Cancun- Puerto Morales 🚴🏽 -Tulum 🚌 – Punta Allen 🚴🏽 – Felipe Carillo Puerto 🚴🏽- Tihosuco 🚴🏽- Dzuiche 🚴🏽- Yaxcaba 🚴🏽 – Libre Union 🚴🏽- Valladolid 🚌- Chetumal 🚌 = 350km on bike.
It has been a fortnight filled with a fireworks, plus thirty degree days, Mayan culture, simple living, joyful children, relaxed Spanish, Indio beer, hand pressed tortillas, spicy meat and a distinct lack of vegetables.
We began our journey in Cancun, high on life and keen as kidney beans to get on the road. Rushing always means something is going to be forgotten; I left the keys for my brand new, unbreakable lock on the chair at the hostel before I had even used them. If you ever wanted to track us down, just follow the various missing items along the way- towel, thongs etc- oh, and the trail of sweat we leave in our wake. I didn’t really google the temperature for April, I just thought we would be all good because it isn’t the rainy season. Maybe we should have gone to Scandinavia instead because it is hot in Mexico, and I mean 8am, 30 degrees, brain swelling, forget your name, man-sweat smelling, hourly sunscreen reapplication which may as well be coconut oil, consistent heat rash on your bum type hot. Cycle touring here is definitely no south of France honeymoon affair. We got 40km south of Cancun and fell into the aqua water of Puerto Morales with the rest of the Mexican population on Easter Sunday and said stuff this ugly highway, let’s get a bus to Tulum. That made us happy, and I took advantage of the nearby cenotes while Kate was doing a job interview the next day.
I strolled downtown after a relatively sleepless night in the tent because of barking dogs and walked straight into the first diving outfitter. US$140 to dive Carwash and Calavera. I handed over every last cent and we put the diving gear in a ute and headed down the road. I was so nervous before the first dive. My dive instructor had long dreads and liked checking out my chest while I got into my wetsuit. She explained the process; here’s one torchlight around your wrist and one for your pocket. Follow the rope I lay and stay two metres behind me. Don’t ascend or you’ll hit the roof. Don’t descend or you’ll muck up the silt on the bottom and we won’t be able to see. We’re about to dive into a freshwater limestone cavern that has been flooded with water. OK OK OK. Be cool Jess, you’ve wanted to do this for years. You got your goddamn dive certificate just for this experience. We jumped in the crystal clear blue pool and down we went. My mind was already peaking it was so beautiful and we hadn’t even headed into the cavern yet. Floating underwater plants vibrant as fresh flowers and fallen trees slick with green algae and stuck in oxygen starved time. I followed Amy down to 16m and we were encased in darkness. Our torches revealed the calcium build ups and other unique cave formations and I could always look back at the bright blue hole where we’d begun. Fresh water fish wriggled around in my light beam, Mayan pottery shards remained in the cavern and you could see the delicate fossils of plants and skeletal remains of animals. It was literally one of the most mind blowing experiences I have ever had, I could only liken it to being in the womb. The next cenote was out the back of someone’s house and once again, completely unique. There was a water halo where the salt water and fresh water collided. Downright natural magic. I want to go back to the Yucatan peninsula one day with my piggy bank and dive through all of the wonderful cave formations that we are blessed to have the ability to explore.
Through a series of fortunate events, Kate met an Irish man who has extensive cycle touring experience in the region. We sat on the ground in his bike shop that afternoon pouring over the routes and towns and best plan of attack. So today we’ve been travelling on the bikes for a week or so on our journey from Mexico to Panama. I’m pretty sure most people know that means we should head south from Mexico. So what we’ve done is almost a complete circle. Whoopsy daisy. That was the result of that interaction. He told us we couldn’t leave without exploring the inland villages of the Yucatan, and we took his word for it. His gorgeous wife Karen and her plentiful supply of bliss balls joined us on the bike for the next two days through the Sian Kaan biosphere reserve.
We rode along a coastal backroad that was white, sandy and very beautiful. Swaying palmtrees, just enough traffic to make you feel that you aren’t too isolated and lots of stops along the way. We arrived in Punta Allen on the end of this sandy peninsula and found a fisherman to take us down the coast deeper into the biosphere the next morning. But first, cold beer on the jetty and a huge fried fish that counteracted all calories burnt that day.
Frank the fisherman dropped us off where a town used to exist before a hurricane ripped it to pieces. We waded through the seaweed and washed up garbage to where we would supposedly find a track inland to Felipe Carillo Puerto. The first thing I saw was a grave and we were already on high alert for Jaguars. All you can do in this kind of situation is sit down for a bliss ball and then ride your little heart out. It was a real mountain biking track and the three of us were riding individually, just glancing back to check no one had been taken by a big cat. Sometimes the rain comes out of nowhere and gives you a high pressure shower and then disappears as quickly as it came. With low lying, hardy shrubbery and long grasses the terrain was pretty but the riding surface was teeth shattering. I listened to podcasts and thought about croissants in the south of France.
We arrived in Felipe and decided on a hostel for the night, washing the caked dirt off our legs and chains. Showered, moisturised and all dressed in non-lycra, we headed out on the town. We took those pretty dresses through the sleepy town to eat some tacos and then promptly crashed in bed. Karen left the next morning back to her one and a half year old baby boy. She had been using this hardcore little trip to wean her son off breastfeeding. What a freaking inspirational woman!
Kate and I set off north too late in the morning and realised the road was a bit bigger than we would have liked. Along the straight highway, we saw a gigantic rubbish dump. There were big birds of prey constantly circling above. Rather than catch mice, this man made dump is their life. The whole place almost took on a life of its own and gave me the chills and made me ride faster. I imagined some sort of scary creatures would come crawling out. It didn’t smell bad, just not natural. Some of the rubbish is always being burnt. This has come to chacterise many of the roads we have ridden in south western Mexico. Just outside towns, rubbish is discarded on the side of the road and it’s socially acceptable. There are also big signs on the roads saying keep your road clean. In some places, there are no rubbish bins to be found. I am not writing this to show disdain, just to explain what we have been seeing.
We have ridden through many small Mayan towns this past week, and they are reminiscent of Asia. Simple, thatch, very poor, very happy. In Señor we drank a soft drink under a shelter and lay out our map, anxious about what the future of Quintana Roo and Yucatan States had in store for us. Would we find food or would the villagers only have enough for themselves? If we had a problem would we have the ability to find help? Kate has a steri-pen and surely we would be able to find water? In reality, we have never gone without. People have invited us into their homes to eat, always offer us filtered water for free, have consistently offered help and advice and interest.
In Tihosuco we asked the police where we could camp and they suggested the church. We waited out the front of this crumbling masterpiece for the father to finish with the service and then he gave us the go ahead. That night I dreamt of drinking glass after glass of water and not being satisfied.
The next day we actually followed the route of the churches and passed through so many gorgeous little pueblos wth unique churches built by the Spanish and still being used today in these Mayan communities. We rode to Dzuiche in an early morning fog and rode with many local men who take their machetes into the dry forrest to collect particular plants for their homes. I was riding along about 10am in the morning and realised it was actually my twenty fifth birthday in Australia. That provided a bit of contemplation under the hot sun and I thought of home and how easy it would be to get a regular job and settle down in one place. But that was just the sun messing with my mind, I love this stuff. This adventure is not easy, but it’s unforgettable.
We passed by a unique cave that has a selling point for tourism- blind snakes eat bats there every night. We didn’t want to stick around for the night time tour and couldn’t really imagine any tourists who would actually come out here- we hadn’t seen any since Tulum! We heard there was a lagoon in the next town and bought some drinks to go there for a swim. When someone says two kilometres it means 5 and it was a much bumpier that normal. So we had some nice fizzy luke warm ciders by the luke warm lagoon and the. convinced a restaurant to let us camp in their backyard.
The next day we passed through more villages and make connections with locals. At lunch I told two little girls it was my birthday and gave them a big hug just as mum had told me to do in the card I opened in the morning. The men and boys are always willing to have a conversation and we always end up having a good laugh. It seemed particularly hot for my Mexican birthday, but we were rewarded in the end. Our driving inventive was a fresh water cenote in Yaxcaba. We had finally made it there and there was a lot of police presence and some sort of festival being set up. We located the cenote and it dirty with rubbish and locked with a fence around it. I almost cried. All I wanted for my birthday was a swim, but what we got was even better – a local Mayan rodeo! Sitting at a shop front watching the world go by over 2 litre bottles of water, we met some women who let us stay in their house. They introduced us to their sons and nephews and nieces and all of a sudden we had been swept up and were taken to the festival, given free beers and getting way too many necks craning our way for a glimpse of the exotic white girls with red cheeks and terrible tan lines. Walking around was surreal watching the police light fireworks one after the other, a ute was shaking like wild with a bull inside about to run into the a temporary arena to its death for the entertainment of hundreds of beer swilling, cowboy hat donning people from all over the state. The Spanish left their traditions here and no one is trying to put a stop to it. There were food stands and glitzy toys and music and icecream and someone put 2 pesos in my hand to thrown on a plate in a pool of water. I found out that if I had landed the coin in the plate I would win a rabbit. Kate and I were buzzing with the atmosphere.
We crept out of the house in the morning, and while we were setting up our bikes inside the basic wooden palapa, the grandmother and one of her daughters woke up and came inside for a cup of tea. This is a nice place to live by all standards, but I just watched as they sat on low wooden seats, went outside to fuss with the pigs for a moment, came back and sat down with creaking knees to light the fire, poured water from a large container into the pot and sat back for a chat. All I could think of was my parents (and the majority of people I know) waking up in their great big bed, walking along the polished, spotless wooden floor into the kitchen, flicking the kettle on, putting in a dash of fresh milk from the refrigerator and having a cup of tea in a comfortable armchair. There’s nothing wrong with either of these situations, it’s just worlds apart and it’s important to process.
We rode to Libre Union and caught a bus along the highway to Chichen Itza and then found a mind blowing cenote to wash away the sweat. We were still longing for a shower and some TLC so found a hostel in Valladolid that was too gorgeous not to stay two nights. On our rest day, Kate got a new stem and we found camping gas and everything we need to be even more self sufficient in Belize where the prices are going to launch up. There’s no better incentive to eat pasta. Valladolid is gorgeous itself and I had such a nice day in the flow of looking through the town all topped off with pizza and red wine.
We caught a bus down to Chetumal and rode a few short kilometres to the Belize border where I am sitting now while Kate buys a long sleeve tee. It looks like something from the future depicted in Bladerunner. People speak Criole and Garifuna and the dollars are different and we even had Mennonites on the bus with us this morning.
Cycling a loop of the south eastern boot of Mexico has been a truly intrepid and deeply cultural experience for us. Wish us tail winds and we will fill you in again soon!