31 August 2002

Mexico City to Tuxtla Guiterrez, Chiapas

The 10 days to Chiapas from D.F. have been filled with such diversity. This is the Mexico that I have been so excited to ride through. The autopista (the toll way) ended in Oaxaca city, so since that point we have been riding through the only main road in these parts. Its great because it goes right through the small towns and villages, but a lot of times there is no shoulder and it seems to go over every mountain possible.

The night before we reached Oaxaca city we camped off of the side of the autopista. It had been raining for a couple of hours, but this was the first time it was raining as it was getting dark. We found a nice place to camp and set up my tent in the rain. Then we unpacked our bikes in the rain. Then we cooked and ate dinner in the rain. Then we brushed our teeth in the rain and then got in the tent and slept through the night while it rained. You know that you have gotten use to your environment when you no longer notice the negative aspects. I mean, there we were, on the side of the road, cooking our dinner in the rain and it seemed perfectly normal. Good thing for quality rain gear.

Oaxaca city is beautiful, despite how touristy it is. This was my second time there, so I knew where to head. JC headed out to visit the Monte Albun Ruins, which are definitely worth a visit, and I explored the Ricardo Flores Magon Cultural center. They had a small exhibit from a local artist, which wasn’t as good as the exhibit on punk last time I was there, but good nonetheless. Later I stumbled into a free indy cinema that was showing free short films from all over Latin America. One was about a guy in prison in Mexico and another was about this crazy healing 'doctor' in Cuba who heals people by pulling on them and slapping them around. Some of the other films I have no idea what they were about. JC and me met up later on, comparing stories mostly about all the food we had consumed throughout the day. I am a street vendors dream. I ask what it is, what’s in it, then more often than not, I buy it. yum.

After Oaxaca city you are in a whole different Mexico. The Spanish is different. The food is different. The site of two gringos on bikes is much more of a scene. The first day out of the city we had a large climb, then an 11-mile downhill complete with switchbacks and banked curves. About half way down I got a flat, to the delight of an entire construction crew. I pulled over to fix it, and next thing I know there are 18 people gathered around me! First it was strange when I realized that they were about 15 on average, than even stranger when not one of them said a word to me. All just quietly and patiently watched me change a tube. I initiated conversation a bit, but only the foreman, the only one over 20, spoke with me. I finished, said adios, and they all said 'adios' in unison. A mile later I caught up with JC, we rolled through a military checkpoint, and into one the restaurant/store/house deals that we so often see. There's where our next adventure began.

They ask the usual questions, then ask where we are going ahorita (right now), we say we don’t know, they laugh, then invite us to sleep there. The local drunk guy was in perfect form. Saying all sorts of crazy things. 'Whose better George Bush or Osama Bin Laden?', 'Eating chilies will make you ride faster', 'You need to have a girl for the mountains cause its cold there'. He also insisted on asking us if we were gay about 1000 times. Anyway, we cooked dinner amidst 20 questions about food and my stove, then hung out with the family and some of the 15 yr old construction workers. Around 1030 we decide to go to sleep. Well, that plan didn’t work out to well. Apparently people in Mexico don’t sleep. The construction kids were up till well past 130am firing down beers and the women of the house were outside mopping before 530am. Amazing. We said our goodbyes after buying some fruit and water and rolled off into another strange day.

We spent the next night in a community center in a village that isn’t even on my map. We enquired about a place to sleep and everyone directed us to El Centro de municipal like it was perfectly normal for two gringos to roll in on bikes and sleep there. One of the workers, showed us to a storage room, opened the windows, and showed us where the bathroom was. It was so odd for it to seem so routine to house touring cyclists. The center was a beehive. The women had a volleyball game going, kids on bikes we were everywhere, tons of the men hanging out, teenagers playing basketball. We cooked dinner in the mix of it all, where we were the ridicule of the men near us. 'That looks like dog food', 'Soybeans make your penis go limp', and ‘you look like a rooster with that haircut'. Its good to know that even in Mexico I am made fun of for what I eat and look like! Most people were cool, and we ended up playing basketball and hanging out pretty late.

So there we are, pedaling along through the isthmus of tehuantepec, when things got weird. First we lost the shoulder when our highway split from the 185 highway. Then the trucks and the people we passed weren’t so friendly. The sky became overcast. Next thing we see is a man on the side of the road waving for us to stop. We evaluate the situation, he is with a women, has a nicer truck with a license plate, and is dressed casually. We pull over. He asks about our Spanish, we respond, 'Si, hablamos un poco', and he starts ranting and raving ultra fast about how dangerous it is where we are. We got him to slow down, and he tells us where we are is very poor and that there has been a string of assaults recently. Some bandits held up a gas truck not too long ago. We ask about camping and he says absolutely not. He is from San Cristobal, Chiapas and offers to drive us there. We politely decline. He says good-bye and we get back to riding.

Now it is getting darker and looks like it will rain. Tension increases and we start look at everyone with a little fear. This feeling had not been a part of this trip at all. We decide to hurry onto the next village. When we roll in we get some odd looks instead of the usual smile and friendly greetings. In the store the woman says she knows of no such place to sleep. Little kids ride bye without laughing or saying hello. What the hell is going on? Then the woman comes out and suggests the centro de salud, or the health center. Perfect. We gun it to there. Inside a very friendly woman in her 20's sees our bikes and understands our questions in broken Spanish. She takes us to see the 'Commadante' of the village. He happens to be across the street with a bunch of people. I told her that I study nutrition and she misunderstood and introduces me as a student of medicine. Oops. We clarify and the Commadante and the local doctor are very helpful. They tell us there is a Dengue Fever epidemic and that we have to sleep inside.

Next think I know, we are in the back of a pick-up truck with our bikes and about 6 men with rifles. They take us to an empty house, unlock it, show us around, and then leave. They also told us they would guard the house throughout the night. Suddenly we have an entire house to ourselves! Unbelievable. Sometimes I can’t even believe the situations I end up in. So we spend the night on the floor of this house, hoping to not catch dengue fever. In the morning we took pictures of the various animals who made their home on this property and went back to el centro de salud to thank them and because I wanted their address. The Doctora who helped us the night before was again very friendly and happy to give me the address. Then she gave me her personal email. Nice. We left happy and pedaled off through the danger zone into Chiapas.

We had a 12-mile climb into the state of Chiapas and it was one of the most memorable experiences of this entire trip. It started ultra hot and humid. Within a couple of miles it started getting dark and raining. It felt so nice. So nice that we didn’t bother with rain gear. Then it started down pouring! oops. We at least got our jackets on and kept going up. Huge streams of water were rushing down the road. Then we turned a corner and there was a flash flood! It was coming off the mountain to our left, running across the road, and into the valley on the right. At first we road, then it got to deep and the current too strong. We had to carry our bikes through the rushing water while trying to avoid rocks tumbling down the mountain through the water. We took our time because there was no guardrail, there was nothing, to our right to prevent us from falling off the road into the valley if we would of slipped. Amazing. We eventually got to the top where the state of Chiapas welcomed us. It was a very important moment for me because riding to Chiapas has been on my mind for so long. And now here I am. Successfully have ridden my bike here. We asked in the first village about sleeping and they directed us to a hotel 8 kilometers further on. We got charged a gringo fee, but it was worth to be able to dry our stuff and cook out of the rain. Also gave us a chance to empty the 5-inch puddles from our panniers.

After some more climbs and a beautiful descent into the valley we are in the capital city of Tuxtla Guiterrez. We've done the usual, eat at the vegetarian restaurant, hang out in the zocolo, listen to our favorite song by the band ketchup, and eat lots of street food. Unfortunately, JC has come down with what every gringo fears when traveling: The runs. Long morning in the bathroom for JC means today is a day off. We got him some medicine (no prescription needed and it cost less than $4!! The USA could learn a lot from Mexico when it comes to health care...) and ahorita he is sleeping in the hotel room. Tomorrow we hope to embark on the 30-mile uphill climb to San Cristobal de Las Casas. After that we have an eventful week seeing giant ruins, two more countries, and the tropical rain forest. Wow, this trip is actually winding down. Just hope that JC feels better soon. More updates soon!

20 August 2002

Mazatlan to Mexico City

After the craziness of riding into Guadalajara at night and in the rain, we decided it was safest to not ride into this city of 20 million people. It is not the riding in the city that is scary, both Justin and me are avid city riders; it is the interchanges outside of the city. Imagine riding your bike on 76 or 676 outside of Philly! It is like that, but with less light and way worse roads.

We are staying with some good friends of mine, Nallely and Edgar, that I met a year and a half ago at a WEF protest in Cancun. They helped me get out of jail and we have been close since.

The first day we were here we went to a market that only has metal-punk-artsy-hippie sorts of things. It was amazing. Veggie burgers for 50 cents! The anarcho-punks were in full force and there were plenty of zines, music, and info to gather up. The whole ambience of the place was amazing, very few cops or authorities and 100s and 100s of kids (you know, anyone under 30 or who still acts as such) who are not into the lifestyle being sold to them MTV or coca-cola. We mingled around for a while and then went to explore the rest of the city.

Hanging out with our 'girlfriends' from the boat hasn’t been as successful as we had hoped. I guess the whole energy of meeting on a boat and spending a night on a boat was lost. Maybe she thought that I would of changed my clothes or trimmed my beard since last time I saw her. ha. I ended up spending some time with her at the Zocolo where we saw a jazz concert, an art exhibit with all sorts of anti-Bush cartoons and anti-plan Colombia posters, bought some photographs from a vendor, ate some coconut treats, and took a ride on a bike taxi. Then we went to the Anthropology museum and to a section of the city called Coyocan. I had been there before but could not remember the dope restaurant I had eaten at. We got some expensive pasta at a chic hangout near the square.

We have spent a lot of time just wondering around the city, which is one of my favorite things to do. There is a market outside of Nallely and Edgar's house, which isn’t in the best neighborhood, to buy all sorts of neat things. One morning we bought Nopales, a type of cacti, mixed with onions and peppers, some tortillas, and some salsa, for less than $2.50 for the 3 of us to eat. Lovely. Nallely needed a part for her blender, and there is a guy in the market who only sells parts for a blender. Amazing. In the USA you would probably have to buy a whole new one.

Our new addiction, which is much healthier and a little cheaper, is juice in a bag. For about 60 cents they fill a giant bag with the juice of your choice and give you a straw to drink it. Watermelon, Orange and Fresh Lemon have been the 3 most popular.

We have spent four days here, great to be off the bike. Our next stop will be in Oaxaca, where we want to see the Monte Albun ruins and eat lots of vegan chocolate and enfrijoladas. There is also a community center there named after the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon.

We have some big climbs ahead and will return to the heat soon. But, we have a lot to see in the last 1600 kilometers of our journey. We are entering the jungle and new indigenous cultures. 2 more countries and places I have been to and already love....

Thanks to everyone who sends emails, I appreciate it so much!

But what do you do about......?

Hello from Mexico City! I am going to answer some questions I have been getting.

Our Route
I guess I forgot that not everyone is familiar with the geography of Mexico.
We headed directly south from Los Angeles, about 1100 miles down the Baja Peninsula. From the city of La Paz we took a ferry to the city of Mazatlan. From there we headed southeast through Tepic and Guadalajara into Mexico City. From here we will head directly south through the city of Oaxaco and then into the state of Chiapas. From there we will head east through Guatemala, past the ruins of Tikal and then into Belize. We will only be in Belize for a couple of days before we fly out of the Belize airport on the east coast of Central America. I hope that clarifies a bit!

Bicycle Touring
Not all my friends and family are avid cyclists, eh? Bicycle touring is a way of traveling by bicycle where you carry with you everything you need. For example, we have a tent, two stoves (with fuel), sleeping bags, rain gear, clothes, dried food, water containers, tools, maps; everything we will need for the two month journey. Well, of course, we have to buy food and water everyday. The idea is to enjoy the process more than the goal. An American asked us why we ride so much and don’t spend more time sight seeing; I told him that we are sight seeing constantly. When you are in a car the environment is merely in the way of your destination, but when you are on a bike you become a part of that environment and appreciate all aspects of it. The other day we were climbing this mountain for about 2 hrs and then we entered a pine forest. You feel the air get colder, you are overwhelmed by the smell, the forest absorbs you, and you appreciate arriving there by bicycle.

We are yet to camp at a campsite. We just find a place hidden from the road and set up camp. It’s great, that little area of the world becomes our home for the next 10 hours. We set up the tent, unload what we need for the night and prepare dinner. Then we sit and relax, and maybe look at the stars or write in our journal. A lot of times our exhaustion decides that we should just go right to sleep! Camping has become more difficult in the mainland and will be even harder when we are in the humid jungles of the south.

So how does a respectable vegan survive below the border? Lots of beans and tortillas. ha. When you spend months outside of the USA you realize how strict veganism is such a privilege, one that is only possible for the richest people in the world. No, I don’t have to eat quesadillas and scrambled eggs to survive, but sometimes you don’t have a choice about the ingredients in the only bread that is available or the type of cooking oil used. Veganism is completely unheard of down here; many vegetarian restaurants do not have vegan options. Despite all of this I am surviving well and trying all sorts of new vegan foods. There are these fried sweet breadstick things called Churros and these unnamed coconut candies that are unbelievable. Mushroom Quesadillas are very popular, and here the cheese goes on top, not on the inside, so it is very easy to order them sin queso. Panaderia, or bread shops, are an every day stop. We crush about 4-5 big pieces of sweet bread every morning. Most of the options for me aren’t as nice as those apple filled whole wheat pastries I had at a health food bakery in Mazatlan, but good nonetheless.

It is a misnomer that you need to eat all the local food to understand the culture. I am always walking extremely slow (to Justin and Nallely´s dismay) through markets so I can see what kinds of foods are available and their preparation method. Seeing the local ingredients and how they differ from a state 200 miles away interests me enough, I do not need to eat beef tripe to understand it any further. There is always something local and vegan for me to taste, and as my Spanish improves the amount of foods I can eat increases!

Bike Problems
So when you leave for a 3000-mile bike trip you want to have all the best parts, right? I am finding it doesn’t matter. My top of the line topeak road bike pump ($47) broke in the rain 500 miles ago. Two days later the one I bought in Mexico broke. My $1200 bike has probably had more problems than Justin's $300 bike from EBay. But my $35 tires are about 10x better than the $15 crap tires Justin left with. You really just never know. I understand that if you buy something from walmart it is going to break sooner than later, but we are buying components from companies owned by the people who do these things. Why do they sell such crap? Is it all designed for yuppies that only use it during their two-week vacations? There has to be some companies out there that make stuff that can hold up to what we put it through. Here is a list of broken parts. (M) Means I broke it, (J) means Justin did.

7 broken spokes (M)

2 stripped stem bolt holes (M)

1 broken star washer (M)

1 broken topeak frame pump (M)

1 broken giant pump (M)

1 broken derailleur (J)

2 ripped tires (J)

1 leaking stove (J)

I also bought some tubes from a mountain bike distributor and they are the crappiest tubes ever. The valve ripped on 3 of them. I have had 5 flats, and Justin around 15. Not just the run over something type, but ones from the valve breaking, pinch flats from not being able to get enough air in our tires (cause my pump broke and Justin's sucks), and ones from patches leaking (it is hard to patch a tube in the rain).

Despite all this I do have equipment I am proud of. My Sierra Designs tent has kept us dry (if we set it up right before we go to sleep!) during torrential downpours and my mountain hardwear jacket has kept me dry and cool during those long hours of pedaling through the rain. I hope to do a whole product review when we get a touring website going.

I hope I have made what we are doing and what we go through a little more clear. My next couple entries will include more specific stories and more about what our day-to-day lives are like.

peace, Matt!

13 August 2002

Mazatlan to Guadalajara

1450 miles pedaled, over half way to Belize. Internet places have been few and far between because we are taking the toll way. Its much more direct and has a huge, clean shoulder. I don’t have time to write much, but I will say that we have had gigantic climbs, rain every single day, and tons of bike problems. It’s been a great adventure.

We hope to be in Mexico City by the weekend and I will do more updates then. Back to riding in the rain!

08 August 2002

Guerrero Negro, Baja Sur to Mazatlan, Sinolia

Things have been so crazy; I don’t even know what to write about. So many little things happen every day, I can't even remember them, let alone type them into an online journal. While we ride we laugh about so many things that have happened, its unbelievable. Most recently we met a Japanese kid on his way to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina from Los Angeles, California. He speaks very very little English and zero Spanish. It has been an adventure in itself just trying to communicate with him over the last couple of days. I am short on time, as always when I am on the computer, so I am going to type up some entries from my written journal verbatim.

Day 11, 71 miles

Today we got up relatively early and hammered out 33 miles to San Ignacio, where we spent the hot part of the day. In the desert it reaches about 110 between 12 and 4, the sun melts your skin if you’re not in the shade. There was a festival around the center square where we spent 5 hours in the shade people watching. We looked like vagrants, doing our dishes with the faucet in the park and eating peanut butter on tortillas, but most people stared at the drunken guy passed out on the ground next to us.

We left town around 430, but Justin hit another pothole on the way out of town and we had to fix his flat. We pushed on slowly, until the weather cooled. We had an amazing view of a 6,000 ft peak that towered above all the other mountains in the range. We climbed the small pass and hammered on for a while at a good speed. Just as it was getting dark we came upon a 'downhill ahead' sign and decided we would camp after it. Next thing we now we are flying down switchbacks at 35 mph + into a canyon. It was beautiful. We were able to look back and see the sun setting behind the giant peak that towered over the canyon. We had a short climb out of it and then we decided to camp across the street from a gas company. Dinner was delayed because some men showed up at the gas place and we had to hide from them for a while.

Day 17, La Paz to Mazatlan on the ferry

After our first night in a hotel, we got up early and crushed a giant breakfast at the local vegetarian restaurant. Post office, supermercado, and then a 10-mile ride to the ferry. I am stressing cause our ferry tickets cost 3x what lonely planet had them listed for. I paid $48US with student discount, but JC had to pay the full $60. Someone told us that bikes cost the same as motorcycles to put under the ferry, an additional $50 each. So basically when we bought the tickets we didn’t mention the bikes. Anyway, we get to the ferry terminal and look around to develop a plan to scam our bikes on. The first idea was to talk a truck driver into letting us put our bikes in the back. That didn’t work. The next idea was to carry them up where everyone else brings their luggage and simply ignore the fact that they are bikes with 50+ pounds of shit strapped to them. The security guy wasn’t having that. He told us to bring them to where the cars are. Damn. We walked down there like we knew what we were doing and were told to wait. We sat and sat, dreading being caught and having to pay an additional $50. It started to get late; people were beginning to board El Barco. Finally, a guy waived for the motorcyclists to drive in and for us to follow. We rode our bikes into the ferry and locked them where he pointed. We grabbed our plastic bag of stuff for the 18-hour journey and headed to the cabin. Success!

The boat was an adventure in itself. Within 3 to 4 hours people were drunk and sprawled out everywhere. It was like the beach! So much fun. We searched the boat for the two cute girls we were scoping earlier and we found them in the outside bar area on the second deck. So that’s where we chilled for the next couple of hours. We read, looked at the maps, and ate some tortillas with canned refried beans to the amusement of two drunken men behind us. They started asking us about the maps, we told them about our trip, and it just got nuts from there. I wish I had taken a class on understanding drunken Spanish cause most of the time I was clueless to what they were saying. So much fun. Ended with pictures being taken with the whole family. We were the coolest guys in the bar.

Back to the girls. Our pics were right near them, so they asked me to take a pic of them in front of the sunset. I take the pic, ask them where they are from...'Mexico City? Vamos a la ciudad de Mexico!' Next thing we know we are hanging out with two 23 year old engineering students alone on the top deck of the ship. Nice. They can speak English, we try to use our Spanish to their amusement, and it was great. We talked about school, about life, about traveling, and about Mexico. I dropped some knowledge about Chiapas, it goes well.

Next they inform us that they are sleeping up there; it is too hot and crazy to sleep in the seat area inside. They ask us where our sleeping bags are, and we point to our plastic bag of items. They invite us to share their blanket. Score. They started to set it up and I went to rescue Masoyuki from the smelly sitting area, where he had returned to hours earlier after a lone beer did him in. We went back up to the top deck and Justin had secured a place next to the girl he was digging. Damn, I am stuck between Justin and Masoyuki. Needless to say I got a lot more sleep than Justin did. In the morning we all sat and talked, we got numbers and invites for Mexico City and all took pics in front of the boat. Goodbye kisses were exchanged in lovely Latin American style, we got our bikes, and road off into Mazatlan....First stop: vegan sweet bread from the whole grain bakery downtown....