Woah, I am getting into pretty bad habits with this blog. Instead I’ve been working on creating this new website, it’s still a work in progress, but I reckon it looks a lot better already. Thanks Danny Fitz for the technical help. I have this sad feeling that I may forget some of the small, funny, interesting details by leaving it too long between posts, I hope not.
you can view the pictures that belong with this post here.
4th October – Rizo de Oro – Cintalapa
The night of my birthday we slept under a shelter next to the home / cafe of an old lady in the village of Rizo de Oro. I think I had been full of excitement about it being my birthday, and we’d spent the previous evening laughing and being silly that I was too awake to sleep, so I woke up the following morning feeling as though I was running on empty. Leah was feeling the same, she had been having a dodgy tummy, and things didn’t seem to be getting better for her. We made coffee on our stove and shared it with the old lady, she was really excited that we had bought coffee from a small town not too far away, and was keen to try it. She said we were welcome to stay another day if we liked, people’s hospitality never ceases to warm our hearts.
We looked at the map and decided to shoot for a town only 50 flat km away. And so we cycled, through perfectly nice but fairly uninspiring countryside. We took a break to buy some luminous fizzy drink at a road side cafe, the family sat down and started talking to us. They were very sweet and offered us glasses of Pozol. This is yet another regional speciality maize drink. This stuff is served cold and you are given a spoon to eat up the last bits of ground maize at the end. The man insisted it was really great for energy and vitamins. After a while it transpired that Ben, the Canadian cyclist we had met a week ago had stopped there too, pitching his tent there for the night.
We arrived in Cintalapa and ended up getting the cheapest place we could find, 100pesos, £5 for a room. It was a place where you could pay by the hour if you wanted. As soon as we moved our bags into the room we realised the place was even more horrible than we first realised. There was no sheet on the bed, just a blanket, so we had to put our tent linings down on the bed, and then rest our roll mats over the top, there was no way I wanted my body to touch that surface. There was also no running water, which isnt too unusual. Even so the method for washing is to use the big barrel of water and take a smaller bucket to then pour over yourself. We were feeling pretty tired and we’d spent the last 5okm dreaming of a place to relax, but suddenly we both had enough energy to want to explore the town, rather than hang out there. The guy who owned the place was odd and seedy, the following morning we saw him walking around in his boxers, not leaving much to the imagination. The had all these caged birds and plants in the corridor of the place, and then we realised there was caged squirrels too. They seemed so distressed that they had been biting each other bald, totally horrible and Leah deliberated for ages about setting them free. After that day whenever something bad happened, like us getting poorly, Leah would say that the evil man in the hotel had cast a spell on us. A day later I developed a fungal foot infection. It could be due to always being caught in the rain and constantly having wet feet, or it could be from that place. Either way I now own flip flops and intend never to let my feet touch the floor in horrible showers ever again.
5th October – Cintalapa to Tuxtla
I have very few memories of this ride, it was pretty unremarkable, and we made it to the capital of Chiapas before dark. The capital of the state of Chiapas is the kind of place that backpackers just consider as a ‘bus change over’ between Oaxaca and San Cristobal. Mexican hospitality as it is- the friend of a friend of a friend had agreed to host us. Salvador was sweet, but sort of nervy, he owned a pet shop and really really loved cats. That night as we cycled to his house we realised that the Lucha Libre was on at the local stadium. Leah loves the Lucha so much, so we quickly changed clothes, ate tacos and headed to the stadium, it was no way as fun as the times we had been in Mexico City and Guadalajara, but still, fun!
6th October – Tuxtla
The strange event of searching for a GPS tracker
We use a devise called a SPOT tracker which tracks our whereabouts down to the nearest 10metres, sending satellite signals which can be viewed by anyone who has access to our SPOT website. Each night we hit a button which then sends and email to 10 of our nearest and dearest, letting them know exactly where we have stopped for the night. This is fun as Leah’s Grandpa will often research the place for us, sending us little facts, or my mum will google earth the place, telling me she knows the colour of the building we are staying in. BUT WE LOST THE SPOT! The case it came in was falling apart and it fell of the bike without us realising. We looked up its whereabouts on the internet and tried scouring the street to look, Salvador was so patient, driving us around. We returned to the house to look on the internet and the location had changed, it seemed as though someone had picked it up and was carrying it around. We decided to make posters, offering a reward and then put them up in the exact part of the street that the SPOT had been. Then it’s location changed again which led us to some drunks of a street corner, they said that they recognised the picture of the devise and one of their friends had had it, a guy wearing a gnome hat. The drunks motivated by the reward heading off to hunt down their friend with the gnome hat, and indeed as we drove around that part of town we saw them in stomping around trying to track down the guy. This seemed like a really surreal way to spend a day, but we really wanted our spot back, and know how important is it to our families, so we tired as hard as we could. Sadly no one ever called us about it. Luckily the company agreed to send us a new one, and it’s currently waiting for us in Antigua Guatemala.
The day wasn’t completely wasted and we headed up on a drive to go check out the canyon de Sumidero which was pretty impressive.
6th October – Tuxtla to Chiapas de Corzo
We were pretty lazy about leaving Salvador’s house that day, Leah still didn’t feel so great either. We made a plan to cycle just 15km to the town of Chiapas del Corzo, making it easier to start the notoriously hard ride up to San Cristobal de las Casas.
7th October – Chiapas de Corzo.
We knew that the ride up to San Cristobal was going to be hard, and Leah still didn’t feel so great, so we decided to stick around another day in Chiapas de Corzo. This would also give us a chance to check out the canyon from a boat, as we’d only seen it previously from the top. Although the canyon is spectacular it was for me a trip which left me feeling pretty dejected. There was so much rubbish in the river, so many plastic bottles that it really shattered the sense of vast beauty that I had felt from seeing the canyon from above. It also summed up the reality of Mexico for me. Although we take many beautiful pictures there is also a lot of rubbish on the side of the roads, there is a lack of bins for people to get rid of rubbish, and bin men only seem to exist in big cities, so it’s hard to blame people really when they aren’t given the resources to dispose of their rubbish.
7th October Chiapas de Corzo to San Cristobal de las Casas
This is a ride which sees you climb 2000m above sea level in a single day, seeing a pretty dramatic change in about 10degrees Celsius in temperature. We were sort of keen to make it up the mountain in one day and we were presented with two choices: take the toll road which is only 50km but a lot steeper, or take the free road which is about 80km but goes at a less gradient. We opted for the later, another motivation is that the free road passes through villages so we would have the opportunity to buy food and water if we needed.
We loved this ride. We were lucky that it wasn’t a hot day and we headed up into the clouds and mist. If it had been hot as our cyclist friend Johanne had told us the previous day had been I don’t think we would have found it a lot harder. Anyway, we couldn’t really see each other a few metres ahead, so our bikes lights came in handy. We stopped to buy cobs of corn ‘elote’ for women on the side of the road, speaking a lyrical sounding indigenous language. We made it to San Cristobal, our knees in agony, soaked from the rain, tired but happy. That night we slept in the most comfortable bed we had experienced in Mexico at the Puerta Vieja Hostel.
the view from my bed at the hostel
8th October – 14th October – San Cristobal de las Casas
This was the kind of town that people travels tend to stay longer than expected, pretty high above sea level the colder climate is appealing to travellers who have spent a long time at the beach, there is a real charm about this place which makes it an easy place to want to relax, take some time and drink lots and lots of Chiapas coffee. We were so lucky that we had spent a week staying at the hostel for free, one of the owners Danny was on couch surfing and said we could stay. I loved this place, the beds were so comfortable that they seemed like a daily topic of conversation, we were provided with pancakes with fruit and yoghurt every morning. Everyone who was staying there was really sweet, and seemed to be taking there time to travel which was nice, as in other hostels we have stayed in people seemed to be in a big rush.
During our time in San Cristobal we spent some days wandering the endless market, I spent some days working on making this new blog site. We also visited the town of Chamula. Here there is a Catholic church, that also leans pretty heavily towards some of the practices of the indigenous community, there is a shaman in the church and people make sacrifices with chicken there. Praying is done in chants and sways, there is pine on the floors and lots of smoke and incense.
So, it’s known in Mexico that fruit and veg should be approached with caution and washed thoroughly as there tend to be lots of parasites on food. You can also catch parasites from lack of hand washing. Being on a bike tour means we can’t always wash food that well, we can’t always wash our hands, and alcohol gel I don’t think really counts. We also eat a lot of street food. And this is probably why we have both had a number of episodes of illness. I spoke to one of our Mexican friends about this, he said that he does a parasite cleanse every 6 months to kill the parasites. Apparently 80% of Mexicans have parasites. I thought as we were about to enter a new country this would be a good time to try and kill of any bugs that were living inside me. So all I needed to do was take a pill and year, it helps clear the parasites out of you. Sadly I lost a day of my life to the process, I got a fever which is one of the symptoms, this meant I missed a pretty fun party in the hostel, sadly. I still don’t know how or if this cleanse works, but I gave it a try.
14th October San Cristobal to Palenque (on bus)
During our time in Chiapas we took a 7 hour bus trip to the Mayan ruins of Palenque. We were accompanied by Johanne, the Belgian girl we had met a few weeks before in Oaxaca, she had been doing a combination of buses, biking and flying. We camped in the jungle, woken by monkies and wandered the amazing ruins, so special.
15th Palenque to Ocosingo
16th Ocosingo to San Cristobal (on bus)
On our way back to San Cristobal we decided to head to Ocosingo to visit the ruins of Tonina. This is a a EZLN heart land, and some of the big events in the history of the Zapatista movement occurred. This was still pretty strong, all the taxis in the town had the Zapatista logos and many of the small villages operate as autonomous communities. Tonina ruins were fascinating, really different to Palenque and think the towns used to have wars back in the day, in stark contrast to Palenque there were no other tourists there, which made us appreciate things even more.
17th – 18th October San Cristobal de las Casas
We took a few more days in San Cristobal to prepare to leave, this being our last stop in Mexico there were a few things to buy, bike repairs to do etc. We had tired to leave San Cristobal on the 18th but I had some problems with my bike, the mechanic at the pura bici hostel had lost the super link of my chain, this meant that as we were 10km out of San Cristobal the chain snapped, as we had to head back to buy a new one. Note to cyclists: do not trust your bike with this butter fingered stoner.
19th October San Cristobal to Comitan
20th October – Comitan
On the morning we left San Cristobal we bumped in to bici clown This guy is an absolute legend in the bike touring community. He has been on the road for 9 years, spreading happiness through his clowning. He has written several books and made many documentaries. We only had a short time together but some of the tips he gave us were really valuable and he was so humble, earnest and just honestly good. He’s only a few days behind us so I hope we meet him at some point again on our journey south. During our time in San Cristobal we also met an Argentinian couple who are heading the same way as us. It’s exciting to meet other cyclists and I am sure we will continue to meet more as we now continue on the PanAmerican Highway.
We cycled down towards Comitan in the rain. I didn’t know much about this town but they have a pretty impressive Colonial old town. We stayed with Ignacio and Kristina via couchsurfing who were a kind, relaxed and fun couple. The following morning we were all packed and about to head out, when the invited us to come and do some climbing with them, and then go swimming in a cenote, we expected this would be our last day in Mexico, but Mexico had different plans for us.
21st October Comitan to Lagos Colon
Leaving Comitan down to the border was more or less down hill, we had made the plan to get to the border town of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc stay the night and then cross the border at the crack of dawn, but as we got closer we realised we were going to arrive really early, we saw a sign for a lake about 10km off the road, so decided to take a detour, being informed by a local that we could camp there. Arriving at the lakes we swam, walked in the forest and had a quick peek at a Mayan ruin built on an island on the lake. That night it rained really heavily so a family let us camp under their roof, bring us cafe de olla (weak sugary coffee, just meaning coffee of the pan, it’s so weak it’s drunk by babies, and normally drunk before bed, even so, I poured mine into my flask for the morning).
22nd October Lagos Colon to somewhere in Guatemala, 50km from Huehuetenango
We woke at 5am to get on the road early, contentedly cycling through fields, tropical forests and stopping to eat an amazing breakfast of Mexican eggs, beans and tortillas. I had expected Ciudad Cuauhtemoc to be pretty seedy but it was fine, you wouldn’t have known it was a border town. Leah and I took it in turns to go into the immigration office to get our passports stamped out, we were both solom and quiet and I had to put all of my efforts in to not blubbering all over the immigration officer. And that was that, we cycled along the road, towards the actual border, stamping in to Guatemala in very much the same way as we had entered Mexico exactly 5 months and 1 week previously. And with that we crossed our second border and entered Central America, and a new chapter begins. We continue to pine for our beloved Mexico, a summary of Mexico will arrive soon, as will cycle tales of Guatemala.
In the words of my friend and world cycle traveller Phil, ‘tailwinds and all that’.
- Maps are paper dreams
- Mexico, the feelings