Luna

As much as we loved the South of Mexico a year ago, the much we loved the North this year. It is a beautiful cactus country which we enjoyed to explore.

One day, at the end of March we climbed a big hill, just a little bit north of the town Ciudad del Maìz in the province San Luis Potosì. It was extremely hot, we were in the tropics again, and on top we found a little chapel and some benches where we took a break. After about twenty minutes we saw a little creature moving in the middle of a cactus, leaves and trash.

It was a little puppy dog. She was very weak, could hardly walk, was full of flees and her tummy looked like a baloon (full of parasites). We had the feeling that she couldn’t see or smell well. We offered her water and soaked some bread but she was extremely shy. She ran back to her cactus whenever she was done drinking. We stayed with her for about 1 1/2 hours and then decided to take her.

Of course we didn’t have any dog basket, crate or trailer for her. She was tiny anyway. We went to the next supermarket and bought proper dog food. We went to the veterinary several times and helped her getting rid of the flees and parasites. Now she is healthy again. Her name is Luna. The kids are thrilled to have a dog now. Especially Ben. The first thing he does when he gets up in the morning is cuddling and playing with Luna. Sometimes I have the feeling that he understands and cares more for animals than for people.

In the last couple of weeks we also made some new and special human mexican friends. In the little town Jalpan we took a break of a couple of days on a campground next to a pool. All four of us were ill the day before we arrived there. We felt very weak, couldn’t eat well and slept bad. We needed to gain strength again because from Jalpan we planned a huge climb of 2500 altimeters up into the mountains. You can’t cycle such a climb with 80kg of luggage without eating well. Anyway, there on this little campground we met an argentinan-mexican family. They had three beautiful kids. The parents were artisans and made beautiful jewelery.

The kids played all day long together and Peter and I felt a strong connections with the parents. It was hard to say goodbye.

The climb up to the pass was beautiful and it was not as hard as I thought. We cycled all of it, without walking a meter. It just went up, up, up for two days.

And then we got a huge downhill and a beautiful view of the mountains we just crossed.

After this we got ill again! This time we got an infection of our eyes. Esmé and I were first. Then Ben and finally Peter. We stayed at another campground next to a swimmingpool. This time in Huichapan, 200km north of Mexico City. Ben had so much fun in the water and we realized his eye infection too late. His infection got so bad that he couldn’t open his eyes without pain. He stayed in the tent for two days, eyes closed. One night he had a high fever. We worried a lot and went to a doctor with him.

The doctor cleaned his eyes and gave us medication which we had to use every hour. We had to take care of hygiene, wash his and our hands more often, wash his clothes and towels. Ben was not allowed to be in the sun, wind and water for 7 days. All not that easy if you camp. We decided to ask a friend from Mexico City to pick us up. We needed a house and a washing machine. But there was no need to skip the last 200km to Mexico City for all of us. Therefore I decided to continue, together with Esmé, by bike without the boys.

It was a different feeling to be on the road only with the two of us. I couldn’t share the responsabilities with Peter and I had much more time for Esmé then normal. It was fun and we had a good time together.

Once reunited in Mexico City we visited different friends. We did a lot of great daytrips to museums and churches and we had a surprisingly calm and quiet boattour with Embarcadero Belem in Xochimilco.

By reaching Mexico City we crossed a big part of North America, at least from west to east.

After our last blogpost, in which we announced to fly either to South America or to Europe after reaching Mexico City, we got an email from our dear friends Scott and Patsy. They live in Utah and Colorado and invited us to come and visit them again. We decided to follow their invitation and enjoy the US again.

Of course we can’t leave Luna behind in Mexico. We took her on our flight.

Mayolo, Mayte and baby Mayolo helped us a lot with organising our flight and all the paperwork for Luna. They got inspired by our story and lifestyle. They are currently preparing their first cycletour. We hope to meet them again.

I promise to share the stories of our time in Utah and Colorado with you soon!

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Bordercrossing

Crossing a border is always very special. We thought a lot about crossing the border from the US into Mexico and planned wel. The closer we got to the border the more warnings we got. Policecars and people we encountered on the road stopped to check on us regularly. More and more people told us stories about drug problems, gangs fighting each other, shootings and crazy police chases. That made us feel insecure and sometimes indesicive in which road and bordercrossing we should take. Finally we decided that we should be careful (not cycling when it is dark, locking our bikes well, keeping an eye on our belongings, taking hotels near the border) but that we should listen to our sense and feelings. We have not had a single dangerous or unpleasant encounter. On the contrary, everyone has been extremely friendly and helpful.

Bordercrossing in Laredo. On the left: everyone who wants to enter the US. On the right: everyone who wants to enter Mexico.

On our first day cycling in Mexico the Policía Federal found us somewhere on the road. They felt responsible for our safety and insisted to escort us until Saltillo. From that moment on a policecar drove behind us for the next 130km. They encouraged us through their speaker when going uphill. “Go Peter go! Go Petra go!” We felt like a professional Tour de France cycling team.

After Saltillo we went on smaller and quieter roads into the mountains. We felt relieved. Not only were we able to wild camp again but cars drove much slower and there was way less noise than on the big highways. For me hearing the noise of passing cars all day long is one of the most unpleasant things on tour. I often try to listen to music which works a little bit but it can also be unsafe because you don’t always hear the traffic coming.

Mexico is magical. Last year, when we traveled in the South, we loved this country a lot. And it is the same now with the North. People are extremely friendly and curious, the food is nice and cheap, the roads are good, car drivers treat us respectful, the climate is pleasant and the landscapes are beautiful. We enjoy Mexico and highly recommend it for cycletouring and traveling as a family.

We are now in Tula, Tamaulipas. Everyday we get closer to Mexico City. As soon as we arrive there we reach a milestone: We will reconnect the route we did in the South of North America with the part we did in the North. I dare to say that we will have crossed North America by bike as a family.

Reaching a milestone goes together with thinking a lot about which step to take next. Do we continue on and go to South America? Do we go home and see our families again? What do we want to do in the future? … to be continued …

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"

 

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!