Archive for May, 2009
I detoured from the main highway to be a tourist today. I cycled up to Lake Atitlan and challenged my limits doing so. I got off and pushed my bike for the first time. Ever. I didn’t get off to push while cycling the world in 1975. I didn’t get off to push up those steep Bali volcanoes and calderas in 2004, and last year in the Colorado Rockies; never got off the bike to push. But today, hot and no wind, two and a half hours and 25 km into a 32 km climb I got weak and wobbly. Sweat drips off my seat and soaks my shoulder bag. I took a break, then went a little further and felt unsafe to continue. I pushed the bike up for half a km, then rode, took another break, and completed my ascent. The elevation of the town is 1600m; tomorrow I’ll bike to an overlook at 1900m. It cooled off when I entered the clouds. The twin volcanoes, Atitlan and Toliman(3557m & 3158m), whose sides I’d been ascending all afternoon appeared through breaks in the cloud . The wheels were not slipping, so I can’t blame the front wheel drive. A drawback on all recumbents is that you can’t stand up on the pedals. Hmmm…maybe if I could learn to sit on the handlebars and steer, I’d be standing up on the pedals.
I arrived in San Lucas Toliman after five and Padre Gregorio was not at the church, so I’ll check back tomorrow. Many people have stopped to ask about my travels, including Carlos who I met in town. When I said I was looking for a hotel, he made some suggestions, then asked if I wanted to stay at the guest house he manages on the lake, six km out of town. So here I am at the Casa La Paz in Cerro De Oro, Santiago Atitlan.
Thunderstorms my last night in Mexico turned off my fan, and thunderstorms now my first night in Guatemala. I did not feel the 7.1 earthquake in neighboring Honduras which occurred on the Caribbean coast. I’m near the Pacific coast. Entering Guatemala was easier than entering Mexico. (The next day I found out I did not misunderstand when I thought they said the charge was treinta, but took my hundred quetzel bill when I hesitated and gave me no change). I did not have to pay an extra fee for my bike. My dogbite is healing fine. I’m keeping it clean, changing the bandage every day, and keeping a close watch for infection. I felt a tingle in my leg while riding today; but it was the other leg. I did have a tetanus shot last February. I’m now further east than St Paul, MN, and have been since Pijijiapan. Through Central America I’ll be heading east more than south. Though this is still the Central Time Zone, Central America is not on Daylight Savings Time, so it’s an hour earlier here. Panama is in the Eastern Time Zone, also not on DST, so it’ll be the same as CST through Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru until the DST change in the fall. Trucks and buses here are older than those in Mexico and belch much blacker exhaust that chokes me. Many are from the US and still have US towns on their doors. I found new inner tubes my size in Tapachula and bought a new chain when I arrived here in Mazatenango. On my 1975 trip, I was the one taking photos of the locals; now the locals are taking photos of me. Cell phones are common and many have cameras. Some folks burst into laughter or applause at the sight of me cycling by.
My odometer reads 4999 km total while the website lists 4972 km; and I’ve ridden at least 4 km with distance not recording. The other missing 32 km could be from rounding errors and cycling on non-travel days (15 km in League City). I cycled about 3000 km in the US in four weeks; and about 2000 km in Mexico in three weeks. My hotel rooms averaged $23/night in Mexico vs $45/night in the US. $45 was the most I paid in Mexico. I have not camped out in Mexico. Every town has a choice of hotels, I prefer to find one in town which is quieter than on the highway. All the hotels have A/C & TV; and many have Internet WiFi. The main highways in Mexico have generally excellent shoulders for cycling; and where there’s none, Mexican drivers are more considerate of me than Texas drivers. Lots of other slow-moving traffic is on the road and faster drivers will slow down and go around us. There are also speed bumps near every town or check point, and some for no apparent reason at all. They serve the purpose of slowing traffic to a crawl. I have not felt threatened in Mexico; except by a Texan. As I was walking down the street a guy stepped out of a van with Texas plates. I greeted him with a friendly “I thought I was the only tourist in Mexico”. “I’m not a tourist” he replied. “Do you live here” I said. Angrily now “I’m Jesus Christ and if you f*** with me, I ‘m going to f***ing kill you!” I briskly walked away.
Jorge and Elsa were very hospitable to me on their Rancho San Antonio. They took me for a drive up to 1700m into the mountains that I’ve been cycling along the base of through Chiapas. Their ranch is down in flat country near the coast where he grows sugar cane, corn, jalapeno peppers, and next year will add a field of watermelon. They also have cattle, pigs, and chickens. Everyone has chickens. Noisy parrots fly fast like pigeons so I can’t get a close view of them. There is a squashed tarantula in their front entry, looking like half a fuzzy tennis ball, only black. Jorge says they are not dangerous. Danger comes unexpectedly.
While walking around the ranch in the evening with Jorge the workman’s dog comes up behind me, without growling, and bites my right calf. Teeth sink in on both sides. The puncture on the inside is deepest and blood spurts out. The bitch, Gringa, is protective of a new litter and I’m the stranger who may harm her perritos. Jorge is devastated and offers to drive me to health care in town. But I have iodine swabs from Dr. Patricia Elhaj and opt to clean it myself and see if I can pedal in the morning. Gringa’s owner, Lalo, comes around later concerned about me, and maybe concerned about what may happen to Gringa. I, too, wonder if I go to a clinic, will they send someone out to terminate her.
In la manana I pedal into town with no pain and visit the girls’ school in Huixtla. Though no else expects me, I’m treated like a celebrity. Georgina’s teacher is a health fanatic whose son is on the front page of the paper for winning a bodybuilding contest. Georgina and Laura are clearly pleased with who they brought to show-and-tell. That totally erased any negative feeling about my stay here.
I bought a new inner tube before leaving town. They didn’t have my size, 26×1.5, so I got 26×2.15. An hour out of town I had to make it fit. Upon inspecting the inside of the tire I finally found the source of that slow leak. A small, yet stiff, piece of wire had pierced the thrornguard strip. I needed a pliers to pull it out. I ruined the valve stem while pushing the bike with a flat tire 50m to a safe spot to change it. Jorge and family passed me on the highway while running an errand. He later came back to guide me to his ranch. I would have wandered around, asking for directions to find it.
I saw a Toucan today!, or maybe the related Aracaris. That made my day; a day that started out with two flats before breakfast. And breakfast was at noon because many businesses here are closed on Sunday. I’ve been pumping up the slow leak in my rear tire every day because I see no bubbles when holding the tube under water. The leak is so slow that the tire stays hard all day. Five km out of town an inch long roofing nail sunk to the head in the rear tire, putting holes in the top and bottom sides of the tube. Later the same tube ripped near the valve stem. So now I don’t have to worry about that slow leak, but I used my last spare tube. Bike shops are also closed on Sunday. I left the last town at 2:30 pm, having only covered half of today’s distance. I often do my best cycling late in the day. A family stopped their car on the highway to visit; and Jorge Altuzar Marin invited me to stay at his ranch. I almost declined, because it is 16 km off the highway. What was I thinking! The road is paved all the way to his ranch and a good location for me to reach tomorrow. I’ll probably spend an extra day there, south of Huixtla, and they have no internet.
I had chocolate eggs for breakfast. Huevos Oaxacanenos is made with a chocolate mole salsa, a local specialty. Eating vegetarian has been a challenge here in Mexico, especially with my limited Spanish vocabulary. I usually have eggs for breakfast and enchiladas without meat for dinner. Once I found a slice of ham under my eggs; so now I’ll say “No como carne, no como jamon, no como pollo”. Three carloads of hit men in white shirts got out of their cars to greet me on the highway. It’s the campaign entourage of local politician Emilio Mendoza Kaplan, who’s the PRI candidate for Deputy of the 7th district in the upcoming July 5th elections. I recognized him from his signs that are everywhere. They used me for a photo op; then gave me a hat and t-shirt. I’ve got friends in high places.
Today I crossed the Continental Divide. In fact, I crossed the continent from the Gulf coast to the Pacific coast. The high point was only about 250m. I am now in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Soon after checking into the best hotel in town (34 years ago I’d be in the cheapest) a festival parade was happening on the street below. I rushed to finish washing my clothes and sat at the hotel’s restaurant balcony with the best view of the festivities. A great way to finish a challenging day. After I checked out of my room this morning, I noticed my rear tire had gone flat overnight. With no water to check for a slow leak, I just pumped it up. I added more air in the afternoon when my front tire went flat. That was from a failure in a seam of the inner tube, not a puncture. It happened to be at the spot where the thornguard strip overlaps.
After breakfast with Patricia and Marcus, we headed for the autopista. Soon after I got on the freeway I realized that there are no services for 115 km and I failed to fill my water bottles! No hay problema. Dozens of fruit stands are located under almost every freeway overpass. I got a flat on my rear tire. A long steel shard worked its way around the thornguard. I saw a couple of Ani birds; a crow-sized black bird with a strong beak that I’ve seen in the Virgin Islands.