Subscribe to Harry's bike blog, from Alaska to UshuaiaNews FeedSubscribe to Harry's bike blog, from Alaska to UshuaiaComments

Day 375-380, 21-26July 09: Interviews, fever, topes, laguna: down to Belize

October 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Mexico, North America, Trip reports, Yucatan Peninsula

Happy B-day to me! My 2nd one on this trip and likely not the last… But there were a lot of things to do, no time to celebrate. I woke up with a very sore throat, but reckoned that it was he airco’s fault and did not think much of it.

Mexico-ivana-Harry-revista-HectorIvana & I took our mums back to the airport in two separate transfers and then went over to Veronica & Hector to collect our stuff. We could have stayed with them again, but we had to get started to Belize, where my sister would arrive in 8 days time, so we said goodbye to our good friends that had helped us out so much.

Hector took a nice photo of us outside their home and sent us an article in a magazine a while later, if you read Spanish you can click on the mage to the right to read it:

Hector also did a video interview, which can be seen here, in 2 parts on the video & interview page (in Spanish mostly).

The wind-gods were merciful for our first day on the bike in about a month, and we cruised the 70km Playa del Carmen in less than 4 hours. My throat did not feel so bad, but I was starting to get a huge headache, so I took one of the new migraine pills that Cristi had taken from Argentina. It did not get much better.

Our CouchSurfing host Ulises –who even spoke some Dutch thanks to his GF- had another guest coming and we went to pick her up together in the crazy downtown of PdC. Back home I crashed completely, with a big fever as an addition to the migraine, and could not appreciated the veggie ceviche that Ulises made as I would normally do. I stumbled to bed and felt hot and cold at the same time, not sleeping or resting much and awoke feeling I had plundered a cheap tequila bar the night before.

X-Something and IvanaUlises offered us to stay another day to recover, but as we did not have many spare days and it was only 45km to Tulum, we headed out. It was flat and boring again and we passed yet more places starting with an ‘X’ and containing ‘zip lines’ and other ‘eco-adventures’ like ruining the jungle with quads.

Tulum beach (2)If the resorts do not start with an X, it is Not Maya and Not Fun Nor Adventurous. We were glad we were getting out of the reach of the Zona Hotelera, on the far horizon loomed the real world again…

But first we planned to do a quick stop in Tulum, where yet another CouchSurfer was waiting.

I was far from a ‘Spanish’ mood. Usually I get tired of speaking, reading and hearing Spanish some time in the afternoon, but now I had already woken up exhausted and was happy that Lianne was Dutch, as my head was exploding and no other tongue worked.

Tulum beachI do not remember much of the following 24 hours as I was sweating, hallucinating and trapped in some lost space-time continuum.  Only at the end of the next day I had enough energy to cycle the 3km to the beach, where I had to lie down to recover and we stayed another night with Lianne.

Mexican culture bonus: Topes

We have discussed a lot about Mexico in our recent updates covering the 4 months (!) we crossed the entire country from one side to another. The friendly people, the cities, the culture, the food, the nature.

More topes, TulumOne very important thing I have not mentioned yet, while it is maybe one of the most important and widespread aspects of Mexican history when seeing through a cyclist’s glasses (which are usually a lot clearer than a driver’s glasses :))

The Mexican love for speed-reducing things on the roads. As Mexicans are used to the fact that all major roads pass right through the middle of small towns, they are not used to slow down when they are driving and entering a pueblo.

Fines are seldom given and modern radar machinery seems confined to the Mexico DF limits. Threats like that do not work in the more short-term oriented parts of the world anyway, a practical and immediate solution was needed.

So they created bumps. Not those sissy bumps you see in the rest of the world, but real, car wrecking bumps in all shapes and sizes. Some of these, like the ones above are no problem for us as they are smooth. But the serious ones can really break your bike if you are not prepared and  do not almost stop completely. I guess that is the point, though a bit moot for bikes.

Topes, TulumSome newer variations include 1-3 rows of metal domes, firmly attached to the ground. Sometimes local villagers (the ones that are not living in a 25 meter radius of the tope (Toh-puh)) manage to remove just enough so they can pass their vehicles at full speed, but most of the time they cover the entire road.

Whereas in the Netherlands, they would leave a gap for bicycles to pass safely, in Mexico this would invite drivers to use that gap. Actually even the shoulders of the road, so usually the topes are extended all the way across the dirt on the side. Some of the metal ones are quite dangerous, as the only ‘safe’ way to cross them on a bicycle is to approach them in a 45 degree angle and aim well. This is already a decent challenge, but of course in heavy traffic it takes on other dimensions – you also exit at the same angle if you managed not to fall over, so either while entering or exiting you end up in the middle of the lane.

If your angle is a few degrees off, your grip on the handle bars is not firm or the topes are too close together, there is a big chance you drop in front of some hungry diesel-stricken wheels. You can get off the bike and walk, but after the 4600th tope in a row, this gets old. Be warned for this authentic part of Mexican culture and you will still be amazed.

24th July 2009: Tulum to Felipe Carrillo Puerto, 90km

Pitaya fruits, TulumBy now we had to hurry more than we wanted, but at least the roads through the stats of Quintana Roo are mostly flat, so it is easy to make some miles.

It was hot though and though I felt a bit better, I was cursing a lot when I got a flat in the middle of the hot day and it came off . I already hated my new back tire. The old Schwalbe Marathon tyre was actually still good after almost 11,000km/ 7000miles, but my mum had brought a new foldable version, that I had left with her in The Netherlands before departure. Normally I am a firm believer in the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’ fix it’ adagio, but as we had never replaced any tires and I still had another foldable tyre, I decided to change the back one on my bike.

I love the Marathons and the foldable is very useful as it fits neatly on the bottom the Ortlieb bags, but it is much better if they stay there. They are a royal pain in the saddle-sored behind to get on the wheel the first time and it does not get much easier after that. I do not like the fact that I had more flat tires in the first week of using them than the first 6 months of the other one, it seems that there are more differences between the 2 types beside the missing metal wire to make it foldable.

Maya boy, Felipe Carril Puerto, MexicoJust before reaching the town I had gotten another flat that I could not fix as one tube exploded when the foldable tire went outside the rim when almost fully inflated. The spare tube we were carrying somehow got a hole on the inside of the wheel and would not hold on to the patches.

As one local motorist had already said that the Police would be able to help if needed, we decided that Ivana would cycle ahead and I would wait for her to return with the cops. Within 20 minutes a police pick-up came up to me and stopped on the side of the road. I walked up to them with my bike, but first had to identify myself.

‘What is your name?’ The officer asked surprisingly.

When I told him, he carefully compared my answer with the name that he had written in his notebook when Ivana told him about me. It took a minute or so, but after I also told him where I was from and that I really was the one that had sent Ivana for them to pick me up, he finally nodded and let me load Kowalski in the back. Apparently there were a lot of long-haired blond Dutchmen with a fully loaded bike with a flat tire just outside of the city limits and they had to take care not to pick up the wrong one…

Unlike the name suggests, FC Puerto does not have a harbour as it is inland. It is named after a revolutionary Zapatista from Mayan descent, who even had governed here for a short while. The city is still considered as a Maya ‘capital’ and the look and feel showed us that we had left the rich zone of Mexico.

Casa de Campesinos, Felipe Carril PuertoFinding a place to camp in the spacious city with lawns everywhere turned out to be a bureaucratic problem. The police decided that it was not safe to camp with them and took us and our bikes to the Firemen. After long discussions on the radio with lots of code numbers (they seemed to have a special code for stranded Argentinean/Dutch BikeTravellers) it was decided that, no, we could not sleep inside or outside the fire station, either.

Meanwhile we had lost hours and it had become pitch dark, while I was feeling exhausted again. We finally ended up in the ‘Casa de Campesinos’, a small building with some mattresses, used by the local farmers coming from far away villages. I finally got to fix my bike while Ivana found some food and though we had the room to ourselves it was too hot to sleep properly…

Waiting for pressureJuice family, Felipe Carril Puerto

25th July 2009: FC Puerto – Bacalar – 10km + a ride

After getting freshly squeezed juice and new tubes at the local bike shop, we headed out of the city. There were some very minor hills, and it was still relatively cool, but I totally crashed after 10km. Not in the sense of falling over or introducing Kowalski to a passing truck, but I simply could not cycle anymore. The flu had come back, I was overheating and could hardly sit down without passing out.

Mennonites, Bacalar, MexicoAfter a while a pick-up truck passed that picked us, well, up and took us all the way to Bacalar, almost 100km away. It not only saved me from committing high-temperature velocipedal suicide, but also took a lot of pressure off, distance- and time-wise.

Bacalar is one of the Pueblos Magicos, a list of 27 towns and cities in Mexico with special cultural or religious backgrounds, and that leave their visitors with a special feeling; in a positive way that is. We had only been to one other Magic Town, Patzcuaro, and that one was nice.

Fruit shop, BacalarBacalar was less spectacular, but maybe it would have been better without a flu.

The centre is nice and they have a wonderful multicoloured lake where Ivana spent some hours floating, while I was resting in the cool breeze coming off it.

We stayed with Codrut, a friend of a CouchSurfing host in Bacalar. I spent most of the time resting and recovering and took a huge dose of anti flu and migraine pills. We decided to sleep outside on the porch, just on our mattresses as again it was too hot to be inside, and this time it wasn’t just me…

Here are some pix, so it might give you an idea of why so many gringos have bought all the land surrounding the lake:

Old house in Bacalar, MexicoBicycle cargo, Bacalar Bacalar LagunaJuanita in Bacalar

Leaving Mexico for Belize

As Etta James would sing: At last.

Sign language for MexicoBut not with a feeling of relief, but with a little pain in our hearts, homesickness to a new home. We had spent 4 months in this amazing place and though we literally crossed it from North West to South East and from Sea level to the highest peak, after 3000km/1900Mi of cycling and more than 1300km of rides we still felt we had only tasted a drop of the cultural and natural waterfall Mexico has to offer.

We were very happy to be able to tell our friends and family that we had zero real problems. I might have had the (swine?) flu, nearly overdosed on tasteless tortillas at times; we had some of the hottest nights in our lives and Ivana almost got run over by a truck.

We also met hundreds of kind people, saw historic sights, swam in sinkholes, felt like Indiana Jones, ate the best food, overdosed on fruits we had never even heard of before, camped in the desert, sailed between dolphins, visited magic towns, enjoyed the lazy beach life and climbed a glacier to the highest point between Canadian Mount Logan and Pico Cristobal Colon in the Columbian Andes.

Goodbye MexicoWe hope to come back to Mexico some day, not to see a little bit of the rest this country has to offer, but also to meet our dozens of good new friends again.

Thank you, Mexico.

Next stop: Belize!

1000 Americans: Enrique, Cancun, Mexico

October 1, 2009 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Enrique, Cancun

Enrique manages the Hostel Quetzal, a great haven for all kinds of travellers that come to downtown Cancun. Like most Mexicans, he is as helpful as possible, making sure your stay is great and his smile rarely leaves his face.

1000 Americans: Cook Amberina, Cancun

October 1, 2009 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Amberina, Cancun

Amberina is a cook and saleswoman at the Palapas Square in downtown Cancun to tourists and locals alike. She makes about 15 different tortas: sandwiches, filled with meat and/or vegetables and some avocado, you can then add more veggies or spicy sauces to your liking.

The daily menu, which does not seem to vary in weeks, includes a refreshing drink, together it costs 20 pesos, about USD $1,50 for a nice lunch.

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!

1000 Americans: Hector Beristain, Cancun

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Hector running, Isla Mujeres (3) 

Hector works during the days, in computer repair, fixing laptops and desktops, both hardware as well as software. But late at night, when the heat of Cancun takes a rest, he goes out to run on the bike path leading to the Zona Hotelera.

Hector was part of the Mexican Mountain Bike demonstration team during the Atlanta Olympics and has biketravelled in India, but now he focuses on running. Not just for fun or to stay fit, he actually earns part of his income by competing –and finishing 1st, 2nd or 3rd- in the many prize runs on the Yucatan Peninsula.

(Read Hector’s blog (in Spanish) here.)

1000 Americans: Veronika, Cancun

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

2 seconds of Veronika's dance

Veronika is not only a massage therapist, she is also a dancer in the Maria Felix dance company. Together with her colleagues she performs several times per week in exclusive resorts around Cancun, whirl-winding through many Mexican regions in Dance and clothing.

Off stage, she is a timid, quiet woman, but the moment the lights shine and the music starts, she is like a tornado.

I have managed to capture 2.5 seconds above…

(Read Veronika’s blog (in Spanish) here)

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…