10 November 2012

CYCLING MEXICO - Chetumal to Mexico City.




1/2 September - Corozal, Belize – Chetumal, Mexico - 27km

We cycled the 13 km to the border; this time there was a bit of a hiccup. On entering Belize the nice lady at immigration had given the entry stamp, but had written the wrong dates in Ernest´s passport. On leaving, it presented a bit of a problem as their computers were not connected to those of the border where we had entered. We waited patiently while the officer in charge phoned and faxed the other border to confirm our date of entry (it helped that I had the correct date). Eventually we were sorted out, and we could proceed to the Mexican side of the border.

There was no doubt that we were now in Mexico, land of colour, sombreros, big American pick-up trucks, and Corona beer. We cycled into Chetumal, the first town across the border. We needed to find a bank and a bike shop as Ernest desperately needed some bike spares. We found a nice cheap room in the centre of town, and went looking for a bike shop. Luckily we found some reasonable bike spares. I also found a good road map of the country.

We stayed the following day so Ernest could work on his bike, and gave the working parts on both bikes a bit of a clean. He worked on his bike all day long as the spares we’d found were not exactly the right thing and he had to do some modifications to make things fit. However, we did have time to walk down to the baysidewaterfront, and I scoffed two of the delicious batter-fried sausage things that they sell on the street (and still had space to sip a cold Sol to see out the day).

It seems that there are so many interesting things in Mexico that we will take a long time to travel through this country (well, we only have to be out again on 23 February next year).

3 September - Chetumal – Limones - 94km
Mexico was more organised and developed than expected. We found the road smooth, wide and with a good shoulder as we headed north. The road led us past beautiful Laguna Bacalar and although there were plenty of cabanas along the lake, we continued on until we reached the small town of Limones. We even managed to find a room and had a glimpse of life in one of the small pueblos in Mexico.

4 September - Limones – Felipe Carrillo Puerto - 63km
It was boiling hot again as we set off and followed the road north. It was easy cycling along a flat road.  As it was densely woodedthe scenery was rather unchanged except for the occasional small “Loncheria” where we stopped to fill up with water.

We pulled into the small town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto with its rather interesting history. The main church on the plaza is known to be the only church in Mexico to be built by white slaves.

We found a room at Chan Sante Cruze Hotel with rooms around a cool and grassy courtyard. The courtyard was littered with the most adorable little garden ornaments.

5/6  September - Felipe Carrillo Puerto – Tulum - 115km
It was blistering hot as we cycled along, this time we found no villages and hardly anywhere to fill up with water. Fortunately, we spotted a well along the way where we stopped and filled up. Once we reached Tulum I was surprised to find such a touristy place. The main road was lined with curio shops, restaurants and bars. Not much Mexican about this part of Mexico, as it mainly caters for the hordes of tourist coming to visit the nearby Mayan ruins.

I felt frustrated as we cycled towards the ruins, as it was hot and I felt tired, just to find them already closed. Accommodation was rather expensive so we cycled back to the main village and found a room on the main road. Although the room was fitted with a fan it hardly did anything to cool the air. Wellwhat did I expect!!  This is a tourist town with prices to match!  The beach is said to be rather nice but it was quite a distance from the town.  It is amazing how some places become popular for no reason at all.

7/8 September - Tulum – Playa Del Carmen - 75km
We stayed in Tulum for a day. I left Ernest at the hotel the following morning, and on my way out of town I popped into the ruins. Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayans; it was at its zenithbetween the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have been the cause of its demise. The Tulum ruins are not as spectacular as many other sitesbut is popular for the picturesque location.

I cycled along on my own to Playa Del Carmen, which turned out to be a fairly large and very touristy city. I turned down to the beach and found a hostel (very expensive) but I stayed for 2 days as the beach was rather nice.

Little did I know that there are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos is mainly used for mixes such as Margaritas, etc. While the 100% agave tequila, is used for shots.  As with other spirits that are aged in casks, it is darker and more mellow.  

9/10 September - Playa Del Carmen – Cancun - 70km
I cycled along what is known as the Riviera Maya, and although the road ran next to the ocean, I did not once see it. The entire coast is lined with resorts, each one more fancy than the other.  Cancun is a world-renowned tourist destination. It is a strange city as it began as a planned tourism project in 1974. Since then, it has been transformed from being a fisherman's island, surrounded by virgin forest and undiscovered shores, to being one of the most well-known Mexican resorts. Most 'Cancúnenses' are not from Mexico, so there’s not much Mexican about the place (unless you consider the thousands of tacky curio stands to be Mexican!). That said, the city was deliberately located on this STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL stretch of coast!!  Besides, most people who come here are on holiday and in a relaxed mood, so it makes for a real cool place!!  It is therefore not surprising that a growing number of people from America and Europe seem to get stuck here.

I, (*sad face*) unfortunately had to find myself a room in the city centre as the “Hotel Zone” is slightly out of my price range (in fact they may not even allow me in, ha-ha).

The following day I went to the USA consulate to enquire about a visa. Unfortunately they do not issue visas – Merida, capital of Yucatan state, was the place to go in that regard. They did, however, give me the website for the visa application ($160 to submit the application, and then hopefully I get an interview with the consul). That would all have to wait ‘till I got to Merida, more than 300 km west.

Actually, staying in downtown Cancun was not too bad as it had a distinct local flavour. The central plaza came alive after sunset, with locals gathering for a chat and eating from the many food stalls there.

11 September - Cancun – Chemax - 136km
I left Cancun and headed west across the Yucatan Peninsula towards Merida. The road was flat and quite interesting with many small Mayan villages. I continued on to Chemax, a rather tiny Mayan town, and as can be expected I stuck out like a sore thumb. People pointed, laughed and stared in amazement!!  I managed to find a room for the night and I´m sure the entire town knew my whereabouts.

I was happy that I could close the door and be out of the public eye. The room was as bare boned as it comes,except for 1000´s of mosquitos and the evidence of the previous visitor still clearly visible. I gave it a good ol´ spray and went in search of a beer and tacos. The most wonderful thing about a room is that one can have a shower!!!  There is nothing quite like a shower after a long and hot day on the roadI was happy!!

12 September - Chemax – Piste - 80km
It was an easy ride to Piste past a few small villages, Tequila factories and agave plantations. In the heat of the day, these small villages appeared deserted as it was no doubt siesta time. Even the roadside dogs were too sleepy to bark, and even less inclined to chase you down the road. I even had to wake the shop owner form his midday hammock-slumber to get a cold drink. I soon reached Piste and found a room at The Piramide Inn. I also met up again with Ernest who was camping at a posada down the road. I took a walk to the famed ruins of Chichen Itza with its imposing El Castillo. The pyramid is designed to represent the Mayan calendar. Its four sides contain 365 steps (depicting their solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century, as well as each week in the solar year) and 18 terraces (for the 18 months in the religious year).

13 September - Piste – Izamal - 77km
In the morning I went past Ernest where he was camping but he was not yet ready so I set off down the back roads towards Merida. It was a fantastic ride through dense jungle and past tiny Mayan villages. It was blistering hot and these tiny villages looked deserted as I cycled through. Soon the clouds gathered and in no time at all it started bucketing down like it can only do in the tropics. I pulled my cap down low and continued on amidst thunder and lighting. When the thunder and lightning became too much for my nerves, I pulled off and waited until the worst was over.

A few kilometres down the road, I reached the interesting town of Izamel with its impressive historic architecture. The entire town is in an okra colour - no wonder Izamal is known is "The Yellow City".  It was an important city of the Pre-Columbian Mayan civilization with temples to the creator deity, Itzamna, and to the Sun God, Kinich Ahau.

After the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, a Spanish colonial city was founded atop the existing Mayan one. However, the conquistadors felt that it was too much trouble to level the 2 largest structures, so they placed a small Christian temple atop the great pyramid, and built a large Franciscan Monastery on top of the acropolis. Much of the cut stone from the Pre-Columbian city was reused to build the Spanish churches, monastery, and existing surrounding buildings.

I took a room in Posada Flory, and that night Ernest and I almost lost each other again, as he was sent away twice when he came looking for me (amazingly, none of the staff could remember a tourist woman on a loaded bike). Luckily, the second time I heard his voice and emerged from my room to sort out the confusion!

14/19 September - Izamel – Merida - 70km
It was once again a fascinating ride past small villages steeped in history, fascinating cultures and interesting architecture. Again we got caught in the rain but after taking shelter for a while it cleared up enough for us to continue on to Merida. We found a room at the Hotel Trinidad, a weird and wonderful place. Not quite a hotel and not quite a hostel but a jumble of rooms adorned with the strangest art/artifacts/antiques/junk you can imagine. It even had a pool set in a kind of hidden garden!  What a great place. The room was more like a flat with 2 bedrooms, bathroom and small kitchen area.  Seeing that we intended to seek out the American embassy in order to find out about a visa for America, we booked the room for 5 days (seeing that it was a Friday) and got quite a large discount. Just imagine 5 days in one place!!! Wow, I have not been 5 nights in one place for a very long time!!!!

We were smack bang in the middle of the Historic Centre, and that evening we took a walk about town with locals and tourists alike.

The following day we completed the online visa application, paid the money, and made an appointment at the Visa office for the Monday and at the Embassy for the Tuesday.

Sunday came with a bang! I went outside to see what the commotion was all about and found that it wasIndependence Day! Happy Independence Day, Mexico!! The parades continued through the day and it was quite interesting to watch all the various groups march past. The centre was a hive of activity with food stalls and souvenirs for sale. I tried to take some pictures but it was impossible to get even a half decent pic of the parades without getting and odd arm, leg or headless person in the shot.

On Monday we set off to the visa office (appointment No.1) and were photographed, finger-printed and had ourpapers checked. All was seemingly in order and we were sent off with a long list of stuff NOT to take with us to the Embassy the following day, including a lawyer, family members, food, toothpaste, etc. My word, how long did they expect that interview to last!!??

Appointment No. 2 arrived. We arrived at the consulate with armloads of supporting documents, but at least without the attorney, supporting family members and snacks for the long wait!! We waited in line until we were called to enter the building. We entered room no. 1 where we were given a numbered ticket and told to wait until our number was called. Our papers were checked and we were told to take a seat until we were called to enter room No.2. Here again we waited until our number appeared on the board, and then we had to stand behind the black line until the official (behind thick glass) could see us. After all this the biggest surprise was that they looked at our passports and application form and told us that all was in order and that the visa wasAPPROVED!!!! Yippee!!! We could pick it up in a few days’ time!!! Now that was as easy as pie! What seemed as a daunting task turned out rather simple in the end.

After the visit to the consulate we went looking for a bike shop, which we found down one of the side streets. I bought a whole lot of stuff for my bike and we returned to the room.

While Ernest worked on the bikes I went wondering around town. I stopped outside the Iglesia de Jesus, built in the early 17th century from stones that had once been temples of the ancient Mayan city of T'ho.  While wondering around I met an interesting man who told me the history of the church and pointed out some old stones on the outer walls which still had some Mayan writing on it. LOL, in truth his intentions were most likely to sell me a hammock or a Panama hat, two items which Merida is very famous for. Nevertheless, he was very interesting and we chatted a way for quite a while about the city and the history of the Maya.   

20 September - Merida – Maxcanu - 67km
It was time to pack up again; we loaded the bikes and cycled past the DHL office to pick up our visas. With our passports and American Visa now safely in our pockets we set off down the road in the direction of Campeche. Again, the small villages we passed along the way were fascinating. We also passed a few of the old henequen Haciendas (farms) along the way. In its heydaythese farms were very well-off and employed hundreds of people in the rope making business. The henequen (sisal) rope was mainly for export to Europe and North America. During the boom years, the henequen cactus was known as “green gold”. The golden age ended when sisal rope was replaced by synthetic fibers and many haciendas were abandoned and left to the creep of the jungle. Nowadays they are overgrown and dilapidated but still very picturesque. Some even had small rail lines to and from the plantations.

In the village of Maxcanu, we cycled slap bang into the middle of a lively festival (still part of the IndependenceDay commemorations). We decided to stay, found a room just off the plaza and settled in. The square was packed with food stalls, games, trampolines, and kiddies’ rides. People, old and young, were out enjoying the festivities. The kids played in the square and the older folks sat on plastic chairs along the sidewalk. I took my camera and joined the villagers, but I think more pictures were taken of me than what I took of the festival!!! Fireworks, floats and marches continued until late into the night.

21/22 September - Maxcanu- Campeche - 122km
It was an interesting day on the road as we cycled through many small villages. These villages are all interesting with typical Mexican central plazas with a church, a municipal building and always some statue of sorts in the middle. We cycled past Becal, famous for the making of Panama Hats; even the central fountain is made of gigantic concrete hats!  We stopped so many times that it was fairly late by the time we arrived in Campeche. Again we got caught in the rain and arrived dripping wet in Campeche.

Campeche came as a pleasant surprise; we cycled straight into the old Historic Centre. Campeche is a beautifully restored town with pastel coloured houses, narrow cobblestone streets and fortified ramparts. Many of the old city walls and fortifications, which protected the city from pirates and buccaneers, still exist. The city is so well preserved that it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We found a room and also stayed the following day to explore the old town.

As usual, I searched out the Municipal market. I love markets I love the light, the smells, the interesting people, the chaos, and I can wonder around for hours. I wandered around the colourful streets of Campeche, past old plazas with interesting and beautiful churches, down narrow lanes with interesting sculptures.

23 September - Campeche – Champoton - 67km
It was a beautiful ride as the smaller of the two roads which we were on, ran through the hills and at times next to the ocean. It seems that the easier and more scenic the road, the longer we take!!  My bike started making some ungodly noises so we stopped by the side of the road and Ernest changed the bearings on my bike’s back wheel!  (Good thing he carries the entire world with him!!!) 

As usual, 3km from Champoton, the heavens opened up and it bucketed down on us!!! We arrived in Champoton amidst thunder, lightning and pouring rain, and pulled into the first place that looked like it had rooms. It turned out to be quite a nice place with hot water and air-con!!! We dripped rainwater all over their shiny floors and the hotel lady seemed to follow with mop in hand - she could not have been too pleased with us. The coast around Champoton is very shallow and it is famous for cheap and plentiful shrimp cocktails. The road was littered with movable food stalls, all selling shrimp cocktails.

24 September - Champoton – Sanbancuy - 71km
The following morning we ambled along the coast past more shrimp cocktail stands. For most of the way the road ran flash next to the coast, which lay as smooth as a lake. Pelicans soared high above us and then dovedown looking for food. Early afternoon we spotted a big lake with a village on the far side. It looked interesting,so we turned down and found a typical Mexican village with an old church next to the plaza, food stalls, a few shops and even a hotel.  

25 September - Sabancuy - Cuidad Del Carmen - 87km
We followed the coast and spotted some oil rigs far out to sea, indicating that Mexico has indeed its own oil fields. No wonder the price of petrol is so low. In fact I would say, lower than market value as so far we have only seen one brand of petrol, indicating that there is no profit in it for international petrol companies to operate here.

We stopped numerous times to admire the view and just watched the pelicans diving for food. Along the road I spotted some blood-red berries, which looked quite good but I was reluctant to try them as I did not know whether death would be instant or a slow, painfuldrawn out process. I feared the latter so I only took some pictures and left the berries alone.

26 September - Cuidad Del Carmen – Frontera - 100km
We headed over a larger long bridge (app. 4km) back to the main land. Again the road followed the coast past small fishing villages. We entered the province/state of Tabasco and I must admit I never knew Tabasco was a state in Mexico. I always associated the name with the well-known Tabasco sauce (an American brand name). The Tabasco chili is only around 4 cm long and is the only variety of chili pepper whose fruits are "juicy"; i.e., they are not dry on the inside. Unlike most chilies, tabasco fruits grow upwards, rather than hanging down from their stems.

We cycled into the small town of Frontera, another typical Mexican town with a central square, church, food stalls and municipal buildings.

27/28 September - Frontera – Paraiso - 81km
We turned off the main road and followed the smaller coastal road past small pueblos with colourful buses. Along the way we stopped for a cold drink and I always find the Coca-Cola adverts quite interesting. In every countrywhere Coca-Cola is advertised, it is accompanied by a local dish. Here in Mexico it accompanies the traditional Yucatan cochinita pibil (pit-roasted pork), cooked in a banana leaf and garnished with pickled red onions.

We continued on to Paraiso, a small town with a large central plaza and home to the colourful San Marcos Church.  

We also stayed the following day. I did my laundry and as the town hosts an interesting market I went on a walkabout, strolling through the markets and narrow streets, enjoying the local food, shopping for chili peppersand just enjoying the local culture.

29/30 September - Paraiso – Villahermosa - 81km
It was boiling hot by the time we left and it was one of those days that the heat really got to me. I felt exhausted and it seemed that I could not keep those wheels turning. Hardly 20km down the road, we took a look at Comalcalco, a Chontal Maya archaeological site, not too far off our route. As soon as we arrived the mosquitos descended on us like bats out of hell! I covered myself with mosquito repellent and set off to explore the site. I found Comalcalco to be remarkable, as it differs from the other Mayan sites, in that the structures are built with kiln-fired bricks (due to a lack of limestone). More amazing is that the bricks are similar to those used by the Romans, and that Roman-like figurines were discovered on the site. When an oyster shell basemortar, used to bind the brick, was removed, it revealed markings on the back of the bricks. These markings are believed to be the brick makers’ fingerprints and are nearly identical to markings found on Roman bricks!!  It boggles the mind!!! Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, the Romans arrived here 1000 years before Columbus?

We continued on to Villahermosa, past Cunduacan, a large University town. Along the way we stopped for a cold drink and I could not believe that I got attacked by fire ants, yet again!!

We arrived in Villahermosa in peak hour traffic, not something I needed in that oppressing heat!  We found a room across from the local market, where we bought loads of tacos and stuffed our faces!

Villahermosa turned out to be an interesting city with a large and busy old center where the smell of local Mexican food hangs in the air. The pedestrian malls in the city centre make for easy wandering around.

The following day we stayed in Villahermosa to visit Parque La Venta, where there are Olmec artifacts from the La Venta archaeological site. The artifacts were moved here for protection from oil exploration activities at the original site. The park is best known for its ten foot high Olmec basalt carved heads. Little is known of the Olmecs which makes them even more mysterious. There are 28 Olmec carvings in the park and the pieces are well placed in a lush tropical garden. The park is quite large with a zoo and lake, so we spent some time wandering around.

1/3 October - Villahermosa – Teapa - 70km
We headed inland along the flat banana covered plains towards The Sierra Madre de Chiapas en route to the Pacific coast. It was hot and humid as we cycled onto Teapa where we thought of staying next to the river. The place where we were heading was just outside of Teapa but was closed, so we returned to the city centre.

It was bucketing down so we stayed put in Teapa and instead went to visit the nearby caves. The caves were fascinating, with eight chambers and an underground stream. The walls were covered with stalagmites and stalactites and it was beautifully lit up, but the best was that we were the only people there. I took loads of pics but none really captured the beauty of the cavesI wish I had a tri-pod.

4 October - Teapa – Tapilula - 80km
We left Teapa and soon were on our way up the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. It was an exceptionally scenic road, past waterfalls, across rivers, under moss-covered cliffs and past small mountain villages deep down in the valleys. We were going at a snail’s pace – higher and higher up the mountains. When I heard people referring to the road as the “old mountain highway”, I should have known we were in for some climbing. It was after 17h00 when we arrived at Tapilula, found a room, and wandered around the village in search of food and drink.

4 October - Tapilula – Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan - 37km
We were hoping that we were close to the top, but the road headed straight up the mountain again and we climbed and climbed. Slowly we edged our way up until we reached the cloud level, but still the winding road took us higher and higher. The fog was thick and cool and at times I could hardly see Ernest behind me. The road was narrow and steep and I needed all my energy and concentration just to keep the bike in a straight line and out of the way of the traffic in the low visibility.

Finally we arrived in the mountain village of Pueblo Nuevo with a square, a market, a few shops and the usual roadside stalls selling tacos. Luckily for us, these mountain villages all seem to have some kind of accommodation. We found a nice room with a hot shower, and due to the altitude it was the first time in many a month that I needed a blanket!

5 October - Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan – Bochil - 40km
Once again it was a short but beautiful ride over the mountains to the small village of Bochil. The road led past numerous waterfalls and swinging suspension bridges over the large rivers. The area surprisingly reminded me of Nepal. Bochil turned out to be a busy little village with shops, churches and markets.

6/8 October - Bochil – Chiapa de Corzo - 70km
From Bochil we headed straight up the mountain for about 12km and then down into the valley for another 12km. That set the scene for the rest of the day, as we seemed to climb up mountains and descended into valleys all day long. Finally we reached the huge descent into Chiapa de Corzo and flew down the mountain at breakneck speed. We sped down the switchbacks all the way into the town of Chiapa de Corzo in the valley below. The downhill speed was fast enough to make me worry about hitting a pothole or getting a blow-out. On the way down we passed cascading waterfalls, spraying us with a fine mist.

Chiapa de Corzo turned out to be a rather interesting old colonial city with a long history.

The following day I took the boat up the Canon del Sumidero, a spectacular ride where cliffs soar above the River Grijalva, past equally spectacular waterfalls cascading down the steep cliffs.  The boat ride offered stunning views of the gorge. Along the way we spotted crocodiles, monkeys and plenty of bird life. The Sumidero Canyon is a narrow and deep canyon surrounded by a national park. I believe that the canyon’s creation began around the same time as the Grand Canyon in the U.S., formed by a crack in the area’s crust and erosion by the Grijalva River.

9 October - Chiapa de Corzo – Tuxtla - 16km
We cycled the amazing distance of 16km to Tuxtla - there was in fact no reason to stay in Tuxtla but we did anyway!  We spent the day wondering around the narrow streets, observing life in general.

10 October - Tuxtla – Cintalapa - 83km
It was a steady 25km climb before we reached a downhill for another 25km. I never complained about the downhill section and was more than happy when (at the end of the day) we rounded a corner and saw the road, yet again, heading downhill to what seemed like a long flat section. Once down, the road was however not as flat as it looked from the top.

In the small town of Cintalapa we found a room at the Hotel Palatsio; it was not much of a palace but comfortable enough for the night. Ernest cooked up a mean spaghetti bolognaise, which we devoured in record time.

11 October - Cintalapa – San Pedro Tapanatepec - 80km
Soon after we leftwe met two cyclists going in the opposite direction. I expect that we will now start to see more cyclists as we are on the classic North/South cycling route. After chatting for a while, we left with the knowledge that (although hilly) there were no major mountain passes on our way. We cycled past a roadside grass fire, something I don’t like!!  The smoke can be really dense and the burning embers blow across the road. This creates a dangerous lack of visibility, and coats our sweat-soaked bodies in black soot.  We cycled past fields of millet which seemed to do quite well around here. Up and down we went until we came to a long downhill and we could see the Pacific Coast Way in the background. Still the road continued down, past stunning valley views. Finally we arrived in San Pedro Tapanaepec. We were not sure whether to stay there or continue on, so if in doubt stay put!  It seemed like we were now finally over the Sierra Madre de Chiapas and back in the heat and humidity of the lowlands. I did not quite realise how much cooler it was up in the highlands.

12 October - San Pedro Tapanatepec – Juchitan de Zaragopza - 111km
Every day comes with its own set of problems, and down on the flats we had to deal with the wind. We cycled past the town of La Ventosa - which (I think) means "the windy place" in Spanish. La Ventosa is in the heart of a giant wind farm along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, (the narrowest point between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico). I understand that it is the difference in temperature between the two oceans which creates a virtual wind tunnel in the gap between the Sierra Madre Mountains. From what I’ve heardthe wind gusts are so strong at times, that it takes the roofs off houses.

13 October - Juchitan de Zaragoza – Morro Mazatan - 73km
I was mentally unprepared for the hills, wind and heat. We followed the coastal road, which did not run flash next to the coast but mostly inland over the hills. From time to time we caught glimpses of the coast but then the road turned inland over the hills again. Long slow hills with, I must admit, also long slow downhills. Eventually we passed the tiny peblo of Marro Mazatan with a tiny tienda, a restaurant with three rooms and a few houses. We booked into one of the rooms and Ernest cooked a huge meal which we had no problem polishing off.

14 October - Morro Mazatan – Barra de la Cruz - 94km
We cycled along the coastal road parallel to the Pacific Ocean en route to Acapulco. It was a slow and exhausting day as we headed up and down the never-ending hills. At least it was a scenic ride; it looked like spring with plenty of pretty flowers alongside and butterflies darting across the road. It was a hot and hilly day, so when we reached the turn-off for the small village of Barra de la Cruz, we turned down and found a real surfing village with some simple accommodation and places to eat. We booked into a basic wood and thatch cabana with two sagging beds and a rickety fan. Our neighbours were surfers from Australia. I was too tired to do anything else but lie under the verandah in a hammock and shoot pictures of the grass around me.

15 October - Barra de la Cruz – San Pedro Pochutla - 70km
It was a steep climb out of Barra de la Cruz back to the main road. I even had to push the bike up the steep hill. Once back on the main road, it was once again up and down the never ending hills until we reachedPochutla. I must admit I was getting kind of tired of these hills. We found a room, walked to the nearby supermarket to pick up some stuff for supper, and then it was an early night for me.

16/17 October - San Pedro Pochutla – Puerto Escondido - 70km
The road finally seemed to level out and it was the flattest the road has been in days!  We soon arrived in Puerto Escondido and headed straight for Playa Zicatela.

We spent the day at Puerto Escondido where the waves are fast and furious. The beach is also known as The Mexican Pipeline, one of the top ten surfing meccas in the world. We stopped at Playa Zicatela, known for its dangerous surf breaks where the waves are extremely powerful!  There is a certain electricity in the air when the big waves roll in, a feel of madness and craziness prevail as these powerful waves provide adrenalin rushing rides.

I am naturally drawn to the pounding of the waves and I´m sure that most people can spend hours gazing at the waves rolling in. Sitting there I could almost feel the power of the waves crashing ashore. I took loads of pictures just sitting there and enjoying the spectacle.

18 October - Puerto Escondido – Roca Blanca - 45km
It was a really interesting cycle past lakes and farmlands. Soon after we leftwe spotted a turn-off for Roca Blanca. After debating for a while, we decided to turn-off to see what was down the road.

We found a rather interesting beach with some great palapa restaurants on the beach. The coast is wonderfully undeveloped and October is such a good time to travel here as it is uncrowded and prices are low. It did not take us long to make up our minds to stay for the night. It was a beautiful beach with hardly anyone around. The room was rather interesting as it was no more than a few planks stuck together. After sunset the bugs descended and there were little else to do but turn off the lights, turn the fans on full, and cover yourself with a sheet!! 

19 October - Roca Blanca – San Jose del Progresso - 48km
We had a typical breakfast of beans and eggs before leaving.

So far I have only seen one brand of petrol in Mexico my guess is that gasoline and diesel prices aresubsidised, since the Mexican government owns the production. It is possible that the government subsidisesgas prices in order to curb inflation and make fuel affordable to the poor. No wonder they all drive huge petrol guzzling monsters!!

20 October - San Jose del Progresso – Santiago Pinotepa Nacional - 60km
It was one of those blistering hot days that leave a person totally drained. We headed over the hills as the road headed inland. It was so hot that I started feeling dizzy and light headed. On reaching Pinotepawe found anair-con room for a change, as there was no way I could handle anything else. We took a walk to the local supermarket and stocked up on some food and drinks.

21 October - Santiago Pinotepa Nacional – Cuajiniculapa - 57km
Although it was still a rather hot day, I did not find the heat as bad as the day before. After some time of cycling I stopped to wait for Ernest who disappeared into thin air. After waiting for a while I turned back to see what had happened just to find him around the corner replacing a gear cable. We continued on, and as the roadflattened out it was not a bad ride after all. In fact, it was rather scenic with wild flowers growing two meters high along the roadbeautiful colours of yellow, orange and purple made it a wonderful ride.

22 October - Cuajiniculapa – Marquelia - 66km
At first we were lured into thinking that it was going to be an easy day as we started off along a relatively flat road. Soon, however, it was boiling hot as we headed up long, slow hills again. I watched the perspiration drip from my face onto the tarmac as we climbed up the hills……..drip, drip, drip, pedal, pedal, pedal. It was,however, still beautiful as the wild flowers were still in full bloom and so there were plenty of birds, butterflies and bees to be seen.

We found ourselves a room in Marquelia with air-con - unfortunately the air-con did not work so we asked for another room with a slightly more effective air-con. That evening it never really cooled down and at 22h00 it was still 30°C but felt like 36°!!

23 October - Marquelia – San Marcos - 81km
It was an uneventful day on the road, boiling hot and with the usual amount of ups and downs. We found a rather comfortable room in San Marcos with rooms around a pool, just what we needed. Ernest got some eggs and salad stuff from the local shop – just the thing for a light meal.

24/26 October - San Marcos – Acapulco - 86km
It was another sweltering hot day, and even the beautiful wild flowers along the road seemed a bit faded. The way into Acapulco was far more challenging than expected. The road climbed steeply up the mountain and then descended into the beautiful bay of Acapulco. Once in the city it was easy to find a room as there were so many hotels one could pick and choose. It was still the low season and most places offered good deals.

I have decided to take a month’s break and go visit in South Africa. I´m quite excited to be doing something different for a change and now have to start organising where to store my stuff until I return in a months’ time. It will be a very long two days of travel, something I´m not looking forward to. Leaving Mexico City Airport at 9h05 on 30 October and arriving in Cape Town at 21h40 the following day.

At least there was still time to go see the famous Cliff divers of Acapulco. Not only do they plummet from an amazing height into a narrow channel, they also have to time the dive with the incoming waves, as the channel is not very deep. Getting to the top of the cliff is another challenge, as first the divers have to swim across the channel and then, like geckos, climb up the steep cliff to the top where they seem to ask for protection at a little shrine, from what can only be the Diving Gods.

27/29 October - Acapulco – Mexico City - (by bus)
We were up early packing and re-organising out stuff. The friendly owners of the hotel in Acapulco allowed us to store the bikes and bags until our return. Ernest decided to go with to Mexico City and will return after a few days to Acapulco and continue north along the coast.

At 9h30 we boarded a rather comfortable bus for the long ride to Mexico City. The bus ride was approximatelyfive hours and took us from sea level to about 2,400m.

On arriving in Mexico City, it felt like a whole new country. The city is huge and has a population of nearly 20 million people. The city is vibrant and cosmopolitan, full of lifecolour and weird and wonderful people. The city is ranked as the eighth richest city in the world and sitting at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres, it is therefore much cooler than Acapulco.

We headed straight for the historic centre known as The Zocalo. The heart of the area is the main square which is the largest square in Latin America and the third largest in the world after Moscow’s Red Square and Beijing's Tiananmen Square. I may also add that I think it is one of the most beautiful, surrounded by beautiful old buildings, the main cathedral and the Palacio Nacional.

Amidst the chaos of people and traffic one can find old ruins right in the city centre, take part in a purification ceremony, eat tacos, watch street artists and dancers….fantastic!

Currently the city is preparing for two major festivals; The Festival of Mime and the streets are therefore already full of silent shows with performances by mime artists, and the Day of the Dead / Skulls Festival and just about all the shops are made up and kids are running around in scary costumes.

I kept an eye on the news for the approaching Hurricane Sandy. The news did not seem good as it appeared to grow both in size and strength as it headed for the East Coast of the United States. All flights to and from Washington were cancelled for the 28th and 29th and I feared that my flight the following day would also be cancelled.

30/31 October - Mexico City (and Veracruz)
Early morning I checked the internet and sure enough, my flights to SA via USA were cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. I still took the underground to the airport and re-scheduled for 5 November. Impulsively we hopped on a bus to Veracruz, down east on the Caribbean coast. The southern bus terminus in the city (one of a number) is modern and new, and the bus we took was luxurious with airplane-like service!  We zooted down through the mountains via tunnels and high bridges. Along the way we passed the highest peak in the country, the snow-capped Pico De Orizaba. After only about five hours we were back at the coast, in the warm and humid Veracruz!!!  (Note:  Veracruz is the first Spanish colonial town in Mexico, established by Cortez days after he set foot ashore).

1 November - Veracruz
 It was the “Day of the Dead” (Dia de los Muertos); a time when people remember and honour their deceased loved ones. The idea is that the spirits return on this one day to be together with their families. Offerings are put out, consisting of flowers and small amounts of food. There are parades, floats and people dress up in all sorts of scary costumes. All in all, a whole lot of fun.

In the centre of town is a wonderful market where one could find pretty much anything and have just about anything fixed from clothes, bags, wallets, shoes, etc. For a small amount I had a new zipper put in my bag and I then headed to the waterfront for a short boat ride around the harbour with beautiful sunset views. As if that was not enough, I hopped on a bus for a short tour of the city, all loads of fun.

2 November - Veracruz – Mexico City - By Bus
It was a novelty to just hop on a bus and travel all the way back to Mexico City, a trip that normally would take us a few days. The festivities of the Day of the Dead were still in full swing and the central plaza a hive of activity.  We found ourselves a room at a reasonable price and I headed straight back to the main plaza as the festivities were still in full swing - floats, bands, and loads of people.

The following day Ernest and I took the underground to another part of town, partly to see if I could locate a United Airlines office, and partly to see another part of town. I also looked for a few gifts but none seemed appropriate for what I wanted, as I was determined only to take hand luggage.

Finally the 5th arrived and I took a taxi to the airport and Ernest took the underground to the bus station for his bus back to Acapulco. I booked in and was ready for my LONG flight to Cape Town. The first leg was a fourhour flight from Mexico City to Washington. The flight was completely full and after boarding there was no space for my carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and it was booked in with the other luggage. On arrival at Washington Airport, my carry-on bag seemed to have disappeared - so much for my determination only to take hand luggage!  It did however reappear later and as the airport is huge I had to run to make my connecting flight.

The plane landed in Dakar but unfortunately we were not allowed to disembark. The good thing however was that the people sitting next to me left in Dakar and I had the entire row of seats to myself.

5/6 November - Mexico City – Cape Town
The following day Ernest and I took the underground to another part of town; partly to see if I could locate a United Airlines office, and partly to see a different part of town. I also looked for a few gifts but none seemed appropriate for what I wanted as I was determined only to take hand luggage.

Finally the 5th arrived and it as “take two” as I took an early morning taxi to the airport. Ernest took the underground to the bus station for his bus back to Acapulco. I booked in and was ready for my LONG and arduous flight to Cape Town. The first leg was a 4-hour flight from Mexico City to Washington. The flight was completely full and after boarding there was no space for my carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and it got booked in with the other luggage. On arrival at Washington Airport my carry-on bag seemed to have disappeared so much for my determination only to take hand luggage!  It did however reappear later and as the airport is huge I had to run like mad to make my connecting flight.

The second leg of the journey took me from Washington to Dakar. The plane landed in Dakar to refuel but unfortunately we were not allowed to disembark. The good thing, however, was that the people sitting next to me left in Dakar and I had the entire row of 4 seats to myself. The third 8-hour leg from Dakar to Johannesburg was therefore a relatively pleasant snooze!!  How lucky can one be! Once in Johannesburg it was once again a rush to get a connecting 2-hour flight to Cape Town but once again I was fortunate to be sitting next to some very nice and talkative gentleman from Cape Town, which made it a pleasant trip.

I got picked up from the airport by Amanda and Erika and drove home in luxury. We sat talking until the early hours of the morning, like only sisters can!  My internal clock was completely out-of-sync and after about 3 hours sleep I was wide awake again. That set the trend for the next few days.