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!
In hindsight, it just might have been easier to illegally push bikes with a machete and mandatory guide to get through the mountainous and dangerous Darien Gap, try and illegally border cross with no border crossing into Columbia dodging military and police and continue until we somehow connected with a road on the Columbian side, instead of boxing bikes and flying north east to Cartagena, Columbia.
Ville and my handful of rest days in Santiago, Panama spent with old friend from Bend, Devin, and new friends, Kacie, Maria, and Yoxara, were awesome. Devin works in Panama for an NGO, Bridges to Prosperity (check out the article I wrote about his work HERE) and we were able to head out on the job with him to check out the great work he and his crew are doing building footbridges for communities cut off from the outside world when rivers flood. One of the nights we were there, Maria and Yoxara, both from Venezuela, cooked us all some Venezuelan food, arepas, and even got us cupcakes to celebrate our One Year on the Bike Ride! Thanks so much all of you for a great time.
When it was time to keep on, we rode an easy 35 mile day to stay in Aguadulce with a Peace Corp. girl, Vanessa. We were able to meet a fellow teaching friend of Vanessa's as well as a couple students and appreciated very much a shower and to crash inside and away from mosquitoes. Thanks again Vanessa for hosting us, come see us in Oregon. The following day we had no plan as to how far we would make it, but had a decently flat ride to San Carlos, where the skies opened up and it began pouring like it had never poured before and we made it into town and found a Bomberos (Fire Station) that allowed us to pitch our tent under cover for the night. Completely drenched, we rung out our clothes and quietly celebrated our 4 year wedding anniversary together reflecting on what a wild ride this last four years of marriage has been like!! Thanks for keeping things interesting Ville. :)
The next morning, the rains had subsided, and when we asked for a good place to get breakfast we were directed to a hamburger and hot dog stand at the corner. Not quite what we were looking for for breakfast, so we decided to push on and found a bakery complete with tons of fried food and white bread. Needing to get on the road, we downed a handful of croissants and fried meat pockets and headed down the road. As we started into our big climb for the day, the fried food was wreaking havoc with our stomachs and we rolled into La Chorrera packed with afternoon traffic and made our way out to David, another Peace Corp. volunteer's house. David got a bit held up in traffic himself and so we sat on, what we thought was David's porch, for 5 hours waiting for him and watched a giant lightning storm pass overhead. Luckily when David made it home, we were on the right porch and appreciated very much another shower and bed to crash in. Thanks David for the hospitality.
Having only 25ish miles into Panama City, we started early and hit an unbelievable amount of bumper-to-bumper traffic almost the entire way into the city. And it was even Saturday! As we crossed the infamous Bridge of the Americas, the bridge over the Panama Canal, Ville and I were yelling and cheering the entire way across we were so thrilled to be at this milestone, heading into Panama City and the end of North and Central America! We did it! And timing was perfect with it being Saturday we ran into the Saturday Cycling Group who close off a lane of a major road on the way into the city. Now we felt like royalty cruising on into the city skyline like bad asses on heavy steeds. We were pumped to be able to ride the Cinta Costera, walking/biking trail along the water front. Until it ended, and we were forced into the worst city riding we have been in yet trying to get to a bike shop, Latin Bikes. After confirming they had set aside 2 bike boxes, we had to backtrack almost 4 miles back to our super classy Hotel Latino.
We had stayed at Hotel Latino seven years prior after crewing on sailboats and remembered it being decent with a pool. Apparently the years had been unkind to Hotel Latino, and although it still had the pool, the neighborhood was a bit rough around the edges and the patrons were young partiers in the city for the weekend or ladies of the night with their "friends". We did get the chance to meet up with a Couchsurfing dude, Leonardo, who treated us to tasty pints at Buenas Pintas and took us to a place with traditional Panamanian food for dinner. In the morning, we met up again for breakfast for some more fried street food where we realized that fried everything (not exaggerating, EVERYTHING) is how the Panamanians do food. After, we checked out some of the city, rode the single line metro, and met up with an old friend, Juan Diego, whom we had met seven years prior in the San Blas Islands and had spent time with him and has family in Panama City. Juan Diego was now grown up, married and with his wife, Claudia, and little girl, Alejandra.
They picked us up and drove us around the islands outside the city and into the Old Town part of the city with cobble stone streets and beautiful architecture. A stark contrast to the giant skyscrapers, banks, and malls of the rest of the city. After, we ate at Crepes and Waffles (YUM) and Juan Diego helped us out big time working through our issue of how to get a cab big enough the next day to get our giant bike boxes and ourselves out to the airport. He was kind enough to offer to pick us up the next day from the bike shop after we would box the bikes there. So most of the entire next day was spent in the front of Latin Bikes (they had no room inside there shop with air conditioning), breaking down bikes and packing them into 2 bike boxes. Having had to do this for our flight to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska at the start of the ride, we had a better idea what we had to do, but these boxes were much smaller and we had to take apart a lot more of the bikes than before and had far less packing material this time. Juan Diego, as promised, picked us up even at rush hour and we drove out to the airport around 6 pm to wait out our flight for 5 am the next day. Thanks a million Juan Diego for saving our butts with the ride and taking the time to see us with your family!
We met a super nice American couple we chatted with for a while in the airport before making a fort out of our boxes and gear under a stairwell and tried to catch some zzzz's. When we went to check our bikes in for the flight, we were informed that even though Ville had done a bunch of research into an airline that allowed our bike boxes for free up to the certain weight we so carefully packed them to, they discontinued that sweet idea in April and now charged $107 USDollars EACH to get our bikes on the plane. DAMN YOU AVIANCA AIRLINES! We reminded ourselves of all the great things that always come our way, and sometimes you just can't win it all.
First flight got us to Bogota, Columbia where we had an 8 hour layover and plenty of time to sleep on chairs, the floor, people watch and stuff ourselves with tasty Columbian coffee and cheap desserts. Bogota Airport was far classier than Panama, and we both reflected on how ecstatic we were to be finally done with hot and rainy Central America and our least favorite country, Panama. Aside from our awesome American, Brazilian, Colombian, Venezuelan and Leonardo the one great Panamanian friend, Panama was deforested, roads were shit, traffic was horrible, most people were unfriendly, food was our least favorite (fried) and Panama City was the most dangerous, deadly city we had to ride through. Colombian people were smiling, talkative, kind, the food was tasty, shops had t-shirts with BICYCLES on them, and this was all just in the airport! Man were we glad to be in Columbia.
Our last flight was delayed, but we made it before dark and after some eyelash batting and compliment throwing, the security guard lady let us assemble the bikes in the corner of the air-conditioned baggage claim. The assembly went fairly quickly, but we discovered a fair amount of bangs and bruises from the stellar crew at Avianca Airlines and were really stressing when we had my rear tire deflate twice as we were frantically trying to get to our hotel by dark. We rolled into a totally sketchy neighborhood, where a really kind man informed us we should NOT be here at dark and helped us find our hotel. The hotel turned out to be very mediocre, but was a roof over our head with a handful of locked gates and doors, and a bed to sleep. Anxious to get out and see the sights tomorrow (still hoping to find a new water bladder hose, guess they aren't as easy to find as we thought and being that I use it all day every day, I need one) and then head out south and back on the road the day after. Thanks all for reading, Happy 4th of July and until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
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...
My eyes were so heavy I couldn't stay awake. I felt like someone had taken a syringe of liquid exhaustion and put it straight into my veins and it coursed throughout my body and laid me up on the couch where all I could do was sleep. I had a horrible pain in my spine and kidneys. I had a strange pain behind my eyes and a rash broke out on my skin. After a trip back to the doctor, more blood work, it was confirmed I had a nasty virus likely from a mosquito somewhere in Central America. Maybe Zika? Maybe West Nile Virus?
Sorry folks for the long hiatus without an update, but times have been tough. Last I posted from Portland, Oregon with our flight back to Costa Rica in only a couple days. My mom was kind enough to drive us to Portland and on the drive I could not keep my eyes open and slept the whole way there. Even Ville was concerned when I quit talking :) When we arrived at my sister's house, I crawled to her couch and stayed there. I couldn't eat or move. Ville called my doctor in Bend and she insisted I come back in. Ville called Delta Airlines (luckily all our flights were on one airline) and they were amazing in allowing us to push out our flights 10 days and not charge us anything. Poor Mom, back in the car and straight back to Bend and the doctor we went.
After some blood work, my doc confirmed I had a virus. After a review of symptoms, she confirmed a mosquito passed virus (they have an incubation period of 3 days to 2 weeks) and gave me an IV. I was in pretty bad shape and because my immune system was compromised, and the stress of packing in so much while in Bend did not help, I got a bad cold on top of it all. Damn! So I went back to my parent's house, straight to bed or the couch and have not left it until a few days ago. I am a tough cookie, and this nasty virus was the sickest I have ever been. It sucked!
I went back to the doctor a few days later and we did blood work to try and confirm if my virus was either Zika or West Nile Virus. We have since confirmed that it is not Zika, but don't have results back about West Nile. My doc is pretty awesome (Dr. Cooper at Center for Integrative Medicine comes highly recommended by me!!) and she said this virus would take at least 2 weeks to start feeling better and up to a month to get back to normal. UGH! And said no way was I well enough to fly back to bikes yet and we would need to push our flights out further. And unfortunately, there was nothing she could give me to make me better, I just needed to rest and build up anti-bodies to this crappy virus. So back to the couch I went and in case you all are wondering why you haven't heard from me, it was doctors orders to rest!! And I literally could not get off the couch or out of bed for weeks. Until now, I have started to reemerge.
And last week, my beautiful, gifted, talented, larger-than-life cousin Amie passed away. I wanted to just share with friends and family who knew her and those that didn't, Amie was an extremely talented actress, singer and entertainer. When we were kids, she was chosen as the lead in the play Annie. With her fire red hair and pipes of an angel, she put on a private performance for all us cousin's in my Aunt's living room, that knocked our socks off! She was very passionate, dramatic, and loved her young daughter Dylann more than anything. When Ville and I were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Amie made it up to some ski resort on the trail early one morning to have breakfast with us. Family has been so important to her and all of us, leaving us all with such great memories of Amie and making it so very hard to say goodbye.
Reaching out to all of you; friends, followers, and family, please just send some healing thoughts, prayers, and energy to my Aunt, Uncle, Amie's sisters and her daughter. My Uncle only recently has made it back to healthy from a rough battle with lung cancer (he is a Fire Chief in San Louis Obispo, CA and we were able to stay with them heading south on this ride) and this has been such a rough year for their family. Losing someone we love is so very hard, and they need lots of love and healing right now. Thanks for keeping them in your thoughts and prayers.
Ville and I are, for real this time, are on our way back to Portland this Friday. We are spending the weekend with my sister, brother-in-law, and brother and then our flight back to San Jose, Costa Rica is Tuesday night the 13th. Thanks everyone who discovered I was still here and checked in. And thank you to all who follow our journey and realized they hadn't heard from us and reached out. It's so nice to know how loved we are! Means a lot to us. And a HUGE thank you to my parents. For driving us back and forth, for housing and feeding us when we needed a place to go, and supporting our journey in so many ways!! Love you both. Will be better about our updates, thanks everyone for following. Until next time, keep on keepin' on...
Going from the simple meditation of pedaling our bikes all day, to standing on a stage in a massive high school auditorium in front of over 150 freshman was a rough transition to say the least. Even if Ville and I gave off an air of calm and confidence, we packed in 8 presentations in only 5 days, left with no time to rest or see anyone, we headed back to Portland to continue the journey back to our bikes and were completely exhausted! A handful of students that came to share with us after our talks, made all of it worth it. This is why we did it...
We left off in Granada, Nicaragua, still baking in the scalding Central American sun and yearning for a reprieve we felt would soon come in our trip home to Bend, Oregon. It became mandatory to wake up at 5 am to get the miles in when it would be at it's coolest part of the day (the lowest it ever dropped was 85 degrees at night) and try and quit before 11 am. Even spending a day in Granada, trying to walk around to see the city, my skin was melting, and this was standing in the shade, so I was pretty miserable. Since taking a bunch of different antibiotics, I had struggled to get my body temperature to regulate and when I would check out Ville (who was normally the hot-blooded one) and he has a healthy glow, I was a continual sweaty mess. I was very ready for the heat to be turned down.
We left Granada early, and climbed away from the lake shore and south heading towards the Costa Rican border, deciding at the very last second to bike the extra 20 miles and drop out to the coast, where we should get some cooler weather. The road out to Playa Gigante was really scenic, rolling hills with local ox-pulled carts and herds of horses passing us as we dropped to the ocean and camped in front of a hostel right on the beach. Ville woke me frantic in the middle of the night because there was a giant pig (yes, a real live pig) rooting right next to the tent. Having grown up around farm animals, I was just annoyed to have been woken up in the middle of the night and just rolled over and back off to sleep I went. I think poor Ville still has nightmares. The following morning we headed back to Rivas and took a 5 hour break at the local Burger King (it was the only place with air conditioning) to wait out the heat before continuing on. We met the nicest couple and their kids (he originally from Mexico and she from Nicaragua, but now living in the US) bought us our lunch because we told them how amazing we were treated in Mexico and loved the country and he wanted to continue the tradition. After it had cooled down a tad, we headed south and just before dark and the border, we asked a farmer to camp in his yard and were snoozing by nightfall in a barn.
Back on the road early, as we came up to the border, even at first light there was already a 3 mile line of semi trucks waiting to fill paperwork and cross the border to Costa Rica. We passed them by on the left, being that we would just be walking/biking over, but as we passed all the trucks, we smiled and said "Buenos Dias" to all the truck drivers waiting in or outside their trucks. We had so many of them smiling, waving, and wishing us well it was such a great start to our day! The border crossing was a breeze (somehow we didn't even get charged an entry free) and as we climbed into the humid tropics of Costa Rica, and the trucks started to make it over the border and pass us, they gave us room, honked, waved, and it was at these moments that the thought of real life world peace, in our lives, was becoming a reality. By simply opening our hearts to them, instead of just flying by, we had made the interaction personal. And for the rest of that day, the next and many days following, as the drivers passed, they made our day better.
Our route through Costa Rica was much more mountainous than our route through Nicaragua, but was very scenic to be back in the jungle. Sweaty and humid, but scenic. It was necessary for us to stop for multiple breaks to pound water because the threat of another bladder infection for me was ever imminent. We rolled into Liberia in the evening and were directed by a few different people to the Red Cross there in town who allowed us to camp in their yard, next to a few unused old ambulances. Early the next morning, we made our way back out to the main road and continued south on the roller coaster of a 2-way road under towering green trees and thick forests. We made it to around Canas, where a farmer directed us to the town soccer field where the neighbors confirmed it would be safe for us to camp. As the sun set, we watched a flock of Macaws screech back and forth overhead and Ville was greeted by a horse this time, next to the tent, first thing in the morning. I think they even shared a morning poo together. How romantic.
Knowing this was our last day on the bikes before our journey home, we both anxiously rode the last push to Punta Arenas, where we found our super kind Warmshowers host in the ghetto and went to the beach to watch him surf. We pitched our tent on his front patio, but were still mauled by mosquitoes and were up with the sun, packed, and to the bus station where we stowed our bikes below and bused it to San Jose (Heredia to be exact) where we would catch our plane. Our friend Edu (our fantastic Warshowers host and friend from San Cristobal De Las Casas) is from there and connected us with his family for a safe place to leave bikes when we went home. We were spoiled by Edu's sister, Silvia and her daughter and will meet his mom when we return. We had a day off walking around town and watching the Costa Rican people of WalMart (this was pretty epic), before catching our flight to Portland and getting picked up by my sister. It was quite the culture shock to be going from our bike tour straight to family and friends still living lives with jobs and kids and stuff.
We spent a couple days building a presentation, a video, filming a segment on KGW News Live at 7, visiting with family (my sister, Lisa, and brother, Jordan, both live in Portland and my mom was there already watching my nephew) and then my mom brought us back to Bend with her. We made it to Bend late after our news gig and had an early morning presentation at Mountain View High School to get to. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but the freshmen seemed to be into it and we were just hoping to get even a few kids pumped about travel, inspired, or thinking about maybe a different path out there as even an option to follow. We ended up doing 3 presentations to the MVHS freshmen (a new great program called Foundations), a Bio class, a giant group at High Desert Middle School, and a big presentation in downtown Bend at Crow's Feet Commons. And those were all in 3 days!! It was insanity.
Our Crow's Feet Commons Bend Presentation was scheduled to be outside with a giant screen for our presentation and when the weather chose not to cooperate, we were last-minute pushed indoors where there was maybe room for 60 people and we were SO bummed to have so many great friends, family and followers show up and couldn't even get in it was so packed. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for trying to come, for showing up, and for showing your support in so many ways. We love you all and will make sure next time to have a large enough venue, that no matter what the weather does, all of you can be there! We just had no idea how cool we are :)
For Mother's Day weekend, my brother Jordan came to visit and Ville and I were gifted tickets to Tedx Bend that ran all day Saturday. I was thrilled to be sitting in the audience and not up on a stage for a change! Sunday, my mom, dad, brother, and Ville all headed out to Smith Rocks and hiked over Misery Ridge together. Ville slipped on loose gravel and twisted his knee all goofy and has been icing it since so we can get back on those bikes. Our first day outside since arriving in the US, guess we were rusty. Monday we had a small presentation at Tin Pan Theater with family and a handful of close friends and tried our hand at Facebook Live (it's dark, and low quality, but you can hear our voices at least) so others near and far could catch our presentation. Tuesday we were roped into another, and final, presentation to a group of junior and seniors at Mountain View High School. I had assumed seniors would be boisterous, but they were so shy to talk and after the bell rung, we realized they were just waiting to come up and talk to us after their friends had left.
Both Ville and I want to give a giant thank you to all the students and staff at MVHS and HDMS who made it possible for us to come and speak, but more importantly, for those of you that came to tell us how much it meant to you. For sharing with us your dreams, your goals and your plans. For those that did, and those of you too shy to do so, please follow up with us either in a comment, email, or message us. We want to hear from you. No matter where your paths take you, make sure you are on the path that is true to yourself. No matter what society, family, teachers, or otherwise may steer you, be true to you.
After saying some very quick goodbyes to those we were able to see, my mom drove us back to Portland Wednesday for a day to spend with my nephew, sister, brother-in-law, brother and then we have a horrendous flight (we have 4 legs all overnight and into Saturday) before arriving back in San Jose. We plan to take a day off organizing our gear and to take a bus back to Punta Arenas where we left off not long ago, and continue plugging away south. Thanks for the memories Bend, until the end of this road, see you in a year. Until then, we will keep on keepin' on...
A HUGE thanks to Mountain View High School, High Desert Middle School, Crow's Feet Commons, Tin Pan Theater and all the Bend community for listening and coming out for our presentations here in Bend to mark our "Half Way" of our Alaska to Argentina Bike Ride! We are so grateful to all of you that came out last night to Crow's Feet Commons, sorry the weather did not cooperate and we had to pack indoors and so many of you didn't get inside. We appreciate all of you for following us and supporting us and coming to show your support! Thanks for being a part of this journey.
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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...
Such as life, there are hills and valleys. We are in a valley. Antigua, Guatemala to Chinandega, Nicaragua
When the physical challenges are hard, but you add massive heat, sleep deprivation, bad roads, a tight budget, and health problems it gnaws at your spirit and are the true test of your will to keep going.
Guatemala was beautiful, but ass-kickingly hard. Lots of the steepest climbs and drops we have yet encountered. After the rough terrain and chaos of Lake Atitlan, we made it to a hotel just outside of Antigua. Having been to Antigua before, we were not heart-set on spending a lot of time there, but then finding out it was the biggest, craziest Easter week holiday with the epicenter being Antigua, we opted to take roads around the city and climbed up, southeast, and continued on our way. Partaking in festivities would have been a fun time, but navigating through the city on bikes through the chaos, unable to find a hotel on our budget, is just not an option for us. We did, however, pass a bunch of ritzy gated communities as we passed through southern Antigua, and quite a few American and European tourists or expats who live there. Being one of the "safest" Guatemalan cities with mild weather and beautiful architecture (not to mention a booming coffee trade) must bring a lot of foreigners to this area.
After a decent climb the road seemed to drop in elevation substantially, until we came to the south of Villa Canales and decided to listen to a local police officer who directed us up a hill climb that was THE hill climb of all hill climbs! Not joking, the grade is not found in Western countries. Ville said he greatly appreciates Western Engineers when it comes to building roads after climbing it. It's as if they had such a limited budget, but needed to get the road from the bottom of the mountain to the very top and just slapped the road straight up the side without one switchback. It was three and a half miles and it took us over two hours to climb, profusely sweating and taking multiple breaks on the way up (we were asked by 3 different super kind Guatemalans if we wanted rides, but were stubborn enough to refuse and keep pushing upwards). My speedometer quit registering speed we were going so slow! At the top, we met the highway and coasted down to Cuilapa where we found out the city was named "the halfway point of the Americas"! Yahoo! We have ridden our bikes halfway of the Americas!
The next day we had a giant drop in elevation and rode through a lush, vibrant green valley complete with palm trees and roadside vendors selling bananas and pineapples. We had a pretty easy border crossing into El Salvador; our 5th country. Completely depleted of liquids after days of Guatemala climbing, and after stopping at a roadside eatery, realized I had a pretty serious bladder infection and was in a load of pain. The family there was nice enough to take Ville on the back of their motorbike up the road to a pharmacy for antibiotics (so many acts of kindness on this journey from everywhere) and we pushed on the 9 miles to town. The next day we had a decent climb into the mountains and a beautiful, easy twenty miles of Ruta de las Flores (Route of the Flowers) where we stopped at a lot of the tiny towns along the way to eat mangoes and coconuts.
Dropping down out of the mountains, we hit the wall of heat on the coast and after the thrill of finally seeing the Pacific Ocean again (it had been since Baja), we climbed and dropped the hairpin turns as the temps rose over a hundred. By evening, I realized pretty quick that the antibiotics were not quite strong enough and as I sat doubled over in pain by the side of the road, Ville stuck out his thumb to get us a ride a few more miles to the next town and a pharmacy. As our luck would have it, a super kind family in a truck pulled over also on their way to the pharmacy. The pharmacist recommended I take 3 days of the strongest antibiotic they had, Ville told her we would take 9 days worth (in case I needed more on the road) and the pharmacist looked at Ville very skeptically like, "Um, are you trying to kill your wife?" Oh, and I am not suppose to be in the sun on these antibiotics either. Ya, right. Like that's possible on a bike tour in the Central American blazing sun. So now, even with sleeves, the sunscreen sweats off in seconds and I am fried like a lobster to boot.
As we scoured La Libertad for a cheap motel, we were super deflated to realize this is the vacation place for Salvadorians AND it's still the wild, crazy Easter week holiday! So we found the biggest dive motel in town and were charged double because of the holidays. When we went to sleep around eight with the plan to get up early to beat the heat, a family of nine and their wild children rolled in and parked in the room adjacent to ours. Luckily they headed out to the bars to party, kids in tow, but then came back to after-party at the room around 2 am until we left at 5 am to start riding. It was awful. And as we rolled out of the room, the women were passed out all over the room with the door open and the dudes were passed out in the back of their truck in front of our room. But one guy woke up to stare at us with a look of "if I had a shiv, I would stab you in the face" as we kicked their beer bottles out of the way so we could get our bikes past and leave. Good riddance to La Libertad on Easter Holiday. Any other time, we heard it was a fun surf spot with a decent break, but we had poor timing.
In the coolness of the morning, the miles were easy and pleasant. And the people we passed along the road were incredibly friendly. The beauty of a bicycle as our mode of transport is that we see and experience so much of the countries we pass through. When taking a plane or a bus, you pass by, see views from the bus window and experience the towns/cities, but we get to really experience the in between. I thoroughly enjoy smiling and waving at as many people as we pass as I get the chance to. I get so many heart-warming smiles, "Good Mornings" , "Good Afternoons" and "Safe Journey", and even a few "I love you"s that it makes all the hard stuff melt away.
We spent a total of five days traveling through El Salvador and quite enjoyed the easier riding (compared to Guatemala) and the kind people. We crossed the boarder into Honduras, and had an open mind that even though Honduras has had a turbulent past and current challenges, it was likely similar to all the other countries we were warned about and proven wrong. And that was true, we did meet a few very lively, kind, and generous Hondurans. In San Lorenzo, we met Jose at a cafe and he let us stay in a room in his house for $10 when it was just too hot to push on. Thanks Jose! But for every ten people we passed who smiled or said "Buenos Dias," one would ignore us, look at us with a horrible look, yell something really mean, and we heard more "Gringo" in this country than anywhere else south of the US boarder we have been so far. Not to mention most of the roads were complete shit with no shoulder and we were literally run off the roads by buses and trucks.
That being said, we did only have the time to travel through the very southern part of the country on this trip, spending two full biking days, and have heard great things about so many other beautiful parts of Honduras. Not to mention, we know some very kind Hondurans (Alex Rivera) and plan to see more of the country someday, likely not from a bicycle seat! This morning we had a 30 mile ride to the boarder crossing from Honduras into Nicaragua and after reading all the horror stories from other cyclists, we had another very smooth crossing. There was a huge thunderstorm last night and the humidity even at 5 am when we started our ride was intense, but very easy miles and thanks in huge part to Ville's ever-improving Spanish, the Immigration Officers treat him really well and we pass through quickly without paying bribes we hear so much about. It did cost $12 each to get into Nicaragua however, so the expenses have really been adding up. Sadly, since we have had no luck at all getting a Warmshowers place to stay or a safe place to camp, our standards have been ever lowered at cheapest of the cheap motels and my bent bike frame and inability to shift properly will have to wait until, well, maybe the end of the ride to be fixed.
Once we crossed into Nicaragua, the pavement became a real, nice paved road again, the temps dropped from over a 100 to only 90's and the people went out of their way to come talk to us about our bike and our ride. We pushed a 73 mile day today and are staying in Chinandega, where we were told about a pool and giant waterslide and I was finally able to dig out my bikini after carrying it since Baja! What a treat. From here we will head south towards Leon and then on to Managua. We have a flight booked back to Bend to celebrate our "Halfway" and hope to see everyone at our presentation at Crow's Feet Commons in Bend, Oregon on May 11, at 6-8pm. Until next time, keep on keepin' on...
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!
K.G. & Ville
In Cusco, Peru. Enjoying time with K.G.'s parents.
“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
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