Donnerstag, 22. Dezember 2011

English Summary No. 10

Costa Rica
Yeah, well, let's see how much I remember from those hot days in Central America. We were quite happy to leave Puerto Limon which was by far our least favorite place so far. The rest of Costa Rica was much nicer although often too expensive for our liking. One positive thing were the numerous good bakerys and its beautiful nature with a lots of colorful flowers and birds that disapeared once we crossed the border to Nicaragua. 

In Nicaragua we visited the island Ometepe, an interesting place formed of two grown-together volcanoes. What shocked me a little were the many very thin horses in that lush green area. The guide we hired for a "sight seeing" tour figured that farmers' work is hard and as the horses were farmers as well their work is eaqually hard, this is why they're thin. I couldn't really believe that, not even Peruvian horses were that bony and there is much less food there. I figure people just don't let their animls grase very often. Apart from that first rather negative impression, we liked Nicaragua. We also visited the cities Granada and Leon and did a guided tour through the Cañon de Somoto, which was well worth it. After a while in the country, the Nicas (this is how the people there are called) were getting more and more annoying. By saying that I only mean the male Nicas who we couldn't pass withough getting rude, insinuating remarks or being whistled at.

Interestingly, that behavior stopped in Honduras. We only spent one night there and could sleep at the fire fighters' station in Choluteca. As we left the country for El Salvador the next day we didn't really get to know the people of Honduras (drunk guys are an annoyance as well). 

El Salvador
But we did so in El Salvador, and I liked them much better then the Nicas. We also liked Pupusas which seemed to be something like El Salvador's national dish. It's like a filled tortilla, usually with cheese and beans, sometimes with meat. The country is very hilly due to its many volcanoes and cycling there was brutal as it was always extremely hot and humid. We started drinking a lot of Gatorade as we couldn't stand the warm water in our bottles anymore. We had been a bit unsure about El Salvador as it doesn't have the best image where security is concerned but we never had any problems or felt threatened any more than before (never went into any big cities, though).

Same for Guatemala. It's sometimes said to be dangerous with lots of drug-related crime but nobody tried to shoot or kidnap us. On our second day we chose to leave the main road, had to cross a river that flooded the gravel road and had to stop in the rain because of a flat tyre. Some motorcyclists who passed figured the place was dangerous and stayed until we were ready to go again. We believe that the area wasn't the best place to be, but nobody tried to rob us all day.  We even were allowed to sleep in a church as there were no hotels nearby. 

The next day we opted for another off-road strech but didn't make it very far. In a very steep descent Martina's breaks failed and she chose the ditch to stop instead of continuing on the bad dirt road (the pavement stoped just there) and fall in the deep ravines further down. That was a good choice and although it looked very bad, she wasn't seriously hurt. Still bad enough for a break and her racks were bit bent as well so we tried to get a ride to our next destination, Antigua. There weren't many people around (and it was apparently still not very safe), so we didn't have a choice as this one guy asked USD 150 for the two-hour drive to Antigua. At least, we managed to get the price down to USD 125. Charging that much wasn't a very nice thing to do but when he claimed that he "wanted to save us because we was catholic" we nearly laughed. But ok, he finally brought us to Antigua were we spent two weeks until Martina was fit to ride again. 

We didn't chose a direct route through the country but did a detour to Quetzaltenango and Huehuetenango. We had been told that the countryside there was stunning. All right, we don't acutally disagree but we didn't find it all that special. Still, it was nice. Less so were the fleas that hitched a ride after we spent a night at a cuartel de bomberos. Once in Coban, we had to spray all our stuff with poison to get rid of them. I also had to see a doctor there because a nasty fever (with headache etc.) attacked and scared me. After about a week in Coban we set out again. 

Our next goal was Tikal, an ancient Maya city deep in the jungel of El Petén. On our way there we saw how an area looks after all the trees are cut down but nothing is cultivated. It was just brown grass, some bushes and nothing else. Looked like a bad future for the area. Tikal is still in the jungel, probably only because it's in a National Park, though. The ruins are impressive, lots of tall pyramids, wow!

One day later we stood at the border to Belize, a small and funny country. It's inhabited mostly by black, English speaking peoble and has gained its independence from England only in 1981. It's much more expensive than Guatemala, eaqually hot but we couldn't find any Gatorade. It's a well-known place for snorcheling and diving but we didn't want to spend much time or money there. The only place we visited was some sort of a bird sanctuary. 

After four days we had reached the border to Mexico and were surprised to find that Mexico wasn't much cheaper. Ok, it depends, but we've never bought Gatorade for example because that's way too expensive, which is a pity because Yucatán is as hot and humid as Central America. We wanted to visit some more Maya sites, starting with Tulum on the Caribbean coast. Getting there meant cycling on a broad, straight and extremely boring road for hundreds of kilometers. Luckily there were distractions like a Cenote Azul (a very blue lake) or a beautiful Laguna Azul, otherwise we would probably have died from boredom. Finally, the ruins of Tulum were nice but not spectacular. What indeed was spectacular was its location on the coast with the deep blue water. The next archeological site, Chichén Itzá, was way more impresive, again with big pyramids and tempels. 

To leave the hot and expensive peninsula we chose the shortest route on the map, only to find out that we had to take a detour of about 100 km because one road marked on the map didn't exist in reality (we didn't want to get stuck on muddy dirt tracks). After being stared at a lot by Mennonites in Hopelchén we cycled as fast as we could to Palenque. On the way there we set a new record of over 150 km in one day. The town of Palenque wasn't very nice and it was hot and humid again. Its ruins on the other hand were beautiful although by now we figured we had seen enough Maya buildings for a while. On the way to San Cristóbal de las Casas, we felt like being back in Guatemala, the landscape looked so familiar (we were close after all).

The city of San Cristóbal was pretty and we also liked the hilly countryside surrounding it. On the way to Tehuantepec we got lost on a road not marked on the map. Luckily, we're always equiped to camp so it wasn't that big of a problem. We just ended up in different town the nex day, but no big detours this time. When leaving Belize we had left the political Central America, now after the Isthmus of Tehuantepec we also left the geographical Central America and entered North America. Wow, sounds more impressive than it was. We're still in Latin America and nothing has changed since. The fact that my rear rim broke was not due to North America but to stupid speed bumbs you have no chance to see as they are as grey as the pavement of the roads. We still had to take a bus to Oaxaca where I could find a decent enought new rim.

Since Oaxaca we are in the highlands again with much cooler temperatures and therefore much less sweat than before. It's also a most densly inhabitated area with many huge cities that create thick and ugly clouds of smog. To avoid the capital, Mexico City, we went from Puebla (big but beautiful) to Cuernavaca (expensive, didn't like it much) and to Querétaro. We were to meed friends from Ecuador in Querétaro and looked forward to it. The landscape was basically flat plains with some hills now and then, often it was rather boring. To avoid the usually not cheap hotels we camped more often now which had been virtually impossible in Central America because of the heat (who would like sleeping in a sauna?).

We had "chosen" a good moment to arrive in Querétaro. Martina was quite ill that day, was feeling dizzy and couldn't even see normally anymore. Having to cycle straight through a busy city in such conditions is no fun at all and I was relieved when we arrived at our friends' house without any accidents. We had planed to stay some three to four days there but ended up staying over two weeks as Martina had so see several doctors several times. Apart from that, we were happy to see Sjef, Pati, Jan and Carmen again, whom we had known in Ecuador and which whom we spent last Christmas in Cuenca. Here once again, thank you so much for your hospitality and kindness, for welcoming us in your home and letting us stay for so long, enjoy so many things we haven't had for such a long time (a family, good food, a confortable bed, a cosy sofa etc. etc.). You've been incredible, thank you and hope to see you in Switzerland some day!

From Querétaro we cycled via San Miguel de Allende, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Durango to Mazatlán. The high plateau was usually flat with some hills every now and then. Until Zacatecas we often camped at Pemex gas stations, after that we had to find hotels because of a cold air front. Our camping equipment for tropical areas has been upgraded a little but still sucks when it gets seriously cold. After hundreds of mostly flat kilometers it was very hilly after Durango, getting even more hilly on the fourth day. That was hard as we had expected a downhill ride, which came only on day five. But the scenery was absolutely awesome, looking down on mountain ridges and valleys and knowing that, at some moment, we would be speeding down. And we finally did, meeting five cyclists travelling South. On the sixth day we arrived in Mazatlán and met two more ciclistas. We are now waiting for a letter from Switzerland and will then take the ferry to La Paz on the Baja California.

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