Monthly Archive for January, 2012

Chiapas, Yucatan, New York, Pennsylvania

First, we apologize for the very long blogging lapse. This is in no way reflective of our enthusiasm for our trip or for sharing stories with you all, it has simply been a very busy month, quite different from the ones prior. Before we get started recounting specific stories, we’ll share that we are currently back in the States. No, our trip is not over! We return to Mexico tomorrow, but we’ve been home for about two weeks for an entirely unplanned visit with our families. About two weeks ago, we had an email from Aran’s family that this would be the last chance for her to see her grandmother. We were in NY 24 hours later, and were fortunate to have a last visit before Moma died last Thursday. We were also fortunate enough to spend a couple of days this weekend in Lancaster since Alex, Amanda, and the fabulous Emma Joyce (our new niece) were able to make a last-minute trip from St. Louis. In short, we are very grateful that we had this time with our families for many reasons.

Now, when last we updated you all, we were in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. After Christmas, we biked forth into the next leg of our trip to Palenque, where we were to meet Andrew’s parents. The biking through Chiapas held some exciting variation in landscape and in cultures of the pueblos we passed through. We spent six days biking through our last Mexican Sierras, and elicited by far the most pronounced reactions from people so far. Sometimes we were bombarded by questions, sometimes by requests for pesos, once by pebbles from a kid in a tiny village. Some people cheered us on, some took pictures, some pulled over to ask us what on earth we were about, and some laughed right out loud. A Canadian in San Cristóbal had warned us that the indigenous would run from our cameras, but one lady selling us bananas came to look over Aran’s shoulder while she took pictures of a river valley. She was more than willing for us to take a photo of her cute kiddo, and then insisted that we take a picture of her and allow her to see it on the screen. An American had recounted a story of being asked for 100 pesos by some Zapotistas with large guns, but some scowels and overpriced fruit were the extent of our troubles with Zapotistas, and some of them were perfectly friendly. The differences between the indigenous groups in different parts of Chiapas and the perceptions of those groups was pretty fascinating. A Mexican truck driver told us it was safer to hang out with the Tzotzil in his town than the Tzetzal ruffians in Oxchuc. But then, when we spent the night in Oxchuc, we encountered nothing but friendly people. We are constantly re-learning the lesson to take warnings about groups of people and parts of countries with a grain of salt.

The camping was stupendous, because we’d finally learned through trial and error that if you want to bike camp in Mexico, what you need to do is ask someone. So that’s what we did. Our first night, we camped in a Tzotzil village where goats and chickens shared our site. Once we asked a family of coffee farmers whether they knew a place nearby, and of course they moved aside giant tarps covered with drying coffee beans and offered us their yard. By far our best night of camping was in the pueblo of Tulija on New Year’s eve. We rolled into town in the late afternoon, bought a few groceries from a tiendita, and asked whether we could camp in the soccer field across the road. Of course, permission wasn’t the store owners’ to give, and they were confused by the question, but they said it wouldn’t bother anyone, so we wandered over and picked a corner. No sooner had we unpacked our tent than a trio of boys came crawling on the stomachs through the grass, huge grins on their faces. They took our amusement as an invitation to make themselves at home, crawling into our tent, checking out our gear, asking us questions, and teaching us a few words in Tzetzal. Pretty soon, every boy and girl in town from eight to fourteen years old was hanging out on the field near our camp, so we put dinner on hold and played frisbee for a few hours. It was excellent fun. Later that night, a group of the older boys took a break from their New Year’s festivities to come check on us because the heavens had opened up in a phenomenal downpour. We were, of course, comfy and dry as a bone inside our tent (thank you Henny and Michael Billett.) The boys were amazed, cracked some jokes about what we could do to keep warm, wished us a happy new year, and returned to their party.

We arrived in Palenque a few days before Andrew’s mom and dad, and spent our time doing some VERY overdue laundry and visiting some waterfalls which were supposed to be a heavenly blue color, but had turned brown because of the aforementioned New Year’s Eve downpour.

When the parents arrived, we loaded the bikes onto the rack they’d brought with them, and headed off for a driving tour of the Yucatan peninsula. It was a bit disorienting being so far removed from our tent and all the ants, mud, dogs barking, roosters crowing, and rank smelling clothes and gear we were so used to, but we fully appreciated the break. The four of us had an excellent time visiting Mayan ruins beginning with Palenque…

…and continuing across the southern part of the Yucatan to Becán and Chicanná …

… venturing deep into the jungle to Calakmul…

… and up the east coast of the Yucatan to Tulum, where we not only visited the ruins, but the beach and some cenotes (caves or swimming holes fed by underground rivers) as well.

We spent a few days in an awesome bed and breakfast in Tulum, too, which was owned by a couple from no other than Madison, Wisconsin! So as not to be encumbered for the last leg of our driving, Diane and Phil graciously allowed us to stow our bikes behind the poolhouse on their property. We drove bike-free all the way north to the tiny town of Rio Lagartos, where there is a Reserva de la Biosfera. We hired the world’s best bird-watching guide, Elmer, who expertly took us through the reserva on his boat, where with his help, we spotted 34 species of birds including parrots, flamingos, a tiger heron, frigate birds, a mangrove cuckoo, ibises, and on and on. Our last two nights, we spent in Mérida on the west coast of the Yucatan, where we bid farewell to Dan and Caroline. No sooner had we waved them off than Kathy sent an email about a’s grandma. We were on a plane the next day.

So there you have it. Our wacky January. Tomorrow we will return to Tulum where our bikes are sitting, chomping at the bit no doubt. We’re excited to get moving again. One of the incredible women who had been caring for a’s grandmother was from Belize, where we’re heading next. She had good things to say about the cays and the countryside. We’ll likely do some SCUBA diving and snorkeling with Mark Ratzburg in the next couple of weeks, too, before we head back east across Guatemala. We promise more frequent updates in the coming weeks. We hope everyone is enjoying 2012, and that you’re all happy and healthy.