long to be, la isla Bonita…"

East side, Abergris CayeMadonna already sang it over 20 years ago: ‘I used to dream of San Pedro…’. San Pedro is the town on Ambergris Caye, better known as La Isla Bonita from Madonna’s hit-single.

Kiet and Dawn, San pedro, BelizeBut that was in the 80-s when San Pedro probably still was the paradise she sang about. Since then it has been invaded by US tourists, many of which have bought a piece of land and/or built a house. The palms are still there and though there are no real beaches, the water is clear and the fish abundant in the corals reef just off the coast.

Family in San Pedro, BelizeAll of this new money has made the prices too high for the locals and at the same time has attracted a lot of shady people as we had already met in Belize City, who offer to ‘help’ you at every street corner.

Many of these call themselves ‘Rastafari’, but as they do everything that a true Rastafari would not (eat anything that basically was alive and walking or swimming at some point for example), it seems more an excuse for being lazy, which is just on the other side of the thin line separating it from ‘relaxed’.

They also supply al possible drugs possible, which in return has attracted a less joyful crowd of young US teens visiting the island.

Us in San Pedro, Belize (2)Meanwhile you cannot cross the once empty streets without getting run over by a golf-cart, the most popular way around, both for owners as well as visitors.

It is difficult to find a decent place for a decent price, but Pedro’s Inn offered both including a swimming pool which of course is the best place to be during some of the short but torrential rains! Still, a tiny 2 person-room without bathroom costs B$ 20 (USD10) and eating out was expensive as well, so our budget went through the roof…

Here are some impressions:

Guatemalan vendor, San Pedro, BelizeBikebabe on San Pedro beach Local girl on swing, San Pedro, BelizeLas chicas, San Pedro, BelizeThe old man by the sea, Belize Middle street at night, San PedroBaby gecko, San Pedro beachhouses, San PedroSidestreet, San Pedro, Belize

Go Slow on Caye Caulker: this is where we want to be…

Caye Caulker beach, BelizeWe quickly had enough of the busy San Pedro, and hopped on another boat which dropped us off on the next Island: Cay Caulker. It is much smaller, only a few km long and between 100m & 400m wide. At many places on the island you can stand in the middle and see the sea on both sides :)

Main street, Caye Caulker, BelizeWhat’s more, the only pavement on the entire island is the small airstrip, the few other roads are all unpaved and sandy.

Everybody is either walking or cycling and the Island’s motto is “Go Slow”.

This is truly the paradise that Madonna was singing about, likely resembling San Pedro from the 80-s.

Fresh fish, Caye CaulkerMain street, Caye Caulker, Belize (2)

Sandy Lane

Our balcony at Sandy Lane, Caye CaulkerWe found a cheap place at the Sandy Lane’s guesthouse, which is unique in that it is probably the only place on the island without a sea view :)

Sandy Lane Guesthouse, Caye Caulker

But for B$25 per room (USD 12,50 for 4 persons together, not counting the in-house gecko which served as a ecological mosquito–trap), we were not complaining.

Besides, we had a front-row seat to the football matches and the sea was less than 100m away on both sides…

Here are some more pix of our ‘area’ and of some other, more expensive hotels on Cay Caulker:

Stevie, Caye CaulkerSoccer championship, Caye Caulker Waiting for dinner, Caye CaulkerSeaview from the guesthouse, Caye Caulker

Beach road hotels, Caye CaulkerTropical Paradise Hotel, Caye Caulker Ignacio's, South Caye Caulker Firestation, Caye Caulker Drinking is fun, Caye CaulkerSide street, Caye Caulker

Chilling at The Spit

Young biker near Lazy Lizard, Caye CaulkerThere is a small channel, separating the inhabited Southern Part from the uninhabited Northern part, called ‘The Spit” and there is the only real beach. Accompanied by the beats of the nearby Lazy Lizard pub you can snorkel or relax.

Gate of Lazy Lizard, Caye CaulkerThen it is a maximum of 10 minutes walk back to your hostel, while on the way you can order some ‘fry lobsta’.

Cleaning fish, Caye CaulkerWe felt much more at home on Caye Caulker, without all the hustle and bustle and nightclubs of San Pedro.

The people living here seemed more friendly and truly relaxed, not the pushy fake ‘relax, man, we just want your money’-attitude from San Pedro.

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Here are some more pix of The Spit:

Lobster, Caye Caulker fastfoodBeach at The Spit, Caye CaulkerLazy Lizard art, Caye CaulkerThe pier at the spit, Caye Caulker

Lazy Lizard, Caye CaulkerTouring boat, Caye Caulker

Playing with Stingrays

Stingray alley, Caye CaulkerWe wanted to go on at least one snorkelling tour and took the popular one that would take us to two of the reefs and to the Stingray alley.

Stingray alley, Caye Caulker (2)The tour was great and we all enjoyed snorkelling through clouds of colourful fish and corals.

Beach view, Caye CaulkerThe special part was when we stopped at a shallow part, where stingrays up to several feet in diameter came up to us. You could touch them and even hold them which was wonderful.

Then of course: back to the hammock office and deciding which catch of the day we would eat…

Belizean houses, Caye CaulkerBeach grill, Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker office, BelizeView from the office, Caye CaulkerGo Slow, no hospital, Caye Caulker

Goodbye to my sister and niece, together alone again

Dawn in private plane, Caye CaulkerAfter spending nearly two weeks together, it was time to say goodbye.

To avoid the hassle and unfriendly crowds in Belize City, we decided it would be better if Margriet & Dawn used one of the small planes to get to the International airport. Besides, it would give them one more evening and night with us!

Go Slow sign, Caye CaulkerWe were surprised to see that as they were the only 2 persons flying, only a small Cessna showed up: a private plane!

Ivana in sea, Caye CaulkerWe said our goodbyes, not sure when and where we would see each other again…

We stayed another few days on the Island as we had to await for Jorge to come back from vacation, as our bikes were still stored at his place in Belize City.

But that was no hard thing to do, it was nice to have some extra time on the ‘Go Slow’ island, catching up with some work, swimming more and preparing mentally for the next part on the bike: down South through Belize towards Guatemala!

A final look at Caye Caulker: as always:

click to enlarge automagically, see the photos section for more pix of Belize and the islands!

Ivana at Sandy Lane guesthouse, Caye CaulkerFruity palms, Caye Caulker Street in Caye CaulkerStreet in Caye Caulker (2) Creole wisdom, Caye CaulkerCaye Caulker taxiRico Novelo, Caye CaulkerMain street, Caye Caulker (2)Caye Caulker head Main street, Caye Caulker (3)Go Slow, Caye Caulker Beach hotels, Caye CaulkerSide street, Caye Caulker Traffic jam, Caye CaulkerMain street, Caye Caulker (4)

Day 368-375, 15-21 Jul 09: Mums in Mexico pt.3: Isla Mujeres

October 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Mexico, North America, Trip reports, Yucatan Peninsula

The Island of Women

Las Chicas, Isla MujeresThe ‘Isla Mujeres’, the Island of Women, could have been named after the wives of the pirates that frequented the seas and left their women on this safe island, or after the Mayan Goddess Ixchel, who has been worshipped here.

Mother and daughter, Isla MujeresNowadays, it can refer to the ladies living or the many visiting here, coming from nearby Cancun or from all over the world. so what is there to do on Isla Mujeres? Not much and that is exactly the point.

mother and daughter, Isla Mujeres (2)Not the busy smelly traffic of downtown Cancun, not the mega-clubs, drunk teenagers and inflated prices of the Zona Hotelera. Not even the mega cruise-ships that frequent Isla Cozumel stop on the 8km (5mi) long island that is in places only 100m wide and never wider than 1km (0.6mi).

Mother and child, Isla MujeresThere are enough souvenir shops to keep you busy for several hours, you can rent a golf-cart to see the Southern part of the Island, but most people just come for the beach. Isla’s North beach (actually starting at the North-West) has white sands (crushed coral) with warm and clear green/blue waters.

Nothing more and nothing less. As long as you are staying in Isla Mujeres Town, you can do everything on foot and if you are very active, you can see all the streets in one day, leaving the rest of your stay to relax!

Young girl, Isla Mujeres (2)As we were still on a tight budget, but did not want to camp, I had come into contact with Gladys Galdamez from www.islabudgetrentals.com.

She had some more affordable options, but as they were still too much for us, I proposed to take some photos for her websites and house in exchange for housing and she accepted. So below are a lot of photos, some of which will also be found on her website :)

Life on the beach on Isla Mujeres

Pictures say more than words:

Cristi and Mutti, North Beach, Isla MujeresNorth Beach, Isla Mujeres (2) Sunset on Isla MujeresLighthouse, Isla Mujeres Sunset on Isla Mujeres (3)Sunset on Isla Mujeres (2)

Ivana with starfish (3)Ivana with starfish (2)North Beach, Isla Mujeres (3)North Beach, Isla Mujeres (4)Chairs at North Beach, Isla Mujeres North Beach, Isla Mujeres (6)Coold Corona, Isla Mujeres

Running around the Isla with Hector & Veronica

As Isla is only a 20 minute boat ride away from Downtown Cancun, we had invited Hector & Veronica to come over to join us. They joined us on the beach for a while and then did their evening training on the island, one running while the other cycled and coached. I joined them on their other bicycle which was also a good excuse to see more of the Southern part of the island.

Here you go:

Boat and ruins, Isla MujeresColonia la Guadalupana, Isla MujeresSouth East beach, Isla MujeresPalms on Isla MujeresDriftwood tricyle, Isla MujeresOld Lighthouse, Isla Mujeres (2)

South Point, Isla Mujeres (2)Veronika and Hector, Isla Mujeres (2)Thunderclouds above Cancun (3)

A taste of downtown Isla Mujeres

House decoration, Isla MujeresIsla Mujeres town is nothing more than a few streets, several restaurants and shops. One supermarket, a Central Plaza with a church and a basketball field complete the town.

You can board for snorkelling tours, eat ice-cream, pancakes, hummus, pizza or tacos and tortas on the main square. Salesmen will try to sell traditional and less-traditional clothes and handicrafts, while tourists zoom past on the rented golf carts.

In the evening the streets are sparsely lit, the restaurants open and you might hear some nice live music from some of the older inhabitants of Isla Mujeres, a welcome change from the Mariachi-hell (pep-peppe-pep-pep!) of the rest of tourist-Mexico.

Isla Mujeres clothesDowntown Isla MujeresWelcome on Isla MujeresIsla Mujeres clothesFamily motor, Isla MujeresFresh drinks on Isla MujeresLocal handicrafts, Isla MujeresWatching basketbal, Isla MujeresStreet musician, Isla MujeresBasket seller, Isla Mujeres

More life on a beach

Pina Colada moms, Isla MujeresWe spent most of our time on the beach. The mums were enjoying the sea and the two for one cocktail promotions (every hour on the beach is happy).

Though I like to swim, I get restless after an hour or so, unlike Ivana, who is perfectly happy floating on her newly-found air-mattress for several hours at a time.

Fortunately our room (my office) all the way on the other side of town was only 10 minutes walking away and there was always an excuse to take another photo.

Here are some:

Beach chairs and Palapas, Isla MujeresFisherman's boats on beach, Isla MujeresBeach chairs and Palapas, Isla Mujeres (2)Cristi and Ivana floating, Isla Mujeres (2)Mutti swimming, Isla MujeresIvana on ISla MujeresBeachrunner, Isla MujeresIvana floating, Isla Mujeres (4)

Old Isla Mujeres & Miss Abuelita

Miss Abuelita 2009, Isla MujeresThere is not much left of the old fisherman town, where people enjoyed their turtle soup. even though it is low key, tourism had changed everything. Still there are a few original houses to be found, preserved in bright paint.

We were on the island for a festival in honour of one of the popular tourist attractions and endangered species that lives close to the island: the whale shark, a friendly whale-sized shark.

On the last evening the main attraction was presented: the election of Miss Abuelita, roughly translatable as Miss Granny :)

5 local ladies showed their local dress, evening gowns and their views of life in a heated battle. The jury had a hard time…

Old house on Isla Mujeres (2)Old house on Isla MujeresOld house on Isla Mujeres (3) Juarez Street, Isla Mujeres (3)

Birthday in Cancun and goodbye to the mums…

Tortas at Plaza Palapas, Cancun (3)

Tortas at Plaza Palapas, Cancun (2)It was time to head back to the mainland, as both the mums would fly out to Argentina/Netherlands early the next morning.

We invited Hector & Veronica for some tortas on the Palapas Square and started packing.

My mum had brought great new tiny summer sleeping bags from Carinthia. All our winter gear, including our warm Carinthia sleeping bags and down jackets, gloves, boots and several smaller pieces were going with Ivana’s mum to Argentina. We were planning to see them again somewhere around Peru.

Birthday in Hostel Quetzal, Cancun It was 20th of July, meaning that it would be my birthday at midnight. we had bought some cakes and some booze and had hired one of the friends of the Quetzal Hostel to mix up some mean mojitos and Pina Coladas to go along with it. It was a nice goodbye to our mums, who had flown halfway across the globe to see us.

We had seen and done a lot in the past 3 weeks. It had not always been easy, we are so used to our own way of life and our mums are not :)

Also many times it was clear that the cultural differences between the Dutch and Argentinean way of life that had taken Ivana and me more than 3 years to -partly- overcome were very strong between our mums, sometimes leading to stress. But over all it was great to be able to share a part of our adventure and the wonderful world we live on with them and it was sad to say goodbye.

We actually had another vacation ahead of us as my sister and niece were going to land in Belize City in about 8 days to stay with us for 2 weeks. As it was over 500km from Cancun, it was time to pack the bikes again!

Day 361-367, 7-14 Jul 09: Mums in Mexico pt.2: Playa, more ruins & Isla Cozumel

September 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Mexico, North America, Trip reports, Yucatan Peninsula

As mentioned in the previous post, we have parked our bikes for a few weeks as both our mums are visiting us on the Yucatan Peninsula. After the ruins of Chichen Itza & Ek Balam, it is now time for the beach!

Playa del Carmen, overcrowded and overrated

Street/Nightlife in Playa del CarmenDon’t go to Cancun, move to Playa de Carmen!”, was the advice of friends, websites and guidebooks. “More European, more relaxed, less commerce and more affordable than Cancun.”, were the reasons given.

Fruit vendor, Playa Del CarmenWe arrived in our rental car and first could not park anywhere to find a hostel.

Finally we found a spot, only to find much more expensive hotels than in downtown Cancun. Once we found a decent room (3 beds, Ivana & I can share), we checked out the main street. It was filled to the top with souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants and hundreds of semi-relaxed tourists, many of them, yes, European. Large clubs and uber-cool lounge bars were promoted, while Guatemalan art was being sold for western art gallery prices.

Fruit vendors, Playa Del CarmenFinally we discovered some real food for almost downtown Cancun prices, sold on the streets close to the Central Plaza. Great juice and tortas, the Mexican sandwiches with a choice of meat and/or vegetables and different types of very spicy and tasty sauces.

Playa del Carmen from the ferryJust a bit ahead were the local fruit ladies selling nice big bags of mixed cut fruits for less than half of the price of a glass of water in a restaurant of the main street.

The beach is very nice at Playa and the water is green-blue as in the brochures, but it’s like that all along the Costa Maya.

The girls were happy with the sea and sand, but I rather wanted to use the last day we had a car to see one more ancient Maya City and took off alone.

More ruins, Coba solo

Coba wildlifeCoba has the same charm that Ek Balam has and that Chichen Itza is lacking: the ‘Indiana Jones’ sense that you are discovering the ancient hidden cities yourself while strolling through the lush Jungle.

The structures of Coba are not as neatly organised and lined up as in Chichen Itza. From the first group, which contains the large ‘Templo de las Iglesias’, the temple of the Churches, it is more than a kilometre walk through the jungle if you want to see some of the other big ones.

Wish Willy in Coba forest (2)Several dozen sacbe’s, ancient Mayan road crossed the surrounding jungle to get to Coba, an important hub in times gone by. Only a few percent of the estimated 6500 (!) structures of Coba have been excavated, and many of these not even fully and the jungle has remained intact, which is good news for the many different animals living there.

Coba Jungle from the CastilloIt is hot in Coba, even in the shade of the trees and for those who do not want to walk the sacbe’s there are many eco-taxis handy: bicycles & rickshaws!

The largest Maya structure (of the entire Peninsula) is called Nohoch Mul, better known as the Great Pyramid and its eroded steps leading to the 42m (140ft) high top can fortunately still be climbed. Castillo in CobaA thick rope is attached to help the brave people down that made it up and realized that it was quite high and the steps narrow and down-sloping :)

There will be several persons on the Pyramid, but the views are great: jungle as far as the eye can see. The sweet views are spiced with the knowledge of the thousands of hidden treasures still to be found.

Tulum: busy ruins and empty beach

Tulum Beach near the ruinsI was just too late to make a quick visit to the most popular Maya ruins: Tulum. As it is close to Cancun and Playa de Carmen, and the site is open and compact, bus loads of tourists come here every day.

Tulum Beach near the ruins (2)I saw a huge line of them coming out of the exit and caught a glimpse of the famous Castillo, with its postcard location on the edge of the sea. I was not allowed in, but used my time to view some nearby rough beaches, totally deserted.

It was time to return to Playa de Carmen and head over to our next destination: an island!

Isla Cozumel, CouchSurfing and anniversary on the divers and cruise-ship paradise

Ivana on Cozumel beachOne part of our way of travelling that we wanted to share with our mums was the use of the CouchSurfing and WarmShowers network, where travellers host other travellers. We managed to find a great host on the Island of Cozumel, that agreed to host all 4 of us.

Griet in Sea, CozumelIvan not only provided us with a great place to sleep, but also gave us a quick tour of the rough east side of the diver’s paradise, with some great swimming beaches and blowholes. The next day he took Ivana, Cristi and myself for a nice little snorkel tour, while my mum relaxed in a hammock near a pool. Life should not get much harder than this :)

It was wonderful to have such a perfect example of a great CouchSurfing host to demonstrate to our mums a taste of the hospitality we have encountered all over Mexico, USA and Canada, made possible by the technology and the mentality of our generation, but which has spread far beyond that.

Ivan, CozumelCozumel Beach

Cristi and the blowhole, CozumelMutti and the blowhole, CozumelIvana and the blowhole, Cozumel

Cozumel is a popular stop for huge cruise-ships and we saw many pass during the few days we were there. But to see further than the shopping tours along the silver-shops and the basic restaurants, you need to spend some days there.

For example it gives you the chance to see the local Sunday dance on the main square, where the local couples dress up and play to the music of a live band, while the sun sets behind a blue and purple sky.

Sunday dance at Cozumel main squareToma la Buena, CozumelCozumel from the ferryCristi in Playa del Carmen

Next and final part of the Mother-ship series coming up: An Island of Women!

Stay tuned, it will be up and running soon as long as the Internet gods are willing :)

Day 346-353, 22-29 June 09: Chillin with Hector & Veronika in Cancun

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Mexico, North America, Trip reports, Yucatan Peninsula

Meeting old friends in Cancun

Beachat night, the Moon Palace ResortA few years ago, I was on my way to run the Amsterdam Dam-to-Dam run. Ivana was joining me to the start when we saw two biketravellers pass by; loaded bikes, with a Mexican flag on the back.

Dance performance, CancunWhile I went to run, Ivana caught up with the cyclists and asked if they needed a place to sleep.

It turned out that they did and as there were problems with their ticket, the couple stayed 2 nights at our place, our first experience as a WarmShowers host. After we found out that hector & Veronika were living in Cancun, we told them: cool, you might be able to return the favour in about 2 years :)

Fast forward to June 2009…

Hector, Isla Mujeres It was great to see Hector & Veronika again. They took us to their small apartment and the following week we spent most of the time together. They helped us out buying some new things, finding a hostel for our mums who would arrive at the end of the week and showed us around in Cancun.

Dance performance, Cancun (2)Hector repairs Computers and runs professionally, generating a large part of their income by winning prizes.

Veronika is an experienced massage therapist and a professional dancer in the famous Maria Felix dance company, performing several times per week in exclusive resorts. We managed to get smuggled in one night and saw their amazing performance, showing the dances and clothing of several regions of Mexico with an incredible power. Here are some photos from that show (more photos in the photo section here).

Dance performance, Cancun (4)Dance performance, Cancun (5)

 Dance performance, Cancun (6)Dance performance, Cancun (13)Dance performance, Cancun (14)

Dance performance, Cancun (9)Dance performance, Cancun (21)

Dance performance, Cancun (10)Dance performance, Cancun (19)

Dance performance, Cancun (22)Dance performance, Cancun (23)

Relaxing at the beach

Though we had ridden the last part in a truck, we still felt we deserved a few relaxing days after 10,611km (6600mi) of cycling from Alaska. We had seen the beaches with Francisco and Daniel, but Hector took us for some quality time around and in the sea, here are some great photos he took of us:

Room with a view, Mirador, CancunUS at the mirador beach, CancunHarry floating, CancunIvana floating, Cancun

The mother ship has landed…

It had had taken some planning and headaches, but we had managed. Mums with Jet lagBoth our mums thought that 2-3 years away from home was too long, so we had decided to invite them to meet us somewhere on our trip and show them a bit of our way of life.

Cancun seemed perfect as it was about as far from Argentina as from the Netherlands and it had a large international airport.

We had booked the flights (goodbye travel budget :)) just in the week before the announcement of the outbreak of the ‘Swineflu’, but by now most of the hype was gone and all seemed safe.

Both mums had no extra-continental travel experience but both had to change planes in strange countries (USA & Chile/Panama), which was far scarier than any flu. Lo and behold, within a few hours of each other both had arrived. Completely exhausted, but happy to see us. We had parked our bikes at Hector’s house, time for some touring!

Day 342-346, 18-22 June 09: Elections, downhill and to Cancun: World-in-a-Truck

18 June 2009: Election tricks, graffiti & handwork

Harry, Kowalski and orizaba in TlachichucaWe did a quick tour around the central Plaza in Tlachichuca for some Wi-Fi search and some posing for pictures. I noticed a huge truck unloading hundreds of boxes with a growing crowd gathering around.

The boxes contained live chickens and were handed out to the villagers. The magazine salesman that had just treated us to some tacos viewed the scene with a look of disgust.

Chickens for votes, Tlachichuca“It is the PRI, buying votes. People sell their right to vote for the short term benefit of a chicken. Afterwards they will endure another 4 years of suppression by the rich folks that run the party.”

Welcome to the Mexican elections, where votes are bought with live chickens!

Miscelanea OrtizWe had already seen signs of the election everywhere. Mexicans in general seem to have a morbid fear of white surfaces, as every wall, of every house, compound or fence always contains graffiti, without exception.

Election time in MexicoSome times it is just marketing, with the name of the shop or the biggest brands they sell, many times it is just defacing stupid graffiti.

But in the last months before the general elections in July, the majority of all walls have been taken over by the election marketeers promoting their candidates with populist slogans:

Farmer in fieldYour Household Economy comes first!”, “Only we want more jobs for you!” and the classic “Cheaper gasoline for everybody!”.

We cycled through fields of corn, where old famers were working without any motorized means. All waved when we passed them, on our way to one of the biggest downhills of our entire journey…

After rounding the Ciudad Serdan and climbing some minor hills, we reached the main highway again. The tollbooth attendants did not even see us and so we found ourselves back on the ‘Quota’!

Monocycle at workFarmer in field, Tlachichuca

From the highlands to sea level: 400m up, 2500m down in 133km!

Highway lunchAfter a quick roadside lunch we started our descent. It was not as relaxed as imagined beforehand as the road was busy and the shoulder filled with rocks and debris of tires and other car parts. Worst of all, we headed into a chilly thick fog, limiting the view in front and behind us to about 40 meters, so we had to brake all the way, wearing our reflective jackets for safety and our rain jackets for warmth.

The drop-off is so steep that when the highway had to be expanded due to increasing traffic, they basically had to built a new highway as the existing one could not be broadened in most places. The only times when there was some extra room, long emergency gravel pits were built, to save truckers going down with faulty brakes.Fortunately when going down we followed the original one, which went just straight down instead of up, down, around and over like the new variation.

Cordoba or Mendoza?Ivana wanted a picture with the turn-off to Cordoba and Mendoza, both two cities near her province in Argentina and soon after we got the first of several flat tires.

During the downhill Ivana had not managed to avoid al exploded tires and her tires were punctured with several thin but strong parts of steel wire that strengthen the truck tires. Fixing tires on the side of a busy highway is not my favourite thing to do, but there was no other option.

We had lost enough altitude to be in the warmer air of the tropics again. We also got treated to our first heavy tropical rain shower. Actually, when thinking about it, it was the first rain since Central California, USA!

The slope eased, but still we were going down. The view of mighty Pico de Orizaba must be wonderful from this side, but all we could see behind us was a big pile of tropical clouds. We ended our day after 133km, about 4 flat tires and 2500m of downhills in a wet garden next to the highway, with mangos falling from the trees and chickens scaring Ivana.

19/20th June: the long ride to Cancun: World On a Truck

The downhill had ended and we rollercoastered to the junction of the toll roads. Ahead was Veracruz, we turned right towards the east, as we had to get to Cancun with a few days, so we needed some good place for our hitchhiking.

It took about 50km, but we found a gas station where we could ask refuelling pickups for a ride. Then things went fast.

The first ride took us about 200km down the road. We cycled a few minutes to a toll booth and got another ride quickly, which took us 60km. When we left them we noticed a big truck we had seen before. The friendly driver, who had waived at us when he had passed us before, asked us where we were going.

We replied that we were trying to get rides to get North-East.

“I am going to Cancun, want to join?”.

Ivana and FranciscoCancun! It still was about 1100km/700miles away. We introduced ourselves properly to Francisco, a gentle man who runs a moving company from the border with Texas. He has a fleet of about 20 trucks and regularly drives himself as well. His truck was already half empty, with 2 loads left to drop off: one in Merida and one in Cancun!

The Libre road from Merida to CancunWe put our bikes in the back and joined him in the cabin for a long ride to the Yucatan peninsula. After a roadside dinner he parked the truck at a truck-stop and while he slept in the cabin, we slept in the back of the truck, inside the tent against the mosquitoes, but the sweaty heat kept us awake.

As the toll roads are too expensive, Francisco took the ‘libres’, meaning extra kilometres and much extra traffic. We slowly passed through the states of Tabasco & Campeche and ended up in Merida. The city is known for it beautiful centre, but we had to unload the possessions of a family that had worked in the US for a while in a less scenic part of town, where the roads were littered with trash.

Moving bicycles to CancunFrancisco hired a few guys at the entrance of the city to help us unload in the heat. After getting paid, they bought 6 bottles of beer, which were emptied and thrown out of the window before we could take them back to where we had picked them up.

It was time to cross the Yucatan state. There is a huge and expensive new quota, so we took the dark and windy libre instead. The road passes through every little town and we had to stop hundreds of times to carefully cross the many ‘topes’, speed bumps.

We arrived late at night but Helping Pancho with the movingstill had one load to deliver before we could find a place to sleep.

After we finished Good morning, cancun!Francisco parked the car in the centre and went to sleep in a friends house, while we erected the tent again, inside the truck.

We had been rushing the past weeks, but now we had made it to Cancun a week earlier than planned. It took a huge load off our shoulders as we now had some time to check out the city and prepare the visit of our mums.

Cancun

Francisco came back to his truck in the morning, and his friend Daniel invited us to come over and stay in his house. We had friends in Cancun, but as we had arrived so quickly, we had not been able to contact them and gladly accepted Daniel’s offer.

He not only put us up for the night, but also gave us some tours, which helped a lot to understand the city. We visited the touristic places as Francisco had to buy some jewellery for his wife and drank some “raspados”, shaved ice with sweet fruit flavours.

Raspados in CancunPancho, Daniel & Ivana, Cancun

Cancun proper: the beach!

Hotel in Cancun (2)The city were we were is actually not the Cancun that is so famous. The downtown area is where the people live and go for their Sunday dance, the tourists go to a 25km/16mi long peninsula, totally covered with big expensive hotels, clubs and restaurants.

Hotel in CancunThough all beaches are public and thus open to everybody by law, in practice it is very hard to get to them, as the hotel properties are private and they are all built next to each other.

Daniel had worked in the hotel business before and took us to see the “Zona Hotelera”.  We visited a few of  the smaller public beaches, with did have easy  access, but we also checked out a large hotel. It was something we will never be able to afford, but it was fun to pretend :)

Beach in Cancun, Zona HoteleraBeach in Cancun, Zona Hotelera (3)Beach in Cancun, Zona Hotelera (2)Francisco, Zona Hotelera, CancunWish Willy Iguana, CancunPublic beach, Cancun Public beach, Cancun (2)Public beach, Cancun (3)Hotel in Cancun (3)Palapa at public beach, CancunSunday dance, Palapas Square, Cancun

Kowalski! Status report!

180609 190609_1

All is well. We will park our bikes soon as our mums will arrive and we will be semi-proper tourists for a while. But still there are plenty of things to show, so stay tuned…

Day 322-324, 29-31 May 2009: Hospitals, drunk rides and beach camps

September 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Central Mexico, Mexico, North America, Tips & Tricks, Trip reports

29th May 2009: Boca de Apisa – Maruata: 30km cycling, 2 rides, 3 hospitals, free breakfast, lunch and campsite on the beach

Outhouse cut: Astmatic ugly ducksIvana has a problem with birds. When they fly far away or sing cheerfully in the morning, she loves them, but when they get within her personal space they scare her. So when she had to go to the outhouse, where not only a toilet, but also half a dozen very ugly asthmatic ducks were to be found, she called in the troops.

To chase the ducks away I walked around the toilet, but suddenly the rotten wood bottom gave away.

I did not know how deep the hole was nor what I would find inside, but as gross scenes from Slumdog Millionaire flashed through my mind, I instinctively held on to the side of the outhouse. Outhouse cut: Scene of the crime

Unfortunately whomever build this construction had decided at some point that it would be better to use nails that are too long, rather than not long enough and my arm got stuck on the end of a nice long and rusty one. As I was still gravity-assisted and going down, it ripped my skin open, holding on to a few cm (1”).

While the bleeding slowly started I walked back out towards Ivana and told her I had cut my arm. The farmer had just come in as well and told us that the army checkpoint on the nearby road had a small hospital, so off we went.

Outhouse cut: Army doctorThe Army doctor took a look and took me outside to clean the wound thoroughly with a healthy dose of pure stinging alcohol and a lot of pressure. As a small part of the skin was missing, he said that stitches probably would not work. He covered it with bandages, gave me some antibiotics and recommended to get a tetanus injection soon. Next patient please.

His fellow soldiers –they check cars and trucks for weapons and drugs- were interested in our trip and when we came back after packing our bikes they invited us for breakfast. We had had our breakfast half an hour before, but a real Bike Traveller never declines food.

We got some tortillas and beans, some meat and fresh juice, served with some nice chats about their work and our trip. To top it off they brought in a chilled guanabana, a large fruit with white flesh that was incredible tasty.

Army control BreakfastArmy control Breakfast (2)

Even though I had some tetanus shots over a year ago in Argentina, a rusty nail in an duck-filled outhouse appeared to me the ultimate test that I did not want to fail, so it seemed like a wise idea to get another shot; there should be a hospital in the small village down the road.

On the road again, next to many bananasThe village turned out to be quite big, noisy and polluted and off the road, but with some help we found the hospital, where I was given the tetanus shot right away. Back to the road again, through a nice flat section lined with banana trees.

The next section was not just very hilly, but also known for its bandits and drug-traffickers, who use the small beaches on the rugged coasts to land their smuggling boats. We had planned to get a ride through this section as all the mafia apparently had attracted road-side robbers, attacking vehicles on the quiet road.

First we had to find a good place to hail a pick-up for a ride:

  • The perfect spot is near a ‘tope (toh-pay)’, the annoying bumps that are placed on the road to slow down traffic. Cars have to almost stop here and it is easy to ask for a ride.
  • If you are on a Quota/toll road, then the toll-both is perfect as well, assuming the guards let you stand there to ask.
  • Near a corner, as most (not all) vehicles slow down in a curve, and we can see in time if it is a car or a full pick-up truck as it is no use to stop a car or a pick-up without space for our bikes.
  • With sufficient open space for our bikes to be parked near the road and for the car to brake and pull-out.
  • Not in a zone known for carjacking, drug trafficking & highway robbers as hitchhikers will be considered possibly dangerous and the cars offering a ride might be as well.

None of the above were available and while looking for them, the road started climbing without mercy. My arm hurt a lot when pulling at the handlebars at steep sections as there was tension on the fresh wound. Ivana’s knee was hurting again as well, so we just started asking passing cars while pushing our bikes up the steep slopes.

Our rideTo our surprise a young girl, alone in a big pick-up, stopped and took us and our bikes. We picked her brother up on the way and they took us to their house, where their mum immediately invited us for lunch, treating us to quesadillas and avocado, yum!

We could have camped with them, but wanted to get a bit further, so we headed back to the main road and pointed our thumbs towards the sky near a small road-shop.

After several hours of trying, alternating turns in the hot sun, a car truck stopped that could take us to Maruata, which sounded fine to us. What was less fine was that several cases of beer were emptied during the trip and while the road was curvy and bumpy, the speed picked up considerably.

We were sitting in the back with our bikes and were relieved when we arrived near the small town. The first thing we noticed was a huge new building, that turned out to be a newly-opened hospital. Perfect timing, as I wanted to change my bandages and check if my cut had not been infected. We walked in the near-empty building. It was dark as the night-nurses did not know yet where the main light switches were.

A friendly nurse cut away the bandages, took an interested glance at the nasty-but-not-infected-looking wound and then started scrubbing it with half a bottle of iodine using all of her force, suddenly looking a lot less charming.

While I was painfully getting cleaner than the brand new hospital floor, a 14 year old girl walked in crying, fully pregnant and about to deliver. We both looked at her and her crazy mother (or grandmother?) that just laughed like nothing was wrong in this picture. Again I realized the luxury that my so-called ‘problems’ would almost always be smaller than those seen around me.

When checking the prescription the doctor had written out for me, we noticed it was the same as the antibiotics we already had and so we left the 3rd hospital today without paying anything. All the treatments including the tetanus injection had been free of charge. Not just for me as a lucky tourist, but for everybody. Only if I had wanted to buy medication, I would have had to pay. How is that for a ‘developing country’?

Camp at the Maruati beachWe cycled safely through the dark towards the beach on a bumpy trail, thanks to our headlights on our Santos bikes. Maruata beach is actually quite famous; for the surf and the turtles and it is simply pretty.

Now it was dark, but a few guesthouses and restaurants offered some light as well as some food and free camping. A couple of friendly salesmen that also had stopped here for the night offered to pay a room for us, but we explained that we rather be outside in our tent, as it would be cooler and without mosquitoes.

We fell asleep while the surf provided a lazy rhythm to the lightshows of the fireflies. Wat een dag!

30 May 2009: Maruata beach – Caleta de Campo: crazy hills, drunk rides and more beach

Our friendly host suddenly requested money for the free camping after all, but gave in after a brief protest from our side. We headed back up to the road and started cycling, again looking for a great place for our next ride.

There was none. This section of road was insane, a succession of incredibly steep climbs, directly followed by deadly downhills through blind corners on a narrow road with temperatures going through the roof. Rinse and repeat several dozen times. We now realized why the distance on the map had seemed wrong, but was right after all: if you could take this road and stretch it out, it would cover the true distance at least twice.

It would destroy the knees of Lance Armstrong, if he were able to get a fully loaded bike up here. So likely it would ruin ours as well and as the doctor had ordered rest for my arm we resorted to stopping pick-ups to force our next ride through this overheated madness.

Trying to get a ride..IOf course few people use this road for long-distance and it would take 5 separate rides that day before we would get to our next stop: one friendly guy, a drunk couple that picked us up twice, a trio of young girls in an expensive new truck and a nice man that turned out to be a drunk idiot as well, tossing out an empty beer can out the window every few minutes.

Michoacan girlWe still managed to cycle about 50km ourselves that day and even spend our lunchtime waiting several hours for a ride at a small place in the middle of nowhere where small kids were cycling downhill on a bike without brakes without wearing shoes, for fun.

There we also got to chat with Orlando, an 80-year old Mexican that had great knowledge about geography and mountains all over the world. He was clearly very well educated, but now he just waited in the shade for his next customers: in exchange for free food and lodging, he sold gasoline for a local lady. Using his mouth and a hose he transferred the fuel into the expensive cars that stopped by, realizing that fuel stations were a rarity on this road.

80 year old, selling gasolineWe saw his eyes gleam when we told him about our trip, but our heart broke every time he spent minutes coughing and spitting after every filling-up of yet another car filled with rude people. It was a sad sight, especially with the wrongly spelled ‘Cevende Gasolina’ sign on the road behind him (‘Se vende Gasolina = Gas for sale).

The last drunk ride had dropped us off in a beach town and a steep but paved road dropped us right onto the beach. Ivana was exhausted so I went to check the places to camp. Beach of Bahia BufaderoAll the restaurants wanted cash to camp on their empty properties, even if we would buy dinner there. In the end the only place that would let us camp, was one that had the kitchen closed.

So we settled for a few emergency noodle soups and bought some cold beers to thank our hosts and quench our thirst Next door a children’s party hit a piñata (as well as one unfortunate small guest) to smithereens while thousands of small to medium-sized crabs that had appeared out of nowhere crawled around my feet, headed for the ocean. World On a bike in Mexico…

31 May 2009: Caleta de Campo beach – Uruapan: 80km + 200km in rides, up to the highlands!

The road had turned sane again and as our injuries felt better, we decided to make some more miles by ourselves again. The coastal road was a lot nicer here, with a fresh breeze coming up from the pretty beaches and hills that were doable for mortals.

Michoacan coastWe did try to use ‘lunch’ -the hottest time of the day- for getting another ride as we were now less than one month away from our deadline in Cancun, so all bits would help.

The small town was full of pick-ups, but it turned out that was just for the local fiesta, which in itself turned out to be a cockfight, illegal in the USA, a quite regular Sunday outing in Mexico.

Ivana talked to and helped some local kids that were trying to inflate a bicycle tire. Soon after they came up to me with their broken derailleur and a handful of parts. Though it had been a while since I fixed a derailleur as our Rohloff system has internal gears instead, I managed to turn into Bicycle Repairman and got all the parts connected and the gears going again.

I noticed that the initial joy on the little guy’s face had suddenly disappeared.

Comocuantovaser?’, he spoke swiftly but softly with a worried look on his face.

Bicycle repair manComo cuanto va ser, or ‘how much is it going to be?’, we translated. Poor guy, he was afraid that the gringo would charge him a lot for fixing his bike.

I explained him that it was free and that cyclists should always help each other out when needed and his face cleared up to reveal a bright smile.

Closer to the larger city of Lazaro Cardenas we got 2 short rides across the busiest sections and they dropped us off at the new ‘quota’, the toll road that was not on our 2 maps. We cycled some more along the road, assuming we would at some point encounter a tollbooth.

We noticed that there was almost no trash near the road, a clear sign that it was just opened recently, as all other roads in Mexico are lined with plastic, glass, paper, more plastic and styrofoam. As friendly as the Mexicans are, their own environment is one thing they do not seem to care about. When cycling you really see the extent of the influence of plastic waterbottles & chips: free roadside marketing that shows that thousands of Coca-Cola drinkers have no respect for nature, not even their own.

When we finally got to the crossing where the booth was, some soldiers advised us not to go further east, but inland instead to visit Morelia and to enjoy the cooler air. We looked at our map and decided that it might be a good idea to head for the fresh highlands instead of following the bumpy hot coastline to Acapulco first.

The first pick-up Ivana asked already had some bags in the back, but still agreed to take us all the way to Uruapan. And so within minutes we speeded up on a brand-new road through the steep hills of the highlands, ending up nearly 1800m higher in the fresh world capital of avocado’s.

Our hosts in Uruapan The driver and his wife had planned to drop us off near a gas station, but intrigued by our little business-card they decided to invite us in their house instead.

We had a pleasant evening with the family Mendez. Again we ended up staying freshly showered and well-fed in the clean beds of new friends, wondering what the highlands of Central Mexico had in store for us…

Day 317-321, 24-28 May 2009: hot hilly roads, tropical fruits and friendly Mexicans

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Central Mexico, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

After our trip across the Sea of Cortez it was time to cross terra firma again. Only we were still not sure which route to take. It was clear that we would never make it in time to Cancun, to meet our mums, so what to do? Puerto Vallarta malecon

We decided to visit Puerto Vallarta first, as we could not believe that that such a famous place (The Love Boat!) would be nothing more than a collection of ugly resorts and polluted highways.

Our persistence paid off when we cycled over the cobbled streets of old Vallarta and onto the nice Malecon, the boardwalk. There were plenty of people about, artists, friendly beggars, loads of tourists, sand sculptors and even a set of oriental rope artists circling down from their platform.

Puerto Vallarta malecon (2)It was all nice, but it was also getting dark and we had no idea

  1. where to go to, from Vallarta,
  2. where to sleep…
  3. and, most alarming of all: we did not have dinner yet!

As usual the solution to all questions presented itself without too much effort from our side. Just when we were checking our map of Central Mexico, a couple sat down next to us and asked about our bikes and trip.

Our hosts in Puerto VallartaWhen I asked them in return about the different route possibilities – there is no straight way inland, you can go North and then East through Guadalajara, or South along the coast and then North again- they were sure that the coastal route was the best option: flat, narrow but quiet and only a few sections with drug-traffickers and other accompanying bandits. Sweet.

Cool, number 1 solved, and number 2 & 3 followed smoothly when they invited us for dinner and to stay in their house near the Malecon. Mexico is so full of friendly people, it looks like a complete different country than the media makes it out to be. Actually it is. Much, much better, as was and would be proven time and time again.

Day 317, 24 may 09: Puerto Vallarta – Near Tomatlan: 74km. Jungle to desert…

Puerto Vallarta coastlineThe next morning we were treated to nice tropical fruits for breakfast, pineapple and papaya! Real vitamins!

It was early but hot, but the coastal route was quite shady and showed us the hidden gems of the Vallarta Bay: nice beaches, amazing mansions and boutique hotels and lush jungle and fruit trees. 180 degrees difference from the dry desert of Baja California and even the rollercoaster road could not spoil our joy.

Our ride to El TuitoThat is, until the road turned sharply and went both inwards as upwards. The cool sea-breeze dropped and the temperature rose 10+ degrees within minutes, the jungle turned to desert and the road into a narrow steep wall with little space for our bikes. Our map showed that this would continue to 750m (2500ft) up, which did not seem like a great idea for our knees and general life expectancy, so we decided to take a lift, the first of many short ones along the Mexican South Coast.

Our friendly driver dropped us off at the top of the hill in El Tuito, stopping his ramshackle pickup only once on the way up, to buy some soft drinks for us, not accepting our money for it.

After lunch in the pueblito, we got to enjoy a nice downhill through pine forests and then a mix of dried shrubbery and other desert vegetation. We felt back in the Baja, seems that the Vallarta bay had been a one-off paradise. Soon the heat became unbearable, but though the Pacific Ocean should be near, no sign of it was noticeable, definitely no refreshing breeze.

The sun burned without mercy on yours trulies riding the undulating road and we had to stop several times for some shade, as well as to refill our bottles. We ended up just before sunset at a crossing close to the town of Tomatlan.

In Baja, it always cooled down at sunset, but over here, it still seemed to get hotter even. As we needed more water and it cost the same as a huge bag of ice, we solved two problems at once, cycling around the village with a large plastic bag with ice cubes, watched by curious Mexicans.

We found a friendly woman that would let us camp in her garden and even though we only put up our inner tent, it was so hot that we went to bed covered with nothing than our Ortlieb water bags and polarbottle, filled with the melting ice in a futile attempt to cool off…

It was still more than 30 degrees outside; the stupid guard dogs did not know whether to protect or attack us and the man of the house that returned drunk in the dark first fed bananas to the goats, and went back to the bar, only returning a short while later to vomit loudly in his car while abusing his helping wife. Life on a bike, always different, never far from reality.

Day 318/9, 25/6 may 09: Rollercoasting from Tomatlan to San Patricio 77+41km, 1400m up and down.

Camping between the flowersJust when we were mixing our newly discovered freeze dried soy-milk with cereals, a full-size truck pulled up at the gasstation. In the back stood more than 2 dozen kids, ranging in age from 8 to about 17. Innocent and naive as we were, we thought that this might be a poor-man’s version of a school bus, either to take the kids to school or to an excursion, as it was a weekday.

When Ivana asked the kids where they were going, the just replied with slent blank stares and took off again. The attendant explained that they were off to work in the fields, to produce the cheap fruit for export. No education for these and many other kids in Mexico, the only thing they learn is to work, and work hard.

We hit the ‘coastal road’ again but caught exactly one glimpse of the Pacific; most of the time we were just sweating up and down the few dozen smaller and bigger hills. Nothing too serious, just annoying in the sweltering heat.

Again the average temperature was above 31 degrees and we were happy that the friendly gardener that let us camp in his flowery vivero, offered us use of his garden hose and water-tank to freshen up at the end of the day.

An early start gave some refreshment, but after 35km –including already 700m/2300ft up !- it was hotter than ever and we started to curse our friendly Vallarta host that had recommended this ‘flat coastal’ road that was neither, and which we doubted he had ever been on. He definitely never had cycled it in his life.

Time for lunch, and things improved considerably when we stumbled on a nearly-deserted guesthouse, with swimming pool, fruit-dropping mango trees and an internet cafe. Heaven! Of course our lunch lasted longer than planned and we decided to camp here, being offered more mangos than we could eat. Life was not so bad after all.

Day 320, 27 May 2009: San Patricio – Manzanillo 76km, 370m up and down

Coconut and banana treesWe had entered the state of Colima, which we had been dreaming about since we found out that a large part of Mexico’s fruit originates here. We were not disappointed, as the bumpy desert abruptly had given way to fields of coconut palms, mango trees and banana trees, while smaller orchards and roadside stalls offered all kinds of other natural goodies.

Coconut cutter campA few women were chopping enormous piles of brown coconuts in half; they only collected part of the fruit for the cosmetic industry, discarding both the juice as well as the tasty heart, so we filled up our bottles rather than letting the healthy water flow onto the thirsty sand.

Ivana eating coconutsThere were many mango trees with thousands of fruits dropped onto the forest floor. Apparently due to the transportation and export (to the US) hassle and cost, it is too costly to harvest and sell them so they just rot away. Except the ones that fitted in Ivana’s big Ortlieb bag of course :)

Lunch at the beach near Santiago, ColimaAs an added bonus, the road was nearly flat and we not only got to see the ocean, we even got to touch it when stopping for lunch near a nice swimming beach.

What goes up has to come down, even when not literally, and things deteriorated seriously after lunch. Traffic increased to annoying numbers when we approached the busy city of Manzanillo. Lack of signs made us follow a dead end street to the harbour for several km. Noise and exhaust of the buses, cars and freight trains rose to lethal levels and to top it, we got into a huge fight about which route to take. In the end I gave in and up and let Ivana decide, resulting in another detour of several kilometres.

After 75km we were more than exhausted and while still angry we rung the doorbell on a house that had a big gate and a nice garden; both necessary for a safe camp in an urban zone.

Spontaneous CouchSurfing hosts, ManzanilloAn elderly couple opened up and listened to our story. Soon they invited us, not just for dinner, but also to use one of the extra rooms upstairs, so instead of fighting and sweating in our tent, we got a shower, Mexican food and a ventilator to cool us down.

We deserved it.

Day 321, 28 May 09, Manzanillo – Boca de Apisa, 91km

Unused overpassThe fruity flatness continued and though the average temperature was above 31C/ 88F again, it was still a relatively pleasant ride though the field, only interrupted by a few hours of lunch in a truck-stop to avoid the heat and a short visit to the ugly City of Tecoman.

Cattle farmer in Colima state

We were aiming straight for some nasty looking hills, but turned right before reaching them, back to the direction of the Ocean. We did not notice that our total recorded distance had silently increased to a 5-figure number until later that night, 10,000km (6250mi) on the road!

We had been looking forward to camping on the beach, but when we followed the 5km/3mi long turnoff, we discovered that the road literally ended at the ocean, with just a few meters of sand separating us from the big powerful waves.

Fruit stalls along the routeArmed with nothing much more than the knowledge that we had entered drug-trafficking country we were not being overly comfortable with the stares of some local youth and the lack of water and safe places.

So, tired as we were, we headed back up to the main road and asked a farmer if we could pitch a tent on his land, which was situated next to a military checkpoint.

Camp between the ducks and chickens As there were dozens of different feathered friends around, Ivana preferred to camp under the roof. After being chased into our hot tent by a battalion of nasty mosquitoes, we fell into a restless sleep, blissfully unaware of the fact that I would visit 3 different doctors in 3 different hospitals in the next 24 hours…

Kowalski! Status report!

  • Many many MangosMangos eaten: countless
  • Metres climbed in 5 days on the ‘flat coastal road’: 2500+
  • Average temperature during those 5 days: 31C/88F.
  • Km cycled since Prudhoe Bay, Alaska: 10,020!
  • Vertical meters/climbed since PB, AK: 83,460 (52 miles)
  • Santos Travelmaster problems: zero.
  • Knee & back report: positive, taking care and working fine.

Here are the road profiles, for those masochistic enough (or smart enough to cycle this in winter) to take it on:

240509250509 260509270509 280509_1

Day 292-297, 29 April – 4 May 2009: Baja California Sur, pt2: Hot roads, Bahia Concepcion, hidden gems and cruisers

August 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

29 April 2009: Mulege – Buenaventura beach, 43km, 500m up and down

Beaches at Bahia ConstitucionOnce we managed to leave Mulege, we quickly started climbing, cutting off a rough piece of coastline. The moment the sea-breeze was out of our face, the heat took its place and we had to stop often to drink and recuperate.

The reward was the first view of Bahia Concepcion, breeding place of whales and lined with small beaches, sometimes accompanied by hotels or loncherias, but just as often completely empty.

Beaches at Bahia Constitucion (2)We had enough of the heat after 43km and entered a restaurant in Buenaventura Beach for our siesta. They had Wi-Fi, so as always we stayed too long, and decided to camp out on the beach.

We were accompanied by a French couple, that we had met a few times before. They were living & teaching on Martinique, but had bought a large campervan and, together with their 3 kids, were slowly heading South.

In fact, as we had seen them several times, they appeared to go the same speed as us, enjoying all the small places on the way, instead of rushing through them as most other Baja visitors do on their way to Cabo San Lucas.

Campsite Buenaventura Beach, Bahia ConstitucionFishing dogs at Bahia Constitucion

Rodolphos family, Buenaventura beach Buenaventura beach, Bahia Constitucion

30th April 2009: Buenaventura beach – Bahia Concepcion South, 20 km, 150 m up/down

El Requeson Beach, Bahia ConcepcionWe stuck around the restaurant all day, reading stories online about this strange swine-flu disease that was bothering the rest of Mexico, but Baja was still ‘clear’.

Before we were really packed, it was already to hot to start cycling and therefore we went swimming instead, checking out the small stingrays and fishes near the beach.

Only 2 hours before dusk it started to get bearable and we started cycling after all. Google Earth had been friendly enough to warn us for some big climbs coming up once we would leave the Bay, so we thought it best to save that for the cool of the early morning and went looking for a place to pitch our tent.

beach camp, bahia ConstitucionWe happily cruised over the empty road while in the distance a large group of dolphins passed by, heading North.

At the most Southern point of the Bay, we found the remains of an old RV park and though there was nothing usable left, the dirt access road was smooth and led straight to the beach, where we pitched our tent.

We watched the sunset with our bowls of pasta in our hand while a few wandering cows passed. Queen’s Day (In the Netherlands); It cannot get much better than this.

1st May 2009: Bahia Concepcion – Juncalito, 106km, 918m up/down, average temperature: 30,2C/86F…

Blooming cactiThough we did not leave at sunrise as planned –there is something unnatural about waking up in the dark, even when it is the International Day of Labour- we managed to get up the steep first hills before the heat caught up with us. The road was windy and therefore dangerous, as trucks could not see us from far. So we walked and pushed our bikes on the steepest bits, so we could get out of the way quickly when needed, while saving our knees.

Vultures, trash and cactiThe day seemed to progress nicely when we were treated by a nice slow downhill the next 20km, but then it turned into a hellish experience. No shade for a rest, the hot headwind slowed us to a halt, while small hills were followed by a 13km constant climb with the temperature cheerfully climbing to above 35C/95F as well. It cannot get much worse than this.

All the places that were marked on the map were either no longer there or closed and/or decaying, so no refrescos could be bought. We had both run out of water and stopped a passing ambulance for some water (we got about half a litre), to prevent further rehydration.

Ivana in downtown LoretoFinally, after 65km (40mi) and almost 6 hours on the road we could start the downhill towards Loreto, a dusty town with a friendly old centre, including one more mission. Mission, Loreto

What was more important was the water filtering shop in the beginning of town (the friendly owner donated 2 litres of cool water, where can I sent the recommendations for sainthood?), an overpriced supermarket and the juice bar in downtown selling fresh OJ by the litre and a nearby hose to wash the salt of our faces.

Once our body temperature had lowered enough to approach that of the air surrounding it, we headed out for  our last section towards a small town named Juncalito. We passed some ugly new housing projects, with unnaturally green lawns and fake ponds. Meanwhile the temperature finally dropped a bit. Even with the cool morning and the freshening evening we clocked an average temperature of 30,2C/86F, during the 12 hours we had spend on & around our bikes; too much for comfort and we were ready for some rest.

It took 2 small but nasty hills before we reached the house of Roberta, a WarmShowers host in Juncalito. She lives with Smooch the cat in this small town, off the grid, but powered by solar panels and the caring of the neighbours, who immediately came out to greet us and to hand us all kinds of vegetables.

Roberta had even prepared a wonderful dinner for us; we felt we rolled from a hellish nightmare of a day into a cyclist’s dream and soon after our feast we started a well-earned rest…

2-4 May 2009: In Juncalito: sea critters & festive cruisers.

Ivana sea-kayaking near JuncalitoWe stayed 3 days in Juncalito as there were too many fun things to do to rush and we enjoyed Roberta’s company.

One of her neighbours borrowed us 2 kayaks for a few hours, so we could circle a nearby island to check out the pelicans, crabs and fish. We will need to cross the high mountains in the back soon, but for now we enjoyed being at sea-level.

It was a great trip and a welcome change from the bike, finally some upper body exercise…

Crabs on small island near Juncalito

Fishies, JuncalitoHarry sea-kayaking near JuncalitoSea stars, Juncalito

Festive Cruisers

Loretofest, Puerto EscondidoIt also turned out to be the time for the “Loretofest”, a yearly gathering of cruisers, i.e. people living and travelling on their boats. Most cruisers seemed to be in their fifties, but there were also younger and older ones as well as kids travelling.

Loretofest party, Puerto EscondidoThey had all come to Puerto Escondido (“Hidden Port”, 5km from Juncalito), to meet up and celebrate their lifestyle together, while raining funds for the less fortunate local youth.

Ivana and I entered a bubblegum-blowing contest on the 50’s night, enjoyed the cooking of the cruisers at the tasty potlatch and caught up on some work using the harbour office’s Wi-Fi. It was interesting to see this totally different subculture, that actually had quite a lot in common with us BikeTravellers, living and travelling outside the lines…

We were happy we had found Roberta’s little piece of paradise to rest, but we had to leave her, Smooch and the dozens of hummingbirds circling her balcony, to get on the road again. One more long stretch separated us from La Paz, gateway to mainland Mexico!

Smooch the cat, JuncalitoHummingbird, Juncalito (2)

Hummingbird, Juncalito (3)Hummingbird, Juncalito

Kowalski! Status report!

Total km: 9225. Knees and back were ok, though slightly overcooked. I pushed the bike when it got too steep and that seems to help prevent further injuries. So far no more flat tires in Baja California (after the one the first day in the North), so that is above expectation. Bikes are doing well, but they are looking forward to the 2nd oil change in La Paz…

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Day 242-267 10Mar- 4 April 09: at home in San Diego & Ocean Beach

April 6, 2009 by  
Filed under California, North America, Trip reports, USA

Ryan and Merridith, San Diego (3)San Diego is the end point for most cyclist who travel down the West Coast, usually starting in Vancouver. Just 40km North of Mexico, it has the luxury and practical advantages of the USA while combined with the weather and relaxedness of the Mexicans.

Our friend Romke (from The Netherlands) had already told us that he loved it there and that he would love to move there and had sent us some addresses of friends he had met there.

We were planning to let our bodies and mind rest for a while here.

After staying with Daniel, we headed over to the nice Balboa Park for a relaxed day in the park, enjoying the sun. We stayed a few nights with Ryan & Meredith from the WarmShowers list. It is always nice to see how other cyclists share whatever they have with others.

Ivana and KathrynAfter moving to nearby Kathryn and J’s place we started with the long job of updating our blogs and editing the many images we had taken the past months.

In theory it is easy to update the blogs in the evening after a day of cycling but in practice we were almost every night with friendly people, enjoying their company until bedtime. Of all the wonderful things we have seen in the US, the people top it all.

Rich or poor, young or old, everybody opened up there homes for us and treated us like kings. In my ‘1000 Americans Category’ I have placed a few dozen portraits of some of them, but it can do no justice to the way they have taken care of us during our trips down the Pacific Coast.

St Patrick’s Day 2009

Close to Ryan’s and Kathryn’s homes was the annual St Patrick’s Day parade, supposedly one of the largest one-day event. It was not so crowded, we could easily enjoy the long stream of Old-timers (both cars as well as people).

When the ‘Irishman of the year’ passed, many people around us started speculating what it took to get that title, but all agreed that it likely had to do something with loads of Guinness.. Note the sensible people below that advised everybody to ‘ride a bike’!

Saint Patrick's Day 2009, San DiegoSaint Patrick's Day 2009, San Diego (3)

Saint Patrick's Day 2009, San Diego (2) Saint Patrick's Day 2009, San Diego (4) Saint Patrick's Day 2009, San Diego (5)

Saint Patrick's Day 2009, San Diego (5) Saint Patrick's Day 2009, San Diego (6) Saint Patrick's Day 2009, San Diego (7)

Out to the Ocean: Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach (2)We had agreed with one more WarmShowers host to stay with him. What we did not know at the time was that Saul would leave the next morning for his work in Seattle, leaving the place to us for more than a week. We did manage to get some fish tacos on the pier with him and his cycling friend, after another restaurant had refused us for not having an ID (Ivana is 33 and I am 38…).

It was great to have a home, where we could feel ourselves again, relax and do more work. Ocean Beach is the Western part of San Diego, and so far has resisted the push of the strip malls, McDonald’s and other negative American icons.

Instead, they have the best farmer’s market we had seen in all of the USA, a local co-op with organic food, local small shops, surfers on the beach and generally a very relaxed atmosphere.

Ocean BeachFarmers Market, Ocean Beach

Over to Point Loma

Saul’s mom surprised us as she was supposed to arrive later. She insisted we’d stay with her, but as Romke’s friend Martin had returned from his vacation, we moved to his place instead. It was only a few km away and though not next to the Ocean, Point Loma is a similar relaxed neighbourhood.

Martin and IvanaNumber 2 (2)We ended up staying 12 days, cooking great meals together and enjoying the company of Martin and his two cats, aptly named ‘Number 1’ and ‘Number 2’ :)

My knee was still the same and after more research, I realized that maybe my position on the bike could have caused the stress on my knee and decided to buy some new pedals and sandals with click-in SPD cleats to go with it.

This would force my legs to be straight, while also allowing for ‘pulling’ my legs up instead of just pushing them down.

Charles Corum, San Diego (2)When Romke had been in SD, he had bought a BOB Bike-trailer for Martin as a thank you. He had found it on Craigslist, where a seasoned cyclist named Chuck had offered it.

Romke had introduced me to Chuck and as he lived close to the REI store where I found the sandals I wanted I visited him. It was nice to connect with Chuck and as he was also curious to meet Ivana, he picked us up the next day for a Japanese dinner near his house.

It was inspiring to see somebody who is older than Ivana and me together being so active and addicted to cycling, very inspirational and motivating.

Leaving the USA

We really enjoyed visiting the US, meeting the great people and seeing some of the best nature in the world.

We had witnessed with our own eyes how the election of Barack Obama had revived a national pride that had been covered in shame the past 8 years. Even though the global economic crisis was easily seen in the many friends we met that had lost their job, people had hope again.

We saw many initiatives to switch back from the global strip mall, war & TV culture to a more simple and peaceful, meaningful life with respect for each other and nature. We saw the possibilities that the US can offer her varied mix of citizens and felt privileged to meet all those kind hearts that make our trip so special.

As April came, we were getting restless. We had stretched our visas and hospitality of our guests as far as it could before breaking 😉 It was time to move on.

Strange enough many US citizens we had met had never been to Mexico, even though it is so close, you get there by just taking a wrong turn on the highway…

Since the media started reporting on the drug wars tourism was down and Tijuana and other border towns were avoided. Stubborn as I am, I would like to see the situation with my own eyes, before making a judgement.

Next report should be coming from Mexico!

Day 234-241, 2-9March 09. Back on the bike, LA to San Diego. Jai Ho!

March 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Trip reports

2nd March 2009: LA – Lomita via Santa Monica, 50km

The Sarraseca family, LAWe spent one more day and night with Claudia and Diego, watched our new favourite movie, Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (Jai Ho! became our new motto :)) and then we headed out again. We wanted to start again, where we had been picked up by Diego, so we actually first went North-west, back to Santa Monica.

It took us about 20km right through Los Angeles, which simply confirmed itself to be a rather ugly place.

Felix and Ivana, LANot that we ever felt any danger (besides from ridiculously oversized trucks and SUV’s of course), most of the people on the streets were very friendly. But the roads are a mess (especially for such a car-centred society), trees and parks missing, and houses and streets dirty.

It reminded us more of something we had seen in developing countries than one of the most important cities of the USA.

Only when approaching the coast, the houses got cleaner again and the areas greener. We enjoyed the Sushi buffet one more time and headed down the coastline.

The weather was great again and we walked down the Venice Beach boulevard, receiving some small gifts and encouragements from the street vendors, the homeless and the neo-hippies. The route stayed nice, following the nearly deserted beaches all the time.

Venice Beach boulevardThe spirit of Venice Beach

5 March: Lomita – Newport Beach, 60km

We had stayed two nights in Lomita, with a special host. Nepalese-born Shamu is the father of Japhy (Jeff), who is also cycling down from the US to Argentina. Just this same week, he had stayed with Ivana’s father and with her mother, both living close to each other in the San Juan province of Argentina, on the other side of the planet.

So while Jeff’s father was taking care of us, Ivana’s family was taking care of his son even though none of us had ever met before. That is the great thing about the hospitality of the CouchSurfing and WarmShowers hosts.  Shamu also introduced us to one of his friends, who not only took us for a nice walk on the Redondo beach, but also taught us a lot about hydro culture and natural foods. Oh, and we watched Slumdog Millionaire again :)

Captain Bueno and son Jake, Newport BeachThe section through Lomita and Long Beach was one of the most horrible so far, traffic wise, with no shoulders and thousands of trucks, but soon enough we were along the beach again, where the wind blew us swiftly past kite-surfers towards Newport Beach.

We had contacted Harry Barton through CouchSurfing but when we told him that we would stay for one night only, he stressed that he did not live near the beach, but on the beach :)

We ended up staying a few nights with ‘Captain Bueno’ (his LA radio alter ego from the 70’s) and his kids and enjoyed talking about politics, technology, travel and life in general, while catching up with work and blogs.

8th March, Newport Beach – Carlsbad, 80km

Ghost Bike memorialWe kept cycling close to the beach on another hot winter day. Just before entering the Military Zone (where cyclist can pass through as long as they have ID and a helmet and arrive before about 1500 hrs), we passed a strange sight: dozens of drinking bottles and a bike frame and –jersey were hung on the side of the road, a tragic memorial to a killed cyclist.

(edit: Steve Stuart send me the following correction/addition: “To clarify – it was a memorial but the the cyclist was the owner of a bike shop in San Clemente just north of there. He wasn’t “killed” but had a heart attack and passed away when riding at that spot.  Your description sounded like a car hit him and I thought this was a little less depressing. At least he passed doing what he loved.”)

A bit further down the road we met a German biketraveller. Kris had just gone up from South America.

German biketraveller heading NorthHe had his camera robbed in Colombia, when some girl pretended she was interested in him. It caused such an outrage and shame when the local TV and radio found out that he got donated a new camera and he got new lenses almost free as well…

Somehow we managed to miss the right entrance of the military zone and suddenly found ourselves on the broad shoulder of the busy Interstate 5. Cycling was actually allowed here as besides the army zone, there is no other road.

At least it got us into Oceanside quickly, where we found ourselves arriving in Redneck Heaven; what had happened to all the nice little beach towns? It was a mess on the street and every car seemed to have extra exhaust pipes for extra noise, oversized tires, loud paintings, darkened windows and even louder music. I wanted to ask the drivers if they were born stupid or raised that way, but probably none of them never even saw me (or anything else with those windows), so I had to let them off the hook.

Maybe it was just the influence of the military bases nearby, as fortunately the atmosphere improved considerably when approaching Carlsbad and that evening we found ourselves in a nice house behind a huge plate of delicious lasagne and salad, prepared by bike advocate Steve and his wife.

9 March 2009: Carlsbad – San Diego, 60km

My knee was doing the same as before: quite ok during cycling, but afterwards it was hard to walk and only ice and NSAIDS (anti inflammatories) relieved. Before reaching San Diego, we had a few hills to climb, but they did not pose too many problems. The many small towns on the way looked nice, we were really getting into the surf-and-relax area.

Our guidebook managed to show us the way through the busier suburbs like La Jolla. On one very busy uphill road, a car was parked on the bike lane, with the driver still sitting inside. I honked my horn several times, but he just waved in the direction of the busy road where cars were passing non-stop at 50miles per hour. As I was barely going 10% of that, overtaking would mean suicide…

So I had no choice but to climb up the sidewalk. Normally I let things like these go, but I felt angry and tapped his window, which he lowered after a while.

“Excuse me, but what part of ‘No Parking, Bike Lane’ you don’t understand?” I asked him, pointing at the signs.

“Eh, I, I am not from around here..” he stumbled, which made me angrier.

“So you also do not stop for STOP or other signs here?”. He did not know what to say and just looked straight ahead.

“I am sorry, I am not from around here…” is all that he could utter, at which point I thought it would be wiser for both of us to just go and continue the climb…

Finally, San Diego

Ivana, San DiegoAfter more than 8000km/5000miles of cycling (of which 3000km in the Lower 48), we entered San Diego.

We arrived from the North West, first alongside nice beaches of Mission Bay, then along a busy road and finally a long shared walking/biking path alongside Harbour Drive. SD is situated nicely along some pretty bays and peninsulas, the weird thing is that the airport is exactly in the middle of several popular (and populous) neighbourhoods and every 2-3 minutes a jet would fly over the hills of Balboa Park, drop down quickly and land between a few highways. An accident waiting to happen and definitely not good for anybody’s health.

We worked our way up the steep hills of Broadway until we found the house of Daniel Wolf. We only stayed with him for a night, but he was the first of a few interesting hosts that would help make San Diego feel like home, a last stop before heading into the great unknown called Mexico…

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