13 September 2002

Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City, Belize

The English started in Tikal actually. We held a conversation with a Belizean who was currently working in Guatemala. You never want to admit that you miss speaking English, but after almost 7 weeks you understand, and appreciate, the importance of vocal communication. The road was supposed to be paved all the way to the Belizean border. You know how that goes. So after waking up at 430am, pedaling 75 miles, some on unpaved roads, and crossing another international border we ended up San Ignacio, Belize.

For me, this was it. This was the city I pictured myself riding into and 'being there'. It was it. Despite our hunger, I had to take a minute and pause at one particular intersection that held some personal importance. It was the defining moment of the trip. That point of emotion right in between laughing and crying. I rode on towards the city center and I looked down at my gloved hands on my handlebars, as I had been doing for the last 7 weeks, and it felt so dramatic. All I had done was ride my bike, but it was two worlds coming together for me. I had spent a couple of months in Belize almost two years ago, and it was then that I dreamed up this trip. This was a time for recollection. I had learned an immense amount about myself and about life in the last two years. Here I was looking at the same place, but through different eyes. I wasn’t expecting this, but I felt as though something that had been nagging me was now gone. Long-term goals are not a regular part of my life so the excitement of completing one was unexpected.

The night in San Ignacio was full of emotions. Justin was ecstatic to eat a curry dish. Both of us enjoyed the English dialogue and the props we were given by all the Belizeans hanging out. We spent hours just chillin in front of a restaurant on the main street talking with all sorts of people about all sorts of things...but not all of the emotions that Belize brought back were positive, enough so that I ended up not eating dinner.....anyway we ended up not camping at the SDA hospital like we had planned, partly cause of the weather and partly cause of the US$7 room we scored. We had to fight off people trying to get us to smoke pot, but it was worth it.

The end of the trip wouldn’t be without its complications; none of the ATMs in town would take our bankcards. We spent the last of our money on peanut butter and white bread (actually bread! not tortillas!) and headed towards the capital city of Belmopan where rumor had it a bank existed that could give us money. Along the way we stopped to soak our heads from a faucet of a local farmer who had a business proposition for us: Apparently it is lucrative to buy pick-up trucks in the USA and drive them to Belize and sell them for much more. A possible new source of income? Email me if you want in.

We spent the night 33 miles outside of Belize City at the Monkey Bay environmental reserve. In the morning we talked with a young Brit who was full of stories of her travels in Cuba, Turkey, and the Middle East. The wheels are spinning for another trip before this one is even complete. The last 30 miles went by fast as could be. We got a fist and a 'welcome to Belize' from a government worker just outside of the city that brought it into perspective. 'Welcome to Belize'. The end is here. Pictures in front of the Atlantic Ocean confirm it. The details of our last day in Belize are trivial. I went to visit some old friends, we packed our bikes up, shopped around a bit, and just plain ole chilled.

The next day, September 12th, we hitchhiked to the airport with our bikes and then skirted the $80 fee for bikes by telling them it was camping equipment. We bought our last cokes and fried plantains and boarded the plane. This time when I left Belize there was no one to wave good-bye to, which made the finality of my trip all the more extreme. We kicked back our seats, put on our headphones, and took the easy way back to the states.

10 September 2002

Tuxtla Guiterrez, Mexico to Tikal, Guatemala

Riding my bike through Chiapas has been on my mind for almost two years. Since I first visited this part of the world I imagined riding my bike through here. Truly fascinating.

After Justin recovered (mostly) from his Montezuma's revenge we left Tuxtla for 'the climb', 4500 ft elevation gain over 50 miles. 30 of them being uphill. Imagine it this way: That is higher than 3 sears towers stacked on top of each other. Now picture a 30-mile road circling its way around to the top of the third building. That was our climb to San Cristobal de Las Casas. My props go to Justin for doing two days after shitting 13 times in 8 hours (I wonder if he wanted me to divulge that information?). In San Cristobal we were chillin in the zocalo eating churros when a kid came up to us and talked bikes. He ended up taking us to a 'hotel' that was more of a chill spot for hippies that a real hotel. There wasn’t even a sign! It was perfect for this city, its got such a cool vibe with the mix of old buildings, locals, hippie travelers, zapatoristas, and indigenous people from the surrounding villages. We had to cancel the day off here but spent most of the next morning chillin around. I got my beard shaved off for a dollar. Justin shopped around for some Zapatista dolls. Drank tamarindo juice and hung out with some other travelers. You know, the usual.

Out of San Cristobal we had some climbs and it rained for the entire day. Such stunning views. We finished the day in Ocosingo because it got to dark to make it to the Tonina ruins just outside of the city. Ocosingo was one of the cities the Zapatistas took over in their uprising on January 1st, 1994. The notoriously brutal governor was sentenced in a Zapatista trial to serve 25 years peasant labor. Of course the uprising was smashed and there is nothing there to show it ever happened; but just knowing something like that gave the town some energy.

Palenque is a ruin site in the eastern part of the state of Chiapas. It is best known for its jungle setting and close proximity of tall structures. After a long day of up and down hills Justin's bike exploded. I wont go into details, but we needed a bike shop quick. Roll into the city and they are all closed. We head to the ruins and its dark by the time we get close to the restaurant/hotel we are looking for outside the entrance to the ruins. Its late, JC's bummed on his broken bike, and then the vegetarian restaurant is closed. Both of us are bummed and grumpy sitting in the dark. Then these German girls roll up looking for the previously mentioned eatery. Justin is instantly cheered up by the female presence. I decide to apply some Mexican learned knowledge and not trust the 'closed' sign. I search back through and find the restaurant; sure enough open and filled with hippies. Perfect! We eat some curry, which is mediocre, yet amazing. We hadn’t eaten curry in almost two months so the taste was new again. yum yum. We barter for a place to stay and decide to sleep in the covered hammock section and save the $2 by sleeping on the floor. Bugs in the jungle? I guess there were some but we still slept in shorts and no shirt. In the morning we got our culture on, fixed JC's bike at a shop, bought our plane tickets, and headed south towards the Lacandon jungle.

"Whoa look an Adventist church!" It was a small village on a hillside that was fighting back the encroaching jungle. I enquired about sleeping there and they told me it was occupied and to check with the teacher of the school. We worked it out to sleep on the floor of the one room school building. This village, called Nuevo Canan, had so many kids! What was different here was that almost no adults came over to hang out with us. Just JC, me, and 15 or so kids aged 6-16. It was one of those moments on this trip that I look back on and smile. I can't even think of what to type about it that would hold your interest, but to me those memories remind me of why I took a trip like this.

In the morning we pedaled our final miles in Mexico. It was sad to leave the country we had spent so much time. We had seen more of the country than most Mexicans probably see in their entire life. Even though a border is an imaginary line we were nervous about crossing it. What would Guatemala be like? We bargained the boat-crossing fee, got our exit stamp in our passports and headed to Guatemala. Instantly different. We were merely across a river, but to us it was all new. We hung out at the bus station/immigration/store building with some guys and decided to stay the night. We found a 'hotel' that consisted of some wooden shacks behind a house and called it home for the night.

Lesson learned from Guatemala: roads that are shown on the map as 'seasonal paths' are not a good choice for bike touring. It would of been difficult on an empty mountain bike. On a fully loaded touring bike it was hell. Big ass rocks kept our speed around 4 miles per hour. We did 30 miles in 8 hours. Justin and me wanted to kill each other. 4 flats. About 2 hours of daylight left. So when the truck pulled over and offered a ride we got in. 12 miles later we got dropped off in the 'big' town and got supplies. 10 more patience-building miles and we hit pavement. It was almost dark but we had to crush to La Libertad, the next biggest town. Pavement was so fast, we hammered out the 15 miles in no time. Ate some Salvadorian food that I wont even attempt to spell, and drank some new types of juice. Guatemala is going great so far.

Tikal is the most well known ruins in Central America and right fully so. On the other hand they are expensive and filled with tourists. We paid $8 to get in and $6 to sleep in a hammock. We talked with some Swiss girls and the plan was set to wake up at 430am. Yeah, apparently the thing to do is walk to the structure on the far side of the park, climb up it above the canopy of the jungle, and watch the sunrise. So after a restless night filled with a blackout, screaming Frenchies, frantic guards, animals trying to get to our food, and the loudest thunderstorm ever we walked in the dark towards tower IV. Sitting on a 1200-year-old building, watching the sunrise from the mist over the jungle was a great location for taking this whole trip in perspective. "I rode my bike here.....I bet there are some other pretty cool places to ride my bike to...."