It seems so long ago now that I was leaving Mexico City and setting my sights south. I’m in Guatemala now, a stone’s throw away from the Belizean border, listening to the fireworks setting off on New Year’s Day. Mexico was unreal and I’ll miss the people, the country and the food so much. Apart from Don Sinaloa and his menacing looking moustache, I had no trouble at all and the locals were only ever friendly and hospitable.
I’ve had a couple of weeks of fairly flat riding since leaving Mexico city two weeks ago. One 30 km climb to get out of the city and another around Puebla and the big climbs were done with for a little while. I dropped off the Mexican plateau in a dramatic way, hurtling down miles of winding mountain road, through the rain and the clouds which had engulfed the mountains on that particular day. The next 4 days after that I averaged over 100 miles a day as I sped towards the jungle ruins at Palenque. There were a few rough towns dotted along the route, which thankfully google had a genius way of filtering for me. I’d simply type in the name of a town into google images and I’d get either a collection of tourist sites or a collection of unnecessarily graphic murder scenes from the front covers of the local papers. Safe to say the towns in the latter category were best left to the next visit. I did have to spend the night in one such town although I only have amazing things to say about it (almost entirely down to the fact that tacos were 3 pesos (20 cents) a pop, or 4 pesos at the ‘posh’ place around the corner…I ate 15, much to the amazement/disgust of the locals).
I did couch surf with some awesome locals and one of the hosts, Octavio, even offered me a place to crash with his family for Christmas Day, which in the end, I had to politely decline. On one rainy day I was a little miserable when I noticed a car had stopped in the middle of the highway, with hazard lights flashing through the heavy rain. I assumed they had broken down, however I was pleasantly surprised to see an outstretched arm as I drew closer, offering me food and something to drink to keep me going in the pouring rain. Completely oblivious to the fact the car was stopped dead on the highway, with traffic roaring past, the driver wanted to have a nice chat about where I was going. One more day later of mind numbingly boring roads and I was in the jungle, camping out close to the ruins of Palenque. I wanted to Bear Grylls it in the jungle and save myself 40 pesos ($2) of camping fees, however the locals eventually persuaded me to camp under a tin roof. In the end, after hearing the coconuts crashing over the road through the night, I was glad I’d taken their advice as death by falling coconut is up there with being run over by a cow as a depressing way to go.
The detour through Yucatan made for some long and dull days of flat riding against an ever-increasing headwind (I’d take mountains over headwind any day). Christmas Day was spent in the coastal town of Campeche with whoever happened to be in town. As luck would have it, there were a few English teachers from the UK around and a day on the beach followed by an evening of the new Star Wars Film, resulted in Christmas not being a total write off in the end. I did manage to find a replacement 9 speed chain in the darkest of back alley bike shops. The man even had a chain link tool and said he could replace it for me. When he reached for the hammer and screwdriver I decided it was perhaps a safer bet for me to do it myself that evening. Chitchen Itza and Tulum provided some much needed entertainment, as did Mexico’s version of Faulty Towers complete with an eccentric owner. I never pay more than $8 for a room so if I do stay in a hotel I don’t expect much, but this lady was an absolute character and her hotel set the bar even higher for the most disgusting place I’ve ever stayed in (the holes in the roof of my room were a convenient highway for the mosquitoes that tore me apart that night). By the time I left in the morning my entire body had a similar resemblance to a teenager’s face.
Detour over, I headed south to the Belizean border where the Mexicans tried to get me to pay tax for a second time (I’d already paid it on entry in Tiajuana). Despite their threats that the Belizean border officials would send me back without an exit stamp in my passport, I stubbornly rode the last 3 kms of tarmac which separate Belize and Mexico. I was praying that my hunch that Belize border officials weren’t going to be the strictest, was going to be true as I didn’t want to have to make a demoralising return to the Mexican side to collect my exit stamp. Sure enough, Desmond was the person holding the stamp that day and I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more laid back border official. He noticed my stamp was missing, asked where I came from, frowned a little and took a deep breath to respond to my answer and then shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to stamp my passport anyway. Diamond Desmond to the rescue and I went on my way towards Corozal and my Jamaican host for the night. Mark owned a small bar close to the sea, which I eventually found after being hit by a tropical downpour about 5 minutes down the road. After soberly watching a bizarre night unfold with some drunken expats, I headed off down the only road south, towards the Belizean capital of Banlopan.
In Mexico, the road signs constantly frustrated me as they flip-flopped between increasing and decreasing distances. This wasn’t a problem in Belize as there were no road signs so I relied on friendly locals to point me in the right direction (this was also aided by the fact there aren’t too many roads to choose from). The last day of 2015 didn’t start well, as I took my eyes off the road for a second, only to hit a pot hole which sent me crashing to the floor (luckily bike and skinny cyclist were both ok). The scenery was just flat with endless cane fields for 70 miles until I swung right and headed west towards Guatemala. Suddenly the wind that had plagued me for a week was on my back and hills began to spring up on the horizon, covered in tropical rainforest. I pulled over for a coconut at ‘Dick Heads Coco Shack’ with 30 miles to go (this name is completely genuine…’Dick’ looked a little angry when I asked to take a photo). As night set in I finally cycled the last of the 105 miles as I somehow managed to cycle straight past the nation’s capital. A little annoyed that I’d managed to miss the only city on this road, I pulled into a petrol station and went to check out the hotel there, as I’d already resigned myself to the fact that New Year’s Eve was going to be a lonely one. As luck or fate would have it, I pulled in just as the lovely Ellie was pulling out, with her husband Dave and their two awesome children. They were a little surprised to see a cyclist all the way out here and asked where I was heading. We got chatting and they asked if I had anywhere to stay for New Year’s. When I said no they gave me directions down a dirt road to a jungle lodge they were spending the next few weeks in and asked me to join them for the evening.
The ride down the dirt road for 4 miles was a little daunting in the dark. I had my headtorch flickering away as I sped past the rainforest towards the lodge. The jungle comes alive at night, with green eyes staring back at me wherever my headtorch was pointing. I came across a tarantula and a snake and at one point, I was convinced a pair of eyes belonging to a big cat were staring back at me (a sketchy prospect in an area where pumas and jaguars run wild). I finally made it to the lodge and proceeded to have one of the most memorable New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had. Ellie and her friend Astrid are both archaeologists and pretty much living versions of Indianna Jones. Dave was also involved in a similar field and between the three of them they’d spent months at a time living in jungles and excavating sites. I spent the night in fantastic company listening to incredible stories, whilst dining at the restaurant of ex Premier League footballer, Andy Hunt’s place. We saw in the New Year to the sounds of jungle life and Howler monkeys in the background. Ellie saw to it that I didn’t pay a penny as I left for the Guatemalan border the next day. Her husband Dave had been stung by a scorpion that morning, but being in a crowd of jungle veterans, none of the trio were too concerned as Dave just rested up with a book to wait for the numbness and fever to subside (I probably would have been in a state of panic by this point).
As is the running theme to this journey, I was sad to say goodbye to such amazing people once again, as I started off the short journey to the border town on the Guatemalan side. The scenery only got greener and more beautiful with every mile I pedaled. I bumped into some people on a tour I’d met a couple of weeks earlier at the border, before popping across the river to the other side. I’d been warned not to spend too much time in this drug running town. Being such a small country, my time in Belize was over in a flash. A beautiful country with a huge mix of people (listening to a Mennonite with a Rastafarian accent was a bit of a shock to the system).
I’m in Guatemala now and I will be taking another detour across the huge mountain range that spans the length of the country, to add on the miles and get in as many as I can before hitting the tip of Argentina. I’m hoping the people here are as friendly as those I’ve journeyed past in Mexico and Belize. I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I think this year I won’t have to think too hard, as I aim to finish this journey and hit that £20,000 total. The last couple of weeks over Christmas and the holidays have been tough and there are still many tough days that lie ahead. The thing which keeps me going each day is seeing that total creeping up and the amazing words of support sent my way. Let’s get 2016 off to a flying start by keeping the donations rolling in and sending that total closer and closer to the end goal. It’s standing at 56% at the moment and I’m about a month away from the halfway point of this journey. If you’re reading this and feel you’d like to contribute to this worthy cause, please sponsor a mile today and help make 2016 a happy year for some struggling children.