I’ll be posting something everyday, starting today, day 8 of lockdown here in Botswana. It’s an additional to a fattening new routine.
I’ll try to be completely spontaneous and write and paste whatever comes to mind when I open up a new window here.
Here’s a gecko from maybe a month ago. It suddenly appeared from under the hood and froze, glueing itself (tummy scales assisting) mid-windshield. I grabbed a quick photo and pulled over. Instead of scampering off the left side towards the vegetation, it ran straight up over the roof. I haven’t been able too identify the species
And here’s a monster, waiting in ambush for insects attracted to my living room light, here in Maun
The most geckos I’ve seen at once was here, in Palenque, Mexico, on April 16 2013
At the waypoint top-left, below. I was doubling back from Guatemala through Chiapas, Tobasco and Campeche, before heading south again, after a few months learning Spanish in Antigua
That was a long time ago, but on the same adventure.
Happy that I’d discovered Campeche the next question was what next in the little picture. This was pretty easy. No way was I going northeast to Cancun. So that left two ways to get back into Guatemala. Either back to La Florida or through Belize. Maps trump Basecamp for overviews, so last night I pulled one out and lo and behold there’s a huge blank section in central Yucatan. Maybe the most remote area in eastern Mexico. And a little road goes through it con nada por 100 miles, from the town of Dzibalchin to Xpujil. It goes through the Meseta de Zoh Laguna.
So Belize maybe tomorrow, assuming this 250 mile route doesn’t turn out to be dirt. Then we’re bivvying.
An hour later the GPS blanks out again and loses my route. It first did this in Georgia. My problems are hardware related I think (I’ve cleared everything through a new profile) and the best Garmin can do for me is to ask me to send it back for repair. Oh sure, in the middle of an RTW. It’ll wait, now that I’m understanding its idiosyncrasies (it’s nice to be able to do this) and I pull over and unpack my duffle, pull out the PC and transfer the route again. No problem. I can do this all day you little bastard. But best not to flash expensive stuff like this around so I do it in as public a place as possible, counterintuitively, and do it fast, and bolt.
Then off through the backstreets of Campeche
Into the country. Temperature? Hot, but getting used to it.
We left early so we’re hungry, before we get to our little road, and stop in a village for brunch (don’t ask)
The final town before our road is old and interesting. Judging from the looks I get no one comes this way
Then our road. It’s fantastic. Barely 1 1/2 cars wide it’s pavement, with about 10 miles of dirt at the end, and winds perfectly between encroaching vegetation endlessly. The should be a must-do for riders going through the Yucatan
If we can’t escape from the heat, we can at least run for the sea. The last place we saw on the Atlantic was Savanna.
And so we start off due north in 100F across agricultural land with another 250 mile day ahead of us, through large scale agricultural land
And occasional small farms. This one was raising turkeys
At one point there we saw boats on a riverbank and rode down to explore. As pretty as a painting
Later we rode through a brushfire. This didn’t help my eyes, which are almost completely red from riding in the heat. Visor down is suffocating. My goggles aren’t tinted so I ride with sunglasses visor up. And every couple of hours I dump half a bottle of water down my back which feels amazing before it evaporates.
261 miles later we were passing through shanties as we approached the Gulf of Mexico
To Campeche. I knew nothing about Campeche until I read about it two nights ago. It was built by the conquistadors starting in 1540 on top of the Mayan town of Canpech. and is fortified because it was under almost constant attack from pirates and buccaneers, including all the heavies, for 180 years. Cool.
We stopped on the waterfront for the obligatory shots
Which was alright, but after passing a couple of big casinos I began to wonder what all the fuss was about
Lots of small and beaten fish boats
But a block back from the water is the real city and it’s colonial bliss. I wasn’t prepared for the glory or scale of the place. Why don’t we all know about Campeche? Oh maybe you do.
It’s huge, 250K people
It’s stuffed with money. The shops, local, not tourist shops are state of the art. I went into a kitchen shop that was almost as good as any in our Princess City. The old fortifications are integrated
Sculpture down Calle 59, pedestrians only and about a mile long
A modest square
Very few bikes, which is odd. But a few
How beautiful is Campeche? This is a parking lot
So I wish we had more time to explore this place, but we have to keep moving in this heat.
Back to Mexico today to clear Guatemalan permit and explore a bit, and I’m anticipating the familiar buzz of riding alone on a bike I love into experiences I can’t imagine.
Julio and I set off early to swap rear tires in Huehuetenango. My new rear TKC80 (which is a fab handling tire for the HP2) is loosing tread at an incredible rate and no way will it make through the next few weeks. It looks like I’m going to have to resign myself to the Heidenaus (which I don’t like) The good news is my old Heidenau is on Julio’s bike. And he has a new set waiting for him. So we’re set.
It takes a while to find a shop that can do the swap. In fact it’s two shops. One to pull the wheels at, and across the street another to swap tires. Now with, say, TKC’s, we could do this ourselves. But try removing and reinstalling a Heidenau in a hurry, which we are. And anyway, we’re both in our 50’s, nearly over really, and at this stage wouldn’t do it if we had a choice anyway.
Then Julio and I gas up at the junction of CA1 and say our goodbyes. He’s going south, me north. An incredible guy. Basically, if you’re doing a RTW for the first time, you need to find one of these guys per continent, and your set.
I’ll be crossing the border with only a day to spare. My bike permit runs out on the 14th. Technically the border, which can be a nightmare, should be a breeze. The normal procedure is:
1) go to Guatemala immigration
2) go to Guatemala aduana (customs). Clear permit
3) go to Mexico immigration
4) go to Mexico aduana. Get permit
I can skip 4) as I still have 3 months left.
It’s a couple of hours to the border and we pass through a canyon. I’m focused on getting through as soon as possible so don’t stop for pics. The border at La Mesilla. If chaos is a problem for you, don’t do this stuff.
Crossing into Guatemala took two hours, which is considered good. Today, crossing into Mexico takes 40 minutes. Incredible. I change all my Quetzals and Dollars into Pesos with a money changer and manage to get only partially screwed, based on rates quoted me the night before.
And we’re off by 1:00 or so, headed for the jungle. Julio has warned me that maybe this isn’t the smartest move at this time of year as it’s very hot and very humid. Actually over a few weeks he’s told me this three times. But I reckon, hey, I’m Canadian and OK with weather extremes, in theory and in Molson commercials, so let’s give it a shot. We want to see monkeys.
After a few more hours through dry, desolate countryside we arrive at yet another farm house style place about 20 miles east of La Trinitaria. The last gas stop for a while. The whole gas issue has been bothering me. We have a 6 gallon extended tank from HPN but Lucinda’s devours fuel at a crazy rate. She’ll go between 180 and 220 miles total. We have auxillary bladders which I’ll need soon enough. The Rotopax system is the way to go but Lucinda says no way are you bolting those things on me.
Anyway a great place to stay
Then it’s off again on a route that follows the border for a while past some lakes
Love the lunch stops
At the typical roadside stalls
Then, as soon as we’ve entered the forest around the lakes we leave it and then it’s almost perfect quick riding through gorgeous rolling ranch land
With some sketchy sections
Over the day we’ll hit five military check points because we’re running mostly along the border. Only one lets us through untouched. All look in the tank bag, three the duffle and two, damn it, in a pannier. Mostly all they want to do is pass the time, chat and satisfy their curiosity about us. About 30% of the time they’re looking at stuff, the rest is asking you how big your bike is, how fast it goes, but mostly they want to check out the GPS.
(Sorry if a lot of this stuff was covered back in the previous Mexico ride, but I have a fast WiFi connection for once and I’m going to make the most of this rare luxury by covering some ground)
Then the vegetation becomes thinker, the land more convoluted and we start regularly passing over rivers
Beside mountains, obscured by mist
And over more rivers, this time bigger, badder and bluer. Lucinda goes *whoa*
After maybe 100 miles of this we descend to the bigger slower San Pedro river at Las Guacamayas
After a bit of hassle in the local town we find the road to the cabins and check in. Nice. Not cheap, about $60 for half of this but it’s an ecological destination of some importance
And immediately ask if it’s safe to swim in the river (crocodiles) they say yes and in I go and don’t come out for a long while. That’s because the temperature has been rising for most of the day. It’s beyond hot and humid, it’s shocking. 43C, 109F and 100% humidity. I’m a wreck, exhausted by the last 100 miles of this ever worsening oven.
I’m supposed to be staying an extra day to get a boat up river to see the monkeys. The thought of staying here is freaking me out, but I realize I’m more than a few days ride out of this, heading north and I can harding reverse course, so decide to sleep on it and consider things in the morning. But I don’t sleep, it’s impossible.
In the morning a couple of big monkeys on the other side of the river are making this huge and scary, but cool, sound
There are monkeys about ten days further down the track again so, weak with the heat, I take off early for another spot to hide about 120 miles away. I get there and it’s more of the same. I can’t breath. So I take off again, this time to Palenque, another 150 miles away. It’s going to be a long day.
Out of the jungle the humidity drops a bit but the temperature stays hot. The road is bad
More of this stuff
And onto a hot plain, the cattle huddling in the shade
An escarpment starts to our left and we follow it for maybe 50 miles
Then the trees are back and the road, called HWY 307, deteriorates even more. I get bored with navigating the potholes and just give her more gas
Then out of town again to the road to the ruins, which apparently is my best bet for somewhere quiet to stay overnight and we find one within a few minutes. Lucinda’s grateful, she’s had a hard day
The temperature is down to the high 90’s but the humidity, being in the forest again, is back to 100%. When will this heat end? Nothing cooler in sight for a long time. But we’re covering ground and love it here anyway.
The previous two days have been pretty uneventful as we went about our riding. Brief stops only and many miles of mountain roads. Only one lunch stop in the three days for example.
Today’s different, no more twisties. We set off early across the plains of Chancol, staying high, riding through rural, thinly populated and frankly hostile feeling landscape. This is a dry, high-altitude place removed. I don’t think you’d ride up here for the first time without being told something about it first. There’s nothing that feels like a spiritual oasis for even a moment. At its most lush it looks like this It’s going to be one of those great riding days. The set-off is perfect. For some reason the dirt and the grave don’t loosen up and it’s easy to go relatively fast. It’s hot, and fast cools us off.
The sides of the hills are farmed up onto the steeps The chaos is harmonious. They’re not good at crop rotation and can plant 5 or 6 corn crops in a row, effectively killing the soil. This seems in contrast to what I’ve learned about Mayan agricultural skills but forget to ask about it. So they cut higher and higher up the hillsides, I guess until the lower land restores itself. This is one of the driest two months of the year which is why it looks barren. We pass clusters of homes on our way.
At one point, which I don’t photograph, there are bigger and more modern houses. Julio asks me if I noticed the new Escalade in one driveway and implies the obvious. And occasional clusters of Kniphofia. I’m surprised to see them here – they don’t come from here, they’re from Africa. He says they often make hedge rows. It’s the only colour on the plains.
After maybe 20 miles we rode into a historic area called Tuicoyg. Here the Mayans cluster the homes together more and as usual cinder blocks make up 90% of the construction.
We sat and watched a small village for about 30 minutes. A few women and children purposefully went from A to B, not giving us much notice. Photographing the Mayan women up here, and in particular the children, can get you into a world of trouble but this particular lady was friendly and curious about us. But this is apparently no big deal An original home. Identical roofline to the metal one a couple back.
As we rode further west the valley fell off into waves of green. Into a stunning gorge, out of nowhere. The edge of the plain abruptly stopped. the views are dependent on air condition which is highly variable. We’d walked to a hilltop twice in another place to see the volcanoes in the distance but had little luck. This was the best Guatemalan view I’d had yet
Being pressed to get caught up on this journal I’ll dodge reflections. But no ride through Guatemala is complete without coming up here.
We made our way back. A short day, 57 miles, and all perfect easy dirt. I was extremely grateful to Julio for showing me this place.
At the farmhouse there’s another guest. A German fellow, mid 30’s who’s backpacking through Central America.
When we arrived back the farmhouse was locked and no-one was around. About ten minutes later, a guy on a bike rolled up the trail/road and started in on Julio excitedly. When he finished Julio told me this: The German guy had wandered off the road, walked up to a Mayan house, scared the woman and her child, ran up the hillside was nabbed by 40 natives with machetes. They’d being holding him for 3 hours.
Julio has a grasp on all this. He told me that 5 Japanese people found their way up here, made some mistake and had been murdered less than a kilometre away. He also told me that another had been chopped into pieces. And another burned. He decided he could negotiate with them. We were miles away from any help. Somehow his calm led me to believe a positive outcome was something he was confident about and offered to join him. He surprised me by saying *no, best not to put both of us in danger*. I thought oh fuck, this isn’t clear cut after all… He rode off.
I suited up and rode down to a spot, sat on my bike ready to go, in a spot I could see him coming back from and gave him an hour after which I was going to ride to Huehuetenango for help. He was back with 12 minutes to spare. But no German on the back of the bike. Julio told me he’d resolved it by getting some admission signed and the guy wanted to walk home. He shook his head with resignation. An hour later the lucky guy returned. There’s a backstory to how this was very nearly made much worse but that’ll be for Julio to tell.
Next day it was time to part ways and for me to set off for the border so we talked about anything relevant, looked at maps and I listened particularly hard.
I arrived at Parque Central early. I wanted a walk around before leaving.
The plan is to swing back through for a tire and oil change on my way south again, but this felt like leaving.
Julio shows up for our 7:00 am start. Julio’s been riding in Central America for 30 years. He rode out for a couple of the shakedowns in the last few days, including taking Taz me and Bo to a Macadamia Nut ranch for lunch one day.
A couple of days ago we went for a group ride. Julio and his wife Luisa, Taz and Abbey, Bo and Claudia and me. Parking lot portrait shots, haha
Abbey, Taz and Bo
Julio and Luisa
Me and Claudia
So back to the story.
Julio shows up and without killing his engine, smiles and said *shall we go?* and off we went. Julio refers to Guatemalans as mountain people and he’s got a mountain route planned accordingly.
Our first stop is at the ruins of Iximche (now normally I’d add some research to all this but since this is a multi-post evening I’ve got to motor through some of it. And I need space to write up the kidnapping. Ha, now you’re hooked)
This is the best preserved of the structures. The whole site was in an advanced state of erosion. Originally the city looked like this
Meanwhile the bikes took an opportunity to get to know each other. Lucinda thought she was nice but pretty quiet for a big girl
Then it’s that damn blast through Chimaltenango Then on through the tightening landscape, into the hills. Guatemala, a small country, has a population of 12M and 3M live in the CIty. So no matter what view you have (in the south and southwest) you see and travel through pueblos frequently. The towns look like they’re poured into the valley bottoms. More later.
Soon we arrive at the town of Chichicastenango. God what a cool name. Unlike, say, Squamish.
Up in the hills again Julio tells me Canadian mining companies are the diablo here right now. Signs are graffiti’d with their pissed-offness. Lucinda growls as we go by *leave my boy alone*. She’s so sweet
Then through more towns in the hills. Beautiful churches everywhere
Then it’s miles and miles of twisties, gaining elevation the whole time, into a valley
And we pulled up to this farmhouse for the night
Why so dark? Because the minute we arrived a thunderstorm rolled in. This was to happen each night at roughly the same time. It started with a heavy hail and kept up until after I was asleep. I was concerned the dirt ride in was going to be quagmire leaving.
In the morning the weather is cheerier and the dirt ride no issue
Then back into the hills. Julio and I reckon that in 200 miles we’ve not ridden a straight more than 500 yards long. Endless bliss. Although the roads are sometimes sketchy and nearly always dirty. I’m getting my riding form back, i.e.. not thinking about it.
I hope you’re clicking on the videos. They give a good impression of riding through this country! And they’re a pain to edit and upload.
Each one has a stage set up. Julio finds out quickly that the President of Guatemala is stumping the area. He says the Mayans have been trucked in and they won’t understand a word he says anyway. Each town is crawling with security. We watch a bomb dog at the first town spend a full 30 minutes sniffing the stage.
Anyway I think the Mayan women are gorgeous. When I mention this people look at me like I’m weird. But they have lovely upturned love eyes that remind me of Laura Bush.
Later it’s my turn through town. I think I’m doing a masterful job it but Julio points out I’ve gone down two one-way streets the wrong way. But I’m having fun. Time to stop with that
Julio has a different destination in mind we pass Mayans doing laundry in a stream in an open field. We’re now at serious altitude, about 11,000 feet
It’s a great dirt ride in and we arrive at another of Juilo’s secret finds. This time another farm house, but with an equestrian bent. The ride to it is about 10 miles of high-altitude plain, with sparsely spaced, poor, homesteads. As Julio passed a small group of 20-somethings they make menacing gestures at him. I talk to him about this immediately we arrive. He blows it off. But maybe just for my benefit.
I’m somehow not able to upload images unless someone else logs me in. I’m working on it with with SS. Stories to tell when we figure it out and I catch up on this blog.
Anyway, in the interim, I’m in Palenque, MX. The temperature in Las Guacamayas two days ago was 43C, 109F with 100% humidity. My GPS became too hot to touch and crashed. Today it’s 37C, 98F. It’s apparently hotter ahead again.
Here’s my track for the last six days. The first three, in Guatemala, were with Julio.