One year on the road

We left Cancun, Mexico, by bike on 12th of December 2016. We are on the road already since one year! To celebrate our anniversary we created this 12 minute slideshow which we want to share with you. Enjoy!

Impressions from our first year on the road. We started our cycle tour on 7th of December 2016 in Cancun, Mexico. We stayed five months in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala and then flew to Canada where we stayed for four months. After Canada we entered the USA and cycled through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Our adventure is not over yet! To be continued … Adventure cycle touring with two small children – http://www.thecyclingfamily.com Music: Eddie Vedder "Rise"; Hang Massive "Once Again"; Eddie Vedder "Society"

 

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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!​​