Wow… It’s hard to believe that I got on the ‘Down to Earth Bus’ one month ago. The transition from bike tour to backpacking happened pretty quick. After saying hasta luego to Ranger Tom, Hen and Ike the big green bus rolled south. Apparently I was on the bus and the dudes were now off the bus. The two days hanging out with Ike and Laura and their dog Reggae were incredible. They converted an old Forest Service Hot-Shot bus into a house on wheels equipped with stove, oven, fridge, bed and of course a chainsaw. Cruising the thousand kilometers to Puerto Escondido was quite the fasttrack but the Police and Federales slowed us down seven times by pulling us over. After rigorously searching the bus, checking our documents and playing with Reggae they let us on our way. Traveling via Auto is quite different than on bike, the police didn’t bother us at all on bike tour. Enjoying making coffee on the stove while driving, drinking beer, exchanging stories and life experiences, mountains, coast lines, trees, hot dogs and cans of beans on open fire, picking up a few more hitchhikers, and sleeping on top of the bus… I couldn’t have enjoyed my hitchhike more. Making it to Puerto Escondido in two days which took the dudes 10 days of riding, I realized I was on a different kind of adventure. Upon arrival in Puerto Escondido it was time to say goodbye to my incredible hosts and catch my first collectivo to Oaxaca City.
~Cruisin’ with Ike, Laura, and Reggae on the Down to Earth Bus~
~one of the many epic views from the passenger seat~
Collectivo (noun); mini bus, chicken bus, big bus, school bus and everything in between. Supposed to seat 10 but at least 30 people riding it, bags stacked on top with anything from corn to chickens, one beautiful blue bike and maybe a few more people riding on top. Extremely comical, not for the faint at heart or the average backpacker. They drive fast!
After leaving the beautiful Oaxaca coast line I quickly headed into the mountains, BIG difference. I started to see the Mayan influence. I saw five year old kids filling pot holes in the road and the driver throwing pesos out the window for their hard work. 8 hours of incredible windy mountain roads and I arrived in Oaxaca to meet up with the one and only Diana Tubbs. Oaxaca is a beautiful city and we quickly made the decision to stay there for Christmas and experience the culture. It was nice to lay low for a few days, enjoy a hotel room with hot shower, internet, coffee shops, laundry, openair markets and of course the Zocalo. The Zocalo is the main square with lots of street vendors, performers and amazing people watching. Since 1897 Oaxaca hosts the Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) every year on December 23rd. It is one of the most impressive vegetable festivals in the world. Mexican craftsmen carve giant root vegetables, which are grown especially for this event and weigh up to 3kg, into human figures and other vivid forms. The first-prize winner of the carving contest gets their picture in the newspaper. Although the competition lasts only for few hours, the celebrations do not end on December 23. The festival continues on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with other joyful activities like float parades, fireworks displays and street dances. We got to experience one of the most amazing cultural events and fireworks displays we have ever seen, there was a fireworks waterfall over the church in the Zocalo (plaza), absolutely beautiful!
~A few pics from “Noche de Rabanos” in Oaxaca ~
We then decided to make it back to the coastline. Taking another collectivo through the mountains we made it to Bahia Huatulco. Trying to find a spot to camp without success we had to get a hotel for the night. The rooftop was a great place to cook dinner on the MSR whisperlite stove and enjoy a few beers. The next day I rode my bike and Diana took a bus to Playa San Augustin. Within 10 minutes of arriving at this small Mexican tourist beach we were invited to camp at Alfonso’s Restaurant. Alfonso, a gourmet barbecuer left his post at the fire and invited us in to setup the tent and hammock. Life could not be better, another 10 minutes went by and we ordered beers and ceviche from the hammock. So relaxing! Playa San Augustin is unlike any other beach that I had seen on the trip. It is a day resort with busses and boats full of Mexican tourists arriving at 9am and departing at 5pm, we had the place to ourselves at night. Alfonso takes his boat out nightly to drop his fishing nets and picks up his catch in the morning to cook up at his restaurant every day. Some of the freshest seafood we have ever had. The local kids saw me spinning fire on the beach and were more than anxious to give it a try. It was so cool to see 5 year old kids spinning fire poi for the first time. We then took a skinny dip and enjoyed the bio-luminesence in the surf.
~Enjoying Alfonso’s Restaruant~
Enjoying two days of relaxing in the hammock it was time to make moves. We had a night bus out of Huatulco at 11pm so we went to chill in the square until then. While chilling in the park we got asked for some pesos by two drunks, a Mexican and a Honduran suffering from polio, they were curious about the bike. It quickly went from asking us for money to offering us a beer and some good conversations. The Mexican guy grew up in a small mountain town with aspirations of moving to a big city where ‘life is better’. He told us about the problems Mexicans have with their government and how the gringos come to Mexico, staying at fancy resorts with gardens, fountains and pools and never actually get to experience the ‘real Mexico’ with all its poverty. Though living a life of poverty, he missed his mountain town where the food is local with tortillerias, fruit stands, panaderias, and carnecerias. Big business has moved into the cities and the small localized shops can’t compete with them. They very much enjoyed meeting gringos just sitting on the grass of the main plaza drinking a beer with them.
The night bus is a double edged sword, you don’t have to pay for accommodation but you also don’t get to see the scenery that you pass. In the morning we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas. We found a campground just outside the city and explored the downtown. Located in the central highlands with its unique feel we were bummed to only have one night here. We need to go back to explore some more. In the morning we made our way to Palenque for New Years. Though taking collectivos is WAY faster than bike tour, you have the opportunity to sit back, enjoy the scenery (at an accelerated rate) and cover some ground.
~Diana loving life in the morning~
Making it to Palenque at dusk, we made it to our campground just outside the National Park of Palenque. We got settled into our Palapa where we soon got to meet our pet ants and a tarantula (or some other big-ass spider). The spider was just chilling in the thatched roof and wasn’t bothered by us but the ants were on the constant search for food. We figured out that if we feed them at the other side of the Palapa they stay occupied, so the ants got their half of the Palapa and we got the other. That night Diana and I made our way to the restaurant bar for some delicious New Years eve mojitos. While there we started chatting up some other gringos who are on an overland trip from CA to Panama, in a Toyota truck with their camper and their little dog Neli. They have another blog called Neli’s Big Adventure, check it out. It was awesome to share New Years and some Mezcal with Victoria and Jason. Extremely refreshing to hear their stories of the high-roller money-making lifestyle of NY and LA and how they had not really experienced life because they work too much. They decided to give it up and live the dirt bag life style and travel. So cool to hear about their transition.
Dirtbag – A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other social norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communaly and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle
~Epic views of Palenque~
The next day we explored the Palenque ruins, a Mayan city in the Mexican state of Chiapas that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date back to 200 BC to around 800 AD. After its decline, it was absorbed into the jungle but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site. The discovered area covers 2.5 km² (1 sq mi), but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle. Palenque is a medium-sized site which contains some of the finest architecture, sculptures and carvings that the Mayas produced. Today, the Mayas form a sizable population that maintains a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs. Millions of people still speak the Mayan language today.
Sweet, so let’s write about the border crossing into Guatemala. On our way from Palenque to the border we stopped at the Lancandon Maya Biosphere Reserve for the night and set up camp right on the Rio Laconga. The next day the adventure began.. from the main road we hitchhiked 40km to the border town of Frontera Corozal to get our exit stamp. We enjoyed our last Mexican Tamales before boarding the longtail lancha (boat) to cross the river to La Tecnica, Guatemala. A street vendor changed our leftover Pesos to Guatemalan Quetzales, pretty sure we got ripped off quite a bit but there was no other option. After hanging out in front of the Tienda for an hour we loaded the bike and all our gear onto another collectivo and made our way to Bethel where we got our entrance stamp for Guatemala. The border checkpoint was located inside an old ladies house, the strangest passport control ever. We definitely chose the road less traveled taking this border crossing. Getting to know some of the bumpiest roads Guate has to offer we finally made our way to Flores where we spent two nights at a shitty hotel.
~bikes on boats, crossing the river into Guatemala~
Next stop Tikal. After haggling the tour operator for cheaper travel and receiving some used park entrance tickets from two french backpackers, we saved some cash. The entrance fee to Tikal is quite steep so luckily we were able to dirtbag it. Sunset was approaching so there was no other option than to head to the ruins for some incredible views. The next day, we snuck around the fee station and a crocodile pond to explore the ruins and temples more. Another free entrance. Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the Maya civilization. Tikal was the capital state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee between 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily. Population estimates for Tikal is some where around 90,000 inhabitants.
~Tikal with its drastic pyramids~
After enjoying camping at the park for two nights with howler monkeys and all, we made our way back to Flores for a night before starting the trek to Semuc Champey. Basically having a private shuttle for 8 hours, we arrived in the small mountain town of Lanquin. From there it was into the back of a pickup truck for another 10k on a mountainous and very muddy dirt road. Again, 13 people packed into one pickup with all their gear. The transportation is such an adventure. We soon became friends with the other travelers during our hour long truck ride. Without a doubt some of the best and most chilled friends we made on my vacation away from bike tour. We camped at a hostel at the entrance of the park for the first night and moved into a cabana the next after being attacked by a swarm of ants. Im talking about a ten square foot blanket of thousands and thousands of ants that completely covered the tent for an hour before the swarm moved on. We saw them again the next day making their way up the stairs to the restaurant, I have never seen anything like it.
~Could not have enjoyed these pools more~
Semuc Champey is a natural monument which consists of a 300 m limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabon River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools, which are epic to swim in. We enjoyed the chill atmosphere with our friends in the mountains covered by jungle. It is about time to catch up with the dudes and get back on bike tour. Over the next five days we made our way through the Guatemala highlands to make it to the “meeting point” of Quetzaltenango..aka..Xela. The highlands are made up of a series of high valleys enclosed by mountains. Absolutely beautiful, covered with farms and an extremely rich Maya culture. We were off the gringo trail so the locals looked at us a bit longer than usual, and they had to switch from speaking Mayan to Spanish for us.
~one of the many random lunch stops~
Now in Xela and back with the dudes, about to say hasta luego to Diana…the adventure never stops. It’s time to transition from backpacking back to bike tour.
“Keep on living to the fullest, facing each day with acceptance of what will come.” – Wes O’Rourke
-Ranger BeeKoz and Diana