Friendships in Oaxaca

After leaving friends behind in Zanatepec, on the Pacific coast, …

Esmé, Ben, Mateo and Ethan

… and petting baby parrots …

… we hit the mexican cactus landscape …

… which turned our matresses into Swiss cheese.

We cycled in 5 days from the coast until Oaxaca city. We decided to take the main road (highway 190) which has been a good choice. There had been a road block and we had hardly any traffic and could fully enjoy the landscape and the good road surface.

Once near Oaxaca we visited some impressive tourist sites.

Mitla

Mitla

The largest tree in the world in trunk thickness; more than 2000 years old and 11 meters in diameters – that’s what they say

Monte Alban

Templo Santo Domingo

Templo Santo Domingo

And we found new friends again. Alex has been our warmshowers host in Oaxaca.

And Florent from The Netherlands, whom we met in a Hostel in Oaxaca, took Ben on a daytrip to Hierve el Agua.

copyright Florent Smit

copyright Florent Smit

Friends can be found anywhere. Bye for now!

 

Experience of the sublime

I have been reluctant to write this post. Reluctant, because since our last post we spent much time in Guatemala, which has been physically and mentally tough and challenging. I don’t want my posts being spoiled with negativity but I want to be honest.

Roads have been bad and very often really steep in Guatemala. The steepest we have measured was 23%.


Guatemala is a densely populated country. There are people everywhere. They are very poor (away from the touristic zones where we have cycled) and to me they appeared hard and cold which I attribute to the Guatemalan Civil War from 1960 to 1996. We love traveling by bike among other things because you are not in the bubble of a car or bus but because you are close to nature and the people. You can make contact with passers-by very easily which we hardly managed in Guatemala. Even Ben and Esmé, who normally manage to play with locals within a few minutes, had little enjoyable contact with other children. People shouted Gringo (refers to someone who is from the United States, White American) and as soon as we stopped people surrounded us. Furthermore all day long vehicles honked which was a lot of noise. They stayed on a distance and looked at us, especially the children, like we were monkeys in a zoo. I tried to understand them. I’m pretty sure they have never seen a white child before, but it is tiring to have people staring after a hard day of cycling and I felt frustated and irritated. 


I started to doubt myself and our trip. I felt stressed and, as a result, have been less patient with my children, Peter and myself. I wondered if we would feel better in Mexico again and feared that we wouldn’t.

Besides this tough time we have done something extraordinary as a family. We climbed the highest non-volcanic mountain of Central America: La Torre, 3837 m. After our first night on 3350 m (to get used to the height and see what it does to our bodies) we were able to cycle until 3550 m. Then we pushed the bikes for 7 km and 4 hours on a very bad dirt road to the top. The road was so bad and steep sometimes, that we thought that we would fall back down with bikes and all. Ben walked everything himself, Esmé walked the steep parts herself. On the less steep parts she sat in the Weehoo. We camped on top.

Camping on 3350 m

Still able to cycle on 3400 m

That’s the amount of bread we took with us on this little expedition. Furthermore we carried 2 bags of roasted bread, peanutbutter, chocolate spread, 2 oranges, 1 apple, oats, sugar, 400 gr pasta, 2 onions, garlic, 3 peppers, tomatoe sauce and a lot of water.

Steep and bad dirt road till the top

On top of La Torre

The view in the morning from La Torre

The downhill was easier


Besides this big achievement we had another very nice experience in Guatemala: One day we arrived in the city Chiantla, near Huehuetenango, late in the afternoon. We had to do some shopping and then search for a place to camp. But everything took longer than expected and finally we found ourselves cycling in the dark, something we normally avoid. There are no streetlamps in Guatemala, the road was bad and cars drove like crazy and very often without lights. In short, we were in a dangerous and very unpleasant situation. Suddenly a car stopped and the guy inside offered us to stay in his house tonight. His name was Leonel and he and his wife Dora have been very kind and generous to us. Besides the very nice food Dora made for us we were allowed to stay with them for two more nights and they invited us to the thermal spring Fuentes Georginas near the vulcano Santa Maria.
The negative experiences in Guatemala made me thoughtful. What in fact do I search for by traveling like this that I didn’t find in Guatemala? Recently I read the book “The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton and he uses the term “experience of the sublime”  which he describes as followed: 

The sublime is a feeling provoked by certain kinds of landscape that are very large, very impressive and dangerous. Places like the wide-open oceans, the high mountains, the polar caps. The Sinai Desert, the Grand Canyon. These places do all sorts of things to us. 

This is what I am looking for right now and what I didn’t find in Guatemala. But, luckily, I found it again for several times in Mexico on the Pacific Coast.

For us the sublime can also be experienced with big, old or beautiful trees …

… or by an encounter or gesture of a stranger.


Thanks to Noé from casa de ciclista in Mapastepec and Dane from Chocohuital we enjoyed water, sand and wind on the beach, rivers and in the swimming pool in the last couple of weeks. 


Now we are in Zanatepec with our Warmshowers host Rodrigo, his wife Lupita and their three sons. We decided to cycle along the coast to cover some distance and to enjoy some easier riding. 

​In a couple of days we will start cycling again and leave the hot coast (3 days ago we measured 48 ºC on the road) and cycle inland towards Oaxaca and the vulcanoes. We keep you updated! 

Enterramiento – Funeral of a chicken

After a gentle start from Cancun on highway 307 until Tulum we needed something more adventurous than a well paved, flat road with a broad shoulder. We decided to take road 15 along a peninsula to the small village Punta Allen. From there we took a fishermans boat back to the main land and through Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
On the internet these roads had a bad reputation, “difficult to cycle with big holes in it”. Locals called us crazy, to use this bad road and camp in the jungle full of dangerous animals with two kids but we decided to give it a try. We could always turn around and go back to highway 307. Finally the 130 “horrible” kilometers through Sian Ka’an have been peaceful, beautiful and quiet.
 


In Felipe Carillo Puerto we rested some days at the beautiful campsite Balam Nah of our warmshowers host Bruno at laguna Ocom. The kids enjoyed this beautiful place and till now Ben calls the three little baby dogs there, he was playing with them for two days, his friends and one of the best experiences so far on this trip.


Again we took secondary roads away from the 307 highway and ended up on beautifully paved roads without any traffic. In Petcacab we met the Maya family Gabriela, Narcisso and their son Armando who invited us into their home. Lucky us, four hungry cyclist and all this nice food Gabriela made for us!


The most spectacular has been a chicken prepared in the earth which she called “enterramiento”, burial.


We stayed two days with them but they didn’t want us to leave because there was much more food we had to try. Narcisso earns 12 Euro a day which is a lot according to them. They don’t have mobile phones or internet but still shared everything with us. We offered to pay for food or cook our own meals but they refused which made us feel uncomfortable because we knew that we could pay for all of it much easier than they can. As so often experienced in our previous travels people we call poor in Europe are proud of what they own and like to share it with others. After two days we left with a warm and thankful feeling. It was time to cycle to Chetumal and cross the border to Belize.

Gabriela, Narcisso, Armando (green Tshirt) and some nephews

In Belize we saw our first Maya ruine, Altun Ha. We arrived there late in the afternoon and therefore had a beautiful evening light and little other visitors. We talked for some while with the guards of the park while they closed everything for that day. When we finally left, the sun went down, it got dark and the mosquitoes started their working day. Again we got invited by a family. We could camp in their garden which we were very thankful for. The woman had six children and some grandchildren. Ben and Esmé played the whole evening and the next morning. Already from the beginning of this trip they have been making contact with children everywhere very easily. Poor or rich, white or black, local or tourist, it doesn’t matter for them. Ben also started to talk English and he understands it already very well.


The only problem so far have been the insects. Back in Punta Allen Ben was all over the mosquitoe bites and scratching like crazy. One morning in Sian Ka’an we were having breakfast in a house which sometimes is used for biologists doing research in the jungle. Just when we finished huge ants invaded the outside wall and entered through small holes. We evacuated as quick as possible but all of us got bitten which hurt like crazy. And now, in Belize, we met the sand fly. The working hours of the sand flies are during the day. As soon as we stopped cycling they would start terrorizing us. When the sand fly goes to bed in the evening, the mosquitoe would welcome us. That’s one of the results.


As you maybe can imagine we hardly stopped cycling, only took short brakes, wore clothes with long sleeves (while cycling in 35 degrees Celsius), used all kind of mosquitoe repellent creams, sprays and mosquitoe nets over our heads and in the evening got into our tent as quick as possible. We cycled long days and didn’t take any rest days. We rushed through Belize, hoping that the mosquitoes and sand flies would dissapear when getting into the hills. 

But Belize has been so beautiful! Everybody has been cheerful and friendly and we didn’t feel unsafe. We cycled secondary roads again, the Coastal Highway with its beautiful sand colours and the Hummingbird Highway, finally in the hills.


Unfortunately the sand fly also likes the Hummingbird Highway. We decided to push on until Belmopan, the capital of Belize, to find a hostel and get some rest days. Belmopan was founded as a planned community in 1970 and is one of the newest national capital cities. It is a strange place, no city center or tourist information could be found. The only hotel we have seen was way too expensive for us but, again, we got invited and stayed for one night with a family from Colombia. The next day we left. Thankful, clean and rested we crossed the border into Guatemala. 

Already for months Peter has been in contact with Annie, a German woman living in Poptùn with her husband and children. She invited us to stay with them because her children grow up bilingual but hardly speak German. Lenny and Erik are 6 and 4 years old and for one week playing and fighting 🙂 has been the routine of the day. (Luckily the first more than the second.) Annie showed us around, we did some really nice bike trips and walks. Yesterday Peter succesfully gave our lecture “Cycle touring – A nomadic lifestyle” for the locals here in Spanish. It has been a relaxing, interesting and pleasurable week before we head south-west into the mountains of Guatemala.

Lenny, Ben, Erik and Esmé

Enough for now. We keep you updated. ¡Adios!​​

Sea turtles

We arrived well in Cancun eight days ago. The kids were great on the flight. The whole journey took us 20 hours. 

The next couple of days we had a jetlag (Cancun is six hours behind CET) but after four days our rhythm was back to normal. We explored the beautiful beaches of Cancun, got used to the climate (at the moment it is 30 degrees Celsius here) and cycled a bit without luggage to get a feeling for car drivers in Mexico. They treat cyclists very careful and respectful. During these days we experienced a shark alarm at Playa Delfines and observed a baby Boa snake crossing very slowly our bike path.

After five days in Cancun we cycled in two days (110 km) to Akumal where a friend of Peter has a house. 

And here we are now, in paradise. Thank you Glenda, this is a big early Christmas present for us. We enjoy it a lot. The best experience till now was swimming with sea turtles at Akumal bay. An experience we will probably never forget.

We will stay a couple if days in Akumal and then start cycling towards Chetumal where we will enter Belize.

Countdown

In the last couple of weeks we have been very busy. We repaired bikes, bought spare parts, organized our luggage, thought about what to take with us at least ten times, said goodbye to family and friends, cleaned our apartment, gave an interview to the Tiroler Tageszeitung and so on. We did thousands of other little things we cannot recall because it would be too much to mention.

But now we are almost done. Tomorrow will be our last day in Europe. We will pack the last things and have dinner with our family in the Netherlands. 

Ben and Esmé have been relaxed and easy going most of the time. Like us, they also feel excited about the upcoming journey. Esmé is talking about airplanes a lot. Yesterday, I showed Ben pictures of the coastline and beaches near Cancun but he told me, that he wants to see a volcano. A couple of days ago they had a vaccination they still needed. Unfortunately both if them got really sick afterwards. 

We have been sleeping in many different places in the last weeks, mostly friends, but both the children have had no problems with that. They enjoy meeting and talking to different people. Also travelling (bus, train, airplane) is easy with them. In general Esmé can’t sit still but in certain situations she seems to realize that she has to stay in her seat. For sure we also always prepare a long journey with nice food, new toys, games or stories. These distractions seem to work really well. Hopefully our 12 hour long flight to Mexico, the day after tomorrow, will be doable. We feel positive about it and look forward to lie on the beach very soon. 

Freedom

The bikes and all our camping gear are already in the Netherlands. The house is almost empty, everyday more boxes get filled up with stuff we want to keep, we quit our apartment and prepared our upcoming trip. The road is calling.

25th of November – 6th of December: The Netherlands
7th of December: Flying to Cancún, Mexico

Tuscany

After surgery Peter has been walking, hiking and cycling more and more. We decided to try a tour fully loaded in September. That’s what we did:

800 km, 11000 altimeters

Sillian (AUT) to Bologna (I): Train (1 day)
Bologna to Orbetello: Bike, fully loaded, always wild camping (6 days)
Orbetello: Enjoying the beach and resting (6 days)
Orbetello to Bologna: Bike, fully loaded, always wild camping (6 days)
Bologna (I) to Sillian (AUT): Train (1 day)

Most of the time Peter travelled light, with four panniers and the tent on top of the back panniers.

Petra had four panniers as well, the Weehoo with Ben in it and a little chair in the front with Esmé. Peter calculated, that Petra was pulling 95 kg with this set up (bike, kids, trailer, luggage). Tuscany is extremely hilly and we did a lot of altimeters. Petra managed to cycle 16 % uphill…

… but sometimes she ran out of energy. Luckily Ben and Esmé liked to help pushing the bike.

We visited very beautiful cities (Bologna, Florence, Siena) and saw a lot of nice little villages. Culture in Tuscany is very impressive and extremely rich.

Ben and Esmé enjoyed cycling a lot. Looking around, singing songs and watching the world passing by are their favourite activities. When taking a break or wild camping they liked to play with stones, sticks and plants. Ben loved every aspect of being on tour. Esmé was a little bit grumpy in the morning. She was probably very hungry and it took too long to get breakfast ready. Furthermore she didn’t eat the Italian white, hard bread with no salt in it. She found it more difficult to play in nature.

One of the things why we enjoy touring so much are beautiful wild camping spots.

One day we had some rain late in the afternoon and we asked at a small farm if we were allowed to wait under a little roof until the rain passes. The old farmer and his wife were extremely friendly. We were allowed to camp in their garden, they provided us with fuel for our stove, gave us food and helped us repairing a broken tent pole. Furthermore they had a lot of toys from their grandchildren which Ben and Esmé were allowed to use. Perfect!

Esmé is still sleeping in the afternoon and we were searching for a solution to make her sleep as comfortable as possible in the chair. The Bobike chair we use has a little cushion on which her head can rest, but it is too small and her head keeps rolling off the cushion continuously. The first days she slept only about half an hour due to this problem. Finally Petra made the cushion a little bit bigger by using her fleece vest which was much more comfortable for Esmé. With this system Esmé slept about an hour every day which was enough.

From Sillian to Bologna and from Bologna back to Sillian we used the train. This caused some pressure, because we had booked our tickets already before we left home. We had to cycle with a schedule which we never like to do. Google maps calculated that from Bologna to Orbetello it was 280 km but it took us 420 km (!!!) to get there and we had 6 days. We had to cycle a lot, with a lot of altimeters. On our way back we cycled 350 km and still a lot up and down. We were very tired and had not so much time to, for example, play with the kids.

Going with bikes and kids and trailers and bags in the train is always a moment of stress. The kids get bored at a certain point and we always have to plan the trip with enough time to change train. On our way back we had a very aggressive and unpleasant experience with the conductor. We made a reservation only for two bikes but according to him we should have made a reservation for the trailer too. We regularly use the train with the bikes in Austria and Italy and never payed for the trailer before. The conductor took our bikes, put them into the train and left the trailer outside. He wanted to close the door and let the train leave but Peter put his foot in between and went out of the train again. We discussed for some minutes but the guy was not thinking of a solution at all. At a certain point Petra went to the second conductor and explained the problem: We have to take the Weehoo with us. In the meanwhile Peter was still with the angry conductor, put all our bags in the train and the trailer. Ben was hysterically running through the train: “The conductor doesn’t want to take my trailer!” The two conductors and Peter discussed a little bit more. After Peters words “You only tell us the rules but don’t think of a solution.” and 10 Euro we were allowed to stay in the train. (In the next few hours there were more cyclists taking this train and the conductor kept being difficult about their bikes.)

Conclusion: Nice weather, beautiful cities and villages, nice camping spots, a lot of kilometers and altimeters and some problems with taking a train … Peters back seems to be strong enough to tour again but we still have to be very careful.