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
“Don’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.
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.
Finally 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.
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 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.
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.
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. A 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
I 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.
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
One 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.
Ivan 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.
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.
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
Meeting old friends in Cancun
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…
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.
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).
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:
The mother ship has landed…
It had had taken some planning and headaches, but we had managed. Both 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!
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.)
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…
Day 292-297, 29 April – 4 May 2009: Baja California Sur, pt2: Hot roads, Bahia Concepcion, hidden gems and cruisers
29 April 2009: Mulege – Buenaventura beach, 43km, 500m up and down
Once 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.
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.
30th April 2009: Buenaventura beach – Bahia Concepcion South, 20 km, 150 m up/down
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.
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…
Though 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.
The 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.
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.
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…
It 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.
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!
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…
Larry has a place in Primo Tapia, where he likes to spend as much of his time as possible. Though previously a tri-athlete, now back problems are preventing him for doing active sporting, only swimming gives some relief.
Still he hosts cyclists through WarmShowers and enjoys showing them the view of the ocean from his front porch…
2nd March 2009: LA – Lomita via Santa Monica, 50km
We 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.
Not 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.
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
The 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 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
We 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.
He 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
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…
Some people are Couchsurfers without evening knowing it and Doug is a great example. he contacted us through the contact form on WorldOnaBike.com and sent:
Just in case you don’t have a place to stay as you approach San Francisco, I thought I’d at least provide an option – my very spartan/small apartment in Sausalito CA (3 miles north of the golden gate bridge). Unfortunately I can’t offer much more than a warm, dry place to stay, a shower & (carpeted floor) for sleeping. (…)
Doug (me? – avid cyclist – have cycled N/S & W/E across the US…years+++ ago, international traveler, CPA and building contractor by trade, single, no kids)
We had some great time with Doug, he took us up the viewpoint to overlook San Francisco, helped us out with all kinds of errands and made some great meals. At one point he mentioned that it would be great if there would be a website to connect cyclist or other travellers with hosts and we pointed him towards CouchSurfing and WarmShowers, of which he is now a member, so contact him if you are near!
And if you already live in the area and want to get fit, join him on a fast bikeride
Joe Kurmaskie is a famous cyclist as he has written and published many stories about his travels, very recommended for cyclists as well as couch potatoes with a sense of humour and adventure.
He got the nickname “The Metal Cowboy” from a blind person he met on the way… He also met his wife Beth on one of his trips, and it is very nice to see them and their family (3 boys) together now!
Joe is trying to get 1000 1000 Americans to (re)start cycling again before August 9, 2009, see also the news announcement on BikeTravellers.com.
This post is a thank you to all the wonderful people that have hosted us on the way and offers advice for travelers as well as hosts.
For those new to Couchsurfing, WarmShowers.org and the Hospitality Club, these are networks of people opening their house and/or local knowledge up to other travellers, supplying them with free lodging (a ‘couch’, though it can be a spare room, a sofa or just a spot on the floor or in the garden).
Couchsurfing is the largest , currently there are almost a million members inviting strangers into their homes, following the mission of Couchsurfing:
“CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding.”
WarmShowers.org is an older, but much smaller organisation (less than 10,000 members), but it is especially focused on BikeTravellers.
“The Warm Showers List is a list of Internet cyclists who have offered their hospitality towards touring cyclists. The extent of the hospitality depends on the host and may range from simply a spot to pitch a tent to meals, a warm (hot!) shower, and a bed.”
This has some advantages:
- the hosts generally have cycled themselves, so you do not have to explain why or how you do it
- They usually have storage space for your bike
- They might have spare parts, but at least useful tools
- They know all the local cycle routes and the best way to get out of cities etc
- They are very friendly and almost always will answer positively to any requests
The disadvantage is of course that there are fewer members, but usually the ‘quality’ is more important here than the ‘quantity’.
The Hospitality Club is the second largest organisation, with currently about 330.000 members. Their mission is similar:
Our aim is to bring people together – hosts and guests, travelers and locals. Thousands of Hospitality Club members around the world help each other when they are traveling – be it with a roof for the night or a guided tour through town.
The club is supported by volunteers who believe in one idea: by bringing travelers in touch with people in the place they visit, and by giving “locals” a chance to meet people from other cultures we can increase intercultural understanding and strengthen the peace on our planet.
Joining any of these 3 organisations is free, takes just a minute and everyone is welcome. Members can look at each other’s profiles, send messages and post comments about their experience on the website. Of course you can become a member of all of them, it will increase your chance of finding a host and to meeting new travellers. You can be very clear about what you can offer and what you request: if you only want to meet up for a drink, that is ok. If you have a backyard where people can pitch a tent, that is perfect as well. if you want to offer a spare room and serve dinner that is wonderful, but not required. if you need a week’s notice, that’s no problem (though many travelers, especially BikeTravellers, cannot tell exactly when they arrive as it is dependent on wind..)
We had only ‘Couchsurfed’ a few times so far, but Samir was a professional. Even though they had surfed only a few times themselves, he gave us all kind of tips about how to find hosts and how to use Couchsurfing more effectively, though these are mostly true for the others as well:
Samir’s CS tips:
- Sign up for local CS groups (the ‘Amsterdam’ or ‘California’ group etc, any group of the place you are travelling in), so you can easily get in contact with members and post message in the group.
- Check for people who are online in your area (CS shows where you recently logged in from). This is actually how Samir found us, he just checked which CS-ers where near him and checked our profile!
- Of course, if you want to be hosted, you will need a complete profile, so add much information about yourself.
- Try to meet other CS-ers locally if you are new. This way they can see you face to face, and vouch for you.
Why would you sign up with any of these organisations?
- You can help travellers finding a safe place to stay, or even just help them out with useful information or just a cup of tea or a warm shower & a washing machine. Travellers do not need fancy places, just a roof can be great.
- You can save travellers a lot of money, they otherwise had to spend on expensive hotel rooms. This money is much better spent on travelling more, food, a museum etc!
- You meet many different people: travellers with great stories about their hometown/-country, travelling tips and much more. It is a free way to get a good bite of ‘strange’ culture!
- You can show the world, that not all strangers are bad people and that it is easy to help a fellow human being; even though the media will try to convince you to believe the ‘fear culture’ (don’t trust anybody, axis of evil, discrimination etc). Fear is big business, with the weapons industry leading the way…
- To show that the Internet is a great thing. Our generation is empowered by it and can use it to make the world a better place.
- To find hospitality in unexpected places by unexpected people and restore faith in humanity.
- To get first-hand knowledge about the place and area you are staying in.
- To save a lot of money which is much better spent otherwise
- To see how people are really living in the place/country you are staying in. No Hotel can teach you about local breakfasts, the way people talk to their kids etc in foreign countries!
- If you are a cyclist, it is a great way to have a day ‘off’: when you know your gear is in a safe place, you can go for a ride, without luggage, or walk into town, without a bike for a change. If you do not have to watch your bike, you can visit museums, shops, a swimming pool, library, or simply have a siesta in the park. You would see cities, you would otherwise have to pass.
- You might be able to freshen up (a Warm Shower) or even do some laundry and generally load up your energy levels.
- If you like pets, you will love the chance to play with the dog or cat (hosts generally have pets, unless they travel a lot themselves :))
We already met so many wonderful people, many of them are mentioned in the ‘1000 Americans’ Category. Most of them we would never have met, if it was not for the 3 initiatives mentioned here, and without them we would have camped more, but also learned and seen a lot less…
Of course you must always use your own mind when deciding to stay with somebody as in culture, both online as well as offline, there are a few less good people trying to spoil it for the rest. Whatever you do, in the end it is always your own responsibility/choice, but do not let this stop you from travelling and meeting new people.
We have stayed at several people, who either had no internet connection, and/or no idea about the organisations above. Still they invited us into their homes, becase they wanted to help us out, dry us, feed us, listen to our stories or share theirs.
They found us on the street, in front of a library, looking for a place to camp, or stumbled upon our website and invited us: spontaneous Warm Showers!
They are great hosts, who offer help from their hearts without even thinking about the huge internet resources. As one host said: ‘You know, they should make a website to connect travelers!’. When we told them about the 3 mentioned above he was pleasantly surprised