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 ...

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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...

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...