Rain and Breakdowns (february 15th – march 15th)

Posted by on Apr 02 2007 | 03 Mexico 06/07, English

Jungle retreat and sugar cane country

When we left Veracruz the strong northwind was at work. We got pushed arround on our bikes, even Flo with the trailer and somethimes had to wait for a gust of wind to siminish before we could peddel a few 100 meters. We didn’t ride far, the sky promised rain and we weren’t in the mood for a wet tent (our tent floor is leaking). So we looked for a hotel. The only one in our prize range was quite shabby, but there was no choice. The room had no window, the promised hot water was cold. Something was leaking out of the bathroom on to the bedroom floor, growing into a smelly puddle. The air humid and not exactly fresh. Next morning Flo had a flat tire.

Over the next few days it seemed like the weather just couldn’t decide for sun or rain and we kept changing in and out of our raingear. The air was always humid and warm. We were always feeling sticky. Two days brought us up into vulcanous regions again on 300 meters above sea to the Laguna de Catemaco.

The Bahia Escondido, a jungle retreat to fill up empty “travel batteries” at the lake side, had been recommended to us by a Swiss guy. He had seen us riding through town shortly before it got dark and followed us. He said:” I know a place for you to camp, a good place for a child to play…” That night we spent in a hotel, to tired to ride another 10km. But the next day we headed over there, meaning to spend one night. We ended up staying three!

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Chan enjoyed playing at the water with Flo and I cleaned the trailer, fixed some clothes and cleaned and oiled the bikes. The sun had won the battle against the rain clouds and so we relaxed in the shade of the jungle. Chan found a book about the fauna of the area and was fascinated by the picture of howler monkeys. He loved the jaguars and turtles too. We learned that the cell phones we heard along the highway were actually birds calls and we saw a baby tarantula up close for the first time!

Then we left the jugle for the flatlands and sugar cane fields between Veracruz and Villahermosa. There are refineries in most towns and a steady drizzle of black sugar cane ashes settled on our skin and clothes. Small trucks, overloaded with cane sticks passed us, loosing part of their load to the side of the road. The air was filled with a sweet smell, almost to sweet for our noses.

One after the other

One night we arrived in a town just before it got dark and looked for a hotel. Flo was carrying our packs upstairs while I was parking our bikes in the tiny lobby. Some nice mexican gentleman helped me lift the trailer over the doorsill. When we wanted to put it back down I got really scared. The wheels were haning down in a funny looking way. I called Flo, still holding the trailer in the air, not trusting those wheels to hold the weight of the shell. Flo came running down the stairs and looked the trailer over. He put the wheels into their right position and said:” It’s not all that bad I think, we’ll have a closer look up in our room. When everything was upstairs, we turned the vent on and hoped into the shower to get rid of the black slime sticking to our skin. Then we needed to fill our bellies and finally refreshed we had a second look at the trailer. The screw holding the suspencion in place was broken, one part of it still stuck in the trailer shell. The trailer could still roll. We just had to find a new screw and get the broken part out of the shell. We were planning on taking this on in Coatzocoalcos, where we had been invited to by Luis, a young mexican who had passed us in his car a few weeks earlier. When we arrived in the city, Luis had just moved into a new place. He picked us up at the Plaza and drove us and the bikes to his house.

After dinner he had a look at the trailer, a ship mechanic himself and then fixed it together with Flo. He had all the necessary tools on hand. The days had become almost unbearably hot, but luckily the airstream while bikeing cooled us a little. The highway was now really bad. We were back on the coata, which was worked on in some places. The surface ws ruff with big potholes or gravel, even rocks on the broken pavement. It was really uneven too with sudden drops or bumps. Riding in the back I didn’t see one of these drops and one of my lowrider bags went flying and my front wheel blocked. We didn’t figure out what happened to the wheel right away. But when Flo, our bike mechanic took a better look he found the wheel not true anymore. It was so bad, that he had to adjust it right away. While he fixed it trucks where rushing by, Chan played with his cars and I assisted whenever one of them needed a hand.

The day was getting hotter and hotter. We had lunch in the shade of an elefant shaped tree at a lonely gas station and we drank 1.5 liters ice cold mango juice – gone in only a few minutes. When we rode on, my belly started to feel a bit wired. We passed swamps which smelled awful.


I started to feel a bit sick. At a highway restaurant we stopped for the night. After an ice cream I felt a bit better. Flo rode into the close village and I started cooking in the shade of a palapa. The land in these parts is mostly swamps and they really smell bad, or was it the sewage of the restaurant? Again I started to feel sick. I coldn’t eat much and needed to lay down. So Flo cleaned up and I put up the tent. Suddenly swarms of mosquitoes attacked us. Chan and I fled into the tent, I couldn’t move anymore. I felt horrible. Poor Flo was now the only target for the aggressive mosquitoes. Chan didn’t really understand that his Mama was sick. He kept saying, that I was just a bit tired. Flo had just finished getting our beds ready when I puked the first time. Luckily we had some empty plastic bags on hand. Flo put Chan to bed who was fascinated by me puking. I needed a few more bags during the night. It was terrible. Once a man came from the restaurant, telling us, that our tent was in a very bad spot. That there was an animal arround with a deadly sting. It wasn’t a skorpion nor a spider, we didn’t understand what kind of animal it was nor could we move everything at that point. We never encountered that dangerous animal. Luckily there was a hotel in the close by village where we stayed the next day. I was really weak and couldn’t eat much, but my stomach was now stable.

Until we reached Villahermosa we had about two flats a day and my back rack broke where it is attached to the frame of the bike. It was an easy job to weld. Flo bought new tires, his were already worn through again.

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Stone heads and pyramids

The La Venta park in Villa Hermosa was a nice break from the almost unbearable heat of the early afternoon. The park nicely shaded by jugle growth, presents huge sculptered human figures and altars of the Olmec culture which flourished about 1150-150 BC. One of those heads weighs 20 tons!

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This park also features some of the regions animals like spider monkeys, parots and ozelots (jaguar like wildcat, size of a big house cat). It was almost impossible to get Chan away from the monkey cage. He was fascinated by the “Chanmonkeys” riding on their “Mamamonkey’s” backs.

From Villahermosa to the intersection for Palenque there wasn’t much change in the landscape. The ride also wasn’t very pleasant because the road was under construction in some parts while other parts were really bad and narrow. We were passed frequently by by big double semi remolque trucks and had no shoulder.

Chan’s sandals and rainboots found a new home with people we could stay along the way. That kid just grows unbelievably fast, so fast, that people arround here think he must at least be fiveyyears old!

On the road to Palenque wild growling sounds came out of trees. We shouddered by the thought of hungry jaguars, but luckily they are too shy to be sitting high up in trees nect to the highway like howler monkeys do!

It had been raining on and off. Once we fled under the roof of a welder to escape one of the worst downspouts. Later we didn’t care too much anymore. We just wanted to reach town and find a place to stay. It had already been a long day and on top of it a screw on my lowrider broke and we had to fix the lowrider to the frame with a strap.

So Chan was the only one staying dry. This time the pouring rain didn’t sop after a few minutes. In fact, it didn’t stop at all anymore that day! We pushed our bikes into the hallway of hotel. Everything was dripping including Flo and me. When our bags were up in our room and the bikes and trailer locked up, the onwer of the place was sweeing up the puddle we had left behind us.

We spent the next day fixing my bike, doing laundry, stocking up with food and e-mailing, before we headed out of town to El Panchan about 5km away at the entrance of the park to the Palenque ruins. During that day we fixed 5 flats on the trailer, the last one only just before we reached El Panchan.


We rented a cabaña in this quiet jungle hideout. While eating dinner we met a german family with two kids. The eight year old girl really enjoyed reading stories to Chan and just play with him and Chan had a compagnon he could understand quite well for once.

We didn’t enter through the main gate but instead followed a trail up to the site from the bottom of the hill. Like this we first discovered residental ruins of the ancient city which were small but a good start to climb and explore. Chan loved it and wanted to see more ruins.

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So we climbed incredibly steep steps up through dense forest and entered a huge grassy area with the bigger and more famous pyramids spread over it. Chan immediatly wanted to climb the tallest one, but it was closed to visitors. Instead we explored El Palacio, the politically most imortant structure on the site. There were still some beautiful stucco and paintings remaining in some of the chambers and we climbed down into dark hallways and rooms where mayan kings once ruled their city.

The mayan culture reached its peak between 500 and 750 A.C. Most of the huge cities, some of which accomodated more than 20’000 people, were abandoned between 750 and 900 A.C. Scientists speculate about the collaps of this in mathematics and astronomy highly advanced people. Some say the cities were abandoned because of a major draught, others, because the dense population exploited the area’s food supply. Still others mention warfare between cities. It remains unclear however, why at their heyday the majestic cities were abandoned. It is known though that the Maya didn’t disappear but spread out and settled in small villages. Most of their descendants live today in Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula.

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After a playbreak with Chan’ s german friend, and two more climbed ruins with breathtaking views, we hiked the trail back along a river and beautiful waterfall.

Another day we spent in El Panchan. Our bikes needed service, two more flats on the trailer had to be fixed, some of Chan’s clothes needed mending and I cut both Flo’s and Chan’s hair a bit.

Our last days in Mexico

We covered the stretch from Palenque to the Belizan border in seven days. The country was flat and a bit boring. The only excitment were the howling of the monkeys and the sudden rain showers. Luckily we managed to always be in reach of one of the huge concrete structures serving as bus stops to find shelter from the almost violent but quick down spouts.


We camped next to roadside restaurants or stayed in hotels to get a break from the incredible heat. One day we arrived at some other mayan ruins at Expujil quite early, got a hotel room and visited the ruins. Then we went back to the hotel and took a nap in the cooling breeze of our vent. We woke up hungry arround six, cooked, ate and went back to sleep.

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We were looking foreward to our next country, Belize, now. But it wasn’t because of it, that we biked 96km on our last day in Mexico. We just reached the village we had planned to stay over night too early to ask for a place to camp. So we ate lunch and continued to the next one. There we took a break again in the shade of a small park and then asked arround for a place to cam, since there was no restaurant. We were told to ask the village principle who was at a meeting in Chetumal, the city. He would be back arround five, we were told. Five was an hour before it got dark. In Mexico, if someone should be back at five, this means maybe he will be arround by 5.30 but most probably some time after six! So we would have waited arround in uncertainity if we could stay or not until it got dark, which we had done already once and it wasn’t pleasant. So we continued our ride to the next village, where we knew was a restaurant. When we arrived, we had covered 96km. We were exhausted, but we had a place to put up our tent and just enough time to buy an ice cream to reconcile with Chan for a too long ride in the trailer, cook dinner and escape the mosquitoes.


Three months in the life of a three year old

A toddler when we entered Mexico, Chan is now a big boy, as tall as he can stretch his arms while standing on his toes. On his birthday he agreed that he didn’t need mama’s breast anymore with tears in his eyes. But now he wants to be involved when we talk about our route and we have to show him on the map where we are. He knows what’s teh ocean and what’s the highways. When we stop riding he usually asks:” What are we doing here?” If we stop for a break or lunch he will unpack his cars or rake and shovel or go looking for a nice stick. If we are looking for a place to spend the night, he wants to go and ask or have a look at the room as well.

When we push our bikes he climbs on one by himself and proudly sits on the seat, it doesn’t matter for how short a ride. As soon as we unpack, he is grabing a few things as well to carry them to the tent or our room.

When we have a flat tire, its usually Chan who sticks the pad onto the tube and he somethimes helps to pump it up too.

People often ask us:” But what is he doing all the time in the trailer? Isn’t he bored?” Of course there are moments when he doesn’t wnt to ride. Mostly though he is occupied as soon as he is in the trialer. He loves to take things apart; many toys he was given to only lasted a day! Ohter times he plays with his cars, or reads stories to himself which can sound like this: “Nooooooooo! Not with a fox aaannniwheeeere!” Somethimes he has to scold his donkey like this: “Eeeseliiii. Du haesch aen Seich gmacht! Ich bin haessig mit dir! Muesch noed alles Wasser in Ahaenger usleerae!” (Little donkey. That was wrong! I’m really angry with you. You shouldn’t empty all the water into my trailer!)

Often our little guy just watches the landscape go by and comments on what he sees: ” A mama horse and a Chan horse look! Hey! A coca ooola truck, look a coca ooola truck!”

Lately he also asked to hear stories about Vancouver and the playgroup we used to join up there. Usually I start with a few sentences and he finishes of the story out of his own memory. We added stories from along our journey and it is amazing how much he remembers, often details which Flo and I had forgotten about! Peggy and Theo from San Francisco come up a lot, especially Theo’s tractor and the train set he played with while we stayed with Peggy’s family. Also Kayla is remebered a lot, a girl he played with at a beach on Baja California or the many matchbox cars he could play with at Steve and Linda’s in L.A.

Somethimes Chan just wants to talk with us, practicing English and he will ask us: “How do I say … in English?” Then he will tell us to speak back in English.

In Mexico we often saw kids going to school wearing school uniforms. Chan was fascinated mostly by the knee high socks the girls were wearing and a few times he said:” I want to go to school too, then I can wear those funny socks as well!”

And here a last glimps into a three year old’s life on the road: Once he had to fart in the trailer, but it was a wet one. I discovered it when we took a break and his bum smelled. So while changing his pants I asked:” When did that happen?” And Chan said:” Hmmm, about 3km ago!”


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4 comments for now

4 Responses to “Rain and Breakdowns (february 15th – march 15th)”

  1. Merle and Linda

    Florian, Rebekka, and Chan,

    I’m just loving your trip, despite all the hardships, rain, headwinds, bugs, breakdowns, and flat tires. Love the pictures and the experiences and the people you meet. Thank you for posting it all and sharing it with us.

    Merle and Linda,
    San Diego

    02 Apr 2007 at 2:23 pm

  2. Charlie and Dianna Boatman

    Hey guys. Didn’t realize I could write to you. We have been following you all along and the boys still tell about when you were here. They are not boys anymore. Paul (th oldest one) is in his first year of law school in Lubbock, TX (about 100 miles from home) and Lukas (the youngest) is married–he has a five year old step-daughter that we love like our own and a 14 month old daughter that is the joy of our lives. Being a granny is my favorite job in the whole world. Love you telling about Chan’s adventures–life always looks the best from the eyes of a child. I am still teaching kindergarten and Charlie is still trying to keep the weeds under control. Just wanted to let you know we think of you all the time. God Bless and Keep you. The Boatmans

    07 Apr 2007 at 6:34 am

  3. Hallo Ihr drei Lieben,

    schoen, dass ihr Mexico nun geschafft habt. Eurer Bericht liest sich abenteuerlich. Viele Dinge koennen wir gut nachvollziehen. Zwar sind wir nicht durch die Gegend gefahren, in der ihr gerade seit, aber viele Dinge haben sich auch aehnlich bei uns so zugetragen. Allerdings gibts natuerlich schon grosse Unterschiede “mit und ohne” Kind…

    Wir sind zur Zeit in Quito/ Ecuador und fahren morgen weiter Richtung Sueden. Vor der weiteren Strecke haben wir ganz schoen Respekt, denn nun geht es in die Anden. Schon morgen muessen wir ueber einen 3.600 Meter hohen Pass.

    Wir wuenschen Euch eine gute Zeit in Belize, ein gutes Weiterkommen und freuen uns schon heute, Euch mal irgendwann in der Schweiz oder sonst wo auf der Welt wieder zu sehen :-)

    Mit besten Wuenschen fuer gutes Wetter, Rueckenwind und nette Begegnungen

    Andrea und Joerg

    09 Apr 2007 at 11:48 am

  4. Cora

    I’m not really sure how this comment thing works. I don’t mean to be commenting on this story, but I hope you get my note anyway! We are in Cuba now and will be here until July 15th. Are you still thinking of passing through here. That would be lovely. Your trip is amazing, as always. Hugs to all of you.

    12 May 2007 at 5:51 pm

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