Bear country

Time for a new blogpost. 

Canada is great. It is green here, there is a lot of water everywhere (we can drink the creekwater without filtering it!), it is wide, calm and wild and we are here exactly at the right moment when the bears are around.


Oh no, not that one. This one:


This is mister black bear and we met him on our second day of cycling, just before Whistler. We have had eight bear encounters so far. The closest one was today. Peter and Esmé went to the Millenium Park here in Castlegar to have a swim. Peter was sitting on a bench and suddenly Esmé said: “Look, a bear!” Peter turned around and mister bear got frightened and ran off. He was only two meters away from Peter and Esmé. Normally we do carry a bear spray, just in case one would attack us, but in a town at a playground Peter did not expect one. Anyway, this one was clearly not interested in the chewy meat of cyclists. Furthermore Esmé is very funny with bears. When we see one she would say: “Come on, let’s go there!” As if we were in a zoo or she wanted to cuddle it. Peter and I feel releaved when we are far away from it again.


This is what you should do with your food when wild camping in bear country. Hang everything that smells in a tree, also your toothpaste and trash. It is a little adjustment we had to get used to, especially in the evening. The kids now can’t eat anything anymore after dinner, also not if they are hungry. Food has to be cooked at 100m distance from the tent and also the teeth have to be brushed there, to avoid a bear coming to the tent. It is a little hassle and slows us down in the evening and the morning.

We have done some rough routes already, though none of them has been as tough as in Guatemala or Mexico. In general the dirtroads are very good and the climbs are not too steep.

This was the logging road along Lillooet Lake and Harrison Lake:


We did parts of the Kettle valley railway, an old railway which now is a recreational path. It is about 600km long. The old railway bridges and tunnels have been a lot of fun, especially for the kids, but unfortunately the surface of the trail is often very bad. It has just a little bit too much sand or rocks on it to make it uncomfortable to cycle on it with the weight we carry. But the views have been great and there is no traffic there:

Besides bearspotting …


… and relaxing …


… Ben is busy constructing huts in the forest …


… and making campfires. This is the first campfire he made and kept going himself:


Peter enjoys beautiful views during walks on restdays …


… and feeds baby raccoons who lost their mum:


Esmé just got her own Weehoo (she outgrew the childseat at the back of Peter’s bike) and she loves it! 


And I? I enjoy taking those pictures and sharing them with you. 🙂

Two different worlds

During our last days in Mexico we went to see one more tourist attraction: the archaeological site Teotihuacan. 


The kids love climbing pyramids and they love to fly. Ben and Esmé were talking about the airplane already for weeks. The excitment grew with every day while buying boxes for the bikes, packing everything, driving to the airport and waiting for a long, long time. But finally they could take a seat in the airplane.

After the touchdown the officers at immigrations gave us a little bit of a hard time. We were interviewed twice (at 10 pm with two tired kids!), they wanted to reassure that we don’t plan to work in Canada, and our two apples were thrown away because it is absolutely forbidden to bring fresh fruits into the country. Finally we got our stamps and now we are allowed to stay in Canada for 6 months. 

This time we didn’t had a jetlag, the time difference was only two hours, but, as expected, it was very strange to be in a rich country again. In Canada you can actually throw the toiletpaper in the toilet and flush it away (“Why can you do that here mommy? That is strange.”) and where foodprices are three times higher than in Mexico. 

The following pictures are an attempt to explain this cultureshock.

left: Central America; right: Vancouver





That is it for now. We stayed in Vancouver for 11 days, to buy new shoes for the children, get some spareparts and second hand clothes, meet some old and new friends and to get a 6 month visa for the USA. The interview at the U.S. consulate was relaxed and easy and we got the visa! Tomorrow we will start cycling again. We look forward to it and Esmé is already planning who is sleeping next to each other in the tent. 🙂

Volcanoes

From the very beginning, when we booked our flight to Cancun, seeing volcanoes, maybe hiking on some of them, has been a big wish of all of us. In the last couple of weeks we were able to fullfill this wish.

Sierra Negra (4580 m) and Pico de Orizaba (highest mountain of Mexico, 5636m)

 
Sierra Negra and Pico de Orizaba have been first. In between those two volcanoes leads a road up until 4000 m. We cycled, pushed and walked up in two days. We slept on 3500 m the first night to make sure to acclimatize well. Once on 4000 m Peter walked down to the last village to buy food and water for five days. He payed somebody to drive him back up to our camp.

In those five days Peter reached the summit of both mountains and Ben and I reached the summit of Sierra Negra. Ben walked everything himself from our camp on 4000m until the summit. It took him 7 hours. He was very happy to see the huge telescope on the summit. 


The first two days Ben sometimes had a headache and difficulties breathing but as soon as he lied down it was over. Therefore we have not been too concerned and stayed. On the last day, when Ben reached the summit of Sierra Negra, he was completely acclimatized and had no problems at all.

Cycling down the dirt road on the other side of the pass has been an interesting story too. Because of the dry season the earth was extremely dry with a lot of sand and dust on the road. 


After the downhill Ben looked like this:


Once down in Ciudad Serdan we stopped at the main square to buy fresh food (we have been eating cookies, old bread and hardly any fruits or vegetables for some days) and get rid of the sand and dust in our shoes and on our clothes and panniers. Suddenly a woman came to talk with us. Maria Remedios (73) invited us to her house, offered us to have a shower, a bed, food and she washed our clothes by hand for two (!!!) hours. I felt very thankful and happy for everything. 

Our angel Maria Remedios


Next volcanoe to visit was La Malinche with 4461m. This time we stayed on a campside on 3100m and therefore didn’t need to take a lot of food or water. The kids enjoyed the playground and Peter hiked up to the summit. Other than Pico de Orizaba, which was difficult to walk up due to a lot of loose stones and rocks, La Malinche was easy to reach.

Probably the most famous volcanoe is Popocatépetl (5500m). He is still active and it is forbidden to climb it. 

Popocatépetl (5500 m) and Iztaccìhuatl (5230 m)


But, again, there leads a road up until 4000 m in between the two volcanoes. This time we took all the food (for 6 days) up ourselves which meant much more weight than we normally carry. The dirtroad has been quite sandy and therefore I had to walk big parts of the climb. But the exhaustion and all the sweat was totally worth it. We found the most beautiful campsite of this trip until now.


Next to the tent flowed a little river which was perfect for drinking, cooking, washing and for the kids to play. Peter hiked up the Iztaccìhuatl until 4800m. There was too much ice to reach the summit without crampons. Furthermore the weather had been unpleasant in the afternoon every day (we had rain, snow and hail) but seeing the Popocatépetl every morning made me feel small and happy. Staying on this altitude is very special. The vegetation, the sounds of the animals and the light are so different than what we are used to. Furthermore every volcanoe is surrounded by a national park and here, at the Popocatépetl, we have been alone for 3 days. Such places feel so strong, calm and natural that I feel nervous, irritaded and a little bit angry when I have to go down and back into civilisation again. 

More magnificent pictures of our volcanoe adventures:


After those days near the Popocatépetl we descended from Paso de Cortes into Mexico City. The biggest contrast one can probably imagine: from loneliness in nature into one of the world’s biggest cities. But we were lucky. We found paradise for a touring cyclist: Casa de Ciclista of Xocimilco. We also participated in the World Bike Forum 2017. Those days felt great because we were part of a big cycling community and shared our passion with a lot of other cyclists.


Now we are with a friend, Elo. With her we share our passion for volcanoes, hiking and cycling. We will not stay for long in Mexico anymore. In two days we will fly to Vancouver where we will continue our trip. The bikes and trailers are already packed and our friends in Vancouver await our arrival. 

¡Adios Mexico! Thank you for a lot of magic moments.

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.