After waiting for a week for a not-so-essential new bike-part to arrive from the States, Chloe’s bike then properly died, as in un-ridable, on the way to the mechanics. Yes, we were fortunate that we were on the way to the mechanics anyway! But having to load her bike onto the back of a trailer for the last 30miles to the mechanics’ was not what we had planned. Chloe’s frustration with her bike causing trouble again could only be topped by one thing – riding on the back of Chris’s!
But what else could be done? Apart from waiting around in Guatemala City for another week which was not so attractive. So we begrudgingly abandoned our tightly packed itinerary, ‘Tour of the Yucatan Peninsula in 8 days’, (the first time on the whole trip we had actually made an itinerary because we were short on time, having to be somewhere else in Mexico in an apartment booked on the Pacific Coast for Christmas – lesson learnt – NEVER make an itinerary!!). Having thrown that in the bin and cancelled the first ever hotel reservations we’ve ever made, (grrr!), we packed our essential things into Chris’s panniers and hit the road on a 6 day loop up to the north of Guatemala and back again.
Within half an hour, we knew we would never be the type of people to go around the World, two-up on one bike. Granted the size of the bike is not really big enough for two people, but aside from the cramped knees and head-banging, the fear every time Chris took a corner a little too fast is just not worth it! After a gruelling day, we finally reached the village of Lanquin, and from there, slid our way down the mud track to the wonderful Hostel Utopia.
Given that it had been teaming it down with rain and the clay earth had completely clogged up the tyres, Chloe decided, sensibly as it turned out, that the last steep hill down to the hostel would be better taken on foot.
Slipping and sliding down the hill, she suddenly heard a crash, scrapping, and shrill shouts – Chris had taken his first proper, full wipe-out at the bottom of the hill! Panniers everywhere, bike on the floor and Chris completely covered in mud, but chuckling, was a delight to see!
Clearly we were in need of some help and a beer, and the proprietor John was only too happy to rush to the rescue. The hostel is, as the name would suggest, a Utopia. We stayed an extra day than was really necessary just because we could. The huge terrace looked out over the river and the mountains beyond, the birds twittered in the trees and the family dogs lazed about waiting for dinner to come out of the very substantial kitchen.
On our day off the bike, we make the one hour leisurely walk along the river to Semuc Champey. A natural beauty nestled in the valley, the pools of water coloured like turquoise and the dense jungle steeply rising up on both sides makes for a magical place. The fact that school holidays had just begun made it slightly less magical on the tranquillity front, (Latinos certainly cannot do anything quietly!), but it was beautiful all the same.
Leaving Utopia on a much drier day than when we had arrived, Chris made it up the hill without incident and Chloe jumped on the back ready for another day of back-seat riding. The Mayan site of Tikal was the next stop on the agenda, or more specifically, the nearby quaint island town, (island on a lake), of Flores. The ride was painful, tedious but worth it! Flores is a sweet little town, restricted from banal modern growth by its watery borders. That banal growth is for the other side of the bridge, with its supermarkets and industrial estates mixed in with dirt roads and roadside shacks.
But the real reason we were in Flores was for the nearby archaeological site of Tikal. One of the largest complexes of the Maya civilization, Tikal is now shrouded by forest with many of its temples struggling to hold themselves together under the weight and intrusiveness of undergrowth. The temples that have been excavated and to a large extent ‘rescued’ are obviously the ones of most importance. The huge structures tower above the trees, the grey stone sparkling every now and then in the sunlight, but mostly just looking downright domineering!
After a good five hours wandering the Mayan site and trying to avoid the (Christmas holiday) crowds, we decided to make a run for it and head to another lesser known site not far away. One which should have proven to be quiet, peaceful and the stones less tampered with. However, luck was still not on our side – an oil leak on Chris’s bike got us a bit worried, given that we were now only on one bike, miles away from any significant sized town.
So we ditched the plan to make for the other Mayan site, and instead, went back to Flores to get the bike cleaned, so we could then establish exactly what the problem was. Fortunately, after the bike was cleaned up, Chris could see that the only problem was the oil filter cap was a bit loose. It had clearly been clogged with dirt so had gone un-noticed for a while until a leak had developed. Is that all?!! Oh well… it was a little annoying we didn’t make it to the other site for the sake of tightening a cap, but thankfully it was nothing serious!
We spent a couple of days making our way back down to Guatemala City from Tikal. A nice stop off at Rio Dulce where we treated ourselves to a hotel room in a boat yard helped sooth the mental injuries sustained by bike worries. And riding two up…!
Back in Guatemala City, we rode straight to the mechanics to check out progress on Chloe’s bike. Thankfully, it was finished, ready and working! Yay! Finally, Chloe could get her bike back and Chris could get rid of the extra lump on the back of his!
With the bike back in working order, we needed to start making rapid headway for Mexico where we were meeting up with our biking friends Pete and Caf for Christmas, (only days away!), at Puerto Escondido. Escorting us out towards the border was Richard and his wife Suzanne whom we had ridden previously with to Lago Atitlan, (last blog). And riding with Richard can mean only one thing – going in search of fun!
This time, the fun Richard was in search of, while escorting us out of the country, was river crossings! Bearing in mind Chloe’s previous disasters in rivers – one of which included completely flooding the engine which then required dismantling and tipping the bike upside down – she was just a tad nervous. Completely irrationally of course, since she has been through many (shallow) rivers since then, but the fear lives on! As it turned out, only one river proved almost too much, but after sitting on the other side after everyone else had gone through saying “I can’t do it” for at least five minutes, she finally plundered though and made it across unharmed, feeling slightly silly for all the fuss!
After about 12 river crossing – some that were rather like large puddles, and others like proper rivers(!) – we needed a break before heading off on a new route, (new to Richard, who seems to know every road between Mexico and Honduras!). And after that, lunchtime!!
So after about five hours of riding through dirt, rocky tracks and rivers, we looked at the map and were amazed at how much riding we had done, with so little distance covered – Now that spells fun riding! After lunch, Richard and Suzanne headed back into Guatemala City on the main road, which would only take about an hour(!), and we continued on a bit further towards the Mexican border, preparing ourselves for our last Latin America border crossing of the trip, the next crossing being into the States!
Once into Mexico, we needed to make a dash for our beachside apartment where we were meeting Pete and Caf. But between us and them, (they were already there), was more trouble. After a pretty exhausting few hours at customs sorting out papers for the bikes, (which also includes huge amounts of money being handed over), then being stopped and searched every 200 yards at Military check points, we eventually got on our way and made some ground. But then disaster struck. Again. Chloe’s bike, Yes Chloe’s bike again! became a bit bouncy, then really bouncy. Asking Chris to have a look the next time we went over a speed bump settled it – his head dropped, he cursed, and if he wasn’t riding he probably would have beaten something up. The rear shock on Chloe’s bike had died, hydraulic fluid everywhere. Sh*t!! Only one day out of the mechanics’ and now this! WHY NOW?!!
The next day, if only to mock us, the wind picked up, and this wind was comparable to, if not worse, than the infamous winds of Patagonia. One section of road of about 50 miles was genuine torture. Chloe with no rear shock had been a problem. But in the hell breaking wind, the rear shock no longer mattered, only our lives! We crawled along at 15 miles an hour using all our strength to stay on the hard shoulder because with one gust, we would have been over into the opposite lane of traffic. Emergency vehicles were everywhere; three lorries in the space of 10 miles had been blown over creating havoc across both lanes. No passing space was too wide when the possibility of being lifted up and thrown into the over-turned lorry or the on-coming traffic was a reality. Needless to say, when we finally arrived at our beach apartment in Puerto Escondido that evening, we needed a drink!
After relaying our nightmares to Pete and Caf, and hearing about theirs too, Pete took my dead shock in hand himself. Caf’s shock had also died and they had sent hers off to be repaired by a chap in the States. Pete got hold of the same guy, asked if he could sort me a new one out, which he could, and organised for it to be sent back down to us in Mexico straight after Christmas. Result!! We could all now rest easy and start preparing for Christmas with sun, sea and sand!
All the ingredients bought, all we had to do now was find a Christmas Album on-line so we could have some rockin’ Christmas tunes!! Unfortunately we didn’t have a tree to rock around, but we did make a little effort with some tinsel and baubles and some trendy head-gear!
Christmas and new year came and went. Chris broke his Christmas present in the record time of two minutes. We played in the surf and nearly got drowned a few times by the strength of the waves… that’s why all these surfers are out here! Chris and Pete got down to some dirty work with the bikes, and when Chloe’s and Caf’s new shocks finally arrived after much angst over delivery problems, they were duly fitted. The girls are now very pleased, sporting their purple springs!
A couple of hiccups involving Pete, ambulances and hospitals made for a worrying few days before he was whisked off to Oaxaca, (six hours away), to a better equipped hospital. All was well in the end, but we followed Pete and Caf up to Oaxaca to make sure everything was alright before we went our separate ways.
Oaxaca is a beautiful town – an UNESCO World Heritage site with good food, including fried crispy grasshoppers! Obviously since food is one of our few(!) luxuries, we thought it would be rude not to try some of them. We opted for ‘chilli and garlic’ flavour, hoping this would disguise the real taste just a tad. Unfortunately that theory didn’t really work. When biting down into the little crusty creature, its insides exploded into the mouth, negating all taste of chilli or garlic, giving us a nice flavour of squishy intestines instead! Mmmm, nice! Well, at least we tried a few. After that, we resorted to just playing with them!
Leaving Oaxaca we were also leaving Pete and Caf behind. After two weeks of fun, laughter, food and drink, we were going our separate ways. For us, onwards and upwards, for them, back to the Yucatan Peninsula for some Mayan temple spotting. Although we missed seeing the Mexican Mayan sites due to abandoning our 8 day tour, the thought of going backwards just could not be rationalised in Chris’s head! We were now well on into Mexico and to go back to the Peninsula would set us back probably another month round trip. We then made one of the hardest decisions of the trip – to not ‘do’ Mexico at all, but to come back another time when we are refreshed and will be able to see everything with fresh new eyes. Having resolved on that, the next course of action would be to get ourselves through Mexico and on into the States as quickly as possible!
We still make sure we stop off in nice towns though, such as Tlaxcala – an historical colonial town with connections to one of the tribes who joined the Spanish to defeat their mutual enemy, the Aztecs.
Long days on the road deserve good food, and there is no better food than the platters you get from the roadside cafes! Especially in Mexico, we have found the food to be excellent. The rest of Latin America need to learn a thing or two from these guys! Rice and meat day after day does no good for the appetite, but here we get variety, flavour, and just some darn-good home cooking!
We’ve now just left San Miguel de Allende. Another stunningly beautiful colonial town with rich colours, a relaxed vibe and friendly people. Coming back to Mexico certainly won’t be a difficult task!
The next couple of days will see us up and across the border into Texas. From there, we will now be heading up the east side of the States towards Halifax, on the east coast of Canada. Why the change of plan? Isn’t our blog called ‘Buenos Aires to Vancouver’?! Well yes, but given the complications of arriving in Vancouver in the middle of winter, then trying to get our bikes across the country to Halifax, (which is where the boat back to Europe leaves from), has proved to be one complication too many!
It is doubtful whether we would be able to ride in the weather conditions at that time of year, which means we would have to look at getting the bikes on a lorry, or train. Which kind of defeats the object!! So now we will be riding all the way up to Halifax without using other means of transport, (we hope!), and then loading our precious bikes on a boat back to Europe!
But first, the deep south of the USA…. Just don’t write anything about gay sex on my bike okay?! You know what happened to Richard Hammond?!!
Broke wing-mirror AGAIN! Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Back-end too heavy! Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Total wipe-outs Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
Number of grasshoppers eaten Chloe 1 v 6 Chris
Near-drownings in sea current Chloe 3 v 2 Chris
New items of clothing bought Chloe 0 v 2 Chris
Number of zips broken. Again. Chloe 0 v 1 Chris