Pura Vida, Bike Tourists, and the Homestretch!

Crazy how fast the trip has gone by…It seems like yesterday we were in San Diego and now we are in the southern depths of Nicaragua, looking to cross the border into our last country of the trip, Costa Rica! As we woke up from our double birthday extravaganza in San Juan del Sur, we anxiously packed our bags and got to the road. San Juan was okay, definately not our vibe. We had a good time there, but it is definately one of those places that we don’t need to return. But maybe it just left a bad taste in our mouth because Tommy’s iphone went missing there, most importantly, losing all the cool photos he had taken from Nica. No worries though, it is solely a material possession that can be replaced and hold no real value.

As well pulled out of the beachside town, we had our sights set on crossing the frontera of Costa Rica in the afternoon, which would start the final chapter of our story. The morning went well…Although the wind was in our face the whole time pedaling back to the highway, we felt strong and ready for the day. Once on the highway, we were heading south with windmills to our right and Lago Nicaragua to our left. It is great to see that Nica is harvesting the wind energy that is constantly blowing in the countryside. The downside to riding next to windmills is its windy, but by this point in the trip, wind isn’t really a problem. Rather than being a nuisance, we have come to accept it as the status quo. We could tell that we were approaching the border by the lines of semi trucks that were starting to build up for inspection. On the Nica side, we quickly got in line, Bradie doin’ leg work while Tommy watched the bikes. We got our exit stamps, which was cool because they didn’t want to give us entrance stamps. We are stamp fiends…Then we crossed over to the Costa Rica side. That is when we came across the biggest border crossing line we had ever seen. It looked like we standing in line for a Disney ride. After standing in line for an hour plus in the sweltering heat, we got our entrance stamp, got to the bikes, and rode away into Costa Rica, our sixth and final country of the trip! Pura Vida! After the long delays at the border, we ended up riding through the heat of the day, which seems to be quite a bit hotter here in Costa Rica. We resupplied for dinner in the town La Cruz and then pedaled south to see where camp would be that night. There was lots of open land but not much access. Luckily we found a dirt road turn to a farmhouse, where after asking for camp, we were granted permission. After setting up camp, we watched the sunset that was dropping off into ocean from our beautiful bayside outlook. Meanwhile, we were intensely gazing trying to see the illusive green flash that is rumored to happen just as the sun drops.

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~Wind generated energy in Nica~

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~The infamous entry photo~

It was a gusty night but we both got a great night sleep. We quickly packed up and ate breakfast because the ranch hand was trying to let the cows graze in the field we had camped in and was waiting for us to leave. The morning ride was quite cool because the national highway we were pedaling was located smack dab between two national parks, Guanacaste and Santa Rosa. Just as we were getting back on the bike from a quick break, another bike tourist pulled up. Jonathan introduced himself and told us he was a local Tico (Costa Rican), who had 10 days vacation from work and so he went on a short bike tour! It is awesome because this is the first local bike tourist we have met the whole time. Every other tourist we have met have been foreigners and it is great to see the locals enjoying their countryside the way we do. Obviously we asked if he wanted to ride with us and he jumped on board. Funny enough, 5 km after we met Jonathan, we ran into another solo tourist, cycling the opposite direction. We didn’t get his name but he was from Sweden. With the wind finally at our back, the newly formed trio crushed to Liberia, where we would take lunch and escape the heat. Jonathan was a super chill dude who easily went with our flow and was helping us out with local info, almost being somewhat of a tour guide for us. After sitting in the shade for a couple hours and doing some computer work, we started riding again. Jonathan wanted to bike to Playa del Coco, so we jumped on board because he was great company. Only 8 km from Coco, Jonathan broke a spoke, and with great teamwork we got him back on the road. Bradie had an extra spoke for him, Jonathan had the needed cassette tool, and Tommy trued the wheel.

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~Sunsets in Costa Rica a pretty spectacular~

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~Bike tourists hangin’ with bike tourists~

We got to the beach just before sunset and Jonathan did the leg work to get camp set up. Allegedly, open camping on the beach is a little sketchy, but we found a locals house that let us camp and they lived right on the beach. Perfect! After cooking dinner and drinking coffee (Jonathan’s idea), Bradie decided to introduce himself to the neighbors, some gringos that sounded like they were having a great time! One of the guys was from Colorado and we quickly got invited over for some beers. These guys were retired gringo expats and travelers filled with stories. One man was 89 years old, fought WWII, drove Nascar in the ’40s, and drinks a case of beer and smokes a pack of cigs a day. He said his secret is that he has never drank a cup of coffee in his life. After a few rounds of beers and some great stories, we retired to our camp to get some much needed sleep.

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~I think Jonathan had a long day~

Since we were on a different agenda than Jonathan, him being on vacation and wanting to take the scenic routes and us taking the direct route as we end our trip, we parted ways. Our time with him was great. He is super relaxed and a huge bike enthusiast! As we pedaled back to the main highway, Tommy spotted a melon on the side of the road with our names on it. Getting back to our dirt bag roots, we grabbed it and took a brief break to snack. We then continued to ride onward pedaling hard so we could get to the town of Santa Cruz to get lunch supplies and escape the ungodly hot weather. Costa Rica is extremely hot! A few km before Santa Cruz, we came across a large mango tree that had freshly fallen mangos on the ground, ripe and ready for the taking. Tommy was stoked because he has been waiting for this moment the entire trip. We filled a grocery sack full of mangos and then started filling our empty stomachs. After eating 10+ mangos a piece, we had our fill. We pedaled the remaining way to Santa Cruz, got some lunch supplies from the grocery and went to the parque central to eat and relax the heat away. To digress, one of the things we have noticed about Costa Rica is A) it is twice the price of all other countries we have visited thus far and B) it is way too Westernized. Local markets don’t exist, its just the large, mega stores.  But anyway, as we got to the park, we immediately got approached by the police and they started giving us the 3rd degree. “You can’t drink beer in public! You can’t have your bikes here! Where’s your passport? Where do you live? When are you leaving?” Blah, blah, blah. After refusing to show our passports because we did nothing wrong, we bailed the park scene and sought out some shade elsewhere. Man, have been on the road for 4 months and never had to talk to the cops, and 2 days into Costa Rica, we are gettin hasseled. There is way too many rules here.After takin’ our siesta, we got back on the bikes to ride another 30+ km to finish the day. With the suset cerca and completely spent from the day, we made camp at this abandoned piece of land, bandit camping. We weren’t quite sure what it was for. It was half a papaya farm and half quarry, quite strange. As we cooked dinner and had our nightly debrief, we got to listen to the local population of howler monkeys, bark through into the air!

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~Mango groundscore!!!~

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~B-Koz takin’ in the countryside~

In the morning, we were quick to wake up and get on the road. We had 50 km to ride to Playa Naranjo and needed to be there by 1230 to catch the ferry that would take us across the Golfo de Nicoya  to mainland CR from the Nicoya Peninsula. The riding was pretty nice, getting to pass through farm country. We passed through endless farms of watermelon, melon, and some strange fruit that we couldn’t quite distinguish. We got to Playa Naranjo earlier than expected so we had a couple hours to chill out before taking the ferry. We started to talking to a local at the restaurant we were hangin’ at who was also a cyclist. He quickly pointed out the he also had razor sharp tan lines. Classic! He let us know that although the ferry was cheap to ride, the bikes were expensive, and are equated to motorcycles. But he gave us the local beta that if the bikes are in the back of a pick-up, it is free. So Bradie started crusing through the line of traffic builiding up for the ferry and found a local named Marco who let us put our bikes in his truck. Just after we finished loading our bikes, our cyclist friend handed us ferry tickets, gifting us free tickets! Man the generosity was just pouring out to us today!! The ferry was the nicest one we have taken so far, equipped with wifi, a bar, and shaded seats even! After a smooth, 1 hour ferry ride, we got off in Puntarenas, took our bikes and got some more shade for the remaining hour of the daily heat. It is really too hot to ride bikes from 12-3 in Costa Rica. After hangin’ beach side for an hour, we rode the rest of the afternoon/evening. There are 3 highways to San Jose, our end destination. We chose to take ruta 27, which is the newly built autopista and possibly the more tranquillo road. Soon after getting on 27, we kept our eyes out for a place to camp. Finding a dirt road, we explored it for a km or 2 until we found another abandoned quarry-like piece of land. It was less than ideal, but a place to camp. After eating dinner, the mosquitos came out and were absolutely unbearable. So we retreated to our tents, lying there naked, sweating like mad and scratching like crazy. It is even hot at night!

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~Roadside monkey sighting~

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~Loaded bikes, loaded on the ferry~

A couple hours before the sunrise, Tommy was awoken to a familiar, but strange sound. Thunder! Haven’t heard that since leaving home…So he woke up Bradie, told him the rain was coming and so we both got out of our tents, threw on our rainflys and went back to sleep, just before the morning precipitation fell. Allegedly, it doesn’t rain this time of year in Costa Rica, so that was the first strange occurence of the day. With only 70 km from San Jose, it could potentially be our last day of riding for this trip. It all depended on how steep the hill climb was going into San Jose, because it was really talked up to be tough. Before we could load our bikes, Tommy noticed he had a flat tire, making it the 20th of the trip. Not bothering to patch it, he replaced the tube, loaded the bike and we left camp. But not 100 feet away from camp, the tube had a strange blow out, forcing him to patch the tube we originally didn’t want to. Wow, 2 flat tires and we hadn’t even got on the road yet. Staying positive and not letting set backs such as these affect us, we patched the tube and got on the road. Both of us had an  extremely positive headspace and we climbed road the nice paved road. Reflecting back on all the great times we have had on the trip, it was impossible to have anything but a positive mindset. After talking to a local biker, we told us ruta 27 was muy tranquilo and basically flat compared to the other routes. Stoked on the route we took, we kept on crushing down the nicely paved road with wide shoulders. Being an autopista, it was the business route so there were lots of loud trucks, but no worries. We are sitting on cloud 9! With no shade in sight and stomachs empty, we decided to take our lunch under and overpass, giving a quick break from the shade! After a quick lunch and only 35 more km to San Jose, we pushed onward, realizing that we would make it to our final destination today! But as we got back on our bikes, Bradie realized that somehow he had gotten his 3rd flat tire of trip. Man, today is full of flats, but still can’t bring us down. After fixing it, we pressed on, smiling as the busy road echoed with honks of people cheering us on and giving us waves, thumbs up, and peace signs. Even though we have had some set backs, the universe has really been on our side today and fully stoked for us to complete our pilgrimage.

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~A fairly common road hazard here in Costa Rica~

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~Classic roadside bike repairs!~

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~…And bike maintenance~

Cruising past many toll booths indicating the highway prohibited cyclists, we found ourselves 25 km from Escazu ( a suburb of San Jose), where we would be staying for the next few days to rest and prepare for our trip back home. We gave our friend Jane a call indicating we would be arriving that night instead of the next day and she said that was fine. Jane is a friend of our grandmother who has reached out to help these tired tourists! As we got back to the highway, we started pedaling hard. For one the sunset was within an hour away and our stoke levels had reached “Fully Torqued”. With the end in sight, we began to reflect internally at all the amazing experiences we have had over the last few months. We have tried to express it in the blog as much as we can, but words can’t describe how amazing this trip has been. Crushing to reach Jane and Randy’s house, a brief rain came, which we welcomed openly. Only 5km, a man sitting in traffic in the opposite direction, yelled out “Your almost there!” This encouraging stranger had no idea how powerful his words were. We really were almost there. We were kilometers away from completing the greatest accomplishment of both our lives. Unashamed to admit it, Tommy even became teary eyed at his words…With the sun gone, and still some ground to cover, on our last day of riding, we broke our number 1 rule. “Don’t ride at night”.

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~What a view…Not far from San Jose~

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~Unintentionally posing with the bikes~

Finally though, after weaving through the night traffic and getting turned around due to misleading google maps, we made it to Randy and Jane’s home! We got off our bikes, high-fived and hugged each other and let out a sigh of relief. Although tired and weary from the road, we hade a lot of mixed emotions running through our minds. Bradie it best, “The grass is always greener on the other side”. We have been tired and worn out from months of non stop traveling, but now that we completed the task at hand, we want to ride more. It is that familiar bittersweet emotion that I am sure many of you reading can relate to…But to digress, Randy and Jane welcomed us into their home openly, handed us a beer, and pointed us to the shower. Somehow they could read our minds and knew exactly what we needed. The steaming shower felt amazing, washing off days of dirt and sweat! The rest of the night we sat around talking to our new friends and hosts about our experiences and learning about their crazy experiences living in Costa Rica for the last 20 years. They informed us on lots of things about Costa Rica good and bad and hows its not all Pura Vida like its made out to be.

The next morning we woke up, feeling tired but rested at the same time. The thought of not having to ride loaded bikes for the next few days felt great. We have four days hear in San Jose to rest, relax, and prepare for the long, but short journey home. Our time with Randy and Jane has been great and we can’t say thanks enough for all they are doing for us as we prepare for this major shift in lifestyle. Their hospitality towards us is unmatched and have been treating us like family members, its amazing!  They are really making our transition from bike tour to “real life” back home easy. Not only did they open their home to us, but they even went out of their way to get us boxes to put our bikes in. This was a chore that we thought might take us a full day to complete, but they saved us the headache and had the boxes waiting for us when we arrived. Their hospitality has really reminded us how fortunate we have been this entire trip!

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~How is this bike going to fit in there?~

As we conclude the story of Ranger Rides, we would like to reflect back to all the amazing experiences we have had. We have made countless numbers of new friends. We have gained knowledge is numerous new subjects. We have learned so much about Latin history and culture that we had not known. We can’t describe how much we have learned and gained from this trip. It is easily the greatest learning experience either one of us have ever had, filling us with an unimaginable amount of life experience. The generosity we have seen from complete strangers on this trip is completely unprecedented.  So many caring people have gone so far out of their way to help us in the time of need. So many people have opened up their homes to us in order to provide us with a safe, secure place to rest our heads, wash our bodies, and fill our stomachs. From the deepest part of our hearts, we want to thank EVERYONE who has helped us make it to where we are. Maybe you opened you home to us, fed us, directed us, taught us. You have all contributed and are part of The Ranger Ride. Thank you so much!!!

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~So long, its been a fun ride…Looking down on San Jose~

Although there are many strangers that helped us, there are also many new friends that we would like to list and personally thank, in a more or less chronological order of the trip:

– Greg Kozera, Prudence, Christian, Aunt Shannon and Uncle Jim, Roberto, Santa Rosalia Bomberos, Pete & Sonya, Rick, John, Mark & Jen, Steve, Dave, Steve, Wes & Michele, Kurt, Chuey, Rancho Sol y Mar, Al, Mark, Pepe & Bren, Ike & Laura, Christian, Warren, Santiago, Drunk guy in Salina Cruz, Rodrigo, Noé, Heinrich, Sean, Herbet, Vela, Juan & Pati Moreno, Anthony, Franzi, Tito,  Heidi & Ray, Jonathan, Marco, Elbert,  Jane and Randy, and last but certainly not least IKE AND HEN!!! And everyone else, you know who you are!!!

Soon we will be boarding the plan back home, flying back in hours from what it took months to arrive to. Bike tour is the greatest thing that has happened to us and completely life changing. This has been our first big bike tour, but it is most certainly not the last. It is a passionate subject to both of us and one which we could talk for hours about. If you have enjoyed the story over the last few months and felt inspired by our experiences, we have one piece of advice…GO ON BIKE TOUR! You will understand!

Adios!!!

Ranger B-Koz and Ranger Tom

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Nica, Volcan Hike, and Ometepe

In our last blog, we were in Honduras very close to the border of Nicaragua and our time in Nicaragua has been fantastic. Leaving Choluteca was easy for us because although the city is beautiful, it had some rough edges as well. On the outskirts of the city, a guy threw up some gang signs at us, but it appeared to be in a friendly manner. We were heading towards the border into Nicaragua and were only 40 km away. Twenty km from the border, we met one of the most inspirational bike tourists that we have encountered so far. Kim is from South Korea and has been bike touring with his two sons, twins, for the last three and a half years. And the kids are only seven! Kim rode and old bike with a large trailer that towed the kids and gear. His stories were very revitalizing and great to hear the encounters he has had…Kim informed us we were close to the border so we took off, with Nicaragua on our mind. The border crossing was muy tranquillo, easy paperwork, and we were scott free! We camped at this families yard that night not far from the border. We were given frijoles, tortillas y queso for dinner, which was a nice treat. After hanging out with the family for a while, they eventually insisted we sleep inside, away from ¨danger¨. They were convinced that the drunk neighbor would hassel us, so right as we were about to bed down, we shifted into the indoors.

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The sign says it all

Our next day in Nica, we got the pleasure of cycling around Volcan San Cristobal all morning. San Cristobal is the largest volcano in Nica and a very prominent formation as there is nothing but flat land in every direction. The volcano was beautiful, definately a sight worth staring at all day when escaping the view of paved road. We arrived to the city of Chinandega just around lunch time, where we wanted to chill for the afternoon, dig the scene, and then make our way south from there. We saw a Mexican taco restaurant and immediately decided to go there in order to feed our craving for tacos! Chinandega was a cool little city, filled with bike shops, large, old churches, and a very interesting central park. The park was scaped with toy castles, lots of play toys, and plenty of unique benches. After spending the afternoon in Chinandega, we biked south keeping our eyes out for a nice quite farm we could camp at. We found the perfect camp, a banana plantation, not far from the outside of the city. After asking permission to camp, we were granted a nice,quiet spot under some banana and avocado trees! Not only did we have camp, but we were told we could pick whatever fruits we wanted. With mango season coming soon, this would be perfect for foraging!

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Check out those razor sharp tan lines!

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Bike shadows

We took the morning slow, as we were pretty wiped from not having any rest days for over a week. The jefe of the farm stopped by our camp and told us that when we leave, stop by the office because he had fruit for us. When we got to the office, he handed us a overflowing grocery sack of grapefruits! Literally over 20 lbs. of grapefruit, way more than what we could eat. Graciously, we took them all with plans of handing them out to locals. Flor de Caña is the national rum in Nica and quite delicious is I do say so myself. The distillory was about 10km from our camp and we stopped to see how much the tour was. After finding out the ridiculous cost, we changed our minds on the tour and decided to make is further to Léon! The 25km to Léon was smooth, but we could definately tell we needed a rest day, which we would find in Léon.

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Volcan San Cristobal reflecting the sunset

The city is quite nice. It is a tourist hub and definately on the gringo circuit. After eating lunch at a local comedor, we sought out a hostel to rest our weary heads. We found Hostel Sonati. Tommy checked it out, the rooms were nice, proceeds go to local kids learning about eco-tourism, and there were tons of babes! Tommy told Bradie the previous and the babes is what sold him. As we entered and unpacked our bags, we were bombarded with questions from this old expat that was quite interested in bike touring. We also met our new friend Franzi there. She studied in Mexico and is now backpacking around. We made a pasta dinner with Franzi and then decided to go to the bar with her and some other travelers from the hostel. This is where we got to try the Flor de Caña for the first time and man is it sweet! A great rum! Some of you may have tried it as it has recently become world reknowned and sold globally. After a nice night out, Franzi and the Rangers stumbled back to the hostel and went to sleep!

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Our host family curiosly watching us cook breakfast

The morning was a little rough for the both of us. Not sure if it was the water or the food, but our stomachs were in knots and definately feeling sick. Regardless, we spent the day relaxing at the hostel, layin in the hammocks, reading books. Doing whatever we could to not ride bikes for the day. After touring the local market, we gathered a bunch of supplies to cook breakfast. We whipped up some eggs and Franzi fried some platanos! Fried platanos is definately a new favorite dish! We chilled out all day at the hostel, avoiding the heat as much as possible. Allegedly, Léon is the hottest city in Centro America. In the evening, we met up Ike and Hen and they sprayed us down with info on Volcan Telica. They had hiked it the day before and so Hen hand drew us a map and told us the beta we needed to hike the volcano without a guide. The map was courtesy of dirt bag tours! While at the volcano, Ike and Hen met this French guy named Tito who is a proffesional mountain biker and artist who is on a month long bike trip in Nica! We got to meet Tito briefly and it sounded like he had quite the adventure planned, biking all the volcanoes of Nica!

In the morning, we packed our bags to climb and camp at Volcan Telica! Leaving the bikes at the hostel, we jumped on the chicken bus and rode it to the national park where Telica was at. At the entrance of the park, there were these mud pots where boiling mud and water shot up from the earth! Pretty wild. We braved the heat of Nicaragua and started trekking up the volcano. It is funny how we bike every day and are in bike fitness but hiking is different muscle groups and we quickly realized we have not hiked in a while. The hike was really nice, pretty dusty, but nice. Only getting turned around once, we found our way to the top just before the sunset. There was a large field below the summit where the crater rests. This is where we would camp for the night and the other trekking tours were there as well. We quickly traversed to the westside of the volcano to watch the sunset. It was unreal! So bright and magnificent, one of the most memorable sunsets we have seen in a while. But as the sun was setting, something strange happened. It started pouring rain! For 30 minutes, the rains came down, washing off the dust from the trail, and soaking our clothes. Apparantly this is the first time it has rained in 5 months…After cooking dinner, we made our way to the crater of Telica. Telica is known to have a visible lava pool in the crater and is very audible. When we got to the top and looked down, it was absolutely incredible! The lava was pooled up in the bottom and the volcano was so lound it was amazing. It sounded like a boeing 737 screaming on the tarmack. We couldnt believe it, absolutely incredible. To make it better, Bradie spun fire at the top, staring into the depths of the Earth!

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Sunset from Volcan Telica

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The lava pool of Volcan Telica

In the morning, we woke up to watch the sunrise from the top. Camp was really nice, it was the first time we had camped in the backcountry, as every night we camp in the ¨frontcountry¨. We hustled down volcano and back to Léon shortly after sunrise in order to beat the heat. We rested at Hostel Sonati for the afternoon and repacked the bags before leaving. It was late afternoon by the time we left.  With the sunsetting, we started looking for camp about 20 km south of Léon. After questioning the Jefe of this building off the road, we were granted permission to camp. We found out this building was a safehouse, rehab center for the locals struggling with drug addiction. They told us it was muy tranquilo so we took there word, set up camp, and rested the busy day away.

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Gotta love the Toña

In the morning, Tommy was woken up to a huge bull staring at him in curiousity from 5 feet away. Bradie was getting quite the kick out of the staredown. Packing up camp, we got on the road and set out toward Managua. As soon as we hit the highway, the wind picked up. One thing that we have noticed about Nica, is that it is always windy here. Struggling with the wind, we put our heads down and pushed through the heat and wind. Weary from the wind, we got reminded how awesome our lives are by taking lunch at a restaurant lakeside of Lago de Managua. The lake is massive, surrounded by Volcanoes and mountains. We made the push, hoping to make it outside of Managua to bandit camp. Unfortunately, Managua was bigger than we expected and with the sunsetting, we had no other option than to get a hotel. The hotel was pretty expensive for our budget but thanks to the gracious gift from Ray and Heidi Schneider we got to indulge ourselves…Hands down the nicest shower we have had in months. We thoroughly enjoyed the steaming hot water.

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The morning staring contest…

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It´s always windy in Nica

The next day, our plan was to cycle to Granada, dig the scene for a couple hours and then bike past it halfway to San Jorge, where we wanted to catch the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. After crushing the 35km from Managua to Granada, we got there just in time for lunch. Browsing the streets for eats, Tommy saw a sign that said ¨Breakfast Buffet¨. Instantly, both of us knew we needed to eat there. We have been searching for the ellusive buffet the entire trip and have finally found it. As we stuffed out faces with omelettes, hashbrowns, and waffles, Tommy saw Bradie look forward and say ¨No fuckin´way!¨ Tommy looked back and saw Franzi walking through the restaurant which was also a chocolate museum. We had brief facebook contact with Franzi and had tentative plans of meeting up at Granada or Ometepe, but it was wild running into her like that! We caught up on the past few days while we continued to eat. That is when Bradie realized he forgot his ipod in Managua at the hotel. Deciding to grab the next chicken bus back to get it, Franzi helped Tommy monitor the bikes. Tommy chilled in the park with Franzi, chattin´her up, and drinkin beers in our chairs. Franzi got a taste of the bike tour lifestyle and how we often chill in the park, diggin the scene!

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Chillin in the park with Franzi (Total Babe)

Bradie didn´t return until late afternoon, making it too late to bike. So we got a room at the same hostel that Franzi was at and would take the ferry from Granada the next day. We stayed at Oasis Hostel which came with pancakes in the morning. They say they are free pancakes, but who are we kidding, they are just included. Also staying at the hostel was Tito our French buddy. We got to chill with Tito, Franzi, Emily, and Ashley for the night in our newly established crew. It felt like we were on the backpacker circuit again, but it was cool. Granada is a nice colonial city, right on the shore of Lake Nicaragua!

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Just another day in paradise

In the morning, we lounged around at the hostel, waiting for 2pm ferry to leave for Isla de Ometepe! Anxious for the 6 hour boat ride, we loaded the bikes onto the boat and prepared for take off. Our large group of friends occupied one side of the large ferry as we started to trek across the lake. One source had told us the ferry ride was a scientifically designed boat ride to please the Masochist, so we knew we had a bumpy ride ahead of us. The water was choppy, waves crashing into the boat as we crossed the 10th largest fresh water lake in the world! Watching the sunset from the boat was quite beautiful and a very tranquilo setting. We arrived to Isla de Ometepe after dark, and biked to a nearby hostel. Being the dirt bags we are, we just set up our hammocks in the courtyard of the hotel instead of purchasing a room. The gang went and got some dinner at the nearby restaurant and shared a few liters of Toña, the delicious national pilsner!

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Ferry to la Isla with the volcanoes in the horizon

The next few days on the Isla de Ometepe were very tranquilo. We spent 4 days there, enjoying the slow pace of the island lifestyle. We made camp at a finca (farm) called La Brisa. It was up a trail in the jungle, so we locked the bikes up at a locals house and then trudged up the trail with bags in hand. La Brisa was one of the coolest places we have camped. Full of edible plants, an outdoor kitchen, an open air shower staring at Volcan Maderas, and a composting toilet. The perfect sustainable establishement we were looking for.

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Stackin bananas on the island

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A rare moment when the clouds aren´t encompassing Volcan Concepcion

While on the island, we spent time on the beach with Franzi, Tito, and friends. We soaked in the sun, while staring at the two volcanos on both sides of the island. Our second day on the island, we decided to do a fruit fast for the day, indulging ourselves in loads of locally grown fruits. However, the fast ended in disaster when we decided to cook a large rice and veggie dish for dinner. Franzi was leaving the next day, so we wanted to have farewell dinner party for our new, but great friend! We chilled out really hard while on the island. Camping with Tito the whole time, we really got know him well, and all of the awesome travel stories that he has. It was a very humble experience on the island, eating nothing but locally produced food, living super low impact. Breakfast was fried platanos grown on the isla with eggs and cheese sourced from the neighbor. It was really cool getting to walk to the neighbors house to get supplies for the day! We also got to cycle around pretty much the entire island, checking out all of the villages and seeing how they different villages go about their lives. Our experience on the island was great and definately one of the highlights of the trip.

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Yaaa…Camp was pretty cool (La Brisa)

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The view from Finca Mystica, another sustainable farm on the island

We decided to leave the island on Saturday Feb 22, Tommy´s Bday! We spent the morning biking to the oppisite side of the island to the village Moyogalpa, where the ferry left from. The ride was muy tranquilo, getting to more or less circumnavigate the entire island. We arrived just in time for the ferry, bought our tickets, and hopped on the boat heading mainland. Since Tommy´s birthday is today and Bradie´s birthday tomorrow, we decided to continue our tradition of sharing the birthday party. We were heading into San Juan del Sur, a well known party spot, for the celebration. After getting lunch, we smashed the 30 km to San Juan, to find a nice little beach crawling with young tourists. San Juan was exactly what we had expected and been told. Americanized, full of 18+ year old travelling for the first time and getting obnoxiously drunk. Luckily, we got a room in the cheap quite hotel and could visit the party hostel if we so choose.

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Rad bus at El Zopilote…Another sustainable farm at the island!

Our birthday celebration consisted of a bottle of Flor de Caña,  several beers and a little bar hopping. We checked out this place called the Black Whale, which had some live music and fire spinners. Bradie rushed home to get his poi and was spinning with the performers. Sickin! Our celebration was great.

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Bikes WILL save the planet!

We celebrated on Tommy´s birthday and are recovering on Bradies´s birthday. The perfect combo.  Tomorrow we are leaving San Juan and heading to Costa Rica! With only a week and a half left of the trip, we can almost taste the crisp Colorado air! But we are making the most out of the time we have left, loving everyday. Next time you hear from us, we will be in San Jose, Costa Rica, preppin´ our bikes and boxes for the voyage home!

Stay tuned for the conclusion of Ranger Rides!

-Ranger B-Koz and Ranger Tom

 

Finca Camping, Amazing Hospitality, and Border Crossings!

One thing that we always embrace on bike tour is change. This trip has evolved so much since its´ start and it continues to do so. Since the last blog many sizeable changes have taken place. The first is our return plans home. Optimistically we thought we could be in Ecuador by March when we needed to return, but that is not the case. We are returning March 5 from SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA! Needing to return for work, this is the new plan, and although we are bummed we´re not making it to the equator, the trip is amazing regardless. The other change is that the rangers and Ike and Hen have decided to break into groups of 2. With so many options to do in Centro and different agendas due to our return, it only makes sense to split up and have the journey become 2. We wish Ike and Hen all the luck headin´down to Mundial in Brasil and knew we would see them down the road.

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Sick painting of Everest at Base Camp Hostel in Antigua

We parted ways in Antigua, Guatemala and headed into the valley between the three giant volcanoes that emcompasses the colonial town (Volcan Fuego, Agua, y Acatenango). The ride was all downhill leaving the volcans which put icing on the cake to getting to stare at these massive mounds as we biked away. Camp was quite interesting that night and marked off our goal of staying in an abandoned building. We found this industrial compound that had clearly been destroyed by fire and now was unoccupied. We took pleasure in calling this eerie setting our camp for the night. It was our first night camping in a couple days and felt good to roll out the thermarest and sleeping bag.

IMG_1966Abandoned building campsite

In the morning, we went through the daily routine of coffee, oats with banana, and stretches. Just after we got on the road, we both looked to your right at the beautiful lookout of Volcan Fuego. As we stared in awe, smoldering began to arise from the caldera and a mild eruption took place! This is the closest either of us have come to seeing a volcanoe erupt and it was magnificent! As we rode away from the highlands of Guatemala, the road was downhill and the wind at our back (the 2 conditions you hope for most)! After a long day of riding, we started to inquire about camp for the night and that is when we met Herbert, who ran a tilapia farm. More than happy to host us, Herbert sliced us up some sugar cane and even cooked us dinner! Exhausted from the day, both of us feel asleep at six pm and didn´t wake up until six the next day. Twelve hours of sleep is definately out of the norm…

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Volcan Fuego

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Herbert´s amigo casting the net to catch tilapia

If the hospitality Herbet showed us wasn´t enough, we were provided breakfast as well. We were given the desayuno tipico (eggs with beans and tortillas), one of our favorites. As we rode on, enjoying our last full day of Guatemala, we took in the beautiful scenery until Tommy´s seat clamp broke. Looking for a roadside fix with what we had,  Bradie improvised by using the bolt on an extra brake pad to clamp the seat. It works great! Again searching for camp, we sought out this family who had a nice patch of grass for us to camp in. Before we could even finish asking, Fila the owner had said yes, and soon we would be welcomed into to one of the most hospitiable camp spots of the trip. We  were given a tour of the ranch that the family managed, as well as the Lagoon behind the house, where the fish for dinner had been caught. Fila´s wife cooked us fried tilapia with beans and of course fresh made tortillas! If dinner  wasn´t enough, it came with 2 beers as well. Wow! Dinner and beer what more can you ask for right? How about getting to milk the cows in the morning? Neither one of us had ever milked cows before and tomorrow morning at six am, we got to join Fila and family to the daily chore of milking the cows.

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The roadside seat fix…

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Laguna Grande

Six am came early, but with the anticipation of milking the cows it was well worth the early wake up call. We showed up with Fila and the others had already got to work. It was amazing at how fast they could milk the cows, making it look easy. Before we could milk the cows, we had to drink coffee and we enjoy a little milk in the coffee. So naturally, we put our coffee cups right under the udder and got the milk straight from the teet! First time for us. The coffee was great and now we are ready to milk some cows. It definately not as easy as it looks and our first few tugs on the udders produced no milk. Naturally, the locals were getting their kicks out of seeing the gringos fail at producing milk. After they got their laugh, they showed us the trick to getting the milk out and soon we were milking away, however, not near the velocity they could. Everyday the cows are milked producing around 60 liters. The family takes enough for daily usage and then leaves the rest to be sold for three Quetzales per liter ($.35). That is pretty cheap for farm fresh milk!

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Bradie concentrating on his technique

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Farewell photo with the entire family

After milking the cows, we hit the road, only 5 km away from the border of El Salvador! As we approached the border, semi trucks were lined in traffic kilometers long. It appears each truck has to be rigorously searched before crossing the borders. Some of the truck drivers were taking advantage of the traffic by stringing their hammocks up under the trucks and catching a nice little siesta. The border crossing went smooth as butter and we were off into the unknown, our third country of the trip! The land of Pupusas! It seemed like as soon as we crossed the border, the temperature increased! Not far off the border, we saw two guys walking down the road and they quickly held up a glass bottle, indicating that we should stop for a drink. Agua diente! Sugar cane alcohol! After taking a sip, they informed us that in 2 days, (Feb 2) was the election, and these guys are already celebrating. Upon searching for camp around a sugar cane field, we stumbled across a treehouse in a large tree in the middle of the crop. Saying Hola, we found the watchtowerman who invited us to camp. He would be working all night looking for crop vandals and providing us with a personal security guard for the night! As it was friday night, the watchman had his buddies come hang out in the treehouse, drink beers, and bull shit. We hung out with the dudes for a little bit and then hit the hay!

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Sleeping the traffic away

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Treehouse camp

The next day, our plan was to make the 85-90 km push to San Salvador, where we had a warmshower host established. The first half of the day was an uphill climb to inland El Salvador. The climb also came with a beautiful backdrop of Volcan Santa Ana, the largest volcanoe in El Salvador. Around lunchtime we stopped roadside to get our first pupusas of El Salvador! A pupusa can vary, but it is typically a tortilla filled with beans and chicharon and always topped with pickled cabbage salad! It is so delicious and great fuel for cycling! After lunch, crushed out the remaining 40 km to San Salvador that ended with a huge downhill into the busy city. Passing cars, swerving in between traffic, we made our way through the city to a busy restuarant corridor. From there, we made a call to Juan, our warmshower host, who informed us he would meet us at our location in 10 minutes! Juan showed up on his motorcycle and escorted us to his apartment and our residence for the next 3 days! Juan and family live in central San Salvador near the National University. Upon arriving, we met his lovely family, wife Patricia and daughters Paola and Lucia. After washing up, we joined Juan´s family and their family friends for dinner at what must be the best pupuseria in the city! We got to ride in the back of the truck to the restuarant which is a cultural experience in of itself! The pupusas were delicious, as were the pan dulces that came as dessert! The night was concluded with a walk through the street fair, crowed with food vendors, arteseans, and clowns!

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Volcan Santa Ana

Upon waking up, we were greeted with breakfast from Juan who had just got back from his early morning ride. Juan is a cyclist himself and has been riding/competing for 25 years. After breakfast, Juan drove us to the top of Volcan San Salvador to check out the ecological park at the top, where we could look down the caldera and see the crater! While driving there, we got to talk to Juan about his experiences fighting in The El Salvadeño Civil War  in the early ´90s. Although our view on war is negative, it was great to learn this local history and get to understand the problems that were plaguing the country. As we said, it is election day for the President, so we got to join Juan and Pati as they cast their vote for President. The voting system is interesting in that you actually go to the park where voting booths are set up and you write in your vote. None of this early voting, mail in ballot stuff we deal with in The States. Another interesting fact about the El Salvador election is that the sale of alcohol is prohibitted the day before through the day after the election. This was unfortunate for us as we wanted to partake in some libations while watching The Broncos de Denver win The Superbowl, but we all know how that worked out…

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Bradie´s new favorite pastime

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Juan and Bradie looking out over Volcan San Salvador

If we hadn´t seen enough great hospitality already, Juan handed us the keys to his house and left it to us for the day as the family went to work and school. We took advantage of having a house and did laundry, washed our dishes, and hung the sleeping bags out to dry. After doing our chores, we took a stroll into the Centro of San Salvador. It felt good to be off the bikes and walk around. We met up with Ike and Hen in the centro, where we admired the beautiful architecture of the National Palace and The Cathedral. Upon seeing an open air barber in the streets of San Salvador, Bradie got a straight razor shave and Tommy a beard trim. We loved the dirt bag bike tourist look, but also felt like cleaning up! On our walk back home, we picked up supplies to cook dinner for the family as a way to say thanks for everything they had done for us. Annd we also got Patricia some roses…Aren´t we sweet! Dinner was delicious! Tommy cooked some curry chicken and Bradie preparred the salad and rice!  The rest of the night was spent talking to Juan about very interesting topics such as US Immigration policies, Social Security, and the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado!

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Eating Pupusas…I think the barber missed a spot

Juan and family gets up at the crack of dawn everyday for work and school, so we did as well so we could give a proper good-bye since we were leaving that day. We can´t thank Juan enough for the amazing hospitality we were shown while staying at his house. The family went above and beyond what may be  asked of a great host and we really felt at home while there. Unfortunately, Patricia was not feeling well so she stayed home, which allowed to hang out with her as we packed our bags. She sent us off with a lunch packed with sandwiches and these delicious little cookies called ¨Chickys¨. Feeling great and really stoked on life after having such a great time in San Salvador, we hit the road heading to the coast of El Salvador, where the road is supposed to be flat and of great quality. As soon as we climbed out of the valley surrounding San Salvador, we descended 35 km of sustained downhill that brought us to the coastal highway of El Salvador. Once coastal, we felt the heat everyone more inland was talking about. However, the scenery was beautiful and full of sugar cane that had fallen out of the transport truck. The sugar cane is an excellent source of enery while riding and quite fun to process, as it requires shedding the outside bark with the machete! Towards the end of the day with the thought of camp in the back of our mind, we saw two bike tourists on bridge, peering over the river. Who did it happen to be but the second best bike tourists (next to us) in Centro America, Ike and Hen! After catching up on the days happenings, we rode as a pack again for the evening to find camp. We got to stay on a families property that gathered their water from a hand drawn well. As Tommy biked to go get pan dulce for dinner, he came back to see Bradie pulling 5 gallons of water from 20 meters below the earths surface! Camping with the dudes was great! We had a bike tour camp cook-off, Rangers vs. Sustainably South, where I hate to admit it, but the unanimous decision was that Sustainably South won!

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Voting Salvadeño style!

Ike and Hen had a football match with the kids that lived at the house in the morning. While they played ball, we took advantage of the early  morning and tried to beat the heat! After getting a few km to warm up, we saw the opportunity for the perfect skitch (a tow while riding the bike). A farm tractor was trudging down the highway at about 25 kmph, with perfect handholds on either side. As it passed us, we held on for as long as the tractor was going on the highway, which ended up being about 10 km. By far our best skitch on the trip! We stopped for lunch at a roadside comedor, where we got a huge plate of food and a beer for $2.75. The benefit of being on the dollar in El Salvador is that you can visually see the price differences as to what something would cost back home. After lunch, we pushed through the brutalizing heat for another 50 km, and getting within 20 km of Playa Playitas, a small beach on the southern tip of El Salvador. Asking a local family to camp, they quickly said yes. We found out we would actually be staying in the local church, that was the Iglesia for the 5-10 families that lived in this little rural neighborhood. Typically when we camp at someones house, we talk to them for a little bit and then they let us be alone, understanding that we are tired. But this family was too intrigued by the gringos staying at their place. From the time we showed up to the time we went to sleep, there was anywhere from 3-8 people standing over us, watching everything we did, and touching our gear. We don´t want to sound ungrateful because they provided us with shelter for the night, but they had kind of taken it too far and were invading our privacy. It is understandable to an extent though, these people are pretty isolated from the outside world and having two gringos on bicycles stay with them is bound to spark some curiosity.

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They sell water in bags down here…

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Finally checked camping in the church off the list

However, in the morning, the family had taken it a little far. We had just barely opened our eyes and they were hovering in the windows of the church looking at us  and that is when we knew it was time to go. Quickly we packed our bags and said thank you for the hospitality. We got out of there and recollected our headspace as we drank some coffee at a roadside park. From there, we pedaled the bike to Playa Playitas to check out the beach for the day. The last 11 km of the road was rather rocky and bumpy so when we arrived to the beach, we were definiately ready for a dunk in the ocean. Playitas is a tiny beach crowed with lanchas that the local pescadores use to fish. After taking a swim we enjoyed a couple beers while gettin´some color. We decided to take the bus out of the beach and avoid riding the harsh road and for $.75 for a bus ride, who could beat it? The bus dropped us off at La Union where we got some pan dulces from the market and the necessary supplies for dinner. We hit the road, back tracking past the curious families house but making note to look the other way. Finding ourselves 20 km from the Frontera (border), we made camp at this water park that looked EXTREMELY inviting. There was a pool, a petting zoo, literally 3000 chickens, and mango trees. The perfect campsite! After getting the 3rd degree interogation from the owner, who wanted to see our passports and know our religion, we were granted entry. Naturally, we took a dip in the pool, washed the day off and chilled at camp!

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Playa Playitas

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Takin´a swim before settin´up camp

The next day, we are crossing into our fourth country of the trip, Honduras! The morning went really smooth, enjoying the nice rolling hills that lead us to the border. Same as crossing into El Salvador, lines of truck traffic crowded the road, but this time there were no hammocks! The border crossing went extremely smooth…We had to pay a small entrance fee, but with the fee came a stamp, which we were extremely pleased to get since we didn´t get one for El Sal. Not only did we cross the border but today also marked the 100th day of bike tour, indicating it takes exactly 100 days to bike from San Diego to Honduras!  It seemed like as soon as we crossed the border, the wind picked up and would continue to blow for the remainder of the day. For our afternoon siesta, we found what appeared to be an abandoned house, but it was actually occupied. Granted permission by the little niños who were playing there, we chilled out and passed the heat. The one little niño really liked one of the bracelets that Tommy had and he ended up trading for the necklace Jose had. Stoked for the trade! We pressed one, grinding through the wind for the remainder of the day. As the sunset was nearby, we sought out camp. Tommy spotted Casa del Amarillo and asked Maria the house owner for permission to camp in the back yard. Perhaps it was the shade of yellow of the house or the gated entry, but the house looked very appealing! Maria permitted us to camp and even set up hammocks for us to sleep in, mixing it up from sleeping in the tent every night. Along with the hammocks, we were also given a plate of sliced fruit, the perfect treat after a long day of riding! Our first day in Honduras has been muy tranquillo (very chill) and we enjoyed our interactions with the locals thoroughly!

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Wormin through the dead stop traffic. Another perk of bike tour

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Honduras roadside fire behavior

Not having much to pack up, we got an early morning start to make it to Choluteca where we wanted to take a rest day. It was only 40 km to the city and a very casual route, which included a couple skitches from passing semi trucks. One great thing about El Salvador and Honduras is the plethora of sugar cane that lays roadside after falling off the trucks. Instinctively, we forage the cane for a quick energy boost. Upon arriving in Choluteca, we were intrigued by the scene that encompasses the city. Definately a modernized area of the city but also a traditional and natural feel to the city. We copped a cheap hotel room to rest for the night, watch some Olympics, and maybe catch a little buzz, eh eh?

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Hammied out…

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Bridge crossing into Choluteca!

And that is where we leave you…Soon we will head down the road and position ourselves to cross the border of Nicaragua tomorrow morning. It is hard to believe we have less than a month left on this amazing journey. What lies ahead of us, is unknown but one thing for sure is that it will be incredible. With so many amazing places on our path ahead, it will be hard to spend the time we would like at all of them, but that is per usual for bike tour!

So much to do and so little time! In the words of Steve, ¨Life is fuckin´great man!¨

-Ranger Bee Koz and Ranger Tom

Volcanoes, Lakes, and The Pan American

The last time we left you, the crew was still in Mexico, anticipating the border crossing into Guatemala. The day of border crossing was a complete mess from start to end. The day started with two flat  tires from this German man named Heinrich we met the day prior. Then Tommy finished his last 10 km of Mexico with two flats as well.  Going over the border we were already flustered. As the border hustlers tried to rush us and scam us for our last pesos, we pushed them aside, took care of business in the Border office and got our exit stamps. Same story goes for getting stamped into Guatemala, quick and harmless because we knew what needed to happen and were not about to let some scam artists take us.

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~Finally made it to Guate!~

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~The little Potojos (ducklings) that greeted us upon crossing into Guate~

Once over the border, Tommy’s streak of bad luck with flats continued and he got two more within being 15 km into Guatemala. Tired and frustrated from the days mishaps, Tommy decided to hop on the bus that Hen was taking to Quetzaltenango (aka Xela). Hen was suffering from sickness and exhaustion and was not physically well enough to conquer the mountain passes that lie between the border and Xela. As Hen and Tommy loaded their bikes onto the chicken bus, they boarded the evening bus to Xela, not quite knowing what to expect. The bus driver was extremely friendly to us and so was the other locals we conversated with. We were in the “friendly Valley”. As the bus winded through the mountainous passes of Guatemala, we had the opportunity to gaze at the full moon (our 3rd of the trip) over the jungle mountains. Exhausted from the day, Hen and Tommy checked into the hotel near the bus terminal and slept the day away.

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~The not so packed chicken bus that we took to Xela~

The next day Hen and Tommy were waiting around the Central Park of Xela anticipating the arrival of Bradie, but had no idea if he would show up that day or the next. As Tommy was talking to a local, helping him practice English, he saw out of the corner of his eye a white helmet and a fully loaded bicycle ride, instinctively knowing that  it was Bradie. Stopping mid conversation, he ran and flung his sombrero toward Bradie and with deadly accuracy nearly knocked him off his bike! Bradie had been reunited with the crew, but we were still awaiting Ike to show up later that day.  The rest of the day was spent drinking coffee in the square and recollecting various adventures  over the last month. It sounded like Bradie and Diana had quite the adventure, as well as the bike crew. We grabbed a cheap hostel for the night based on the advice of our friend Warren, who we just ran into again after meeting him in Puerto Escondido on New Years.

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~Posted up in the square of Xela…Helping Carlos practice English~

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~I think Mr. Manana had too much to drink~

After reconvening with Ike the next day, the bike crew  plus Diana and Warren all shuffled over to the popular Black Cat Hostel where we would make our home for the next two nights. Xela is a beautiful city located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala and sits below the active volcanoe Santa Maria. The scenery of the mountains that engulfed Xela was breathtaking and definitely brought these Colorado boys back to home a little bit. The coast of Mexico was great but we love being in the mountains. Our time spent in Xela was amazing! During the day we would browse the streets visiting the local markets and exchanging conversation with various locals and travelers. The Quetzltrekkers volunteers were hosting a benefit party for the local children, so we attended this wild bash and were drinking for the kids! What a great cause!?! Another highlight of our 3 day binge in Xela was “Fuentes Georginas”, the natural hot springs in the jungle mountains outside of Xela. We got a large group from the hostel together and we took a tour bus to the hot springs. We have all been blessed to visit some of the best hot springs in the world, but as far as scenery goes, Fuentes Georginas may take the cake! It was also the backdrop of the crew’s infamous farewell Mexico postcard.

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~The main pool at Fuentes Georginas!~

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~Our homemade postcard…Give us your address!~

After 3 days in Xela, Tommy and Ike decided to move onward towards Lago de Atitlan. Bradie and Diana were going to feel out Xela for one more day and then meet up in Lago De Atitlan the day after. Hen wanted to explore the opportunity to do some solo adventuring.  Tommy and Ike took off from Xela around noon, choosing to ride two half days to get to San Pedro, a small pueblo around Atitlan. Exiting Xela, Ike and Tommy entered onto the Pan American Highway, the world’s longest contiguous road. Smooth pavement and a wide shoulder greeted us as we started climbing a beautiful pass that overlooked the volcanoes and the large valley we were leaving. The climb was great, passing through farm country allowing us to harvest leafy greens and farva beans. As always a climb welcomes a downhill section that we cruised through and led us to our home for the night. Taking a turn to explore what the sign said was a waterfall park, Ike and Tommy came across a forest playground. This park was equipped with jungle swings, teeter-totters, monkey bars, and tree houses all made from the pine trees harvested on site! It was the coolest park either us had visited and hands down our favorite campsite on tour so far!

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~La Rosa Azul parked on the pass, with Vulcan Santa Maria in background~

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~Ike on the Jungle Swing~

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~Cascade de Domingo, down the trail from camp~

Next day, we biked to the top of the pass and got to see the overlook of Lago de Atitlan , the volcanoes encircling it, and the pueblos that surrounded the lake. Absolutely stunning! One of the most beautiful backdrops we had seen, anxiously we started cruising down the steep roads to get lakeside. Saying this road is steep is an understatement. Easily the wildest road we have ever been on…Steep, sharp curves left and right! We typically pride ourselves on not using brakes on downhill sections, but this road, we boasted of how hard we were gripping the brakes! The road switch backed over 50 times easily! After 2 hours of traversing down this vertical mountainside, we finally made it to San Pedro, the more lively pueblo around the lake. Ike and Tommy found the Yo Mamma’s Casa, a hostel that hooked us up with a great deal for the group that would arrive shortly. Sending Bradie a message on how to find us, Ike and Tommy passed the time by watching the Broncos seal the deal and go to the Superbowl!!!

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~Overlooking Lago De Atitlan with San Pedro at the base of the Volcan~

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~Lookin’ across the beautiful Lago~

The next day and a half was spent chillin in San Pedro, checkin out the hippie vibe that surrounded the lake and San Pedro.  Gypsies, artesians, organic food shops, and juice bars lined the streets. The people of San Pedro were a unique culture, a mix between hippie locals, Mayans, and travelers. The market in San Pedro was large and offered avocados for 1Q, which is equivalent to $.13! We got the opportunity to see this awesome reggae ska band at a joint called “Sublime”. The music was great, the bar was a great place, the vibe really reminded us of home. Hen met up with us, the crew was reunited again, and all was good in the world. Lago de Atitlan is a pretty magical place and it is easy to understand why travelers get sucked into the lake lifestyle for months on end.

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~Ike posted up at Yo Mamma’s Casa with new friends~

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~Really cool mural on a street in San Pedro~

The next day Hen, Tommy, and Ike decided to take the lancha (water taxi) across the lake to another pueblo called San Marcos. Bradie and Diana decided to stick around San Pedro and chill with Paul, a traveling friend of Diana’s from a year prior, who happened to be in San Pedro again. Loading bikes onto boats has gotten easier of the months…San Marcos is known to attract a more tranquil  form of hippies including but not limited to: Yoga babes, spiritual healers, vegans, musicians, and writers. A really cool vibe, especially the overwhelming amount of the Yoga babes! An ex-pat named Rick quickly spotted us as we got off the boat and is stoked on bike tourists. His girlfriend Julie Schumann owns Posada Schumann which is lakeside and right next to the dock.  He invited us to camp in the empty grass space on the outside of the Hotel, where we had a private dock, a secure location for our stuff, tucked away from sight! This is also in the list of the top places we have camped! If Rick’s hospitality wasn’t enough, he also bought us dinner from the restaurant! What a great guy and a welcoming entrance into San Marcos.

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~Camp in San Marcos~

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~…And the view from camp~

Our full day that we spent in San Marcos was very interesting, especially to the more rational minded people. We decided to attend a Cacao Ceremony that was led by a man named Keith but more commonly known as the Cacao Shaman.  The ceremony was initiated by everyone drinking a chocolate mixed drink made from Mayan spiritual grade chocolate. The next four hours was spent meditating and having Keith guide us through the ceremony. The cacao is supposed to help one harness the energy within ourselves, guide our thoughts, and potentially produce a spiritual experience for the individual. It was a very interesting experience and we all had different opinions of the experience. But overall we had a positive experience and something worth trying if given the opportunity. After coming back to our luxurious campground, we were offered dinner again by Rick. We gratefully accepted and had a delicious meal with Rick and enjoyed the stories he had to share.

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~Bikes on Boats~

Our last day on the lake we went to the more developed town called Panajachel, which offered the exit out of the lake within the Volcanic crater. Panajachel was okay, definitely more touristy than we wanted and nothing worth sticking around for more than one day. So with the crew finally all together and ready to ride bikes the next day. Our time on Lago de Atitlan was great and definately too short. Atitlan is one of those places that you could travel too and just stay indefinitely. But were ramblers and we gotta go!

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~Awesome mural on the street in Pana…Oh how the turntables have…~

Leaving Panajachel was a lot easier on paper. The road out of “Pana”, was a 6 km of vertical roads. If the grade of the road was not enough, battling traffic up this steep slope was another story. Tommy feeling the affects of some sort of stomach bug wasn’t in the shape to climb this road, so he stopped and got a hitchhike to the top from the local police. The other boys bravely climbed to the top where they would meet Tommy in the town of Solola. Ike and Hen were feeling stoked to ride and Tommy didn’t have the energy to ride much for the day, so just as the group had gotten back together, we separated again. So us two Rangers stuck around Solola for an hour or so, rested in the park, and gathered the energy to push a little further before the Puesta del Sol (Sunset). Leaving Solola was difficult as the road above the town was just as steep as the road below. Once at the top, we searched for camp high and low, but no one was willing to help us out. We asked two churches, the police, and at least 10 plus farmers if we could camp on their land, only to be shut down by everyone. This was a first for us. Defeated and dark, we had to race back to Solola to find a cheap hotel to sleep the day away and start fresh manana.

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~One last look at Lago de Atitlan~

So we got to climb the hill out of Solola twice. The second time was easier as Tommy’s stomach was feeling better, perhaps a 48 hour stomach bug. On the top of the climb, Bradie groundscored 8 cans of beans that appeared to have fallen off a truck! We are always in search for the infamous road treasures and this by far was one of the best! Finally, we had reached the Pan American again and got to appreciate the quality road and wide shoulder! The rest of the morning was spent climbing and descending mountainous passes. Up and down all day, fighting with a windy storm system that was passing through. This day proved to be full of suprises. At a roadside snack stand, Tommy was inquiring the price of the honey the man had for sale. He had a few different varieties that Tommy tried. Miel Pura, Miel Blanca, and Miel Negra. After sampling the first two, Tommy was sat down, head tilted back, and the man poured the miel negra into Tommy’s eye. Stinging with pain, the man told him to relax and that his eye would feel fine in 5 minutes. Apparantly this is a good practice for increasing your vision and providing energy. Meanwhile, Bradie is standing in the background, not exactly sure what just happened to Tommy. Later in the day, we met another bike tourist named Yuta, a guy from Tokyo, Japan. Yuta is biking the Pan American from Vancouver to the tip of Argentina by himself! What a chiller!  After riding with Yuta for a bit, we split up to find our home for the night. Our camp was at an abandoned house in construction which had nice, flat patch of grass, big enough for two tents.

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~ Free Frijoles! Yes please~

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~These terraced farmland is absolutely amazing~

Camped just south of a town called Tecpan, we were only 45 km away from Antigua, which is where we would meet up with Ike and Hen and a sought out tourist city in Guatemala. The morning ride was beautiful…After we dropped into a wide open valley, we were staying at the Volcanoes Fuego and Agua for the rest of the day. Even better, Antigua is located at the base of these two giant volcanoes. Part way through our day, we ran back into Yuta who had gotten a flat tire. Once he got back on the road, we cycled with him for the remainder of the day. The ride into the Antigua was quite enjoyable, mostly downhill but also some short, steep uphill sections. It was odd arriving into Antigua because we didn’t even know we were there, until someone said we were. No signs saying “Welcome” or anything. The cobblestone roads made it difficult to ride as well. But we found a cool hostel called Base Camp Hostel. It is a hub for adventurists to congregate, go on awesome expeditions and meet other adventurists. It is a pretty cool place and full of other travelers with great experiences under their belt.

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~Our new buddy Yuta~

So this is where we leave you. Hanging out in Antigua for the next day and a half checkin out the the colonial vibe that Antigua holds. Very old architecture, collapsed churches, and tourists line the streets. We hope to be summiting either Vulcan de Fuego or Vulcan de Pacaya in the foreseeable future. Our two weeks in Guatemala have been absolutely amazing. The food is great! The culture is intriguing! Couldn’t have been better!

What ever adventures lie in store are welcomed with open arms and heavy bikes! Can’t wait for whatever is next!

Stay Tuned

-Ranger Bee Koz and Ranger Tom

BeeKoz’s vacation from bike tour

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.

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~Cruisin’ with Ike, Laura, and Reggae on the Down to Earth Bus~

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~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!

 

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~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.

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~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.

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~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

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~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.

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~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.

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~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.

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~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.

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~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