Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City, Belize

The English started in Tikal actually. We held a conversation with a Belizean who was currently working in Guatemala. You never want to admit that you miss speaking English, but after almost 7 weeks you understand, and appreciate, the importance of vocal communication. The road was supposed to be paved all the way to the Belizean border. You know how that goes. So after waking up at 430am, pedaling 75 miles, some on unpaved roads, and crossing another international border we ended up San Ignacio, Belize.

For me, this was it. This was the city I pictured myself riding into and ‘being there’. It was it. Despite our hunger, I had to take a minute and pause at one particular intersection that held some personal importance. It was the defining moment of the trip. That point of emotion right in between laughing and crying. I rode on towards the city center and I looked down at my gloved hands on my handlebars, as I had been doing for the last 7 weeks, and it felt so dramatic. All I had done was ride my bike, but it was two worlds coming together for me. I had spent a couple of months in Belize almost two years ago, and it was then that I dreamed up this trip. This was a time for recollection. I had learned an immense amount about myself and about life in the last two years. Here I was looking at the same place, but through different eyes. I wasn’t expecting this, but I felt as though something that had been nagging me was now gone. Long-term goals are not a regular part of my life so the excitement of completing one was unexpected.

The night in San Ignacio was full of emotions. Justin was ecstatic to eat a curry dish. Both of us enjoyed the English dialogue and the props we were given by all the Belizeans hanging out. We spent hours just chillin in front of a restaurant on the main street talking with all sorts of people about all sorts of things…but not all of the emotions that Belize brought back were positive, enough so that I ended up not eating dinner…..anyway we ended up not camping at the SDA hospital like we had planned, partly cause of the weather and partly cause of the US$7 room we scored. We had to fight off people trying to get us to smoke pot, but it was worth it.

The end of the trip wouldn’t be without its complications; none of the ATMs in town would take our bankcards. We spent the last of our money on peanut butter and white bread (actually bread! not tortillas!) and headed towards the capital city of Belmopan where rumor had it a bank existed that could give us money. Along the way we stopped to soak our heads from a faucet of a local farmer who had a business proposition for us: Apparently it is lucrative to buy pick-up trucks in the USA and drive them to Belize and sell them for much more. A possible new source of income? Email me if you want in.

We spent the night 33 miles outside of Belize City at the Monkey Bay environmental reserve. In the morning we talked with a young Brit who was full of stories of her travels in Cuba, Turkey, and the Middle East. The wheels are spinning for another trip before this one is even complete. The last 30 miles went by fast as could be. We got a fist and a ‘welcome to Belize’ from a government worker just outside of the city that brought it into perspective. ‘Welcome to Belize’. The end is here. Pictures in front of the Atlantic Ocean confirm it. The details of our last day in Belize are trivial. I went to visit some old friends, we packed our bikes up, shopped around a bit, and just plain ole chilled.

The next day, September 12th, we hitchhiked to the airport with our bikes and then skirted the $80 fee for bikes by telling them it was camping equipment. We bought our last cokes and fried plantains and boarded the plane. This time when I left Belize there was no one to wave good-bye to, which made the finality of my trip all the more extreme. We kicked back our seats, put on our headphones, and took the easy way back to the states.

Tuxtla Guiterrez, Mexico to Tikal, Guatemala

Riding my bike through Chiapas has been on my mind for almost two years. Since I first visited this part of the world I imagined riding my bike through here. Truly fascinating.

After Justin recovered (mostly) from his Montezuma’s revenge we left Tuxtla for ‘the climb’, 4500 ft elevation gain over 50 miles. 30 of them being uphill. Imagine it this way: That is higher than 3 sears towers stacked on top of each other. Now picture a 30-mile road circling its way around to the top of the third building. That was our climb to San Cristobal de Las Casas. My props go to Justin for doing two days after shitting 13 times in 8 hours (I wonder if he wanted me to divulge that information?). In San Cristobal we were chillin in the zocalo eating churros when a kid came up to us and talked bikes. He ended up taking us to a ‘hotel’ that was more of a chill spot for hippies that a real hotel. There wasn’t even a sign! It was perfect for this city, its got such a cool vibe with the mix of old buildings, locals, hippie travelers, zapatoristas, and indigenous people from the surrounding villages. We had to cancel the day off here but spent most of the next morning chillin around. I got my beard shaved off for a dollar. Justin shopped around for some Zapatista dolls. Drank tamarindo juice and hung out with some other travelers. You know, the usual.

Out of San Cristobal we had some climbs and it rained for the entire day. Such stunning views. We finished the day in Ocosingo because it got to dark to make it to the Tonina ruins just outside of the city. Ocosingo was one of the cities the Zapatistas took over in their uprising on January 1st, 1994. The notoriously brutal governor was sentenced in a Zapatista trial to serve 25 years peasant labor. Of course the uprising was smashed and there is nothing there to show it ever happened; but just knowing something like that gave the town some energy.

Palenque is a ruin site in the eastern part of the state of Chiapas. It is best known for its jungle setting and close proximity of tall structures. After a long day of up and down hills Justin’s bike exploded. I wont go into details, but we needed a bike shop quick. Roll into the city and they are all closed. We head to the ruins and its dark by the time we get close to the restaurant/hotel we are looking for outside the entrance to the ruins. Its late, JC’s bummed on his broken bike, and then the vegetarian restaurant is closed. Both of us are bummed and grumpy sitting in the dark. Then these German girls roll up looking for the previously mentioned eatery. Justin is instantly cheered up by the female presence. I decide to apply some Mexican learned knowledge and not trust the ‘closed’ sign. I search back through and find the restaurant; sure enough open and filled with hippies. Perfect! We eat some curry, which is mediocre, yet amazing. We hadn’t eaten curry in almost two months so the taste was new again. yum yum. We barter for a place to stay and decide to sleep in the covered hammock section and save the $2 by sleeping on the floor. Bugs in the jungle? I guess there were some but we still slept in shorts and no shirt. In the morning we got our culture on, fixed JC’s bike at a shop, bought our plane tickets, and headed south towards the Lacandon jungle.

“Whoa look an Adventist church!” It was a small village on a hillside that was fighting back the encroaching jungle. I enquired about sleeping there and they told me it was occupied and to check with the teacher of the school. We worked it out to sleep on the floor of the one room school building. This village, called Nuevo Canan, had so many kids! What was different here was that almost no adults came over to hang out with us. Just JC, me, and 15 or so kids aged 6-16. It was one of those moments on this trip that I look back on and smile. I can’t even think of what to type about it that would hold your interest, but to me those memories remind me of why I took a trip like this.

In the morning we pedaled our final miles in Mexico. It was sad to leave the country we had spent so much time. We had seen more of the country than most Mexicans probably see in their entire life. Even though a border is an imaginary line we were nervous about crossing it. What would Guatemala be like? We bargained the boat-crossing fee, got our exit stamp in our passports and headed to Guatemala. Instantly different. We were merely across a river, but to us it was all new. We hung out at the bus station/immigration/store building with some guys and decided to stay the night. We found a ‘hotel’ that consisted of some wooden shacks behind a house and called it home for the night.

Lesson learned from Guatemala: roads that are shown on the map as ‘seasonal paths’ are not a good choice for bike touring. It would of been difficult on an empty mountain bike. On a fully loaded touring bike it was hell. Big ass rocks kept our speed around 4 miles per hour. We did 30 miles in 8 hours. Justin and me wanted to kill each other. 4 flats. About 2 hours of daylight left. So when the truck pulled over and offered a ride we got in. 12 miles later we got dropped off in the ‘big’ town and got supplies. 10 more patience-building miles and we hit pavement. It was almost dark but we had to crush to La Libertad, the next biggest town. Pavement was so fast, we hammered out the 15 miles in no time. Ate some Salvadorian food that I wont even attempt to spell, and drank some new types of juice. Guatemala is going great so far.

Tikal is the most well known ruins in Central America and right fully so. On the other hand they are expensive and filled with tourists. We paid $8 to get in and $6 to sleep in a hammock. We talked with some Swiss girls and the plan was set to wake up at 430am. Yeah, apparently the thing to do is walk to the structure on the far side of the park, climb up it above the canopy of the jungle, and watch the sunrise. So after a restless night filled with a blackout, screaming Frenchies, frantic guards, animals trying to get to our food, and the loudest thunderstorm ever we walked in the dark towards tower IV. Sitting on a 1200-year-old building, watching the sunrise from the mist over the jungle was a great location for taking this whole trip in perspective. “I rode my bike here…..I bet there are some other pretty cool places to ride my bike to….”

Mexico City to Tuxtla Guiterrez, Chiapas

The 10 days to Chiapas from D.F. have been filled with such diversity. This is the Mexico that I have been so excited to ride through. The autopista (the toll way) ended in Oaxaca city, so since that point we have been riding through the only main road in these parts. Its great because it goes right through the small towns and villages, but a lot of times there is no shoulder and it seems to go over every mountain possible.

The night before we reached Oaxaca city we camped off of the side of the autopista. It had been raining for a couple of hours, but this was the first time it was raining as it was getting dark. We found a nice place to camp and set up my tent in the rain. Then we unpacked our bikes in the rain. Then we cooked and ate dinner in the rain. Then we brushed our teeth in the rain and then got in the tent and slept through the night while it rained. You know that you have gotten use to your environment when you no longer notice the negative aspects. I mean, there we were, on the side of the road, cooking our dinner in the rain and it seemed perfectly normal. Good thing for quality rain gear.

Oaxaca city is beautiful, despite how touristy it is. This was my second time there, so I knew where to head. JC headed out to visit the Monte Albun Ruins, which are definitely worth a visit, and I explored the Ricardo Flores Magon Cultural center. They had a small exhibit from a local artist, which wasn’t as good as the exhibit on punk last time I was there, but good nonetheless. Later I stumbled into a free indy cinema that was showing free short films from all over Latin America. One was about a guy in prison in Mexico and another was about this crazy healing ‘doctor’ in Cuba who heals people by pulling on them and slapping them around. Some of the other films I have no idea what they were about. JC and me met up later on, comparing stories mostly about all the food we had consumed throughout the day. I am a street vendors dream. I ask what it is, what’s in it, then more often than not, I buy it. yum.

After Oaxaca city you are in a whole different Mexico. The Spanish is different. The food is different. The site of two gringos on bikes is much more of a scene. The first day out of the city we had a large climb, then an 11-mile downhill complete with switchbacks and banked curves. About half way down I got a flat, to the delight of an entire construction crew. I pulled over to fix it, and next thing I know there are 18 people gathered around me! First it was strange when I realized that they were about 15 on average, than even stranger when not one of them said a word to me. All just quietly and patiently watched me change a tube. I initiated conversation a bit, but only the foreman, the only one over 20, spoke with me. I finished, said adios, and they all said ‘adios’ in unison. A mile later I caught up with JC, we rolled through a military checkpoint, and into one the restaurant/store/house deals that we so often see. There’s where our next adventure began.

They ask the usual questions, then ask where we are going ahorita (right now), we say we don’t know, they laugh, then invite us to sleep there. The local drunk guy was in perfect form. Saying all sorts of crazy things. ‘Whose better George Bush or Osama Bin Laden?’, ‘Eating chilies will make you ride faster’, ‘You need to have a girl for the mountains cause its cold there’. He also insisted on asking us if we were gay about 1000 times. Anyway, we cooked dinner amidst 20 questions about food and my stove, then hung out with the family and some of the 15 yr old construction workers. Around 1030 we decide to go to sleep. Well, that plan didn’t work out to well. Apparently people in Mexico don’t sleep. The construction kids were up till well past 130am firing down beers and the women of the house were outside mopping before 530am. Amazing. We said our goodbyes after buying some fruit and water and rolled off into another strange day.

We spent the next night in a community center in a village that isn’t even on my map. We enquired about a place to sleep and everyone directed us to El Centro de municipal like it was perfectly normal for two gringos to roll in on bikes and sleep there. One of the workers, showed us to a storage room, opened the windows, and showed us where the bathroom was. It was so odd for it to seem so routine to house touring cyclists. The center was a beehive. The women had a volleyball game going, kids on bikes we were everywhere, tons of the men hanging out, teenagers playing basketball. We cooked dinner in the mix of it all, where we were the ridicule of the men near us. ‘That looks like dog food’, ‘Soybeans make your penis go limp’, and ‘you look like a rooster with that haircut’. Its good to know that even in Mexico I am made fun of for what I eat and look like! Most people were cool, and we ended up playing basketball and hanging out pretty late.

So there we are, pedaling along through the isthmus of tehuantepec, when things got weird. First we lost the shoulder when our highway split from the 185 highway. Then the trucks and the people we passed weren’t so friendly. The sky became overcast. Next thing we see is a man on the side of the road waving for us to stop. We evaluate the situation, he is with a women, has a nicer truck with a license plate, and is dressed casually. We pull over. He asks about our Spanish, we respond, ‘Si, hablamos un poco’, and he starts ranting and raving ultra fast about how dangerous it is where we are. We got him to slow down, and he tells us where we are is very poor and that there has been a string of assaults recently. Some bandits held up a gas truck not too long ago. We ask about camping and he says absolutely not. He is from San Cristobal, Chiapas and offers to drive us there. We politely decline. He says good-bye and we get back to riding.

Now it is getting darker and looks like it will rain. Tension increases and we start look at everyone with a little fear. This feeling had not been a part of this trip at all. We decide to hurry onto the next village. When we roll in we get some odd looks instead of the usual smile and friendly greetings. In the store the woman says she knows of no such place to sleep. Little kids ride bye without laughing or saying hello. What the hell is going on? Then the woman comes out and suggests the centro de salud, or the health center. Perfect. We gun it to there. Inside a very friendly woman in her 20’s sees our bikes and understands our questions in broken Spanish. She takes us to see the ‘Commadante’ of the village. He happens to be across the street with a bunch of people. I told her that I study nutrition and she misunderstood and introduces me as a student of medicine. Oops. We clarify and the Commadante and the local doctor are very helpful. They tell us there is a Dengue Fever epidemic and that we have to sleep inside.

Next think I know, we are in the back of a pick-up truck with our bikes and about 6 men with rifles. They take us to an empty house, unlock it, show us around, and then leave. They also told us they would guard the house throughout the night. Suddenly we have an entire house to ourselves! Unbelievable. Sometimes I can’t even believe the situations I end up in. So we spend the night on the floor of this house, hoping to not catch dengue fever. In the morning we took pictures of the various animals who made their home on this property and went back to el centro de salud to thank them and because I wanted their address. The Doctora who helped us the night before was again very friendly and happy to give me the address. Then she gave me her personal email. Nice. We left happy and pedaled off through the danger zone into Chiapas.

We had a 12-mile climb into the state of Chiapas and it was one of the most memorable experiences of this entire trip. It started ultra hot and humid. Within a couple of miles it started getting dark and raining. It felt so nice. So nice that we didn’t bother with rain gear. Then it started down pouring! oops. We at least got our jackets on and kept going up. Huge streams of water were rushing down the road. Then we turned a corner and there was a flash flood! It was coming off the mountain to our left, running across the road, and into the valley on the right. At first we road, then it got to deep and the current too strong. We had to carry our bikes through the rushing water while trying to avoid rocks tumbling down the mountain through the water. We took our time because there was no guardrail, there was nothing, to our right to prevent us from falling off the road into the valley if we would of slipped. Amazing. We eventually got to the top where the state of Chiapas welcomed us. It was a very important moment for me because riding to Chiapas has been on my mind for so long. And now here I am. Successfully have ridden my bike here. We asked in the first village about sleeping and they directed us to a hotel 8 kilometers further on. We got charged a gringo fee, but it was worth to be able to dry our stuff and cook out of the rain. Also gave us a chance to empty the 5-inch puddles from our panniers.

After some more climbs and a beautiful descent into the valley we are in the capital city of Tuxtla Guiterrez. We’ve done the usual, eat at the vegetarian restaurant, hang out in the zocolo, listen to our favorite song by the band ketchup, and eat lots of street food. Unfortunately, JC has come down with what every gringo fears when traveling: The runs. Long morning in the bathroom for JC means today is a day off. We got him some medicine (no prescription needed and it cost less than $4!! The USA could learn a lot from Mexico when it comes to health care…) and ahorita he is sleeping in the hotel room. Tomorrow we hope to embark on the 30-mile uphill climb to San Cristobal de Las Casas. After that we have an eventful week seeing giant ruins, two more countries, and the tropical rain forest. Wow, this trip is actually winding down. Just hope that JC feels better soon. More updates soon!