Gone Bike About

April 9 – May 6, 2007
Santa Elena (Belize) – Chetumal – Mahahual – Felipe Carillo Puerto – Punta Allen – Tulum – Valladolid – Mérida
Flat and hot, covered in jungle, dotted with Mayan ruins, sprinkled with cool swimming holes and surrounded by beaches, the Yucatan Peninsula was a very pleasant last stop on our Latin American trip.

Chetumal was our first port of call where we enjoyed an easy-going, 
functional town that provided everything we needed. The Mayan cultural museum there has a very informative and well laid-out display of Mayan traditions and beliefs, which was a great introduction to Yucatan.

Shell and coral detail at Punta Allen
Kurt, the chef

This area provides many great camping opportunities. Just as well because hotels are much more expensive here than anywhere else in Latin America. Our first beautiful camp spot was on Laguna Bacalar, renowned for it’s 6 shades of blue.

From there we moved on to the Costa Maya near Mahahual, where we had to peg down our tent with big wooden sticks in the sand to prevent it from flying off to the back of beyond.

Kurt, the builder

There we had a wonderful holiday with Darina chilling in the hammock and Kurt providing fish and lobster for dinner. 

When Darina got sick of cooking fish … we just had sushi!

Well... someone has to do it!
Kurt, the fisherman
Kurt, the gourmet

When cruise ships descend on Mahahual, this lazy quiet village is transformed. One of the adventures offered is a guided quad ride, 20km down the coastal road, sporting a GI-helmet and grimacing in the dust of the quad ahead. The cruisers reminded us of scenes from a Vietnam war movie with their somber faces and their “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do” attitude.

Quad adventures
Mahahual

The Mayan Coast is gorgeous. Turquoise Caribbean waters lap the palm-fringed white-sand beaches, and impressive coral gardens are just a swim away. Rays, caimans, barracudas and an array of colourful tropical fish make snorkeling a treat.

Oh yeah!

 

 

However, the high tide line is clearly marked with non-biodegradable rubbish, i.e. plastic bottles, synthetic ropes, shoes, broken chairs, fast food containers and buoys.

In addition to this, local favourite picnic spots are clearly marked with everything Juan and his family omitted to bring home after the party. 

 
Littered beaches
Sian Ka'an

Leaving the main drag to Cancun, we veered off into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Cycling on this dirt road through jungle to El Playon was lovely and quiet. The whole day we met just 4 cars and 2 cyclists. The shady path was a welcome break from the beating sun and while we dodged iguanas, butterflies fluttered by and a whole feathered orchestra filled the jungle with song.

Gerardo and Sebastian from Mexico City were down to explore the flora and fauna of the area, while evaluating the merits of bicycle touring.  

 

Gerardo and Sebastian
From Playon to Punta Allen

A short 3-minute trip by boat brought us to Punta Allen

This former lobster-diving village has now discovered ecotourism and fly-fishing as good sources of greenbacks. The laid-back atmosphere and extra-friendly locals make it a great place to hang out for a couple of days.

Punta Allen
Sirena, the American mermaid

Sirena (American), shipwrecked no less than 3 times in Latin American waters, has a wonderful guest house with traditional palapahuts in a beautiful garden. You can even read her autobiography there and learn how she came out tops after every disaster.

Great views of the Caribbean were dispersed at regular intervals on the sandy jungle road up to Tulum. Again we encountered strings of jeeps, day tripping (pardon, adventuring) down to Punta Allen, leaving us in a cloud
of dust.

You'd better not be in a hurry!
Tulum ruins and beach

The Mayan ruins at Tulum are spectacularly located on a cliff overlooking the sea. To appreciate them at their best bring your swimming gear and observe them while having a swim from the beach below.

Cobá was a handy stop en route west. The local ruins boast the highest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula, but it is it’s ball courts that are most impressive.

Pyramid at Cobá
Ball court, Cobá

This ancient ball game was a team sport, the object being to score by getting the ball through the central ring on either side. It’s still unclear whether it was the winners or the loosers that were sacrificed to the gods on completion of the game.

The aim is to get the ball through the ring

With temperatures on the wrong side of 40°C,  cenotes make life bearable. With its flat limestone landscape, Yucatan has many underground water pools (cenotes) and caves formed by erosion. These natural wells often came with stalactites and stalagmites and with an overhead opening allowing light and tourists in! Their cool unique surrounds were availed of on many occasions.

Pyramid at Cobá
Salbutes

Tortillas are the staple for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Mexico. They come in all sizes and forms and are filled or topped with meat and things. Although a welcome change from rice, chicken and beans of Central America, tortillas, chicken and beans did become a bit repetitive after a week or so!

Colourful handicrafts

Valladolid was our first colonial town out here and we enjoyed its atmosphere after so many old stones… and more to come.

Valladolid colonial houses
Novel park seats
Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá, Mexico’s Mayan gem was the next pearl on the string. Famous for its astronomical architecture and well preserved stone carvings, Chichén Itzá attracts dozens of tour buses daily.

Stonework, Chichén Itzá

The main pyramid was cleverly designed in such a way that Quetzalcoatl,  the feathered snake god seems to slither down the side of the structure as the sun rises on equinox days. We were amazed at the reenactment of this phenomenon at the sound and light show in the evening.

The main pyramid
The New 7 Wonders of the World

Chichén Itzá has a great campaign going to be included in the New 7 Wonders of the World. Stiff competition includes the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu and, our favourite, Angkor Wat. Not so stiff competition is in form of the Christ Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel tower. You can cast your own vote online here before 07.07.07

We had our visit to the ruins cleverly timed… all done by 11am and back by the pool of our 4-star campground, while the busloads melted in the midday heat.

The Pyramid Inn
Izamal convent

Izamal is one of those towns that seem to be a film set just ready for shooting. The whole town is painted yellow and the magnificent Franciscan convent and church occupies a dramatic central location right on top of a former Mayan pyramid.

Izamal street

Traditional dress and a lively market complete the picture of this unique town.

Traditional dress
Colonial residence

Mérida, a city of 1 million, was alas our final stop on this leg of the trip. It’s stately colonial residences and churches, parks and avenues give it quite a European feel.

With temperatures just on the right side of 50°C, siesta was strictly enforced.We did manage to fit in a few shopping sprees while we left the bikes in with a mechanic for some TLC.

Local handicrafts
Mexican flag

Our month long stay in Yucatan was probably the hottest “chill” we’ve ever had! Moving from the beach to the hammock to the bike to the hammock to ruins to the hammock to cenotes to the hammock at 40 to 50°C… was about all we were capable of doing. But that we did very well! Yucatan has certainly a lot to offer the tourist – however, pick your season carefully!

And so we bid farewell to Latin America. After 22 months on the road, 21 countries and 21,000km we fly back to Europe tomorrow. From Barcelona, Spain, we’ll have a little spin on the bikes back to Switzerland (via Ireland), allowing us to readjust to our own continent again. 

Looking back at our updates and pictures reminds us of how extraordinary our trip has been so far. As always it’s the people that make the trip so enjoyable and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone we met along the way. For the cheers, smiles, chats, help, curiosity and hospitality… Muchisimas Gracias, Muito Obrigado and Cheers to you all!

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