April 23, 2011

The word is out.  I’ve gone back home to New Jersey, where I plan to remain for I don’t know how long in order to take some time for myself and to be with my family.  It was a tough decision, but one that feels right for now.  Kurt has proceeded on south and you can keep up with his adventures at www.pocket-thunder.blogspot.com.  I continuously thank everyone for taking an interest in this blog and assure you this hiatus will not last forever.

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Lagging on the blog posts I know, but just wanted to give a quick hello and let you know we are in Honduras, heading for La Moskitia.  Some hollowed out canoes, sweet yucca and muddy single track await our future.  In the case that I don’t get this thing updated in the next day or two, it will surely be weeks before we are around internet again, so thanks in advance for your patience.  If you please, follow the Spot in the meantime to find out where we are.  Those satellites never sleep…

Misty mountain hop…

April 3, 2011

As far as Guatemala goes, the region of Peten occupies about 1/3 of the country, yet possesses less than 3% of it’s population.  The area touches closest to the Lacandon forest of Mexico, a place we visited a while back as we looped from San Cristobal in Chiapas down to Los Guacamayas and the likes.  This time we got to experience the same as before, with various birds swooping and calling, ancient Ceiba and mahogany trees gracing the roadsides and howler monkeys playing their part in keeping it noisy both day and night.

Just after the town of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, we start our climb into some magnificently windy and dense green mountains, with canyon views dropping off swiftly on each side.  For the next few days we rode (and sometimes I pushed) over one of the most beautiful territories I have ever seen in my life.  The days were hot and muggy, some including a bit of fog and rain, but nothing broke our stride as we climbed up over one range and were swept down to the base of another only to begin the process all over again.  As Kurt so eloquently put it, “If there were a podium, this road would be on it.”

As we are only taking in a bit of Guatemala with our route, in an effort to make some steady southward progress, it will be these days spent in the mountains which imprint on our hearts the beauty and kindness that Guatemala has to offer.

 

Waking in a foggy mist...

...can be a most beautiful thing...

Antonio and his sister joined us for lunch one day, as we took refuge near his family's sheltered wood pile. We shared some rice and hot cocoa while they shared some incredibly cute smiles and questions...

We spent the better half of this day climbing in the rain...

 

Despite the dirt and water mixture, the roads remained rideable the entire time, staying packed down by the trucks which frequent the route...

 

 

Show stopping views...

 

...do help to calm a constantly churning heart and mind...

...bringing light to areas that might otherwise be dark...

One of the more precarious campspots we've had involved this pannier-less shuttle of bikes through a delicate cornfield perched on a hillside...

The different shades of love...

Thankfully not every beverage comes in a plastic bag. Kurt and I call these "healthy sodas"...

Many families along the way were drying stashes of cacao, one of the crops in the mountains. I was let to taste a piece and even though newly dried, I found it bitter and delicious...

The streets of Cabahon, one of the largest mountain towns...

And the majestic Rio Cabahon, helping to ever create the deepness of the valley and the greenness of the landscape, not to mention a running bathtub for two dusty gringos...

We climbed...

...and we climbed. This day in the sunshine...

Upon entering one of the villages, we met Che Che, a teacher at the small local school. The families in these mountains are mainly indigenous Maya or ladinos (mixed race)...

Waiting for our eggs to firm on up for the midday eating...

And as always, what goes up... must eventually go down....

 

These Guatemalan days…

April 3, 2011

After our introduction to Guatemala via Flores and the surrounding towns, we set off in a southerly direction, heading towards the towns of La Libertad and Sayaxuhe and what looked to be some long lusted after mountainous ranges.

I will add that we were now down to viewing the last two pages of our trusted Mexico Guia Roji map, which luckily had also contained maps for both Belize and Guatemala.  The pages are dog-eared and worn, but only the back cover is threatening to expel itself, proving it to be one of the most useful and durable atlases I’ve seen.

We gathered our first real impressions of Guatemala on these days, camping in cornfields and riding alongside the mass movements heading to Sunday church, where an almost circus-like tune was sure to be found thundering from the open doors and windows.  The children took great pleasure in pointing out the fact that we were riding by, shouting at every opportunity “Gringo! Gringo! Gringo!”  This was usually followed by some seriously enthusiastic waving.  Goods were a bit cheaper than we had seen on the trip so far (as we expected) and the purchases of ice pops, fruit and water helped keep the heat at bay.

Man it seemed hot!  To be expected I know, having not too long ago come from a place that unless you were moving around vigorously outside, it was best not to stay out for fear of frozen limbs.  The opposite is occurring here.  The sun has got you up and on your toes by 6, 7am at the latest, and usually by 10 I, for one, am soaked almost completely through with sweat and able to brush salt crystals off my arms.  The sun and the heat just envelope you, seemingly reminding you every kilometer that you are indeed heading south.

 

These cheap bags of water amount to an awful amount of plastic consumption. On the plus side, they are found cold (sometimes nearly frozen) in almost every market we pass...

One may think "why not just build a bridge?" Valid. However, we get to ride over bridges all the time. We enjoy these occasional extremely short distance water taxiing...

5 quetzal (about 75 cent US) plate of chicken, rice and tortillas. Fuel for the body found at a truck stop junction...

He obviously wanted some too...

 

So we’ve made it!  Our third country in what will be a line of many.  It’s funny to think of how much time we spent in Mexico, just over 6 months, and now how we will be crossing borders relatively quickly on our way down to South America.  I am anxious to hit the road today, leaving from the town of Flores situated on Lago Peten Itza, and head south on some dirt roads Kurt has dug up through consulting some National Geographic maps.

I will be sure to fill you all in more once we get a week or so under our belts, but for now I can say that… it is beautiful and the people are amazingly kind and friendly.  Like most things, we have been warned about traveling in Guatemala.  This may hold true for Guatemala City, though we will not be visiting there so we can’t say for sure.  As always, every warning we get and image placed in our head is noted, but is quickly dispelled within hours of being wherever we are.  It has been true for Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.  People’s ability to cast fear on what they may not necessarily have a firm grasp on never ceases to amaze me.

Here are a few photos of our first couple of days here.  I hope everyone has a nice weekend and can enjoy some outside time!

 

The obligatory border crossing photo...

Our camp sight buddies. The night we ended up camping near this pasture area, we had been getting dumped on by rain all day. We made a hasty tent set up above a graveyard at dusk and spent the evening defending our tent against leaf cutter ants...

The town of Flores, which sits on an island in the middle of Lago Peten Itza...

We found purchasing vegetables and bread from the markets in Santa Elena and picnicking by the lake was the cheapest way to go...

Not as colonial as some of the old Mexican cities, but there were some beautiful cobblestone streets to navigate...

The town of Flores is both colorful and accommodating. We found a room for $70 Quetzals (about $9 US). The room was nice and small, and included a fan and a bathroom, as well as free internet and a great rooftop to look out over the lake...

Flores is a popular spot for language students, as lessons are relatively cheap around the lake. There was no shortage of international travelers passing through the streets...

 

Kurt and I sipped a few beers in honor of St. Patty's day, now aptly dubbed Shane Patrick's Day, and watched the sun fade for the day...

 

 

 

I’ve been listening to quite a lot of Bjork these days.  Dreamy music for these dreamy Belizean days.

At the end of the Hummingbird Highway, Kurt and I hit the Great Western Highway and made a big ol’ left.  We spent a good bit of time in the town of Belmopan, catching up on the internet and discussing reptiles and such with a man in the restaurant.  We also took some time and visited the hospital where Kurt caught up getting his Yellow Fever shot, something that will be essential for crossing into South America.  The shot was absolutely free and he was in and out in about 10 minutes.  Makes you really wonder why the US has to make it so difficult for all of us to get proper health care at an affordable rate.

It wasn’t long before we were scooped up by a loving family and offered not only their backyard to camp in, but also fed to the brim with sausage, beans and fry jack.  We watched the news all together, mulling over the catastrophe unraveling in Japan.  The next morning we had an early start which put us into the next town of San Ignacio in no time.

San Ignacio is a small but touristy town, used maily as a jumping off point for the nearby Guatemala border and the close ruins of Tikal.  We spent the evening out at some amazing waterfalls, Kurt doing backflips into the water while a local kid impressed us with his jumping in from fairly high tree limbs.  The next day it was a meander to the border and the exit was an easy one, costing us $37 BZ each , a tax we were well aware of before reaching the crossing.  And then it was goodbye Belize…. until next time!

 

Marie Sharp's, the Belizean hot sauce of choice. Made with the finest of ingredients, I was sure to pick up a bottle to bring along with us...

Kurt snapped this photo as we headed along the highway looking for a place to pull off and camp. I really do love the way it turned out...

We spent the night with Patti and her family, an extremely kind bunch of folks living alongside the Great Western Highway...

Like a good mother does, we were fed to the brim both in the evening and in the morning...

As excited as I am for Guatemala, I will be a bit sad to leave the Caribbean feel behind. I don't seem to ever tire of reggae music blasting at all hours, around every corner...

A good place to stock up on all the fresh fruits and vegetables Belize has to offer...

We passed through Santa Elena and crossed the bridge over into San Ignacio. These are considered sister towns and they are the last big towns in Belize, resting about 12 or so miles from the Guatemala border...

As I've mentioned before, Belize's first language is English, but there is a Creole spin to most of it...

Some places in San Ignacio have a very Louisianan feel to them, with very polished clapboard houses and big swinging porch chairs...

I normally do not photograph people. It is not something I feel very comfortable with, the idea of sticking a camera in someone's face has never sat well with me. However, I do want to get better at sharing images of personalities I meet along the way. I decided I am going to suck it up and start asking more people if I can take their picture. After talking to this Rasta for a while, he said it was okay and let me snap this one...

 

Coconut ice cream, one of the many things made out of the abundance of cocoas in the area...

 

And if I didn't need to give you one more reason to love Belize, there you go. Belize does work hard at respecting and taking care of its female population...

 

 

 

Our whole reason for first heading south down the coastal road was to eventually hit up the Hummingbird Highway and ride the north westerly direction on it.  As it is fully paved now, we were rewarded with a good day and a half ride, through beautiful, hilly terrain.  Belize’s greenery casts dramatic views along the way and each curve and sweeping hill afforded our legs to work back into the shape we need them in for the Guatemala highlands.

 

Greenery at it's finest...

The whole place smells like citrus, with orange trees lining the roadside...

We were constantly passed and waved at by huge trucks carrying the fruit here and there. Shown here is one of the loading stations situated at the edge of an orchard...

Kurt waits while I dry off after a swim...

And just to keep it realistic... unfortunately, even in the most prettiest of places, there is never a shortage of human generated trash, waiting to be burned for disposal...

Wanting to ease our bodies back into the constant sun, we took many breaks throughout the day. At one place we found some checkers to occupy our time...

All that hard thinking prevailed, as Kurt's last double jump really did me in...

The whole town gathered round for this match, so naturally we stopped in the shade to catch a few minutes as well...

Those emerald hills and painted sky were there around every bend, making for an excellent day of riding...

 

Belize part deux…

March 18, 2011

Given the impending wet season, we really are on the scoot to get down to Panama.  We forewent the southern part of Belize this go round, promising in our hearts that we will return one day and spend some serious time exploring the lower half and it’s subsequent cayes.

When I first arrived in Belize, I started to think of how I would extend my visa to stay longer than the allowed 30 days (something I’ve heard is pretty easy to do.)  I’d quickly fallen quite in love with the country and it’s people.  On this second return, we knew we only would have but a few days, traversing south and then west, before venturing into Guatemala.  We enjoyed them just the same, and soaked in the country with every mile we rode.

 

Jessica, all ready for school. We hung out a bit, camping close to her family's home. She told me she swims in the Belize river behind her and the dolphins keep her away from the alligators...

We linked up with the coastal road, which went south. It was beautiful, but very sandy at parts and full of jarring washboard the whole time...

With the scorching sun on our winterized bodies...

...taking multiple dips were essential...

Savannah-like in parts...

...spiky in others...

Roadside haircuts...

We took a hop out to Gales Point, and rode the path through town. It is said that Gales Point's modern inhabitants are the descents of logwood cutters or escaped slaves from the 1700's. One of the world's most renowned drummers and drum makers, Emmeth Young, also lives here...

 

It felt great to be back on the bikes...

...with days ending like this again...

 

 

Touching back down…

March 18, 2011

What took us 6 months to ride our bikes toward, we flew into in a matter of hours.  We were right back in Cancun, landing in an airport we had only visited once in order to try to extend our Meixco visas in their immigration department.  We stepped off the plane, tanless, carrying backpacks and wearing clean clothes.  The reactions we got were funny.

“Hey, backpackers!  Wanna ride? Wanna ride”  Wanna taxi?  Wanna go to the hotels?”

“We’re cyclists” we grumbled.  And then we started our walk out to the highway where we planned to hitch as far down to the Belize border as we could.

If you’ve ever cycled toured, you can probably relate to the feeling of pride you have when you arrive somewhere by bike, having rode there all by your own power and gumption.  Being without bike, we did not feel very whole.  Luckily, it only took us two rides to get all the way down to the border.  We arrived about 3 kilometers from the checkpoint and settled our tentless selves into a cheap motel for the night.  The next day, we walked across into Belize (not getting charged an exit fee this time, thank you Mexico).  We happened to catch a bus right there from Customs all the way to Ladyville, where the airport is, for $8 Belize each (total $8 US for both of us).

By early afternoon, we were unlocking the door that had safely kept our bikes from view in the semi-abandoned hotel next to the Belize Airport.  John and Judy, the missionary proprietors of the place, had kindly kept our bikes secure for the almost two months we were gone.  We can not thank them enough for this help.

We did unfortunately find, to all of our surprise, the room had not received enough ventilation, and most of our stuff was  molded over and the bikes pretty rusty.  It was a bit of a sock to the gut.  Based on the way the outside of our frames look, we shudder to think of all the deterioration there must be on the insides.  These last few months definitely took off some serious life from the bikes.  But… what are you gonna do?  We cleaned and fixed them best we could and washed our stuff, including our sleeping bags, which were very overdue for a washing anyway.

By the second evening in Belize, we were whole again, setting off in a direction untraveled by us.

 

From the air, back to the blue...

We spent the afternoon after landing getting to the border. Within two rides, we were there. One trucker gave us a ride all the way to Chetumal. I happily sat in the back singing along to the 90's power dance jams he put on especially for us. There's nothing like a little Ace of Base to get out those plane ride cobwebs. Overall the journey went like this. We hitched...

...we walked...

...we took a bus...

...and one more breezy ride...

...and we were back where we had left off,. the Ladyville airport...

The picture I know you have all been waiting for. That is where our bikes were stored for the time being, thanks to John and Judy, the owners of the joint...

Hello mold. I'm taking my pants back now, thanks...

And rust!...

Sheesh. Had we had more time and the circumstances been different, we would have definitely done a bit more research on a dryer place to store our stuff...

Some comedy for the day. Given the total house cleaning of the bikes and panniers, I was able to find this huge (the picture doesn't do it justice) rusty bolt Kurt had hidden in one of my pockets months ago, apparently. Go ahead, you can laugh. I did. And to think, I'm already a pretty slow buffalo...

What it looks like when our bags explode...

Both of our chains needed to be replaced. Luckily, we do carry extras that di not get rusted over. Kurt's is actually a chain and a half, given his bike's length...

And some new goodies were added, such as this little frame bag Kurt had made for me while we were in New Jersey...

It's perfect for holding all of those little bits that normally get lost in my handlebar bag...

And this great recycled bike pin, thanks to my cousin Toni...

 

Farm life…

March 14, 2011

For those of you who also read Kurt’s blog (and have from the beginning) the dashing Irishman mentioned in the Harriman post and this next little bit may sound familiar.  Yes folks, that is our good ol’ buddy Hubert.  Hubert was a roommate of Kurt’s back in Oakland (by random chance) and then coincidently my neighbor (also by random chance, and the way Kurt and I met).  When Kurt initially left on this trip, him and Hubert left together and traveled as far as Wyoming together, where Kurt set off north for the Canadian border, and Hue continued east back to the Big Apple.  He’s been living and farming the land in New York State for well over a year now, growing the most delectable greens the people on the West Side of Manhattan have ever seen.

We spent a few days up with Hue at his farm and used it as a jumping off point to go visit another cousin of mine living in nearby New Paltz.  Again, the days were fantastic and filled with great rides, fresh air, family time and a lot of singing and dancing to Justin Beiber songs (my cousin’s kids Callie and Daphne, not Hubert… at least not while we were in his company).

 

No farm would be right without the farm fresh eggs...

The talk of the town greens...

 

One of the highlights of our home trip was meeting Hue's fantastic girlfriend, and deer butcher, Sarah...

 

Sarah shows me the ropes...

Focus and precision...

Draggin, one of the farm's resident cats. Draggin was the only one of five kittens to survive in a litter. They don't call her Draggin for nothing...

Daphne and Callie, getting together for the morning brush before heading out to school...

Another day of super riding. We ventured back from New Paltz, heading for Hue's farm. Hue and Sarah met us down the road a bit and we toured the nearby mountains. The cold fresh air was completely rejuvenating...

The 209 Diner, located on.... yup, the 209. THE best diner I have ever been to in my life. The ordering ran the normal diner gambit... eggplant parm sandwich, Ruben, eggs, bacon and pancakes, egg salad, and a whole lot of fries...

...but nowhere near as good as this meal we all sat down to at the farm. Venison, greens, cabbage and various root vegetables. (p.s.- tasted to good I didn't even put ketchup on it!)...

My cousin Toni and the man with the green thumb, Hubert...

 

Another highlight from home and one that was put on the top of Kurt’s “fun things done while being there for Kelly on the east coast” list was a day we spent riding around NYC with my cousin Mike.  The weekend began with an awesome dinner with Mike’s wife Christina, their most precious of a child, Franky Beans, Toni and Parker.  It wasn’t soon after we got a great night sleep and were spoiled again by a morning breakfast, leaving time for Kurt to fall absolutely headlong into a Lego project.  In the meantime, I got schooled in some photography knowledge thanks to Mike, an extremely skilled photographer.  Check out his work at Beneventophoto.com.

Around 11 or so Mike, Kurt and I set out to ride around the city.  Our route took us from Park Slope, Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, through Redhook, along the water out to the George Washington Bridge for a quick visit to the Little Red Lighthouse.  Then we climbed up to the bridge and crossed it half way to get a view, before heading into  Harlem and Central Park.  We proceeded further into Midtown Manhattan, with all the jazz and blinking lights and show stopping traffic and commotion, then around St. Mark’s area and Thompson Square Park, before our final zip back over the Manhattan Bridge, round Prospect Park and a return to the house.  What a fantastic day of riding.  The smile on my face caught the wind and had me dragging at some points.  It was that big!  We stopped to marvel at the folks on fancy road bikes racing around the park, we stopped for amazing pizza, we stopped to carry our bikes up and down some stairs, seeking out a better commute route for Mike.

I’m not really a city person.  Especially New York.  I like it, and I appreciate it for all it has to offer with it’s history and  diversity, but given the option, I have for the most part kept my distance.  The day of riding a bike around rather than driving or navigating public transportation gave me a whole new appreciation for the city.  Or maybe it was just the nice time spent with Mike and the family.  Probably that.  Either way, I’m proud to say we zipped through one of the busiest cities in the world and came away with an awesome day had.

 

The view from Park Slope, Brooklyn...

I spent the morning learning about photography and the actual working of a camera and its lenses, something I had no previous knowledge of. My cousin Mike is a fantastic photographer (not to mention adventurer, husband, brother, father, etc.)...

Kurt and Mike as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge...

Midtown Manhattan. Believe it or not, a very fun place to ride through, keeping you on your toes at all times...

The architect and photographer at work...

The sub arctic science station comes to life, complete with a spiral staircase and connecting walkway (Photo: Mike Benevento)...

...and the excitement Beans woke up to when he got to see it in its finished glory (Photo: Mike Benevento)...

 

Nascar was just one bit of our time spent down in the DC area visiting my brother Kevin and special friends Kate, Alison and Kate’s dog, Poofy Dufkins. We also got out for a good ride in rural Virginia one day and down to Roosevelt Island the next, which is a pretty nice place to stroll around and read memorials about nature preservation.

It was on Saturday afternoon, after some great coordination by my brother Kev, that many, many folks gathered together in a downtown Irish Pub to raise our glasses to Shane and spend the night hanging out.  It took some kids 7-plus hours to get down from the Long Island area, and they came anyway!  Super rad.  Getting to be with such a massive group of kids, all hurting but ready to party down, was truly a fantastic way to celebrate Shane’s life.  I think about that night a lot now, and all of the friends, old and new, that I got to see and spend a little time with.  You guys and girls, and all the strength and love you have, are with me on my travels.

And then there was Nascar!   What a day it was!  Who knew getting together to watch race cars go around in a track could be so much fun?  My “guy” (Ryan Newman, based on a piece of paper I picked out of a hat) made it so far in the day, but got knocked out in a crash.  There also was a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’, pork pulling, chicken grilling, keg downing (though Lemery’s brew was the best J) and back patio chilling to be had.  A great way to spend a Sunday.  There will be no more eye-rolling at the mention of Nascar to this girl, that’s for sure.

 

Views from the saddle. A great day spent riding in rural Virginia...

...through quaint farmland...

We scoured the internet before we left, seeking out the biggest hills in the area. We got the rolling kind...

Preparation is the key...

Three of the finest individuals my lifetime has granted me with, dressed in their Nascar finest (Note: the photo stops where Perry's legs begin)...

Crowded around for the thunder of engines, we gathered to watch the race begin. Kevin was front and center...

Troy takes it all in. I'd like to think I wasn't the only one who learned a lot about the industry and downright lifestyle that is Nascar that day...

Another self portrait, as seen through Morgan's reflection...

That's how Kev and Kurt got it done...

 

Via Bicycles…

March 14, 2011

Right off South Street, at the corner of 9th, you’ll find THE greatest, neatest, nicest, funnest (not a word, I know), most perfect vintage bicycle store I have ever experienced.  I had heard a lot about Via Bicycles from Kurt, as he had worked here a few times while staying in Philadelphia in-between past adventures.  I had even peered in the window during another visit to Philly a few years ago.  This was the first time I got to enter the wonderland of a shop that is Via Bicycles.

I must note that as wonderful and inspiring and eye-opening as the shop is, my most favorite part was the owner Curtis, who is a good friend of Kurt’s.  Curtis is without a doubt one of the most down to earth, genuine dudes I’ve had the chance of meeting in a long time.  His love and care for the people and things around him emanates from his Super Mario-like stature.  Thanks to Curtis, we got to explore not only the many levels of his historic bike shop, but also got to experience some nice spots in Philly we might not have had we not been guests/friends of Curtis‘s.  Curtis let us crash on his futon couch and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to chat the evening and morning away with him before it was back to business as usual.

24 hours was way too short of a time to spend in Philly, but it was all we has on this merry-go-round of a trip.  Thanks to our time in the shop and our time spent with Curtis, my mind now dreams deeper when I dive into thinking about bikes and the lives they have and continue to foster through time.

 

Used bicycles, ready to find new partners, or for their new partners to find them...

I would argue there is no need for advertising, everyone in Philly knows where the best place to find a classic gem or bring their loved one in for a tune up or part...

Parts, parts, parts for the bikes, bikes, bikes...

A classic Columbia, the first mass producers of America bicycles...

Via definitely has the well stocked library feel to it...

The Penny Farthing. I'd like to add this is a true high wheel bicycle, not a replica...

Bicycle paraphernalia everywhere...

Some of my favorites were the bicycle themed old postcards...

...especially this one with the raised lettering...

Nothing bicycle related seems to get denied from the collection...

 

...like the embroidery...

 

Springy seats, a comfy suspension system for your rear...

Beautiful scrolly lugs...

A massive skip tooth chain ring, hearts and all...

A skirt guard so you don't get caught yours caught in the wheel...

The coolest, cutest bike in the world. Note: every rim captured in this photo is made of wood!

Old, old, old school...

Kurt with my favorite, most respected part of Via Bicycles, owner Curtis...

 

 

Harriman State Park…

March 14, 2011

About 30 miles north of my home town, just up a bit on the New York Thurway, is Harriman State Park.  This has been the outdoor stomping ground for the better part of my young life, and to me, it strongly rivals the beauty of all the spectacular places I have seen so far around the world.  Kurt and I drove up one Sunday with my Dad to visit his favorite market, Auntie El’s, and we took in a quick view as we passed along on the windy and picturesque road of Seven Lakes Drive.  Almost immediately we hatched a plan to get some winter camping in.

So, late one Saturday afternoon, accompanied by my cousin Morgan, we headed up into the snow and icicles.  The Appalachian Trail runs right through the most precious parts of the park, so huts are in place for all the thru hikers.  One of these cozy and well-built 3 walled structures was to serve as our spot for the night.  Though we arrived late in the day, our timing was perfect, with the sun was going down the glorious way I remember it being in those woods.  And the best part of all… our great friend Hubert came meandering through the snow, having taken the longer half-a-day hike in, just as Kurt was working his way into what would later become the wood for our not one, but two raging fires.  The night was awesome and merry, roasting pork and duck and donning our best beer jackets.

I was happy to add this experience to my list of fond memories of the times I have spent in Harriman State Park.

 

Heading up to the shelter...

 

And the beauty that resides in the park. I rest my case...

 

These woods are a home to me, this kind of moss on these trees more familiar than most things...

 

 

Morgan, Kurt and Hubert make their way through the dead wood. This process alone brings some good heat to the body...

New York state of mind. Kids sleeping in on a Sunday morning...

We spent the evening wrestling like 9 year olds and sliding down these snowy hills, and the night cozy and settled in the warm hut. Everything was about as perfect as it could be...

 

Back on track…

March 10, 2011

A big breezy hello from Belize!  Wanted to let you all know Kurt and I have made it back to some seriously rusted bikes and molded belongings.  But that’s the worst of it!  We made it down to the Embassy Hotel, just outside the Belize Airport, within a day of arriving at the Cancun Airport… a hitchhiking feat we are most proud of.  I will be back tracking a bit with the postings of some of the things we got into while home in New Jersey, but I will try to get up to date in no time with our current progress south.  Remember… you can always check our Spot page (follow the link on the Spot page at the top of this blog) to find out our daily locations via GPS.

I will tell you that my heart has gotten lighter and lighter with each passing moment.  Getting back to it has not been an easy task, there has been a lot of heavy thoughts and feelings accompanied with traveling again and being away from my family.  But, as I said, each day’s morning brings me happiness and excitement as to what might be up around the bend.

Looking forward to sharing it with you…

Gettin' back at it!...

Currently I sit in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, stretching my legs between connecting flights.  Yes, indeedy… Kurt and I are making our way back towards our bikes, which have been waiting patiently in a hotel just outside the Belize Airport.  Our New Jersey time has totaled just around 7 weeks, making it a longer than normal home stay.  Speaking honestly, there are no two ways to cut the pain we all had to experience together as we gathered to lay my brother Shane to rest, the reason for the emergency trip home.  I will tell you that the healing has begun, but there is a long road ahead all of us.  That’s all I’ve got on that topic at the moment.

The rest of the time was certainly filled with beautiful and fun distractions.  Below is a smattering of photos taken while home.  When the dust settled, it felt good to get out my camera and capture images and feelings from a place that is so familiar, yet seemed totally new in its own way this time.  This was also Kurt’s first true experience with New Jersey and getting to meet my whole BIG family.  Just his presence was my sanity for the most part.

When we first arrived, the earth was buried in snow and frozen over.  We stayed long enough to see the effects of a harsh winter melt away.  We were able to share in the first little glimpses of spring, seeing the grass again and hearing chirpy birds in the mornings.

I look forward to sharing the other photos and stories I have with you in a bit.

 

The crust, showing off winter's hard work. Shoveling out a driveway is no longer an action accomplished with just a plastic snow shovel. We had to employ some serious gardening trowels to break through the icy layers...

One excellent morning routine. Kurt watching Animal Planet with Amber...

Kurt goes to work on the borrowed Pfaff. A fine german sewing machine, the master sewer of our group worked out some repairs and made some useful bags and pouches for our bikes...

We attended the first Lehigh lacrosse game of the season. The men have dedicated their season to my late brother Shane, who was a captain of the team during his time at Lehigh. Before the start, we shared in a moment of silence with the players, the fans, my family and many of Shane's friends and teammates who came out to show their support...

No trip home would be complete without a visiting Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the home of my friend Melissa and her family. Besides being a fantastic friend, Mel is also an extremely talented yoga instructor, artist and graphic designer. Here is one of her latest works. You can find more work of hers at her website, Mesa Enterprises...

Mel's attention to detail and love for all things oceanic never goes unnoticed...

Yes, that is a crumb cake that casts its own shadow. There was certainly no shortage of food being dropped off at the house at all times. Kurt and I did our best to keep up with it all...

Gahhhh! At one point we took a trip down to Philly and DC and were kindly lent my cousin's car. My hope is that more people will get the same itchy feeling I do from numbers like these. There's no time like the present when it comes to trying to make moves independent of the oil industry ...

 

We took some time with my mom's middle school class, talking about the trip and answering questions. It was great fun. The kids are extremely astute and shared their own great stories of traveling, bikes, animals, etc. These bright kids even joked around with Kurt as he took a sip from the water fountain outside the class, saying "don't worry, you can drink this. no problem"...

 

 

A little self portrait while hanging out and having some coffee and tea after a quick morning ride...

And Carina, who braved the commute between Brooklyn and Jersey more in the last 3 weeks than she had in the last 3 years. As can be imagined, the time spent with family and friends was the most special of it all...

 

 

 

Our gang of five spent a few blissful days traversing the eastern side of Belize, making our way towards Belize City and further on to Caye Caulker.  The days were spent chugging along on flat dirt roads and the nights spent swatting at the mosquitoes and diving into our respective tents for relief.

As with our earlier experience with the folks of Belize, every interaction we had proved to be better than the last.  We met several road bikers along the way, all of which offered us places to stay or friends to contact along the way.  We enjoyed longer mornings with coffee and tea chatter and midday dips in tiny rivers.  After a failed attempt at visiting the Belikin Brewery together (too expensive for our tastes) we sat together making plans and tracing routes before splitting from Evan and Sarah, who were both headed to language school in Guatemala.

From there, Kurt, Silke and I put some pepper on it in order to get through Belize City and onto the last water taxi of the day. We’d been warned several times by many locals that Belize City is not really a place to hang out these days.  We take a lot of advice in stride, but this was one bit we did respect and chose to adhere to.  I did not feel uneasy as we rode through the streets toward the marina, the place reminded me actually of certain parts of East Oakland.  Either way, we did manage to grab the last water taxi to Caye Caulker and set off in the setting sun.  Kurt and I had plans to work with a school on the island, helping to teach basic bike maintenance.

Beautiful days...

...spent riding with new friends through the cane fields...

An impromptu break. The roads were quaint and quiet, perfect for allowing 5 cyclists to stop in the middle when the feeling presented itself...

How Belize does the mobile home...

Things tend to get a bit dusty from time to time (and a shout out to the Bikework's gang in Silver City, NM!)...

Nifty bike gate along the way...

Our scoot through Belize City at day's end had us looking backwards at the city's docks in no time...

Silke and I sat below on the water taxi heading while Kurt got to ride on top in order to keep an eye on his "over sized" bike...

Traversing the water we caught this view...

...and I expressed a heart-felt goodbye to the day's warmth...

Fruit of the tropics…

March 4, 2011

Cocoas…

Eye pleasing. A coconut tree can produce up to 75 coconuts per year. The sturdy, hard shells are used to make such things as bowls or buttons..

To begin the devouring process, first Jaime chops off one side with his machete. He gets as close as he can with a few whacks without demolishing the coco. The idea to chop at it enough to expose one small opening to sip the water through...

Jamie has mastered the art of getting into them and we were all handed coconuts with perfect sipping holes. Coconut water contains proteins, fiber, sugar, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and works as an excellent isotonic electrolyte, making it an ideal beverage for any body working on a hot day...

Once you finish drinking the water (there's not all that much in there) the coco is chopped in half to allow for the eating of the meat. We used other broken parts of the coconut shell as our scraping spoons...

Coconut meat, super fatty and relatively tasty...

Silke approves...

Sometimes places are just the way they are supposed to be.   I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

Fading from top to bottom, left to right, just blue blue blue blue...

Homemade crab dumplings, thanks to Jamie's wife...

Snooze pups facing up to the pace in Sarteneja...

Nighttime jive (around a bicycle, naturally)...

A Sunday stroll through town to check out the schools and building of a fishing boat...

...which knocked my socks off...

The precision and angling were truly captivating. When I grow up, I want to learn how to build a boat like this...

Ground cover of clovers...

Silke...

Evan and Sarah...

And our very gracious host Jamie, who had spotted us riding the day before as he headed home from work as a lobster diver. Once he reached his humble house, he loaded his kids on his bike and came to find us in town. We stretched out in the town's playground late into the night, listening to stories of his life growing up in Belize City to his present occupation, the special boats built in town and the way of life round those part. We also were let to camp on his yard and spend our Sunday with him and his family....

Days end…

It was within minutes on our second day with Silke that I saw what appeared to be a group of… more cyclists?! ahead of us on the side of the road.  Yup.  We rolled up on 3 others, making it a giddy group of 6 standing on the side of the highway, straddling our bikes and swapping stories.  Evan and Sarah, from Alaska, had flown into Cancun about a week earlier and had been zig zagging down the coast heading for Belize.  The other rider was a man from Poland, heading north from Tierra del Fuego towards Alaska.  We shared hugs, high fives and took some photos, before the 5 of us heading south continued on together.

As much as the highway was pretty flat and boring, it was great to have such a nice group to travel with.  For the rest of the day, we took turns riding with each other and getting caught up on ideas of where we wanted to head and how long we might be able to travel in each others’ company, not to mention loads of stories about our past lives and life thoughts.

The five of us spent the next few days together, each one better than the last.  As much as Kurt and I have a good thing going, traveling day in and day out together, problem solving and making all decisions with only the two of us to consider, the opportunity and experience of traveling with others was/is really a highlight. We look forward to being able to do this a bunch along our journey.

And yes… after all this time in Mexico, we did eventually cross the border into Belize one beautiful, sunny morning by way of the Corozal crossing.  The instant changes were apparent… English was spoken, dollars (Belize) were once again used, miles (instead of kilometers) were printed on signs.  To communicate again! After our months in Mexico, our spanish has certainly improved, but is nowhere near conversational status (aside for answering the usual questions).  To be in Belize and able to converse and joke around was an incredible feeling.  We immediately made friends and were offered a place down the road to camp.  We spent our first afternoon traversing a dirt road heading out east, our destination of the small fishing village of Sarteneja but two days away.

The group converges on the highway side...

It wasn't long before the five of us stopped for a snack and ran into another man just finishing a loop around the Yucatan. Here my Bridgestone got to meet his nice Bridgestone and we all oogled at the gear he rode with, with him having collected it over a long lifetime spent bike touring...

So close. After having spent a full 6 months in Mexico, our impending border crossing was especially exciting...

And just like that, we entered the English speaking country of Belize...

...where signs were easily read and many business were Chinese owned...

The crossing was relatively simple and painless. There is a $20 exit tax for Mexico and a stamp (free) you must get from Belize, but other than that, not much. Knowing the price of fruits and vegetables were about to go up, I regretted not filling my panniers before heading across the border (in my case, they did not check my bags)...

Hurray for human power! A hand cranked water crossing as we head down one of the back roads toward Sarteneja...

Also along the way, we spotted this once in a lifetime viewing...

Ahhhh. This picture still gets me every time. So the moral of the story... never bite off more than you can chew. This python thought this full coati (thanks Josh! you had it correct.) dinner was a good idea. His mid section thought otherwise. This photo shows his belly, where he split in half as the farmers dragged his body from the field...

Just after crossing the border, we were graciously told where we could all camp for free down the road. We were able to set up on a secluded inlet front, stretching out with our hammocks and tents. We enjoyed both evening and morning fires, and I a chilly morning dip in the shallow inlet waters of Laguna Seca...

Silke and her layout. As a solo female traveler, she immediately gains my respect. She travels with not only four fully loaded panniers, but also a mountaineering backpack strapped over her back rack, containing mountaineering boots and the like. Silke is working on climbing some very high peaks on her way down to Tierra del Fuego. She has already completed the summit of Pico de Orizaba (and she's a grandma!!)...

Tulum

February 23, 2011

These next few posts will be going back in time a bit.  Quite a bit, so please bear with me.  I also don’t have many notes from this time, so I am trying to convey everything from my pea brain memory at this time.

Having left Isla Blanca and our dreamy existence there, we headed back to Cancun to deal first hand with the prospects of flying (yes flying! the one thing we said we really didn’t want to be part of this trip) to Cuba.  Days passed, and each time we visited the travel agent and discussed further the possibility of getting us and our bikes over there, our hearts dropped more and more with the mention of cost.  Things really started to add up.  Not only are there tickets to contend with, but bike boxing, storing stuff in the meantime, purchasing insurance to be covered while your over there (oh yes, that is now a reality of Americans looking to “sneak” into Cuba).  The list goes on and on.  I’d be happy to answer any specific questions one may have with bike travel to Cuba, as I did take notes the whole time.  To list them here would take up too much time and space.  If your curious, please email me directly.

In the long run, there was an ixne on Cuba-ey.  We sat in the travel agent office and I peered up at the world map on the wall. My eyes couldn’t stop looking at Mongolia.  Yup.  Mongolia.  So large, so far away.  And yet, a place I want to spend some serious time and effort bike traveling around.  Our funds only take us so far, so indeed every penny counts.  We will have to work long before reaching Mongolia, we both know and understand, but thinking about it so early in the trip does help us make certain decisions.   These helpful thoughts are what encouraged us to decide against a month in Cuba.  To read Kurt’s excellent (and much more detailed) account of this same experience, please click here.

So…. dear American embassy, let it be noted… Kelly and Kurt did not go to Cuba this time thanks to all the regulations put into place. (As I am writing this very much after the fact, I must add that it is a huge relief we did not go to Cuba.  As most of you know, Kurt and I needed to leave and head home very unexpectedly and as fast as possible from Belize a week or so later.  Had we been in Cuba, this all would have been an even bigger nightmare that it actually was.)

Instead we spent a few days with the amazing Gaspar and his cousin Michael, both Couchsurfer hosts living in a small Cancun apartment.  These two are Angels in true form.  When Gaspar agreed to meet us at 12:30 one night, he was taking us back to an apartment where 7 people where already sleeping, crashed out in hammocks, cots and on every inch of floor.  The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.

From Cancun, we began our leg down the coast, heading for Tulum and further for the border of Belize.  Tulum was uneventful, as we did not go in to see the ruins.  We’ve had our share for a while.  We did however have the pleasure of meeting not just one, but several bike tourists.  After months of hardy running into any other traveling cyclists (our route and the current misconceptions of traveling in Mexico have a lot to do with that), there was a funneling effect of all those that were out there, now heading for Belize.  We initially met Silke, a solo-traveler from Germany, who we immediately decided to wait for and head south together with the next day.  Later on in the day we also met a French man who was finishing his 6 month trip down for Alaska in a few days.

After running errands around town, including falling headlong into the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, Kurt and I slept soundly next to the waves and under the cover of the coastal mist.  The next morning, we met Silke early and the three of us continued our journey south down the coast.

The coast close to Tulum is riddled with small bars, restaurants, guest houses and nicely designed eco-homes. We watched the sun disappear behind the clouds and rain, before watching it disappear behind the edge of the ocean, signaling the end of another day. We then nestled in the nearby mangrove and slept anticipating our ride with Silke the next morning...

One of my favorite cycling snacks. If looking at this picture makes you uncomfortable, I completely understand...

A 5 kilometer jaunt off the highway affords us this pleasant lake to post up at for the evening...

Lake Ocom....

The day starts with a beautiful sunrise...

The inevitable effects of our time spent on the coast...

Shane Patrick 1987-2011

February 3, 2011

Many of you may have noticed that there has been quite a delay in postings.  I am writing you now from the snowy depths on New Jersey where Kurt and I are currently residing.

In true sadness I must relay that we are home because of a tragic occurrence. A little over two weeks ago we received word that my brother had passed away.  Kurt and I were off the coast of Belize on a small caye.

There is nothing in the world that I can truly imagine that would be worse than this.  And yet, it is now our reality.  It has confirmed my largest nightmares, and even then, managed to go completely beyond.  The pain and sadness are immense.  My heart is broken. The same goes for everyone else affected by Shane’s passing.

My brother was true magic.  He has touched the life of every single person he came in contact with, from the day he was born until the untimely passing just short of his 24th birthday.  The love and support that has surrounded my family at this time is unbelievable and is only trumped by the love, support and honor that Shane has shown to each individual he has ever interacted with.

I could write you 1,000 pages on how amazing Shane was while he was here with us.  He was the greatest friend , son, brother and young man you could ever imagine.  He set the bar for how a person should be.  I greatly admired Shane and looked up to him, as I still do and will continue to.  I am sure I am not alone when I say that if you considered Shane to be on your side, nothing could go wrong.

With that said, I must convey how strongly that I feel Shane is still here with me and us every single minute of every single day.  Where he once before was this brother of mine who I cherished more than anything, living in Chicago, doing his thing, making his way in the working world, getting big in life and bringing joy to everyone he was interacting with each and everyday, he now is the brother who is with me with every thought, every word, every decision.  He is right there with everything I see, what I choose to say, how I choose to think.  He is with me and I know this.  I feel it.  Even with all of the love and support pouring from everyone around, the thoughts of Shane here with me now are the only things that truly help get me through these days.

I wish to encourage anyone else who is dealing with a similar occurrence, if it is pertaining to Shane or if it is pertaining to somebody else, try to feel this way.  Try and keep your loved one ever-present in your daily minds and actions.   One thing that I learned from our time in Mexico is that life is truly something to be celebrated.  This is the way that Shane lived his life, each and everyday.  I plan to honor him in this way and I encourage you to do the same.  Love your life, celebrate yourself and those around you, honor and respect each other and everyday and live your life to the max.

There are little pieces of Shane in all of us now.  I have seen them in others and I have felt them so strongly in myself.  They are the most pure goodness one could ever imagine.  Letting ourselves be guided by this, we are honoring Shane.

He always was and always will be my SP Ghost.  I love you Shane.

Kevin, Kelly and Shane, circa 1992 in Long Beach Island...

Shane, 2009, co-captain of the Lehigh Lacrosse Men's Team...

A memorial fund has been set up in Shane’s name for High Level Lacrosse, a company my other brother and some friends own and operate.  The company is soon to be renamed SPD Lacrosse in Shane’s honor and will continue to embody all that was and is the epic spirit of my brother.  If you are interested in donating or reading more, please click here.

Kurt and I will continue our journey in early March.  Back on the bikes continuing south, we will have Shane’s heart, determination, power and guidance with us stronger than ever.

Compared to such spots as Dubai, Ibiza and Vegas, Cancun holds its own as one of the world’s largest and most happening party spots.  My only previous experience with Cancun consisted of staring wide-eyed at MTV and thinking really?! I must say however that our real-time experience was non other than quite pleasant.  Honestly.  It was.

For starters, we spent a few days in the lap of luxury thanks to my mom.  She had booked her winter vacation at an all-inclusive resort but 5 kilometers away from where we’d been camping in Puerto Morelos.  At first I will admit it was hard to come to terms with the resort business and the Americanized version of Mexico one enters into, but once my mom was there to spend time with any feelings of wanting a hurricane to take out resorts like these melted away.  Highlights included numerous Scrabble games (when I say numerous, I mean about 10 over the course of 5 days), walks along the beach, some tennis, obviously lots of eating and drinking things we normally wouldn’t (this is starting to sound like a personal add) and overall great quality family time.  My mom and I also had the pleasure of stumbling into a family doing yoga one morning, guided by their daughter, Kelly, who had just been certified as an instructor.  For the next week I joined them every morning for a regular practice.  I can’t express enough how great it was to do yoga with other people, especially with a teacher as great as Kelly.

We rang in the New Year with cheer and made our way towards the actual city of Cancun on the 1st, with our destination of the evening being Isla Mujeres.  Our main plan for the island, besides the usual taking it all in, was to hopefully land a spot on a sailboat heading for Cuba.  We had a bit of a time restraint, as our visa deadline was mere days away, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.  It’s an understatement when I say we learned a lot about the prospect of sailing to Cuba, as well as all the technicalities of just going to Cuba in general, which we had expected.  In the end, we ended up heading back to the mainland with the intention of purchasing airline tickets.

As usual, the call of white sand and beaches with no one on them drew us down to Isla Blanca, a bit north of Cancun.  Following a dirt road for about 4.5 k, we ended at a beach we happily called home for two days.  Having scored some old National Geographics and with the intent of finishing a Farley Mowat book Kurt and I have been sharing, the days passed easily.  Feeling rejuvenated from our quiet time, something that I can now vouch for as being possible in Cancun, we headed back towards el centro to check some big items off our “heading for Cuba” list.

The mum! Precious cargo. We took some time to ride my mom back to Puerto Morelos to check out the town and our camp spot...

Along with the mum came some amazing gifts of couscous and not-found-in-Mexico spices, essential hub parts, chains, a fresh t-shirt and new shoes. I am finally able to put these puppies to rest. They've had a long haul and, as you can see, were just barely hanging on in the end. The inserts had completely removed themselves from the bind of the shoe...

The fast life of downtown Cancun...

The scene as we waited on the docks. The ferry over to Isla Mujeres was the first time my bike has ever been on a boat. Verrrry exciting. It's a commuter ferry, leaving from Puerto Juarez every half hour and costing 70 pesos one way. One could argue that's a lot to pay for a 20 minute boat ride, but ours happen to come with a beautiful sunset and live music, making the experience quite worth it...

It was on Isla Mujeres that Kurt parted with our dear friend Larson, the tried and true sleeping mat that's been in use for the last 6 months. After Thermarest refused to warranty their malfunctioning product Kurt had been traveling with (apparently you are not supposed to get them dirty, who knew?) he found Larson on the side of the road in Arizona. Larson was quite versatile and will be greatly missed...

Our dreams of sailing to Cuba only escalated with views like this...

...and this...

Isla Mujeres is 8 kilometers long and only about 650 meters wide. There is a scenic byway along one side of the island, rolling along between million dollar homes and a cliff side...

The seashell house, my favorite...

Our days on Isla Blanca truly felt like a vacation from a vacation...

The day began as all days of rest should, swinging in a hammock perched on an old, but sturdy dock...

The color of this water never ceases to capture my attention...

...as did these curious little things. Rolled up on the surf, they were little thin-layered balls filled with what looked to be water and sand. They had a pink coral of sorts attached to the outside and they were no bigger than the size of a superball...

Ten toes to the warmth, putting an end to the day ...

Caribbean Christmas…

January 8, 2011

Our Yucatan journey was coming to an end as we neared closer and closer to the far edge of Mexico.  Our destination for this little bit… Puerto Morelos, a tiny fishing spot/low-key tourist town located a good bit aways from the hustle and bustle of Cancun.  Our morning started as all mornings do when I know we’re close to something very new to me… by telling Kurt over and over how excited I am.  This day did not disappoint.  We happily rode the bike paths along the main road, used mostly for front loading trikes carting wood, before turning down a quiet road leading to the coast.  The area is riddled with cenotes, bright blue and green freshwater sink holes ideal for snorkeling and swimming, as well as “adventure” resorts, advertising zip lines, atvs, and wild outdoor activities.

The Caribbean came as a greatly welcomed shock.  You can do as much research as you want, viewing pictures of the ocean, the sunsets, the thick and colorful fish, but until I rode straight up to the edge of the dock, there was nothing to truly prepare me for the happiness I was going to feel.   I must admit, there are not many times I get the kick-you-in-the-guts accomplished feel.  Most days it really just feels like a bike ride from A to B with excellent camping in between.  I am happy to say though that this Caribbean viewing flashed our entire journey thus far through my head and it felt great to squish my feet in the soft white sand and stare across our watery prize.  What usually takes a couple of hours on a plane to reach, we had finally met after months of pedaling and bicycle travel.

Puerto Morelos is like that comforting back porch offering respite from the annoying high school party.  It was hardto believe we were but 50 kilometers from a place compared to Vegas, Dubai and Ibiza.   Camping was relatively easy, as long as you don’t mind dragging and pushing your bike down through sand for a bit.  We stayed down in an encampment with, at times, 4 other tents of travelers and local kids, having fires nightly.  The common question from home has been how did you spend Christmas Day?.  In words, I spent it… marinating vegetables, doing yoga, reading in my hammock, giving out haircuts, fishing off the pier and swapping campfire stories with a well seasoned man from Nicaragua.  Not bad, I’d say.  Not bad at all.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere we go...

And there we had it... bikes + sand + water + Kurt = bliss. The waters are much more tranquil than their Pacific counterparts, but the area is frequented by devastating hurricanes. 4 years ago Hurricane Wilma caused billions in damage...

Like a dream, the water switches from this clear turquoise color to a deeper sapphire blue where reefs are present. The Mesoamerica Barrier Reef, passing off the coast of Mexico, Belize and Honduras is the second largest reef in the world...

The sand quickly envelops every part of you and everything you have, and I'm sure will remain in our bags for months to come...

Saved by the buoyancy of citrus. The last sips of a cold, refreshing cerveza, complete with lime. Happy holidays and cheers to all...

Despite nightly rainfall, our days ended with campfires from scavenged driftwood...

Chichen Itza…

January 6, 2011

Recently crowned as one of the “new seven wonders of the world,” a visit to Chichen Itza proves to be a theme park-like experience… just without the rides and games (unless you make your own, of course).  Throngs of people exit from tour buses throughout the day to stroll around on the grounds and catch a glimpse of the very impressive structures.  This is the site most well-known for its Mayan calendars, found in the buildings and columnar layouts around the site.

All pathways are lined with locals selling the usual Mayan fare.  Handmade (mostly) wooden and stone carvings, painted ceramic bowls, hammocks, t-shirts, statues and figurines fill your vision as you make your way from ruin to ruin.

In an effort to save a couple pesos (and the boredom that can often accompany visits to these piles of rocks), I was designated explorer and photographer.  The entrance fee is a cringeworthy 160 pesos and after I perused the area, I was very pleased at our decision to only pay for one ticket.    I arrived early in the day and traversed the organized walkways, making note of the massive buildings.

This is the attention grabber as you enter into Chichen Itza. Besides for being an impressive work of architecture, El Castillo is also a massive Mayan calendar. Click here to read more...

The observatory, El Caracol, in which windows of the dome align with certain stars throughout the year, working to allow priests to plan rituals and celebrations accordingly...

Chichen Itza is definitely the most renovated all of the ancient Mayan establishments...

Numerous chambers are found within these structures with hieroglyphics sketched inside, some which have yet to even be translated...

Jose, one of the stone carvers working within the grounds...

Many time temples grace the grounds, seeing an influx in visitors during the equinoxes...

And again, the columns... letting me know it's about time to find Kurt and head on down the road...

The Mexican flipper…

December 31, 2010

… or the Yucatan Pancake.  Mexico’s side boob?  We spent a week riding across the flat, flat, FLAT side tail of the Mexican landscape, really rounding out our Mexico riding experience.  We traversed a network of small back roads, some dirt, as we passed through small towns mostly unvisited by outsiders.  We also found ourselves on some great roads neither our map or Google maps would allude to.  With a little local information, nothing makes us smile more than getting to explore roads whose existence go unrecorded.

With a greatly anticipated and highly looked-forward to visit from my mom approaching, we cruised along heading for the Carribean and the adventures that await us in Cuba and beyond.

Quintessential bike touring scene...

...through flat fields and pasture land...

The Yucatan and its subsequent marshes are known as a home for an abundance of varietal birds, making a pair of binoculars and a good bird book something of longing...

Tried as I may, I could not pull this curtain any higher to reveal the face of the Divine Baby Jesus. My imagination has run wild ever since. Awkward fro? Double chin? This cart was part of a carnival set up to celebrate Guadalupe, something Mexico does for the whole month of December...

Ants. Our nemesis, especially the biting ones...

How those ants see us...

Beautiful, but difficult to ride in, gypsum sand...

The way Mexico does decorative mailboxes...

...and the way I do holiday cheer...

As we eat lunch, consisting of our staple fresh fruit and tortillas, the usual curious crowd gathers. As most kids do, they fool around with each other trying to get our attention before a bold young girl plants the inviting "Donde viene?" These times are then filled with wide eyes and many giggles, hands down my favorite part of this traveling...

Rogue cotton plants alongside the road...

As dusk settles in, there is never any worry about traveling these roads well into the night. Aside for the occasional fellow biker, traffic is unseen...

Camping in the Yucatan is ample and sweet. Every kilometer of road offers numerous trails to turn down, mostly used for beekeeping and logging...

 

These one room, thatched roof huts were sharing the living space with the usual concrete structures found in villages...

 

These kids rode along side us for a short time, moving at a very fast pace for their set up. I told them they were very impressive and they were noticeably very proud...

 

Behold the almighty maize seen everywhere, even in the architecture...

 

 

 

Palenque…

December 31, 2010

More ruins?  Yes.  More ruins.  The Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with literally hundreds of ancient Mayan settlements, and we choose to visit some of the more well-known and sprawling.  This brings us to Palenque.  Outside the actual site, the nearby forest land is quite settled with cabanas and campgrounds full of fire spinners and Rainbow Gatherers giving the area a very hippy vibe.  It was not uncommon to hear trance music blasting around corners.

We set up our hammocks in a marshy field and planned our visit for the following day.  After a quick ride up to the entrance we negotiate leaving our bikes with the men at the gate (for a small fee) and take off to explore some of the most well-cared for ruins in the Yucatan.

 

Some very enthusiastic ducks we met along the way. They are but 3 weeks old...

Palenque spreads out over 15 square kilometers, but only this main section is excavated and cleared for viewing. The map helps to show just how much is going on around the center of the site...

Templo de la Calavera (Temple of the Skull) greets you as you enter the grounds. It's got a very cute but ominous bunny feel, as you can see...

At one time, the buildings were all painted very bright hues of blue and red...

From the rubble in the background you can see there is always some uncovering and discovery still in the process...

The layout as seen from the Templo de las Inscriptiones, which is noted as being perhaps the most celebrated burial monument in the Americas. It's also the tallest of the Palenque structures...

Eye-pleasing piles of rocks, really....

There are several waterfalls cascading from the flow of the Arroyo Otolum river...

... and plenty of dense forest to walk through. Though certainly not as old as the ruins, I find these tall works of nature much more interesting and appealing...

Bonampak…

December 29, 2010

About 15 kilometers off the Carretera Fronteriza, hidden in the dense Lacanja jungle, sit the ruins of Bonampak.  As one of the more recently discovered ruins (1946) they are a pleasant place to visit and proved to be much more fun to explore than some of their more crowded counterparts.  Archeologists are still in the process of uncovering other sites in the surrounding area.  Bonampak is most well-known for its brilliantly colorful murals, the very things that enticed us to pay it a visit one afternoon.

 

The road into Bonampak. The last 10 kilometers or so are impeccably packed dirt and currently in the preparation process to become paved. There is a fee to travel the road, 20 pesos for bikes...

Huevos de Toro. (Insert your chuckles here) They are not edible in any form...

Bonampak was never a major city and spent most of the Classical period under the rule of nearby Yaxchilan...

The area of jungle has been cleared to make the ruins navigable, but the borders of tangled green are ever-prominent and encroaching...

Within the Templo de las Pinturas...

Bonampak means "painted walls" in Yucatecan Maya. During some of its early uncovering, visitors splashed kerosene on the walls in hopes of bringing out the colors more...

 

Most images depict tumultuous battles and the sacrificing of prisoners...

 

The frescoes of Bonampak are arguably the finest murals known to pre-Hispanic America...

One of the unpainted Edificios located on site...

 

 

Las Guacamayas…

December 27, 2010

Another stop along the border loop brings us to the ecological reserve of Las Guacamayas.  During the 1960’s a group of about 40 families relocated to the area after having been granted land by the government (a touchy subject with the indigenous locals).  They were also given pairs of mating Red Scarlet Macaws and have since been breeding and protecting the rare and beautiful birds.

 

Most of our extended loop was ridden on the Fronterra Corozal Highway, brushing the edges of Guatemala. Here we encountered more military check points than we have anywhere else in Mexico. The soldiers tried to be serious as they asked to open our bags, but you could tell they were just as curious as any other local. I'd often hit them up for drinking or cooking water if their camps had any to spare, which they were always happy to give...

Strong roots, looking very missile-like...

I think about writing odes to the jungle when we are exploring, I love them that much...

A bit of filtered light, while the branches shake from jumping howler monkeys, who were too quick for me to catch a good photo of. Instead I got this monkey to hold still for a bit...

The majestic Red Scarlet Macaw...

Unfortunately, despite several trips down to the river's edge and peering all over the surrounding land, the only ones we actually got to see were in these cages. Macaws will find their mates within the first 2 years and spend the rest of their bird lives being faithful to only them...

There is no organized camping at Las Guacamayas, which worked out great for us, and we were invited to camp in the big open soccer field, lending its hand to a spectacular open view of the sunset...

Then it was back on the road, heading towards Bonampak and the Yucatan. The locals around here have been successful in keeping the Pemex gas monopoly out, so the area sees a lot less traffic than it would normally. People who do venture into this area must purchase gasoline from the local tiendas for a very high price. Luckily, as cyclists, we can only be happy to the fact this keeps more motorists off these excellent roads..

 

Las Nubes…

December 27, 2010

Suckers for spectacular waterways, our first stop along the border is Las Nubes, an area of turquoise colored water pumping through the jungle.  having just experienced a heavier than normal rainy period, the water was certainly flowing, making swimming a more dangerous endeavor.  The area of Las Nubes  offers camping and cabanas and has a restaurant right on the river, though we opted to camp on our own outside of town.  There is a small day fee- $30M, or roughly $3 US, that goes towards maintaining the area.  During swimming season, this would be an ideal spot to barbecue with the family.

 

The landscape really begins to give us the jungles we will be exploring as we head down into Central America. Lots of green and lots of moisture...

Virtually pristine and unspoiled...

... except for areas like these. Much more than a case of bad aim, trash on the ground is as common as tortillas in Mexico...

The bold and beautiful Las Nubes...

...funneling into the jungle, swimmies not included...

With morning hours to spare, we hiked around on some nearby trails, getting lost within the big rooted trees and huge verdant leaves...

In order to reach Las Nubes, there is a 10 kilometer dirt road you must travel. Guide books will refer to it as "out of the way." We would call it "pretty much perfect."

Jungle camping...

...including fresh picked fruit in the morning. As usual, our only visitor was a local out hunting the evening before. He gave us a huge smile and wave, as is the Mexican way, and made sure we had enough to stay warm and dry...

Another day begins...

No good bike trip would be complete without the ever-present dirtstache...

...or an abundant supply of animal crackers. Cheap cycling fuel with a crunch and lots of storytelling possibilities...

Those pockets come in such handy...

Not out of the mountains yet, we enjoyed a few more climbs and windy descents...

 

Taking the long cut…

December 27, 2010

After San Cristobal, the next destination we plan to head for is Palenque.  Though these ancient ruins sit about 230 kilometers away, we decide to greatly lengthen that distance and opt for a big looping route down along the Guatemala border. Luckily those extra hundreds of kilometers we choose to add come included with beautiful big leaf jungles and pairing clear waterfalls, eerily croaking and roaring howler monkeys, a mix of dirt and winding paved roads and our choice of the many mayan ruins that lay hidden in the land.  After a few goodbyes in San Cristobal, we set off in a light mist heading south towards Comitan and beyond.

Always a refreshing thing to see after being bombarded so constantly with Coca Cola and other advertisements. This one simply requests that the evil government and its relevant employees stay out of the area. Chiapas Zapatista communities, alive and well...

We arrived in the small town of San Francisco a few hours ahead of a yearly bike race through the hills. We joined the town and waited in anticipation as the pro riders approached via the PanAmerican Highway...

 

And the winner is...

 

 

Piles and piles of school children unloaded from buses to watch the teams of riders come in. It was quick to figure out who were the local heroes of the day. The race was mixed with international participants as well, mostly from Europe...

 

What a way to start the day. I don't think I'll ever tire of waking up in new places, having found our campspot in the darkness the night before...

 

High desert. The landscape was rolling plains with crisp, clear skies as we ventured down to the Guatemala border. I entered into a Willie Nelson marathon as the cornfields blurred along the sides of my vision...

Mosquito territory. Preparing ourselves for the worst, we kept the extremities covered as much as possible, as well as a constant fire. And who doesn't love a good morning fire?...

 

 

 

 

Holiday wishes…

December 26, 2010

First off, I must say thanks for hanging in there!  It’s been a few since the last posting and I know that sometimes causes folks to worry.  I will remind you that we have been pretty diligent with our SPOT Messenger, allowing us to update our location to you on the daily via satellite.  If you are ever wondering about our whereabouts and there have been no new postings, just follow the link on the Spot page.

Happy holidays to everyone!  It’s never the easiest being away from family and friends around these times, but I will say that there are no complaints from this girl after spending the days swinging in my hammock and fishing in the Caribbean with Kurt.  We’ve also had the arrival of my mom to look forward to and we currently sit anxiously waiting to see if the blizzard on the east coast will release her and everyone else from its grasp.

Thank you to everyone who reads the blog on the regular and for all of your kind and encouraging comments.  I wish you all the best in the upcoming year and greatly look forward to sharing more of our journey with you.

And now, the postings!  I’ll fill you in with our past few weeks, including a big loop gracing the edges of Guatemala, colorful toucans and macaws, overly chatty howler monkeys and the venturing we did across the aptly named Yucatan Pancake.

Photo of the Week!…

December 8, 2010

I am happy to report that one of my photos have been chosen as the Adventure Cycling Association´s Photo of the Week.  It´s a picture I took of Kurt as we crossed over into Mexico on a muddy, monsoony day.  To view, visit the Adventure Cycling Association website and click on the Photo of the Week tab on the right.  Their website is great for checking in on all things bike tour related.  Or skip all that and click here to get to the photo directly.

Spot…

December 2, 2010

For those of you playing along at home, you will notice I added a new page titled “Spot.”

Thanks to Jeff at Papa Wheelies in Durango, CO,  we carry a Spot Satellite GPS Messenger with us.  It’s main purpose is to be used in case of emergency situations, but with this handy device we can also update you on our current location.   Click here to read more. Open the Spot page above to click on the link that connects to our page.  We will try our best to keep you updated with our progress along the way.

Spot Satellite GPS Messenger

Sweet, sweet riding…

December 1, 2010

While I was out having my moral cultural dilemma, Kurt ran into Tom in town.  A fellow mountain biker and San Cristobal resident, Tom offered to take us out on a ride the next day to see some of the trails and natural wonders outside the city.   The day was fantastic!  After a chest burning climb (at this point we were pounding up pavement at close to 2700 meters), we turned off into the woods and enjoyed a morning of riding though cloud forests and swoopy, pine carpeted single track.  It was wonderland-like to say the least.

We entered a forest where the sunlight filters through trees similar to madrones. There was a canopy of moss and orchid stalks to marvel at...

New life sprouting everywhere...

...and every shade of green you could imagine...

The ride was a mix of dirt roads and single track, absorbing breathtaking views the entire time...

A few kilometers out we visited El Arcotete, a giant arch in a cliff side, with a subsequent cave to explore as well. Not a bad thing to pair with some awesome mountain biking...

There's nothing that gets Kurt grinning ear to ear like some epic single track...

The moral dilemma…

December 1, 2010

10 kilometers outside of San Cristobal sits a small but bustling village.  It perches in the Chiapan highlands and is nestled amongst plots of land used for growing the usual vegetable varietals.  This town is called San Juan Chamula and it is the epicenter of the indigenous Chamulan people (Tzotzil), most well-known for their unique religious practices.  The Tzotzil have held strong to their rejection of Catholicism, exiling those in the community who chose to convert.

I had read and heard that within the church there is commonly sacrificial chicken killings, chanting and practicing medicine men and women and thousands of candles and worshippers praying to St John the Baptist, whom they revere to be higher than Christ.

Naturally, after hearing such things, I wanted to see them with my own eyes.  I wanted to feel what it was  like to be in a place with that kind of energy hanging in the air.

Herein lies the dilemma.  On any given day, we are riding through similar towns, passing through their markets, chatting with the locals, getting laughed at by the kids, etc.  Chamula, as I would come to find out, was quite similar to most towns we have ridden through.  However, what sets it apart and, quite blatantly, puts it in the guidebooks are these ritualistic practices that occur within their religion and church.  For $20M the townsfolk will let you enter the church and witness the goings on.  All photography is strictly forbidden.

Kurt and I had discussed going several times.  Our debate was whether or not it was okay to intrude on people in this way.  To walk into their religious space like that, to peer at them and see with our own eyes the things we had been described.  Granted they are charging an entrance fee with the mutual understanding of you probing into their realm.  The age-old question of “is nothing sacred anymore?” seemingly rears the answer no.

I should mention we have a thing about being “tourists.”  I think a lot of people do.  The mention of the word and immediately the image pops into my head of a person with a camera around their neck and a fanny pack around their waist  But the reality of the matter is that we ARE tourists everyday.  One can argue that maybe the more appropriate term for us, given the circumstances, is travelers.  The fact we live on our bikes, day in and day out, we have come to interact with people differently then the folks arriving by a bus or out of a van for a few minutes.  Traveling on the bike at our pace makes us more accessible.  Maybe it makes us more real in a way, or perhaps it just heightens our alien status, but the bikes do give us a bit of a twist.  Still, there is no denying we are far from indigenous or local descent and have come to have a look-see.

We went back and forth a bit about it.  Kurt had made up his mind that he was not going to go.  He believed strongly that it was intruding on something, in addition to him lacking an interest in religious devoutness anyways.  Plus, there was a coffee museum to visit in the city.  I agreed that I couldn’t get past the intrusiveness of the matter and let it slip out of my mind for a bit as we walked up the steps of another church in town, taking in the view of the whole city.  But… I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.  What would it look like in there?  What are they doing?  Will it blow my mind?  Will it change me in any ways as a person?

With all traveling and experiencing and seeing, those are the questions that get answered along the way.  Traveling in itself is a way to rhetorically raise these questions on a daily basis.  Your path answers these.  There is a whole lot of randomness to our traveling, but in general we CHOOSE our path, one way or another, with these little decisions.

I chose to ride up to Chamula.  I justified it with the $20 entrance fee, the fact it was in a guide-book.  It didn’t feel right, but I had to give myself a reason.  I also figured it would be a nice ride up into the mountains and I’d get to see a whole ton of other things along the way.  Kurt and I parted ways, I went and consulted with Joaquin on some directions and headed up.  The ride was pleasant enough, pretty much straight up for those 10 k, and it turned my brain off completely from thinking about where I was going and what I was going to do upon getting there.

Once I got into town, I made my way through the streets lined with the usual woolen wares, embroidered clothes, blaring music stalls and taxi stands.  It was Monday, the middle of the day, and I was alone on an unladen bike, a nice way to arrive in a new town I thought.  Aside for some homes scattered in the hillsides and those tiny roadside shops, the church and its zocalo drew all the attention.  Naturally the road I was on ended there, and I hopped off my bike and began to walk through the market, where I felt comfortable zig zagging through the rows of fruits and vegetable and colorful clothes.  I kept my eye on the church the whole time.  There was a line of children and adults sitting outside, definitely not of the tourist kind, and a gruff looking man with his arms crossed near the door.  Nothing felt right about me going up to that door and going in.  There was no denying the feeling.  I realized at that point that I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t justify locking up my bike, buying a $20M ticket and walking through the door to stand in a place that I had no business being in.  For really all I was there to do, as pleasantly and unobtrusively as I could, was to gawk at what was inside.

I left the church grounds behind and began to walk my bike through the market again, back towards the street I had entered on.  A man stopped to chat with me about my bike, asking about the trip with the usual questions.  I immediately felt more comfortable with the whole situation.

I know these situations are going to arise over and over while traveling.  The whole point of traveling is to see and experience things different from what you know.  I descended the mountain feeling good about my decision and in the realization that these things will have to be taken on a case by case basis.  And in this particular case, I left the people of Chamula and their religious practices be.

 

I cruised down the mountain despite the ever-present rain storm over the city of San Cristobal...

...and took shelter under the awning of a coffee union as the rain poured down...

Gettin’ the hair did…

December 1, 2010

Peluquerías are common all over Mexico, especially in the cities.  Upon arrival you’ll get to peruse some charts that are very helpful in aiding with your style decision.

Keeping it fresh...

The flat flat flat top caught my attention...

And these two look uncannily like my two brothers, sporting some amazing beard work...

Prolonging pedal life…

December 1, 2010

Slowly but surely, there was a little click that sprang up in my right pedal as it went round and round.  Rather than replace them, which I’m sure Shimano would have wanted me to do,  Kurt showed me how to remove the bearings, clean them of the old grease and put some fresh grease in there.   The pedals are Shimano M324 half clipless/half platforms.  I love tedious projects, and as this one was quite fun and rewarding to do, I thought I’d share it with you…

 

After taking off the pedal cage, we removed the old bearings to find them covered in dirty grease and grit, the cause of a repetitive clacking while I pedaled...

They were polished clean again and kept a good watch on so they wouldn't roll away...

Kurt packed new grease into one side and I carefully pressed the clean bearings into place...

The same was done on the pedal spindle. As one of the bearing cups was too deep in the pedal to reach by fingers and arrange them properly in place...

...the trick was to put the bearings in the grease first, before slowly sliding the spindle in to the other pedal side and tightening it down down. No more clacking...

Street art…

December 1, 2010

Street art is common all over the world, whether it be a stencil on a wall, a full mural or an impromptu live performance.  San Cristobal had much of the same, with examples seen subtly on every single street I walked down.  I appreciate this very much.    Clearly showing the city’s political past and present, the art has a wonderful way of representing the general sentiments of the area.

Murals...

...and graffiti...

...stencils...

...and taggings...

...are all part of the routine of the street artist...

Some statements are bold...

...while others are mini message boards...

San Cristobal de las Casas proved to be everything and so much more than I had anticipated, launching it easily into one of my top 3 favorite places in Mexico thus far.  The energy and vibe of the city and its people, including the surrounding mountains and villages, did much to warm my heart, excite and inspire me over the week we decided to stay.

Though originally the state capital, the city has remained on the quainter side for many years.  The indigenous presence is still large.  During the colonization, the take over of the land left the people in slavery, sickened with diseases and unable to recuperate their incredible losses.   Over the course of history, many groups have fought for, and gained, the rights of the indigenous people back.  The most well-known, and still active, is that of the Zapatistas, an autonomous self governed group of Mexicans (both indigenous and non) who focus on land reform for the people, among other things.  Chiapas overall is well established with  Zapatista presence and as San Cristobal is the heart of the state, the leftist political energy can be felt all around.

We started with a settling into El Hostalito, where we were offered a night of free sleeping thanks to the incredible Joaquin and his Warmshower ways.  Originally from Spain, Joaquin did his own bike tour across the US and couldn’t get enough, so he continued down into Mexico and settled in San Cristobal.  He’s a fixed gear fanatic and has recently started a bike shop along with the hostal.  Along with his friend and business partner (and incredibly creative pants maker) Marie, they run a place that easily felt like home after only a few hours.  We unloaded our bags and explored the city and its awesome market of fresh produce, picking up supplies for our planned dinner feast.

The days flew by and were both super fun and very productive.  Marie let me use her sewing machine to remake a better fitting bug net for my hammock, getting it more ready for the approaching jungle country.  We shifted our stay over to our Turkish friend Cihan’s house, and together him and I visited the Traditional Mayan Medicine Museum and  the Amber Museum, while taking a massive walk around the streets of San Cristobal.  Kurt and I also got in some extra rides on unloaded bikes outside the city, which is always a huge highlight in a new place for us.

We’ve done quite a bit of research and route planning, and with our brains and imaginations spilling over with local advice and recommendations, we are both antsy and excited to get this next bit of travel under way.  I know for sure this is not the last time I will visit the city of San Cristobal.

 

The streets of San Cristobal, so colorful and festive...

One of the black fuzzy skirts so many of the ladies rock quite fabulously...

outside the bustling market we enjoyed scouring so much for fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, etc. ...

The market and individual produce stands throughout the city all have their products arranged in a careful and aesthetically pleasing manner, which adds to the whole experience...

 

Inside Pura Bici...

Outside Pura Bici, the usual question/answer session...

Many of the soft drinks in Mexico are still sold in these continuously recycled thick glass bottles...

These little stoves are a must have for the cold winters spent in a concrete room. Recycled out of different sized tins, they serve as a portable heater and run off charcoal or wood...

Sunday afternoon strolling...

A work in progress...

The Cathedral, which has been restored many times over the years due to destructive earthquakes...

The Palacio Municipal, one of the buildings overtaken by the Zapatistas during their 1994 defiance of the signing of the NAFTA agreement...

As it has been brought to my attention that people really like seeing pictures of Kurt and I doing things together, here is one of us helping prepare a big feast on the day of Thanks. Kurt ended up not chopping off of my hand and the beets turned out... (Photo: Ginger Roberts)

...just delicious...

The view from the steps of Cerro de Guadalupe...

Heading up…

December 1, 2010

So this climb.  It starts in Tuxtla and heads up into the Chiapan highlands, destination San Cristobal de las Casas.  Tuxtla sits at a mere 530 meters, while San Cristobal is a much more oxygen gulping 2,160.  And when it was all said and done, it was within a beautiful pine forest that we found some cool air camping and looked at each other to exclaim, “Damn!  That was a great day of riding!”  We took the old route, rather than the newly blasted out autopista and every twist and turn seemed more rewarding than the last.  It was a well graded continuous climb for about 45 kilometers.  Along the way we traveled through many Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages, getting our first true glimpses of the ladies with their black fuzzy skirts and exquisitely hand embroidered shirts, dripping with color.  San Cristobal awaited us but 15 kilometers from our camp spot (where we had an amazing feast of pancakes with apricot jam!) and we rolled through the remainder of the climb in the early morning hours, arriving in the city’s center with a whole day ahead of us to explore.

 

Pleasant grade on a beautiful day...

...gave way to the valley below we had left behind...

The fresh air was welcomed whole heartedly after the weeks of coastal heat and humidity...

A mix of traditional Mayan designs with some modern twists, these fabrics more than caught my eye. I had to go inspect...

...and was rendered speechless with the minute details and the thought of time put into each piece...

As with most mountain ranges this high, the greenery found along the way...

...is the result of some heavy moisture hanging in the air way up there...

Along the way we were surprised to pass the town of Navenchauc, with many of its buildings and structures sitting in great amounts of water. We did a bit of uncovering and found out, very depressingly, that the runoffs for the town's high altitude lagoon are, and have been for 2 years, clogged with plastic bottles and waste from all the greenhouse pesticides they have been using. Flowers are a high commodity in the area, specifically marigolds, and the switch from growing maize in fields to these greenhouse endeavors has inadvertently caused the back up. With such high rainy seasons and lack of drainage, this is the unfortunate result. The option to pump the water out is also on hold as all the water pumps in the state are being used in other cities and towns. More than 100 homes are out of commission...

Turtle Camp…

December 1, 2010

There’s certainly something to be said about watching 1,000 plus baby sea turtles scramble their way towards the ocean each night.  Kurt and I had the pleasure of experiencing this two nights in a row while staying at Campamento Tortuguero in Puerta Arista, a place where volunteers help hatch and release Olive Ridley turtle eggs on a daily basis.  The incubation period for these type of turtles is 45 days.  It is estimated that 1 out of every 1,000 survives.

 

Every day over a thousand baby turtles hatch and are gathered up to be released later that evening...

Yes, that is a bucket just teeming with little baby sea turtles...

On your marks... get set.... go! Turtle races on the daily...

Off on their own to battle the odds...

Amazingly, the one turtle that does survive will return to the very beach it was hatched on to lay its own eggs...

The turtle camp has been in operation for over 20 years, saving 1,000+ turtles a day from poachers, 4-wheeled vehicles and the hungry bird...

The whole experience was quite awe-inspiring...

 

We split from our coastal jaunt and headed the little ways inland toward Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, where we hoped to get word of parts delivered to Oaxaca.  No luck, so we decided to extend our journey down the coast a bit more.  We still had hopes the parts might arrive any day (with our optimism combined, you should hear the stories we tell each other) and planned to stay in bus range of picking them up.  Puerta Arista was but a day’s ride away anyhow and we had been briefed with some incredibly amazing turtle videos taken by Wolf and Javier.

Puerta Aritsta turned out to be the kind of beach town one might dream about.  Currently in the off-season, the scene was mellow as could be.  The locals were more than friendly and treated us like they see us everyday, something we really appreciate as we very often get the traveling circus stare.  One man, upon witnessing us breaking out our stoves to cook with, came over first with the offer of salt or other spices from his home.  Then he came back with a bowl of what was a tangerine lime cross.  Eaten straight they proved to be a kick in the mouth, but good.  Squeezed into our beers, the taste was incredible.  Free beach front camping was easy to find after leaving the one lone strip of hotels and tiendas behind and we whiled the days away in the shade and swimming with every chance we could.  It was hot.  Sweaty drippy hot, even when not moving.  When we left, we waited until the sun went down to scoot back inland, enjoying the 40 or so kilometers in the moonshade.  So long pacific!  It will be a few months until we see it again, the next time being in Central America, perhaps Guatemala.

 

Sometimes I was lucky enough to leave my bike behind and act as cargo on the daily rides to town from our beach camp spot...

The location of Campamento Tortuguero, where we stayed for a few days releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean...

Keeping a keen eye as we head away from the coast. Unfortunately, I did not see any giant flourescent green iguanas on the way up...

The beachy side of things…

November 21, 2010

Our first coastal town of Puerto Escondido proved to be as anticipated… full of beach side palapas, hotels, motels, surf shops and the more than occasional sighting of Europeans and Australians.  Puerto Escondido is  well-known for it’s world-class surf break, aptly named the “Mexican Pipeline”, with waves reaching as high as 12 meters in between May and July.  For the most part I laid low in the shade, reading and relaxing.  Meanwhile Kurt was lucky to find Tello at Bicitodo, a bike shop he owns and runs in the Puerto Escondido center.  Tello was super kind and allowed Kurt to use his shop and tools to replace his bottom bracket bearings.  He also gave us some great Bicitodo T-shirts to rock.  A few days later, as we were leaving town, I returned with Kurt to meet Tello’s wonderful wife and take some photos of all of us together in front of his shop. If anyone passing through or living in the Puerto Escondido area needs their bike worked on by a friendly and knowledgeable mechanic, Tello at Bicitodo is your man.

It was here that we also bid adieu to our buddies Wolf and Javier.  We did it up right the last evening with a huge group effort dinner and some late night belly flops in the hotel pool, something the night watchman wasn’t all too impressed with.  The guys were great to let us crash in their hotel room too, forgoing a night of wild camping for some quiet, comfortable sleeping with a ceiling fan oscillating overhead.

From there, Kurt and I headed south along the coast, dipping into the sleepy beach towns of Mazunte, San Agustinillo and Zipolite.  It was here that we had the pleasure of running into our friends Juan Diego and Luis the Chef, two travelers we had met back in the Huasteca.  They’ve been hitchhiking their way around Mexico and have settled down to work for the season in Zipolite.   Both are natives of Mexico and have chosen to leave their border towns behind due to all of the current drama and chaos.

From there it was a mere 10 kilometers up and over another little ridge before dropping down into Puerto Angel.  A slightly bigger town, Puerto Angel had some fancier looking hotels and some bigger hillside homes, though mainly it is used for its fishing port and naval base.   I let my pure white belly get a little crispy as I was sucked page after page into Confessions of an Economic Hitman, a book full of unsurprising, cringe worthy facts depicting disgusting corporate American greed.  Something we see the effects of on a daily basis, no matter whether we are traveling or at home.

Moving right along, we plopped on over to another bay we had heard had good snorkeling possibilities.  We are currently without snorkel gear, but figured it would be beautiful nonetheless.  Indeed it was.  So beautiful we ended up camping there for two nights, even though the owner of the petite bungalow hotel at the other end of the beach told us “Oh no.  No.  There is no camping there.  Um, there is a cheap hostal right up on that bluff.  See there?….”  I inquired, “But this is a public beach, no?  The coastline is federal property.”  “Well, yeh” she said “but there are um, these boats and um….” and just let her sentence trail off to nothing.”  I thanked her for the info and left some small Kelly foot prints in the sand as I made my way back to Kurt who had already settled quite comfortably in the sandy nook, where our two peaceful days of “no camping” commenced.

We had a few visitors over the next two days.  I would watch as Kurt shuttled back and forth between the rocky edges of the bay, a trail of at least 4 local kids behind him, trading him the crawdads they’d dug up for bait in exchange for the drop lines he made for them with old plastic soda bottles and fishing line.  And then there was our dog pal, quiet Slim Jimmy Buttons, who hung around with us, chasing the shade of the day, hoping for a snack or two came meal time.  I can’t remember the last time I moved so little during the course of a day.

We eventually peeled ourselves away from our little paradise and after about a half a day’s worth of riding we bumped head long into Bahias de Huatulco.  Cruise boat central.  We didn’t get close enough to the docking area to see any actual ships (which I was kind of anticipating in a strange way, as I have never actually seen a real live cruise ship), but we could feel the presence through all of the perfectly green sod road dividers, gate‘s glaring back at you where an entrance to a beach seemingly would be and huge shiny and reflective signs directing you to “Terminal F”, “Terminal K”, etc.  We chose “Terminal Moving Right Along” and did eventually find a great camp spot on a beach a bit further down.  The only evidence of hotels we could see were a mere smattering of sparkling lights tucked up into a hillside.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Even with all of this coastal riding, we actually only got close to the beach  if we wanted to and for much of the time the Pacific is not even within eyesight.  The rideable highway down the coast is, understandably due to the firmness of the land, set back a ways inland, so for the most part the views are not all that spectacular and it is hot, hot, hot.  During this time I was quite happy to reminisce about the fantastic adventures we’d had thus far, weaving our way down through the center highlands of Mexico, rather than taking the entire coastal route down from California.

Saying goodbye to the sun on the sands of Puerto Escondido...

...and again...

Pancho Homer...

Puerto Angel, where the fisherman drop off loads of dorado fish all day long...

Follow little sandy roads like this, and you will be rewarded big time as we found out...

Sunrise at our pristine "no camping" spot...

A bit timid at first, this little guy eventually let it all hang out and scampered across the beach for some grassy cover. Those little bug eyes are the best...

Hidden cove of daydreams and sandy naps...

As I mentioned above, much of our coastal riding is not actually on the coast at all. On this particular day, this was one of the only chances we got to get a glimpse of the big blue Pacific...

Peering out from another hidden camp spot, I viewed these two fisherman setting out in the early morning hours...

…I quickly added some more salt to it.  WordPress will not let me post videos at this time ((errr…. or more like I won’t pay to let myself post videos at this time), so please click here to see the big splash…..

http://pocket-thunder.blogspot.com/2010/11/whaahwaahahahhaasplash.html

So long slime…

November 19, 2010

Our water bottles have taken to looking like aquariums in recent times.  Given the opportunity, we scrub them out the best we can, only to have the slime and mold return shortly after.  I’m happy to share we’ve found a solution that far surpasses our hands and sponges…

Notice the large brush, usually used for the insides of 5 gallon garrafons...

Her face is making the same expression ours do sometimes when looking into the bottoms of our bottles...

These girls were truly the greatest. After all the hard work of cleaning them out to the max they then filled them up with fresh clean water and sent us on our way, no charge...

Destination coastal…

November 19, 2010

After leaving the hustle and bustle of the city tangle, the four of us rode into the late afternoon, jump starting our journey over to the long-awaited Oaxacan coast.  Well Wolf and Javier had been happily splashing in the waves a few days before we‘d met them in Oaxaca, but Kurt and I on the other hand have both been in need of a salt bath for a while.   Over the course of 3 days we pedaled our way up over those Sierra Madre yet again.  Just as excitedly expected, eventually we reached what seemed to be the summit of the range and looked out over the many green ripples leading to the west coast below and saw… water!  A lot of it!  An entire ocean‘s worth.  It took us a good half day to zip down the other side and by day’s end we were swimming in the rolling surf and drinking in the fire colored sunset.

 

Cruising along (photo: Wolf)...

It was great riding and hanging out with these guys. I got to pick Javier's (front) brain about his profession as a nurse and got to hear from Wolf what it's like running a bike touring company in Berlin...

You grow these agave...

...and you get to make this mezcal. The mountainous region of Oaxaca State is known for its mezcal production. Agave, I learned, is not considered a cactus. For awhile it stayed in the lily or aloe family, but now gets its own classification as Agavaceae.

 

Morning breakfast concoctions taste better with a group...

 

Perfect beginnings...

 

...perfect endings...

 

In the distance, the ocean!...

 

In the foreground, the joy! (photo: Wolf)...

 

 

 

 

 

 

How you get it done…

November 17, 2010

Sizzle it...

Chop it...

Try and take breaths in between eating the beejeebus out of it...

Monte Alban…

November 17, 2010

About an hours ride out of Oaxaca stands Monte Alban, what was once the center of Zapotec culture.

This monumental hilltop functioned as the Zapotec’s center place and capital as they succeeded in conquering much of the Oaxaca area between AD 300 and 700.  Supposedly Monte Alban was the first “urban existence” of the Americas, run by a highly priest-dominated society.  Over the course of time, and for various reasons, the population of the Zapotecs dwindled down to 1,200 and the Mixtecs, another indigenous Mexican tribe, sought fit to take it over, before loosing it themselves to the Aztecs.  During the period of colonization, it took the Spaniards four expeditions (at least) before they succeeded in their own take over of Monte Alban.  Hence, it was in 1529 that the Spanish moved into the nearby city of Oaxaca and caused the number of indigenous population to drop drastically.

Today you can stroll throughout the grounds, clamoring up some of the structures and imagining what life must have been like back then.  Besides for the awe-inspiring dated structures, there are also 360 degree views of the valleys which splay out in all directions.  Our timing couldn’t have been better, as we were able to explore the area in the last few hours of daylight.  Of course our real wish was to explore the caverns and tombs that lay beneath all of the well-preserved structures.  Perhaps we will get our chance at some of the other ancient ruins we will explore throughout the Yucatan…

 

Archeologists have separated the structures into time periods and phases of building, with many areas still left unexplored...

The real question is, "Who cuts all that grass?"...

Yeah, yeah. Some ancient ruins. As pretty as it all was, we really wanted to take the tour of the rooms underneath these grassy hills...

As usual, the little bits of plant life growing out of the stones captured my attention for a bit...

 

Dia de Muertos…

November 17, 2010

Since arriving in Mexico, we kept it in the back of our minds that there might be a chance to be in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead celebration.  As our travels and pace unraveled, that likelihood became a reality.  We arrived late on October 30th and over the next few days got to experience and partake in many Dia de Muertos rituals and celebrations.

It is believed that in death loved ones do not actually leave, but merely continue their life in a parallel world and for one day a year the departed can return to their homes to be with their families.  For departed children that day is November 1st and for adults, November 2nd. Everywhere you look there are archways made of marigold flowers and altars containing offerings of fruits, bread and drinks for the visiting spirits.  I was also told that some families may leave their lost one’s favorite games or activities, such as paints and brushes if they were an artist.

I visited the Panteon General, Oaxaca‘s main cemetery, both days, marveling at the commotion and celebration that was occurring.  On one hand, there was a circus happening outside the gates.  Literally, a carnival was set up, with rides and games and various stalls selling food and offerings lined the walkways toward the entrance.  Within the cemetery, the mood was still one of lightness and celebrating, but much more respectful.  Each day more and more graves would be covered in flowers, food and candles.  Some families would be gathered around, chairs set up and a regular family dinner occurring.  My favorite was the older man who brought in a xylophone and played furiously while the family danced happily around that particular gravesite.  The respect paid was so unlike the mourning you often see occupany death and cemeteries.  I must say that in glancing around, with the soft flicker of candles catching the corners of so many smiles, it was truly one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my time here in Mexico.

 

An altar with offerings to the deceased, including some rather famous icons...

Local artists decorate these large paper mache skulls and they are on display along the walking streets throughout the week...

In the evenings, the Zocalo was decorated with hundreds of candles...

...illuminating the gazebo in a fairytale like way...

The evening of November 1st was a fantastic frenzy, with celebrations and parades happening all throughout the city's streets...

Never to miss an opportunity to sell stuff, these vendors lined the walkways leading into the cemetery. A bit bizarre, but at the same time all in the good fun of the holdiay...

A walk through the graveyard culminated my understanding of the holiday. Everywhere I looked there were beautifully decorated and cared for sites, exhibiting the true colors of Dia de Muertos...

The love and honoring shown clearly in the time these offerings take and the attention to detail...

And yes, it was a lot of continuous, upbeat celebrating. Sometimes you can't help but pass out on a sidewalk...