Flying down a hill enjoying the bright green patchwork hills littered with black and white dairy cows and local farmers working the fields, when a streak of brown fur latched onto the back of Ville's shoe and clamped down hard. When Ville tried to shake it, it went for his heel. That's when Ville lost his temper...
Hey folks! Ville here, I'm giving K.G a break from writing so she can enjoy her ice-cream here in Cuenca, Ecuador. Like she declared in the last post, we did go hike the 2 mountains Pasochoa and Ruminahui and what a fun, exhausting time it was!
The first mountain, Pasochoa, we tackled around noon after heading east out of Quito with our good buddy Freddy. We reached the summit using a different route than most of the people climbing it use. Freddy is like 'The Godfather' in the mountains, and he knew a farmer who let us hike through his property. The farmer was excited to see Freddy again and we tipped him about the location of one his runaway cows. Both K.G and I were a bit worried about how our bodies would deal with the high elevation (4,200 meters / 13, 779 ft ) but were happy to discover that our bodies had already acclimatized after a week and a half in the high country. The entire way to the top and back Freddy explained us things about the local flora & fauna while we bombarded him with questions about his expeditions to mountains like Denali and Aconcagua. And when we arrived at the summit, the clouds parted for us to look down into the giant crater of lush green native plants.
After reaching the top and spending few minutes soaking in the views and taking pictures we headed down. Freddy had reserved us tent sites at a nice hostel in the foothills of Pasochoa Mountain. From the hostel we had great views of one of Ecuador's highest peaks Cotopaxi ( 5,897 m / 19, 347 ft ). A couple of years ago the mountain/volcano became active again so at the moment you can't climb to the top. It's not spewing lava, but it's creating some pretty dangerous gases that could kill the happy climber, similar gases can be found in one of the gas station toilets along the Pan American Highway.
The hostel price included all the meals, which were fantastic. We've been eating a lot of chicken, rice and beans lately so it was nice to get dishes like quiche and hamburgers. The next day we took off to summit Ruminahui ( 4,721m / 15,488ft ), unfortunately the first few hours of the climb we were inside the clouds and could not see more that 60 ft in front of us. After getting closer to the summit it started to clear more and now we could see more of the amazing views. Getting to the top required some scrambling and on the very top we were almost bouldering. Reaching the top felt pretty amazing, we were happy to be there with a great friend like Freddy whom we owe huge thanks to showing us around in his country and taking us to these places that without him we probably would've never seen.
Getting down the mountain proved out to be harder than getting up it, as some of you know I've had 5 surgeries done on my knees thanks to soccer/football so to say the least I was the slowest one coming down. After getting back to the hostel, Freddy and K.G headed to the natural water jacuzzi while I took a shower and studied the guidebooks for Peru.
The next day was a rude awakening getting back on the bikes and continuing South, the last few days of intense hiking had taken it's toll and we were hurting on the uphills. Luckily day by day the views were getting more and more amazing enabling us to to forget our achy legs. The towns and cities along the way were almost as beautiful as the surrounding landscape they were in. We stopped in places like Ambato and Cajabamba where we were definitely the only "Gringos" in town judging by the looks we got, the looks were not negative like a lot of the ones we got in Central America but more curious and friendly.
One of our favorite places between Quito and Cuenca was the small town of Cunchi where we got to enjoy some amazing views of the clouds below us and the sun setting behind the mountains. The downtown area was beautiful and the people extremely friendly. Al the these amazing views did not come for free, it's been constant up and down. Some hills are steeper and some more mellow graded but none of them are small, they're all 5-20 miles in length. To add to the work out, Mother Earth has given us some intense and cold headwinds to battle with complete with mist and rainshowers! Oh boy!
Now that I've told you guys all the positive things about Ecuador I have to be honest and say that the dogs have been the worst on the trip so far. There is a lot of them around, some of them are stray and some have a collar. The stray dogs don't seem to care too much about us, they might have gotten beaten up too many times that they seem pretty timid, or they are too busy scrounging for food to waste energy on us. The worst ones we have problems with are the ones from people's yards, a lot of the times they chase us and try to bite our tires or even worse, they jump in front of us when we are bombing 40 miles per hour downhill. Most of them are not small ones either since they are used as guard dogs, they don't look like they ever get petted or loved a lot, just thrown in the yard to guard the place. Man's best friend here is something else, not the cute mutt in the yard.
Yesterday we passed a house while slugging slowly uphill and a dog took off after us, in a few seconds it was biting the heel of my shoe and it had a pretty good hold of it. I freaked out because if it would've gotten hold of my Achilles heel with it's razor sharp rabies infested teeth that would've been the end of the trip for me. I kicked the dog the best I could once it lost it's hold but that only got him more angry. I stopped the bike and picked up a rock the size of my fist, as soon as I did this the dog started running back to the yard. I ran after it with fury, once I got inside the yard there was a small girl looking at me with eyes wide open and full of fear. I tried to explain to the girl that the dog attacked me and now it was time for him to learn a lesson about biting passing cyclists. The girl ran inside the house and left me standing in the yard feeling bad about it. The dog was standing in the doorway and I swear it was giving me the middle finger.
The rest of the day I carried 2-3 rocks at hand all the time, I'm planning to make a stick out of some limber sapling so I'm ready the next time when overly aggressive Lassie wants to chew my leg. We've seen all kinds of protective gear against the dogs among the cyclist that we've met, anything from pepper spray to a full size whip ( or maybe that was for the bedroom?)
We made it to Cuenca yesterday and we are planning to take couple of days off here. It seems so far like a really cool city, we've heard that there's a lot of retired Canadians and US citizens living here. Like Cuernavaca in Mexico and Medellin in Colombia, Cuenca is also called the city of eternal spring due to it's temperate climate. We're staying with a warmshowers host Jacobo who is originally from Venezuela, his place is on the outskirts of the city but there's an awesome bus system here so right now we're sitting in a cafe sipping coffee and telling stories to you fine folks. We're planning to continue south to Loja on Sunday and after Loja we're heading to the border of Peru. Right now our bodies are aching from all the climbing we did on and off the bikes here in Ecuador so we'll be taking it easy here in the eternal spring. Until next time, as Ron Burgundy says it " You stay classy San Diego!"
Ville couldn't refuse the opportunity to pluck one of the giant, wiggling, 4-inch-long live larvae from the bowl of squirming critters and stick it in his mouth, biting off the head, chewing the meat and swallowing it down alive...
Pasto, Colombia was a great stop for a couple days rest. We stayed at the Koala Hotel in downtown and although on the high end of our budget, the couple that own and run the place are incredibly kind and made some tasty pancakes complete with diced fruit to give us some extra juice to continue the climb south. We also met a super nice French couple, Leo and Virginie, whom we ended up riding on and off with on the next stretch to Quito, Ecuador.
Riding out of Pasto was a short long climb, followed by a gigantic easy, "whatcycling dreams are made of", downhill for 15 miles! Where Pasto was rainy, cold and chilly, we dropped all the way down to sunshine and some warm weather again. The road then climbed ever so slowly up along a meandering river in a deep gorge and we took in some stunning scenery the entire day to Ipiales. Ipiales was another crappy border town with not much to see but a place to sleep. We and the Frenchies woke up early and were at the border by 6:30 am only to find that the systems were down and with a gigantic line already waiting to get in or out of Colombia. For those not following the news, Venezuela is in a pretty chaotic state right now and two days prior to our arrival at the border, Colombia granted temporary visas to Venezuelans, making for a complete chaos at Immigration and a complete shut-down of the systems. Really sad and sorry for all the struggles the Venezuelan people are going through and have been struggling through! To lose everything you have worked so hard for in your life and to have your money so devalued you can't even buy food, is a very sad place to be for so many of these people.
After 5 hours of waiting in an ever increasingly agitated line, ONE AGENT WORKING even though there were 7 booths (inefficiency at it's finest), locked gates to keep the hoards of people outside until they could be filtered into the line, we made it to the front of the line and got stamped out of Colombia. Yipee! And biked about 100 yards to the Ecuadorian Immigration were we were stamped into Ecuador in about 2 minutes. Loving Ecuador already. From the border we could already tell the roads were amazing, multiple lanes, recently paved, and decent biking grades. We stopped at the first overpriced restaurant we could find to get lunch together and then pushed on up the hill passing rolling hills of green checkerboard pastures littered with colorful cows. It was beautiful, very similar to the countryside in France the Frenchies said.
First night in Ecuador we spent in San Gabriel, a decent sized little town high in the mountains with a cute central square, beautiful old buildings and a long walking street market. With the change in elevation (hovering around 9,000 ft/ 2,750 meters roughly), we have been biking in pants, layers and rain jackets for the mist, but very much enjoying the biking in cooler temps. Nights drop in temps enough to get to sport our new puffy jackets (we picked up warmer puffies in Bend to tackle the Andies). From San Gabriel we continued southwest through some beautiful misty countryside and even had the return of pretty extreme winds (we haven't had wind like this since Baja!). As Ibarra came into view, we were confused but excited that the elevation chart must have been wrong because we were almost in town and had a decent day of riding, until the road took a sharp left turn into a switchback and we began to climb. Luckily, the climbs in Ecuador have been really easy grades with switchbacks so far and we were in Ibarra earlier than planned. Debating to push on, we decided to get a room and have time to put our feet up and relax a bit before pushing on.
From Ibarra we had a very scenic and easy day of oscillating hills where we came around a turn to see Cayambe's snow-capped Mountain reaching into the clear blue skies. We find ourselves stopping constantly to get pictures or video of the scenery here in Ecuador it's so beautiful. In the early afternoon we passed Otavalo, a small town in the Andean highlands surrounded by volcanoes and where traditionally clad indigenous twonspeople sell colorful textiles and handicrafts. We stopped and sat to have some coffee while the world walked by, but are always so sad to not have the room/space to buy anything to pack along. Somehow , with the roads easy riding and the climbs easier to tackle than Colombian roads, we managed to get all the way to Guayllabamba, one long climb (and only 15 miles) away from Quito.
With an early start, we pushed the long, slow climb to Quito and met our good friend Freddy, whom we met just before beginning this bike ride from Alaska to Argentina, in Myanmar while traveling. What a great feeling to see an old friend after so long on the road! Freddy took us to his beautiful home right in the heart of the city and convinced us to drop our stuff and head with him on an adventure. Freddy is one of the oldest and most fantastic trekking/mountaineering guides from Quito (http://sierranevada.ec/en/home), and who has traveled all over the country and world climbing mountains. Freddy had to drive over 5 hours to the Amazon to pick up some students and bring them back to the city, but had a great plan for us to drive up into the mountains to Papallacta where there was hot springs to soak and stay the night in a hotel, then continue to Puerto Misahualli the next morning to pick up the students in the Amazon and drive back to the city together. And who is not more down for a fun adventure than these two wackos?!
First, we headed out of the city to drop down an insanely steep road into a ravine, cross a river and then climb all the way up to 12,000 ft over the Andean Pass and then dropped down to a beautiful lake where we found a hotel with thermal pools in back all to ourselves to relax and soak our soar muscles. The next morning, surrounded by the Andes, we could see Cotopaxi covered in pure white snow towering high above us. Back in the car, we dropped far down along the river and eventually turned up another highway climbing up and winding into the cloud forest. Having loads of rain, many places in the road had been previously washed away or were still scattered with debris. Lucky for us, Freddy is a sure-footed driver and we dropped back down as the heat and humidity of the Amazon Jungle engulfed us.
In Puerto Misahualli, we stopped for a quick lunch and to stretch our legs, where one of the local ladies was selling giant LIVE larvae to eat. Apparently a local delicacy, Ville couldn't refuse to try something that crazy, and picked one out of the bowl of squirming, wiggling 4 inch long critters and popped it into his mouth! I was so disgusted by them, I try a lot of things, but there was no way I was going to eat one of those! I took the video instead. We managed to find the two students, pack up their things, and back up the way we came we headed, arriving back in Quito around 7 pm for a walk around the hood, a bite to eat, and crash.
While soaking in the hot springs, Freddy had mentioned he really wanted to get to go do some hiking with us while we are here, and so this morning we laid out some plans. We are planning to leave tomorrow morning up to the El Boliche National Recreation Area to hike and summit Pasochoa Mountain (4,200 meters/ 13,779 ft.) and then camp at the base of Cotopaxi, summitting Ruminahui Mountain (4,721 meters/ 15,488 ft) the next day. From there we will get ourselves back to the Panamerican Highway and continue south towards Cuenca, which will be our next planned stop. Freddy has to come back to Quito for an appointment, but is hoping to meet us on the road with his bike to bike a few days with us. Very excited to have such a fantastic friend in Ecuador wanting to show us his beautiful country! If you have any interest in outdoor adventures in Ecuador or beyond, we very highly recommend Freddy at Sierra Nevada Expeditions (his website). Until next time ya'll keep on keepin' on...
Here is is for your viewing entertainment. Part 1 of our Alaska to Argentina Bike Journey. This begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends at our halfway(ish) of Costa Rica. Please comment, email us, share us, let us know what you think! We hope to get feedback for Part 2...(click link below or copy and paste into browser)
I was cycling along, minding my own business, thrilled to be heading out of Medellin on a Sunday where the city closed down two lanes of an entire highway for over 20 miles for cyclists, runners, rollerbladers, etc. when all of a sudden, I see out of the corner of my eye at the last second something large fly straight at me and landed smack down on my tongue. I spastic-ally grabbed at it and realized it was a giant beetle with hooks on its feet clinging to my tongue and by the time I ripped it off and threw it aside, my tongue had been coated with some sticky, foul tasting gunk and my tongue slowly began to numb. Oh crap.
We stayed only a couple days to rest in Medellin, spending an entire day on the blog and then a day sightseeing at the Botero Museum, downtown and the trendy Bolivariana area for beers at a newly opened micro brewery (felt like being at home). Getting the chance to go to see some of these art museums in the home countries of these artists like Botero here in Colombia and Freda Kahlo in Mexico has been a very special experience for us. It just isn't the same to only see art in textbooks at school. Heading out of Medellin on a Sunday, we had a great time with thousands of other cyclists riding on a two-lane highway closed on Sundays only to cyclists for almost the entire length of the city. Apparently I ride with my mouth gaping wide open, because a giant beetle flew straight onto my tongue and left a foul tasting stuff that numbed my tongue. Luckily it wore off after a few hours, and I was probably just drooling on myself and talking with a speech impediment for a while. Big huge thanks to Pedro, Diana, Daniel, and Manuel Gomez (our Warmshowers hosts) for having us and showing us around your great town!
The climb out of Medellin was a slow easy climb of only 3,810 ft (an easy climb for Colombian standards) and when we reached the summit, we rolled in front of a restaurant to get a snack and were given a standing ovation by a few cycling groups out for their Sunday ride. It was amazing! And they all wanted to get pics on our bikes, try their hand at lifting the bikes (Ville's bike is so heavy most people can't lift it), and the staff threw down two giant plates of food for us. Only when we went to pay did we realize one of the cycling groups had already paid for our meals and left. Colombians! What a great bunch! Thank you so much Bicicletas Ramon Hoyos & Servibike!!
We knew we had a thrilling decent in front of us, but as a giant storm approached, we opted to get a room in Santa Barbara for the night and watched as an insane rain/thunderstorm blew through and washed rivers down the streets. Our room even had a giant naked pic of Kim Kardashian over our bed, what a treat. In the morning we had a nice breakfast, (in Colombia it has been usually eggs, rice, beans, plantains, and meat with a steaming cup of hot cocoa or coffee) and had a wild decent all the way down to a giant river where the road then slowly climbed along the river and thick, green hills and non-stop road construction. The plans for road widening were already underway, but the recent storm had also brought a bunch of debris into the road and we had to stop about every mile the entire day to wait to pass large sections of road construction. Although, we had lots of road workers to chat with, and were given some water by one guy.
We made it as far as El Rodeo for the night, got a cheap $6 room in a trucker motel on the river, and headed out early with the plan to make it to Chinchina where we would stay at a Warmshowers apartment. The day was yet another insane day of climbing back into the clouds, and by the time we cranked uphill into town, it was pouring rain and we were both beat. The climbs in Colombia have been steep and long, and it has not helped that since my sickness in Bend and taking time off, we have felt in a rush to get miles in to be able to finish in Argentina in decent weather so we have been pushing hard to crank out miles. We met a sweet group of boys on the street corner when asking for directions and Ville said three of them were trying to distract him while the one boy was hitting on me (they were like 10 years old mind you). Yep, I still got it!
We decided on a day off in Chinchina only for a day to rest the legs and do the much needed research for our travel route through Peru (mountains vs coast), and when leaving the coffee shop, Stephan, the owner, insisted we pick a meal off his menu he wanted to make us for dinner for free. Man, the love we have received here in Colombia is incredibly humbling. After a day of rest and trying to pick back up our spirits, we had a pretty beautiful day of riding the "road of coffee" surrounded by coffee plantations and made it all the way into Contente (a fork in the road with a restaurant and sex motel) where we got a room for the night, complete with mirrors on all the walls and even murals of photographers aiming their lenses at us like celebrities. "Only the best for my wife," Ville likes to remind me every time we get these super classy joints. Lucky me.
The next day's stretch was a very pleasant downhill through a very plush neighborhood into the wide open fields of sugar plantains stretching for as far as the eye could see. We were passed many times a day by giant semi trucks pulling 5+ trailers loaded full of sugar cane. The drivers here in Colombia have been incredibly nice for the most part and always smiling or waving so at least if the steep climbs get you down, the people bring you up. But on the flats, we rolled through some easy miles and made it early to our Warmshowers host, Jonathan's, home just south of Buga. A Colombian who has done a decent amount of bike touring in South America, he was a great resource for info and had a beautiful home he said they rent for $500 a year! WHAT?!?! In Bend, you might be able to rent a cardboard box under the Colombia Street Bridge for $500 a month.
At a lunch stop the previous day we had met a super nice couple, Jorge and Laura, who were motorcycle touring and headed home to Cali and invited us to stay if we wanted to make the trip into the city, but hearing the horror stories of bad traffic, we opted to bypass the city and continued south to Santander de Quilichao on flat open stretches of road through "bad neighborhoods" which we just made the assumption meant that they were towns made up of lots of black people so they were bad. So this happens not just in America, but Colombia too huh? All we encountered were tons of smiles from people who obviously have less than most. We also had a nice guy, Juan Carlos, pull over and give us water, chat a bit about the ride, and pull over a second time to give us bananas and mandarins. Colombians.
In Santander de Quilichao we had a delicious dinner of chicken soup, complete with chicken feet, neck, liver and heart, followed by fried half a chicken and rice. If I weren't on a bike trip biking all day, I would be the size of a bean bag chair from all the crazy food we eat. The next day we had a long day, lots of scenery but more climbing out of the flat land and into the hills to reach Popayan very late in the day, exhausted, yet again. Even though it was again a Sunday, the traffic became intense as we neared town and knowing that Sunday is a HUGE drinking day in all Latin American countries, it is unnerving to be on the road late. Just before town we passed a huge fairground where it must have been a motocross convention or gathering of some kind with lots of crowds and then just past it, as the traffic became insane, we rolled past a huge car accident where a car had turned in front of a motorcyclist and giant crowd of people were gathered to help. The guy appeared to hopefully be ok, and having a crowd already there to help, we passed and continued to town. We found a cheap hotel right off the highway and crashed for the night.
With another early start, (we sadly didn't realize Popayan was a city worth seeing until later down the road) we made headway south with an elevation chart for the day that was so far off base it was hysterical. We imagined a day of oscillating hills that involved a large downhill and flats but instead we found ourselves climbing straight up for 5 miles, white knuckled descent for 5 miles, lowest gear climb for 5 and found the first hotel in El Bordo after a 60 mile day, to crash. Although challenging terrain, it makes for some spectacular scenery, slow moving sparse amounts of traffic, friendly small villages, and rarely seeing tourists. While passing through a tiny town at the top of a pass, we passed a small group of kids on their way to school who decided to run with us for about a mile and asked a million questions about where we were going, our names, where we were from, our bikes, they were such kind-heart-ed curious kids it was heart warming. At the bottom of one hill we stopped to try an "Energy Juice" from these kind local ladies complete with fresh squeezed oranges, quail eggs, and mystery fuel. They even gave us a bunch of oranges to carry up the climb.
From El Bordo, after Ville had to change a flat tire, we were surprised to meet another cycle-touring group from France, 3 adults and 2 kids, who were biking some of Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. We chatted a bit in the morning and headed down the road where we had a really pleasant long, winding descent into another "dangerous area" of, again, towns of black people who were unbelievably kind, chatty, waving and cheering us on as we passed. The day was amazing, slowly rolling hills ever dropping, dropping, dropping until we found ourselves in desert surrounded by flowering cactus and temps reaching over 110 degrees by noon! And then we hit more tire troubles with Ville's front tire.
After sitting on the side of the road, twice, in the baking sun trying to dig shards of metal from the tire, Ville was able to pump it and hobble into Cumbitara where there was a tire shop where we ate lunch and worked on the tire for a couple hours in the heat before Ville finally found a giant metal shard lodged inside the tire. For those who haven't toured, or not long enough to wear down some tires, these metal shards are a nightmare. They are from old car and semi truck tires exploded on the road and the interior radial of the tire is left in tiny (the size of a needle about 1/4" in length) fragments undetected by the cyclists eye on the road. They lodge into our tires, put tiny holes in our tubes, and they can only be fixed with time sitting on the side of the road, usually with no shoulder and speeding traffic whizzing by, with pliers digging out these lovely metal pieces and patching the tube. A total joy.
We powered up past Cumbitara a ways, found a room for the night in a room the temp of your oven, and had an early start to an insanely long climb up, down, and up, up, up to Pasto where we reached it in the rain and checked into Koala Inn, highly recommended by other cyclists. Absolutely stunning views on the way up to Pasto and even past a town, Chachagui, with tons of giant homes with pools and gated communities. We are taking a couple days to rest, blog-up, change cassettes and chains (so it's been 5,000 miles since the last change) before we have about a 5-day climb over the border of Colombia into Ecuador where our next stop is Quito and visiting a friend, Freddy, whom we met while backpacking in Myanmar. Although very challenging for the mind and spirit, Colombia has been a great place to bike because of the diverse scenery and unbelievable outpouring of generosity of the Colombian people. Will be sad to leave, but excited to begin yet another country. Until next time ya'll, keep on keepin' on...
As the Tour de France rages on in Europe, and Rigoberto Uran from Columbia won in Stage 9, Chambéry, after a fierce battle in three Hors-Category climbs, these two sweaty cyclists climbed up and out of the heat 7,723 ft in one grueling day of 45 miles to realize just why the Colombians are so damn good at climbing hills on bikes.
As Ville and I exited the plane on our layover in Bogota, Colombia, we were thrilled with the reprieve of chilled refreshing air at 8,675 ft. and excited to be greeted by smiling, friendly, fashionable Colombians and even t-shirts with bicycles on them in gift shops. Rumors must be true, we were already liking Colombia and were still in the airport. But we caught another plane to Cartagena on the northern coast of Colombia because we wanted to bike as much of north to south of the Americas as possible, and once we stepped out of the plane in Cartagena we were depressed when we were swallowed by the heat once again.
We tooled the bikes back together in the baggage claim of the airport, and after frantically patching 2 of my tires in the airport, trying to get to our hotel before dark, we made it to the gate of the place being rushed inside by the caretakers telling us we shouldn't be in the neighborhood after dark. That's promising. The next day we ventured to the Old Town area of Cartagena (having sailed here in 2010, we had seen some of the city then) and it was so unbelievably hot we had to hunker down in a coffee shop with A/C to cool down. We did wander the streets to see the various murals painted on buildings and in ally-ways and enjoy the endearing Colonial architecture before making it back to our "hood" to get out of the sun.
The next morning, we were back to an early 5 am start out of town, and my rear tire had another flat before we got started and another flat a mile down the road. Struggling to patch a tire as the sweat is pouring into your eyes and some street kid is trying to riffle through Ville's frame bag almost put us both over the edge. Luckily, after pulling out at least 8 metal shards from my rear tire, it held until we got to the outskirts of town and a bike shop to buy more tubes and for Ville to get a new chain. The ride for the next four days was sweltering, fairly flat riding (aside from opting for a hilly inland route because it was more scenic and beautiful) and had a total of 7 flat tires to patch, a new record! Beginning to think that Avianca Airlines also bent my rear rim, we put on my new rear tire and that seemed to do the trick. Goodbye old Schwalbe tire, thanks for the miles.
Luckily, Colombia is beautiful, the people are out-of-this-world friendly and the food is giant heaping cyclist portions of soup, followed by a giant main dish of rice, beans, eggs, fried banana, sometimes french fries and a slab of beef. I imagine being a vegetarian here would be a bit challenging, but there are worse places to be vegetarian or vegan for sure. And after riding into Sincelejo, we passed heaps of cyclists out for their weekend ride and stopped at a cafe for cyclists to eat our breakfast and enjoy fitting in for a change. The wide array of wildlife and animals we have passed so far has been crazy; a giant dead python and alligator on the road, a giant pig jumped out of the bushes and almost ran smack into us, bazillions of different kinds of spiders, armadillos, sloth signs (didn't get to see any they were moving too fast), Macaws, numerous bright colored birds, water buffalo down in the marsh area close to the coast and even an iridescent giant blue butterfly that stopped both of us in our tracks it was so psychedelic.
The roads so far have been a mixed bag, no bike lane to giant bike paths through towns, but since there is an array of cyclists, motorbikes, cars, box trucks and semis, they all seem to cohesively work together on the road and no one seems in too much of a hurry. We have had numerous motorcyclists pull up alongside us and chat about where we are going, and even the police have checked in on us to make sure we were doing o.k. There has been the ever hair raising passing of oncoming traffic here that makes me catch my breathe as we are hurtling down-hill at a car coming full speed at us in the oncoming lane to miss us by a foot or so and wave with a thumbs-up. Oh Colombians, you silly bunch.
By day five out of Cartagena, we met up with the giant Cauce River and followed it's meandering uphill flow along small houses and businesses that were strung out along the roadside and built up into the hilly, thick vegetation along the banks. We passed numerous waterfalls and pipes shooting water into the air and stopped a handful of times to cool off in the refreshing spray. As we watched a big wooden boat one morning eating breakfast carry 20-30 people across the river, one of the local dudes told us they were heading to work up the hill on the coca farms. Now we know where to score the good drugs. Ironically, Ville had thrown his back out that morning trying to carry his heavy bike down the stairs from the Hotel and was doped up on heavy painkillers, so when we saw the butterfly cross our path an hour later, he thought he was hallucinating. Good times.
On our sixth day south, we had the climb of all climbs, 7,723 feet of elevation gain in 45 miles. When we started out the day, we were both very optimistic that we would get through it no problem and hopefully by mid-afternoon. Oh how wrong we were. We started out at 5:30 a.m. and did not get to Yarumal, a mile after reaching the summit until 5:30 p.m. and in a downpour of cold rain. And the climb had numerous stretches of lowest gear stand-out-of-seat climbing sections where even the truckers gave us thumbs up and cheered. Not planning for it to be so brutal, we had not taken snacks (Snickers bars melted and were a no-go through all of Central America and so far Colombia) and we ate like champs at a restaurant in Yarumel and passed out before our heads hit the pillow all swaddled in blankets (we had actually left out hotel with air-con that morning and finished our day freezing under loads of wool blankets).
The next morning we slept in a bit to rest and had a rough day of oscillating hills, although extremely beautiful littered with farms and dairy cows, our legs were spent from the previous day and by the time we got to our Warmshowers host's house in Rio Grande only 46 miles for the day, we were both spent. Dr. Lenin and his friend Willie were amazing! Dr. Lenin's home sat on a hillside with all kinds of animals roaming the gardens and every flower you can imagine hanging from baskets or flowing from pots around the house. They insisted we stay many days to relax, but we were on a mission to get to Medellin (in hindsight we would have stayed longer if we hadn't planned and written a Warmshower host in Medellin who was expecting us). There was a small climb in the morning and then the descent-of-all-descents to reap the rewards of all our hard work. It was a wild ride down! (check out the video below)
After the rush of an insane downhill, flying by semis on the left and getting the occasional bug pelting, the road connected with a busy highway that led us first through Bello and then in through the giant metropolis of Medellin. The highway was hair-raising and we both were stressed to the max when the shoulder disappeared and the traffic was zooming inches from us at high speeds. We rode by a guy in a wheelchair on that same insane thoroughfare and when we stopped and he asked for a ride home, Ville had him grab onto the back of his bike and the guy directed traffic around them as we chugged up the hill. He stayed with us a while and then thanked Ville as he let go and headed up a side road home. (Check out the video below)
We made it close to our Warmshowers host's home and had an ice cream to celebrate getting to Medellin and await our host. Unfortunately we had mistakenly wrote the wrong date on our email and they expected us a week later, but welcomed us in and were the kindest family of fellow travelers. Manuel, the younger son, welcomed us in and even made us dinner before his older brother Daniel, mom Diana and father Pedro came home. You guys are amazing and thanks a million for your hospitality! After being so good at filtering water, we somehow managed to both get stomach sick, and I even have a rash to go along with it, but are making the best of fixing bikes and catching up on this blog while resting. With a quick recovery (fingers crossed), our next stop will be Cali in about 5 days or so and thanks so much everyone for following our journey, commenting, writing us, supporting us, loving us, and helping to make this wild bike adventure happen. Until next time, keep on keepin' on!
I'm at a party, not sure where, but there is a packed room, people everywhere. I discover a Pyrex pan full of a piping hot risotto of some kind. I hunch over the pan, pick up a spoon and start shoveling it into my mouth. It's so creamy and delicious! Before I know it, I look down and I've eaten over two-thirds of the pan. Shit! Now I'm trying to hide the fact that I ate so much, stressing that someone watched me or knows I totally pigged out. And then I wake up. It's early morning, I'm in a wooden windowless host's home in Costa Rica, my tummy is growling, and I'm so disappointed the risotto was only a dream...
Portland was a dream. A dream so long ago already. We went on a beautiful hike in the Gorge with my entire family on a very rare sunny day. We ate like champs, hung with family, walked around downtown Portland and got lunch with my brother. It was so great. Our flight went well, short layover in LA, and then an overnight flight to San Jose. We bused it back to our friend Edu's mom and sister's house in Herelia, San Jose and took a nap. The wifi was down and so we just hung around the house, biked to Olman Ramirez Bike Shop and they were kind enough to squeeze us in to get our new bottom brackets installed and a tune-up that would HOPEFULLY fix my shifting issue. Now in the rainy season, it was dreary, rainy, cloudy and grey, very much a representation of our moods trying to adjust to being back on a bike journey and away from home.
To get to San Jose, we had jumped on a bus from Punta Arenas (not wanting to bike into the busy capitol on a highway off-limits to bikes) and were able to jump off at the airport near our friend's home. Unfortunately, on the way back, we had to bike into downtown San Jose to the main bus terminal to catch our bus back to the coast. We managed all right, got a bus and were back on the coast with plenty of time to move south to Matapalo where there was a truck stop and a few small open air restaurants. We pulled over to get giant bowls of vegetable soup and Ville asked the young girl at the counter if we could possibly camp in the yard. She immediately said yes, and as we expected to set up our tent, her mom came out to sweep the porch for us. When we went to chat with her, she opened this door to a small room at the back of their home, with a bathroom, she offered for us to stay. And did not want any money. It was glorious to get a shower and bed to sleep when unexpected. Itzel (the daughter) made us tea and snacks. We chatted with Ilzel (mom) and discovered that she is the cousin of Keylor Navas, the goalie of Real Madrid who just won Champions League two weeks before! Crazy, we had been in Bend and were able to watch the game at my parent's house. Small world. In the shower, we even made friends with the largest spider either of us had ever seen (the size of your palm), I am sure it was hilarious to see me streak from the bathroom naked with my eyes the size of pancakes.
In the morning, they made us a giant omelette breakfast they again would't take money for, and we headed on our way. The sun was peeking out through the clouds and the road was nice and flat. Since being straight off a horrible bought of unknown mosquito ass-kicking virus, we agreed to stick to around 50 miles a day until we were both back in shape. Next stop, was a Warmshowers host, brother and sister, that was right off the highway near Ojochal. Before arriving at their place, a kind lady and her husband (bikes in bike racks on the top of the car) pulled over and asked if we were looking for a place to camp. When we said we were looking for our Warmshowers host, they offered us a cabin they had next to their house up the road. We were very tempted, but decided to stick to our plan with our host because we had already written to them we were coming. After struggling for most of the Central American countries to get even a response back from a Warmshowers host, we were both blown away by the unbelievable kindness that was now offered from everywhere we turned. So much needed now when we both were struggling to get back in the biking zone.
Our Warmshowers hosts, Aguero and Melania, were brother and sister and offered up their home to Couchsurfers and Warmshowers cyclists. Even though there was about 5 different families living in their home, one guy insisted on sleeping on the floor and gave us his bed. Incredibly kind people, who spoke so highly of helping others and making the world a better place. When we were sleeping, we even had a cat fight in our bed, claws and all, what a thrill! The next morning Aguero took us up the hill to the hotel he is a manager of to see the stunning view where the river meets the sea. Back on bikes, heading south, we pushed onto Rio Claro where the last hour to town was pouring rain and we rolled into town soaked. We managed to find a motel for not horribly expensive and the next day was Ville's birthday and I gave him the choice to do anything he wanted on his big day. And you know what he wanted to do more than anything else in the world? Bike! Ya, I know. I couldn't believe it either. So we got up early and hit the border after a couple hours, stamped out pretty easy and were bummed to have to pay $16 (there went our food budget for the day) to leave Costa Rica, what a complete rip off. Very ready to get to South America and quit crossing borders every few days with fees.
Once we crossed into Panama, the road became wider with a large shoulder and much faster moving traffic. After a few hours of cycling we both had noticed how few motorbikes we had seen and how many big cars (more similar to the US than any other Central American country). The road was still relatively flat and much more deforested than Costa Rica to make way for cattle and ranching. As we made our way into David, the shoulder disappeared and the traffic turned horrid! The drivers are obviously not respectful of cyclists what-so-ever and I was nearly hit 3 times in an hour from cars turning in front of me or pulling out right in front of me. My stress level was through the roof and we decided to pull over in town at a grocery store. After eating lunch and resupplying our food stash, Ville chatted it up with the security guard who recommended a decent motel nearby to stay. Because it was Ville's birthday and the only special thing we could do was get a motel room for the night instead of sleep in the tent in rain, we got ice cream and got a room. After a nice shower and Netflix movie, we got a good night's sleep and headed out early towards San Felix where we had been given a number of a Peace Corp. volunteer there.
We rolled into San Felix, a mile off the main drag, and Julia, welcomed us into her home and even did our laundry! We made a feast together and a couple other volunteers, Abigail and Frank, showed up to stay the night. In the morning, we made another big breakfast feast before leaving and heading out into the pouring rain. A massive thank you to Julia for having us and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and your kind gift and hope to meet again! The road ahead was brutal, the entire day it rained and we were soaked with mild chaffing and the hills were treacherous for our out-of-shape butts. Luckily, Devin, our great friend we know from a soccer team in Bend was kind enough to come out to the road and pick us up so we didn't have to bike out to his place in Santiago. But boy were we glad to get to his place and see a friend from home! And take a much need couple days off the bikes to recoup and book our flight from Panama City to Cartagena, Columbia. We had originally hoped to take a boat from Panama to Columbia, but our budget dictated otherwise and a plane will be faster.
We have to fly over the Darien Gap because for those who don't know about the area, there are no roads through it and no border crossing between Panama and Columbia. It may be very unsafely possible to trek through the jungle and pop out on the other side, but since all we have talked to do not recommend it, we will opt for a safe flight. From Santiago we have a few more days bike to Panama City and a few days there to box our bikes and see the sights before flying to Cartagena and beginning our South American journey! YAY!! A new continent! WiFi is always scattered, but we love to hear from everyone, so write us, and until next time, keep on keepin' on...
We ended up on a slide-at-your-own-risk water slide. It was 0-60 mph in a half-second, not sure our bodies even made contact with the slide on the way down and we hit the water at 4Gs shooting my bikini and Ville's shorts to the four corners of the pool as we skipped along the surface of the water at the bottom of the slide. What a ride! But first...
After a roller-coaster of ass-kicking hills of Guatemala, followed by sweltering temps in the hundreds through El Salvador and Honduras low-lands, we coasted into Nicaragua where the temps dropped into the 90's and our spirits lifted. With the soaring temperatures, Ville and I were pounding water like crazy (drinking over 8 liters of water a day), but watching it pour out our pores before it ever made it through our bodies. I had to tackle a super painful bladder infection, "staying out of the sun" (actually biking all day IN the sun), waking up at 4 am to try and beat the heat, struggling to find accommodation during Easter party no available affordable lodging celebration week, riding nasty patched together shoulder-less pavement packed with high-speed aggressive drivers, and all while also struggling with food allergies I haven't been able to eliminate since Mexico. It was rough folks. We took reprieve from the mid-day heat in American fast food chain establishments because they were the only places with consistent WiFi and air conditioning (my refusal to enter a fast food joint went right out the window when we had hit our lowest lows). Our saving grace was the Central American people.
When we were on the side of the road, me in heaps of pain, a family took us into their restaurant and took Ville on their motorbike to get antibiotics. Again when the infection came back on the side of the road, another family gave us a ride to the pharmacy and refused to take payment. Where Americans live in their cars and roads are only for travel, Mexicans and Central Americans live on roads; walking, biking, in horse-drawn carts, waiting for buses, sitting on porches, lying in hammocks, pushing carts, pedaling rickshaws, motoring moto-taxis, sitting in snack stands, selling fruit, soda, water, gas, you name it. Our entire days are filled with passing people, smiling and saying hello. There is the occasional person who looks past me or through me, but most everyone smiles. And says hello. And safe journey. And for that moment when we look each other in the eye and smile, I hope it makes that moment, their day, their week a bit better. It makes this whole ride worth every mile.
Once we crossed into Honduras, we noticed that where the fields stretched out for miles on either side of the road, loads of people had built shacks in the 7 meters or so of land between the road and field to try and sell fruits or vegetables that came from the fields to people passing by. Where stable (or as stable as can be) governments bring investors, which in turn bring tourism and money to some of Honduras's surrounding countries, Honduras has not found the same stability and more of it's people in the rural areas between towns, seem to just be surviving. One would expect (especially if you follow news), Honduras to be super dangerous and many cyclists opt to rush through or skip it altogether. But we found the same kindness from people as we did everywhere else we have traveled.
Once we crossed over into Nicaragua and the roads became beautiful, freshly paved roads with a giant shoulder, we cruised into Chinandega and were tipped off by some locals about a sweet water park complete with a slide-at-your-own-risk water slide. It was 0-60 mph in a half-second, not sure our bodies even made contact with the slide on the way down and we hit the water at 4Gs shooting my bikini and Ville's shorts to the four corners of the pool as we skipped along the surface of the water at the bottom of the slide. What a ride! The next day we rolled out early and had a pretty easy day to Leon. Leon is a colonial city, fairly touristy being close to the beach and volcanoes, but we enjoyed walking the streets and seeing the sights. We were able to catch the Barcelona vs Juventus Champions League Quarter Final game and although Barcelona lost, was nice to sit in a bar with other tourists excited to see the game. On our day off there, we made it out to a shop for me to find a new bra to replace my busted (no pun intended) one. For those following our ride, you may remember the goat trail from hell we ended up skidding and falling down on at Lake Atitlan. Well, on that same glorious day and moment of suffrage, my beloved bra, which had a zipper down the front, decided to pop open thanks to all the sweat rusting apart the zipper and leaving me flopping in the breeze WHILE skidding on my ass down the hill. Oh times we look back on now and laugh at.
While out bra shopping, Ville and I ran into Marie-Eve, a friend we had biked with a bit on the northern California coast and whom we had no idea now lived in Leon! What are the odds we happen to run into her the day before she was flying back to Canada on our one day off in Leon in a bra shop?! Was nice to catch up with an old friend and take some down time before hitting the road early again heading for Managua. We had the plan to find a cheap motel outside the city, but after many failed attempts, we found ourselves in the city, patching Ville's flat tire, going from full hostel to full hostel before the kindest German man, Manfred, at La Pyramide Hotel, took us in and gave us a beautiful room for two nights. He even drove us up to the non-active volcano in town to show us the city. We walked down into town through a park where we watched a full court of guys in wheel chairs playing basketball and a women's basketball game. Was really inspiring!
After our much needed rest day in paradise (thank you SO much Manfred for your kindness!), we were back on the bikes and decided on an easy day into Laguna Apoyo, where we were excited to finally get to swimmable non-polluted water south of the American border! We climbed up to the crater and had a steep decent to the water where we, again, went door to door at "obscenely priced eco hostels" that wanted over $40 USD and up a night, and only allowed camper vans, not tents, to stay at their places. Lucky for us we ran into David, hitchhiking backpacker from Germany, who helped us to find a no-name place that quoted us $10 a night for a closet with a mini-fan. As soon as all our bags and bikes were jammed into the closet of a room, she told us it would be $10 each, and as we packed up to leave, she felt sorry for us and allowed us to stay for $10.
Sundays are family days in Latin American countries and since it was a Sunday, the locals beach was packed with drunks and families and we thoroughly enjoyed our refreshing dip in the lagoon (although give it a few years and that place will be completely unswimmable and dead for sure). It was pretty depressing to see how the handful of hotels and hostels have claimed the beachfront for only tourists in their establishment, pushing the locals to the one completely separated beach we swam at. We could feel the resentment from the locals and who can blame them? We did enjoy watching the wild howler monkeys swinging from the trees above hucking mangoes at rooftops, feeding the baby squirrel at our place and even Ville enjoyed conversing with a Giant Macaw who was able to say, "Hello."
Since our closet room only had a tiny bed, Ville slept on his blow-up mattress on the floor and at dawn as the howler monkeys started growling like lions, we packed and had a very humid, sweaty couple mile ride up to the rim of the crater. We did pass a bunch of locals walking down the hill dressed in resort shirts on their way to work and because we made the move to say Hello, most of them were really friendly. It was a short easy downhill into Granada this morning and after watching a school parade, we are staying out of the heat and catching up with all you fine folks out there. Because Costa Rica will be quite a bit more pricey than Nicaragua, we are planning to spend a few more days here in this country before crossing into Costa Rica and making our way to San Jose where we will fly to Portland and Bend for a couple weeks to celebrate our making it to the "half-way" point of our journey. YAY! And for those not in the know, May 11th, Crow's Feet Commons, Bend, Oregon, 6-8 pm. Be there or be square! And until then, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
First day in Guatemala, and we had a serious butt-kicking day long hill climb! This kid passed us with the bed of his truck stacked obscenely high with massive bags precariously roped on. A while later, we ride up to where a few bags have come loose, busted open on the pavement, and he is trying to scoop up the remnants on the side of the road. Of course, we pulled over to help. And that is how we ended up with about 7 lbs/3 kilos of unroasted coffee beans.
, on empty Leaving San Cristobal De Las Casas and Edu's place was rough. We enjoyed the time off with a cool guy in a really neat town. Was like ripping off a Band-Aid. But easy-peasy rolling hills, lot's of elevation dropping into Comitan where we camped a night at a Warmshowers host's yard, complete with a pack of dogs, chickens and even ducks, oh boy! We rolled out early and had another pretty hot, but easy day into the border town, Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, where we got a cheap hotel to spend the last of our pesos before heading to Guatemala.
The next morning we rode to the Mexico Immigration to stamp out, and was the first time we were yelled at and treated poorly by any Mexicans! But it was fast and then the hill climbing began, immediately leaving Mexico. And since we waited to get breakfast until getting to the Guatemala side after finding an ATM, the climb was straight up hill for three miles and even passed the city garbage pile before finding Guatemala Immigration, we were pedaling on empty growling stomachs. But Ville came out of Immigration all smiles because the man working there was super friendly and had a great sense of humor. Good start to Guatemala. We found a working ATM somewhere in the chaos of the border and a nice place to grab breakfast before the climb commenced.
The climb was intense, but incredibly scenic and we climbed through numerous small villages where all the women were out in front of their homes weaving on looms and in the yards were hundreds of varying ages of coffee bean plants. When we rode up to the kid who passed us in his pick-up, trying to scrape some white things into a broken bag, we pulled over to help. I pulled out a bunch of Ziplock bags and Ville pulled out his knife to help sew the large broken bag closed. As we said goodbye and rode away, he insisted we take two of the giant Ziplock bags full of unroasted coffee beans. He said they were really expensive, on their way to be sold to Starbucks and we would surly be able to find a coffee roaster in Quetzaltenango. With still a long way to climb, we gladly accepted the bags, stuffed them into our panniers, and climbed up to just outside Huehuetenango where we scored a not super cheap Auto Motel.
The next day, we had a lot of very scenic ups and downs on a very deteriorated road, littered with potholes, and crazy traffic. My shifting had been off the entire previous day and now was continually getting worse. We pulled over to adjust it numerous times, with no luck, until finally not too far away from Quetzaltenango, I hear a loud SNAP and look down to see my chain on the ground. Damn. We dig out the Quick Link to fix it, and no luck. My chain was shot and so we stuck out our thumbs and hitched a ride really quick (everyone in Guatemala seems to be incredibly kind) with Celestino. We strapped the bikes in the back with the trash and crammed into the front bench seat. As we hit the road, we both quickly realized we must be riding with a professional race car driver, because no one corners like Celestino. I mean, NO ONE. I don't know how my pants stayed dry. It was completely terrifying! We almost killed 3 dogs, 2 motorcyclists, and had near head-ons with multiple giant trucks and buses. Very nice man, appreciate the ride, but not sure if I was happier to know people like that are on the road with us. After a quick stop on the side of the road, Ville got out to help with the trash, and realized after packing every piece of his own garbage to a garbage can, he was helping this guy just chuck giant plastic bags of garbage down the hillside (not in a designated garbage site). And then after Celestino drove the truck tire into a giant hole, floored it squealing out and back on the road, we were back heading for town. My fingernails firmly planted into the dashboard and Ville's arm.
He dropped us outside town and we walked our bikes to a safe spot for me to sit while Ville rode around town to find a bike shop (unfortunately these bikes take a special size chain), and then we walked a ways to the shop where we were greeted by some great guys at BiciCasa. They had my chain, put it on, and even gave us a discount. Thanks BiciCasa, great stop for bike parts in Guatemala folks. We then headed to a friend of a friend, Lucy's, house. After planning to only stay a couple nights, we stayed three. Lucy and her daughter, Leah, fed us, walked us all over the city, and I even was given a Spanish lesson! Thanks so much for all the hospitality girls, plan on another visit soon! We also found a great coffee bean roaster, Tostaduria Grano de Cafe, where they kindly let us help roast the beans and explained all the steps. And now Ville is carrying four and a half pounds of coffee until we can bring it to Oregon. Will be the best dang coffee in the world.
We had been warned that climbing up to Lake Atitlan would be rough, but we had no idea what we were in for. We left early from Quetzaltenango, and started a slow easy climb that turned into a very steep climb, but had a spectacular view and rode through more villages full of very friendly indigenous Guatemalans. A cop rode by us and invited us back to his house to give us some avocados and play us some tunes on his guitar. After the climb, the drop down into the lake was extreme. We had to take a few breaks our hands hurt from gripping the breaks and we happened upon a car that had lost control on the downhill into a concrete wall (everyone was ok). And then, we took a wrong turn.
Google Maps has been awful in Guatemala, and boy did we really learn a lesson on this one. After heading straight downhill a few miles on the wrong road, everyone we asked said we could not continue the way we were heading. But we were sure they just didn't understand what bad-ass cyclists we were and we decided to forge ahead and rely on Google. We figured the dirt road was what they meant was not passable. Then the dirt turned into switchbacks straight up hill. Then we came to a giant overlook where Google told us the "road meant for a car" went over the cliff and landed in the town about a mile and a half down. For about 30 yards, the trail appeared to be a really rough mountain bike trail, and then the boulder field started and the trail turned into, at best, a goat trail of boulders, burning plants, where we took turns helping each other lift the bikes over rocks on the cliff. We honestly debated tying rope to the bikes and lowering them down the hill it was so steep.
Three and a half hours later and nearly dark now, we were both completely drenched in sweat, madder than hornets, and covered in bloody wounds, but luckily no irreparable bike-trip ending damage. When we finally made it into a town, past the town's garbage dump, we were told not to go that way. Uh, ya, noted. And then back on the bikes we still had a mile over the hill into San Pedro and up some steep hills to a hotel. After the best showers of our lives, we were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow at 8pm. We took a mandatory day off to explore the very touristy town and agreed to leave the next morning heading to Antigua. We had beers with Nile and Andrea (another cyclist couple we met up with again after seeing each other in California whom also started in very northern Canada) over looking the lake with the surrounding volcanoes towering around us. Lake Antigua really is a beautiful place, touristy, but beautiful.
We got up early this morning, all four of us loaded our bikes on top of a boat taxi, tied them on, and once we arrived in Panajachel, began our insane climb up and out of the lake. The views from the top of the rim were stunning, and as the road turned to a cratered mess straight downhill, we realized were in for a roller-coaster day of the steepest roads we have been on so far, for just about the entire 45 mile day. At one point the road was completely washed out and we rode through a cute waste-water stream to get back to a road. By the time we hobbled into this cheap hotel on the outskirts of Antigua (there is a giant week long pre-Easter festival going on in Antigua, filling all the overpriced hotels and we are gladly going to stay away from) we are both so sore we can't climb stairs or bend over. I feel like I'm 90. So this is what I have to look forwards to? Except how I abuse my body on goat trail cliffs with a fully loaded bike torpedoing downhill, I will be dang lucky to make it to 50.
Tomorrow we are heading through Antigua, will plan to stay somewhere at about 50 miles. And should have another day to the border before we will cross into El Salvador. After Mexico, I feel like we are flying through countries now. Well kids, I am off to bed. Thanks for reading, following, and supporting us. Until next time, keep on keepin' on...
Check Out What's New! - Also, Free Oranges : Zanatepec, Oaxaca to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas
Hello again faithful friends, family and followers! We have added some cool new gadgets to WE LOST THE MAP, that we think your really going to like.
First, we gave it a face lift. But don't fret, the blog is still there. You can get to it by clicking on the GO TO BLOG button on the HOME page. Or, you can click BLOG at the top of the screen and there we are! Same great blog, updated weekly for your action-packed reading enjoyment.
Next, you will see a MAP button on the main page or if you look to your right of this page and click the VIEW MAP button and an interactive map will open in a new window outlining "roughly" our route. From the start in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska all the way to where we are now! Updated as we go.
And last, if you scroll down on the main page, we have added zesty, thrilling, informative, page clicking articles for your reading pleasure. Gear reviews, tips, travel advice, short stories and soon to be loads more...so keep checking back as we add to the pile.
Now on to the next update from Ville, enjoy!
Zanatepec to San Cristobal De Las Casas
One safety issue both of us have been very firm on is not to ride at night/in dark and we've been able to avoid it until a couple of days ago. Here we were riding in pitch black on a busy highway on the outskirts of the Chiapas state capitol Tuxtla, big trucks flying by us and honking & flashing lights. My rear light is flashing but not bright enough for them to notice us from a large distance while flying at high speeds. With intentions of camping before dark at around 60 miles for the day, we found ourselves with nowhere safe to camp and in the dark terrified that we would be run over and we are now at 85 miles and counting.
Early that morning, we left the Warmshowers host Rodrigo's place in a little town called Zanatepec almost at sea level right when the sun was getting up. We knew we had a big 20 mile climb over the coastal mountains heading towards the interior of the state. The climb went fine even though there was no shoulder and even at 7 am the heat was already turned on high, we got to the top and had lunch in a small village while feeding some of the local street dogs with our leftover beans. After the lunch we had lots of rolling hills with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. The locals were very courteous driving around us and giving us tons of space. Even the wind was on our backs, how perfect was that!
We made it to our goal of 60 miles around 1:30 pm, had some tacos for lunch while having a little pow wow about what to do. Should we keep going or call it a day early and rest our bodies since we knew that we had a big big climb in 2 days to get to San Cristobal De Las Casas? We decided to keep going since both of us felt fine, we made a vague plan to do 10-15 more miles and find a camping spot on the side of the road. After about 15 miles of riding we started looking for a spot, I walked off the road at least 5 times to see if there was a hole in the barbwire fence where we could sneak into the trees. Nope. Nada. Not only was the fence always there but also the terrain was very challenging with thick thorny brush that would rip you to pieces and puncture your tires in the process.
It was getting dark and we were starting to get really nervous, we knew we still had another 15 miles to the next town, and both just off getting sick were really lacking the energy to get that far. The sun slowly set and now we were riding in complete darkness. All of a sudden I saw something, thanks to the headlights of a semi passing us, that I thought might be a break in the fence. I yelled to K.G, "I'm going to check the fence for a break!" I thought that she slowed down to wait and so I stopped my bike and ran to investigate the fence. There was a hole big enough for us to squeeze ourselves through with the bikes into a cow pasture. I was excited and ran back to the bike, K.G was nowhere to be seen. Then I realized her taillight was not flashing and not only could I not see her, but there was no way the passing traffic could either! I jumped on my bike and started riding like there was free beer in the next town screaming until my voice was hoarse, and it took me a good mile and a half to catch up with her. I told her about the break but at that point we decided not to bike back because I wasn't even sure if I could find the spot again in the dark. At this point our only real option was to ride all the way to the next town, so on we pushed.
It was really hard both physically & mentally on both of us, riding in the dark with traffic zooming past is no fun. Finally we made it to the outskirts of the town and saw an auto hotel (some of you might remember what they are from our previous stories). They are the places where you can get a room by the hour and the TV channels are not Disney or Nickelodeon material. I think at this point we would have taken just about anything! The young man at the entrance asked me how many hours we needed, I smiled and said we needed 12 hours. I'm sure he was impressed. We took showers and crashed hard, slept through the night like a baby even though the neighbors were expressing their love in a very loud way. So romantic.
The next day we had a hilly, hot 20 miles to get to Tuxtla. Once in Tuxtla, all we needed to do was to find the bike shop where our friends had sent us spare tubes from Puebla. Would through the sprawling city, found the store and got the package, wrong tubes! Miscommunication/lost in translation was the reason, but no worries the store said they could order the tubes and have them shipped to our next stop, San Cristobal de Las Casas. I needed those tubes really bad, I had no spares left after I blew out 2 in Oaxaca. They both broke right next to the valve so patching was not an option, plus one of the tubes was already patched 5 times so it was time for him to retire anyway. I didn't want to tackle Central America without spares since we knew they would be even harder to find there (I ride a size 700x40 with Presta valves, which is not common at all here in Latin America).
After ordering the tubes we rode 10 miles of downhill to a small town of Chiapa De Corzo. We found a nice and cheap hotel close to the highway, the owner was really nice and talked our ears off about Chiapas and the history of this beautiful and rebellious state. The room looked nice the first time I checked so we went to bed confident that we would get a good nights rest for the big climb the next day. Not the case, the room and the bed were infested with ants. There were so many that I had to check in the middle of the night if there was an anthill under the bed! Not only did I have problems with ants all the way in my butt crack but the room was also hot as an oven, needless to say we both slept like crap.
We woke up at 5am to beat the heat and brushed the ants of our bodies, ate a quick breakfast of yogurt and granola. I was so delirious in the morning that I even forgot to tell the owner about the ant problem, he seemed like a nice guy so I doubt he knew about it. The previous night we had discovered podcasts, I know it's old news and no we did not grow up in caves but it's just something we haven't tried yet. They're freaking awesome! They made our 30 mile climb to San Cristobal De Las Casas go by really fast, 6000 ft of elevation gain has never felt so easy.
In the middle of the climb a truck full of oranges passes us and pulls in front of us, the driver climbs on top the truck and asks us if we want oranges? After I said we'd love some he starts throwing them down to me and tells me he thinks we're crazy, I agreed and thanked him. These are the moments that make our day and they're not rare in Mexico, people here are extremely friendly and nice. They do nice things and expect nothing in return. We ate half of the dozen or so oranges on the spot since we didn't want to carry all of them up the mountains, plus they were really delicious. Two thirds of the way up we took a lunch break at a roadside restaurant and got to enjoy the views of the climb we had done from their patio.
By around 2:30 pm we rolled into San Cristobal De Las Casas and made our way down to the house of our Warmshowers host Oscar. Oscar showed us around the town and we had a mean game of ping pong in a bar. Thanks so much Oscar for hosting us! We've been here in San Cristobal for 5 days now (waiting on my tubes to show up), right now we're staying with a different Warmshowers host Edu from Costa Rica. Nicest guy ever, we have his apartment pretty much to ourselves and we've enjoyed some quality time with him sharing stories and beers. He has traveled extensively in South America by bicycle so we've been picking his brain on routes and he's been adding new places to our list of places to see. Thank you Edu for everything!
Finally my tubes arrived last night and now we're ready to head out. The plan is to ride in 2 days close to the border of Mexico and Guatemala and cross it early in the morning. Peace out Mexico, you've been awesome! Central America here we come!
Ville and I were weaving between busses and traffic heading south on the main artery heading for the central/downtown Oaxaca, when we flew past the rerouting of traffic straight into the center of a giant protest in the middle of the street.
But before even heading to Oaxaca, let me tell you a little bit about staying in Puebla for two weeks. When we left Toluca to begin heading south, we had no intention of even riding through Puebla because it was completely south east of Mexico City and we wanted to head south, but our good friend Pedro, from Morelia, had a couple friends in Puebla and we thought, "why not?" We have always been pleasantly surprised by the towns we least expected to be surprised by. Puebla was of no exception.
Luis and Ari welcomed us into their apartment without knowing us at all and only by the referral of said friend, Pedro. But welcome us they did, and for a solid week of bike fixing, quinceanera, birthday and Mexican wrestling festivities. And the night before we were planning our goodbyes and heading back out on the open road, I, K.G., ate something that didn't sit right and was laid up for another week at their place. And did they roll their eyes, stomp their feet, and kick us to the curb as I would have done, no! They made me breakfast and lunch I could stomach every day before leaving for work. They harassed me with text messages to make sure I was still breathing. They tracked down a naturopathic doctor because I didn't want to pump myself full of antibiotics. And STILL they were sad when we left! These two win the gold star for true friends! Can't thank you both enough and excited to see you both again after the ride :)
So after a long two weeks, Ville and I packed up, said some teary goodbyes and got back in the saddles heading south towards Tehuacan, where we stayed one night with Job and his roommate. Thanks boys for the tasty tacos and a bed to sleep. We pushed on into some decent hill climbs back into pine forests and some beautiful camp spots for a few more days into Oaxaca City. From about 25 miles outside the city, the road turned to shit and there was broken glass, garbage, and graffiti (and not the cool to look at kind, but the tagging your name everywhere in dirty parts of cities kind) where we ended up with multiple flat tires and were happy to get into the city and off the road. On our way into downtown, we found ourselves right in the middle of a giant protest against recent changes in education reform. Ville was reminiscing of when he was here back in 2006 and they were protesting then more violently for teachers. Mexico is not the only country where governments make cuts and it appears that education is always the first to go. Children are the future of Mexico, US and the world as a whole. If we want to progress, we cannot wallow in fear, but rise above fear through education and knowledge and only then will we accept others as they are and discover true happiness. My words of wisdom for the week.
After cycling right through the demonstration, we found a cheap hostel in the downtown and walked around looking at the artisan textiles that are so famous for this area (made by the the natives in and around the state of Oaxaca), watched a graduation celebration/parade, and decided to push on the next morning heading south. I had picked up a nasty cold in Puebla and was in dire need of rest, but didn't want to take more time off the bikes after already being out for 2 weeks, so on we pushed. After so many tire punctures (2 of which were Ville's tubes right at the valve rendering the tubes useless) and leaving Ville with only the two tubes in his tires and no back-ups. We scoured every bike shop for tubes to fit his tires, but came up empty handed and realized we might just have to cross our fingers that we make it all the way to Columbia where there is a big cycling culture and possibly more tube sizes available. Luckily, Lois and Elvis, came to our rescue again and are mailing the right tubes to Tuxtla where we will pick them up in a couple days ride.
From Oaxaca, we rode south to Santiago Matatlan, town of Mescal, where I bought artisan chocolate, we ate beef tongue tacos, got a hotel room for the night and headed south into the dry, windy, hills on Highway 190. It was a really tough four days of ups and downs in very gusty, dry hills and when we were to drop out of the hills close to the coast and get some flat land to cycle, we hit the worst winds we have experienced since Baja. So intense we had to pedal to try and get downhill and from Tehuantepec to Union Hidalgo, we rode through garbage ally where the entire stretch of road was covered in garbage and gnarly winds. Once we reached Union Hidalgo, we decided pushing so hard when now both of us were sick was a bad idea, and asked the local police a safe place to stay. They were a great group of guys that let us sleep in the town open-air gymnasium, we were able to watch the local high school kids volleyball practice for a few hours before bed. And as they shut the lights and we locked the door, the bats came out to feed as we fell off to wrestles sleep.
With one day of push left before a planned rest day in Santo Domingo Zanatepec at a Warmshowers host's house, we rose at first light and turned north for 8 miles heading straight into the wind to La Venta. We had breakfast there where outside we caught a big parade of the local elementary school kids celebration of the first day of spring. They were very cute adorned in animal costumes and marching down the street. The rest of the day was spent pushing on through the winds surrounded on all sides by hundreds of wind turbines. It was very exciting to see that Mexico is investing in green energy and a young local guy we chatted with is studying engineering to work generating energy with the wind turbines. While some countries are regressing back to dirty coal mining, Mexico is moving forwards in the use of clean green energy, also creating jobs. Good job Mexico!
As we rode east, we slowly pulled free from the wind vortex where the winds were blocked by mountains and by late afternoon we finally reached Santo Domingo Zanatepec where our Warmshowers hosts, Rodrigo and Lupita welcomed us to their home. Yesterday we decided to take a much needed day off the bikes to rest and recuperate and went to the local highschool where Rodrigo is a teacher and spoke to two of his classes about our ride and practiced English and Spanish with the kids. Then yesterday evening, a group of the girls from one of the classes came by to take Ville and I to dinner to try some local food and interview us. We have felt so incredibly welcome by this town and so many of the people here it feels very nice. Sadly, Ville woke up this morning when we had planned to hit the road early to beat the sweltering heat, and is sick. DAMN!
K.G. & Ville
In Cuenca, Ecuador. Next stop, Loja.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
Make a Difference!
Together, let's send this girl to Argentina!
Help us directly with PayPal or Credit Card