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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: Ulises, Playa de Carmen, Mexico

October 17, 2009 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Ulises, Playa del carmen

Enjoying life and the multiculture around him, Ulises not only makes a mean veggie ceviche, but also works as a filmmaker in bustling Playa de Carmen.

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 :)