24 Aug 2013, La Paz, Bolivia
Peru. Among wild animas and magic plants. 
It's been over a month since we entered throughout the smallest of the crossing borders we've had since we left Alaska.

We agreed to go down from the Andes heading to the jungle, heading to the Amazonas river, for the last 3 months we were up in the mountains enjoying the fresh cool weather that you get in tropical countries when you are up in the mountains specially over 2000 m above sea level. It was in Medellin at the Casa del Ciclista when we heart for the first time about a cargo boat that sells on the Amazonas River and with a price we could afford. Well since them always was on the back of our heads to go to Amazonas in Peru, again down to the jungle before going back to the Andes which will take us outside of tropical zone. We didn't know what the sailing trip look like; we only knew that we had to go to a place called Yurimaguas where the cargo boats leave toward Iquitos. This city is located in what is considered to be the beginning of Amazonas where 3 massive rivers join together, just 100km before Iquitos in a place called Nauta. So the plan was to find a place in Yurimaguas to leave the bikes and catch the boat, after searching for a couch we found a cool guy, Gabriel who works as a tour guide in Yurimaguas who agreed to take care of our bikes. When we arrived we went to the port to find out when was the next boat. There was one schedule for this eve but the guy who took us around to show us the boat said it won't happen until the next morning, perfect so we will

Have time to get readies, get some food and organized the stuff we will take with us and that is what we did. Even though the boat guy was saying the food was provided, me being vegetarian I did not want to end having a 2 ingredients food for 2 1/2 days, rice and plantain plus we thought of getting some fruit, plenty of water and biscuits in case of munchies plus we wanted to get a cheap long sleeve to cover ourselves in the evenings from the Mosquitos, this part of Peru has high risk of Malaria so better not play with the luck this time. So that is how we spent the day getting readies.

Early start, breakfast, finishing packing and heading to the port it was not even 9 when we arrived to the port, the boat Gilmert I was there getting more loads. It's unbelievable but thousands of kg of food, materials are loaded in those boats by guys who carried everything on their backs, taking from the trucks which are parked on the mud in front of the boat and crossing over a huge board of wood working as a bridge, dozens of this men running back and forwards with loads of 100kg on their backs, none stop. Still after being in Latin America for more than a year and a half when I see in what conditions many humans have to work make me fell one more time thankful for have been born in a place where that has been stopped long ago.

To get into the boat is a matter of getting in between those runners, walking fast on this huge board that push you up as if it was a trampoline, due to the very long length that it has. Once on board we went to the second deck to look for a place to hang out hammocks that is the way you travel and sleep in these boats. I've never seen so many hammocks together over all at the first floor where most of the locals were, over 100, each of them with different colours, patterns, on the floor just small mounds of goods piled up under each group of hummocks. We made our small mound too, delimitating our space, territory as the rest of the humans on board did.

Terrific! That how we felt swinging on the hammocks, readies to go. The boat left around 1 in the middle of the hottest hours so everybody was hanged on theirs "flying beds", every now and then there is an small community by the river few wooden houses built in their majority over poles so they don’t get flooded when the river grows over the wet season, roofed with palm tree leaves. Most of the times the whole community is outside waiting for the boat, those cargo are the way the get what they need, what they can't produce and also the place where they can sell or transport what they produced, among passengers or in cities such as Iquitos, Yurimaguas or Tarapoto. As soon as the boat arrived, troops of women jumped on the boat carrying trays with cooked food, fruit, drinks...

The boat men and the community men load or unload goods from the boat depending on the deal they have this day many times both taking and giving. Everything is done fast, many times some of the women have to be picked up by a small boat from one of the locals because our boat has set off already. It's very shocking how often the boat stops in certain parts and it's so precise on its job of moving goods around sometimes it stops 200 meters away from the small community because there is a house where they have to delivered something or to drop someone and the boat is huge, none of the villages neither cities has a port, the boat just nails its nose into the muddy river bench. The conditions in which people in those communities live are from another world for most us, you really need to see it to believe but there 100 of thousands of humans, who lived by the Amazonas with no electricity, with no more water than the one from the river, with no more food than the few thing they can grow in such a poor soil because of the annual drawn which depletes badly the topsoil, just getting rice or few other sort of food from outside throughout boats as the one we are traveling on. The movements of goods and the storage gets very complicated in their media, for example many of those villages get the incomes from selling fish to Yurimaguas-Tarapoto or Iquitos at the other end, the fish is storaged in home-made wooden boxes with ice on the top, wood chips and blankets to keep the ice until the next boat, (one every second day) picks it up and transport it to the city. The ice is brought from the cities in huge blocks, like a 50 kg sack covered with fine wood chips to keep it from melting and delivered in the fishing communities where they smash it to cover the top of the fish's boxes. To you see how much work, logistic requires for those people to sell the fish.

The thing we got to see weren't all as good an inspiring as would like to share, unfortunately plenty of luck of awareness, and ecological education, even though the river for them is the source of life, everything spins around it, they pollute it so much throwing each single plastic bag, bottle, container that they have used with no hesitation, burning hectares of jungle to mono-crop food, logging, selling protected spices to tourists like parrots. It was awful to see it in our boat more than 10 green parrots were bought by local tourist who will cage them.

Despite that, it has been terrific the jungle experienced much better than we could imagine it.

When we arrived back in Yurimahuas we spend this day getting ready to head down south to the mountains, with a technical stop in Tarapoto to wash our DIRTY cloth. Someone told me about a place 17km from Yurimahuas where an Ayahuasca Chaman lives and for many years I wanted to try one of the most powerful herbal medicines in the planet, Ayahuasca. Since Colombia, where the Ayahuasca lands starts I was avoiding the touristic Ayahuasca intakes where a whole theatre with fake shamans, history tellers prepare the mother Ayahuasca adding to it another plants which helps to have hallucination. A whole myth about Ayahuasca, people gringos tripping, getting high, using it like a hallucinogenic

Loosing most of the times the real meaning, this amazing plant when is taking in the right way, is a super powerful natural medicine which helps us to clean ourselves in all the levels, layers that we human we do have.

So I agreed with Marta that we will see if the place was or not an authentic, or another money maker Ayahuasca "guru” for tourists. We stopped by this place called "Dos Mundos" run by a Traditional Amazonian Shaman called Pepe and his Russian wife Maria. I went to have a look and Marta stayed behind with the bikes, I met Maria because Pepe was away until the day after. I spoke with Maria and I felt that was the right place for me to have my first Ayahuasca experience. So I went back to speak with Marta and we agreed that we will wait a day there until Pepe will be back. They live in the low jungle, in this amazing place full of animals,( little by little they are making a rescue place for local animals endangered or that people has abandoned, the are 3 bungalows where Pepe's patients stays during the treatments. We discovered that people with serious illness go to Pepe to be treated and some treatments requires periods of few months under very strict diets in which they live there. The deal in here is that they feed you and give you a place to stay, you pay $17 dollars per Ayahuasca intake and for the food and accommodation you give a donation with whatever you can afford.

The eve Pepe came we didn't have dinner, is better not having food in the stomach before taking the Ayahuasca so we met 5 people and Pepe , by a big wooden table, each of us was given a plastic bowl and a bucket to vomit in, whenever you need to. Pepe was preparing for each of us a bowl with the Ayahuasca extract; everyone was getting different quantities and concentrations. Once each of us we had our bowl we drunk it, it's no easy to drink. It is a thick dark brownish liquid with a very unpleasant flavour. Sip after sip I dunked it all then Pepe told us that we need to wait 20 minutes and then we will start to drink warm water that he will be pouring in the bowls we were given at the beginning, emphasising that it is very important to keep drinking all the time so we will have always plenty of water in the stomach when we throw out and it won’t harm our throats with the stomach juices. I closed my eyes and I tried to be focus with the sensations that were arriving to me, any possible change in my perception, feelings. After 10-15 minutes I started to felt as if I was drunk. Pepe started to give water to everybody so I started to drink water after maybe 3 bowls I felt I was about to throw up, black liquid was coming from the inside a lot, ii kept drinking warm water and vomiting at some point I felt so dizzy that is even difficult to focus in getting the bowl from the table and keep drinking. When the dizziness went away I felt that I had to go ASAP to the toilet for number 2, when I arrived a diarrhoea as I don't remembered I ever had it in my life came like a rush, black water was coming from inside of me almost nonstop, but the Ayahuasca didn't think that was enough I was also vomiting at the same time. I don't know how long I was like that. When it stopped a bit I felt so dizzy that I could hardly move from the position I was my chest lying on my chess and the head hanging over the knees. Images started to come to my mind, imagines with a lot of sense to me. Heat a lot of heat, each single pore of my body was pouring down salty-water. I wanted to have shower, it was just the door next to mine but I could not move I did not have strength to lift my torso from my knees, I was to dizzy to attempt it. I don’t know how long I was there until the mother Ayahuasca finished her work on me and let me to move. I went straight to the shower the cold water was like a hammer, at first it gave me some power back but then I started to shiver madly, cold! I could not even closed the tap with my shivering, someone was knocking the door, "raul, are you ok, are you having shower? Don't or you will feel very cold", Pepe was advising me. Too late Pepe I'm super cold already, I thought. I dressed myself with my cloths and I went outside everybody has left apart from Pepe and his 2 helpers. I sat and Pepe came to me to close the session, he put some essence on my neck, face and wrists. When they left I stayed a bit longer to feel my body to think about the night, the experience I just had, the thought I could not handle it again it's too strong never again. Buy you know what we were planning to leave but it was raining and raining the whole day and we stayed 2 other days and I took Ayahuasca every evening, each single intake is different, buy always there was something in common you tell to yourself, never again. But the morning after you have shower and you feel good, super good, something has changed inside of you.

It was the best of the ways I could imagine to end our time in the Amazon jungle, from there we were heading back to the mountains, to the Andes before starting to climb the last village of the upper jungle was Juanjui and luckily the most important day in the jungle is San Juan, 24 of June, so we stayed there for a day to enjoyed the party, in which everybody eats the most popular food in the jungle Joanes, a bowl of rice with chicken inside and wrapped with the leave of a jungle's plant, each family has its own secret recipe that makes their Joanes the bests ;) apart from that unfortunately there wasn't much going on, during the day we were walking around and we found just few places with private parties and in the evening in the main park of the town there was a private party, but we could listen to the music, although the Peruvian cumbia is not our favourite genre. To make the night more and more special the clear night let the biggest full moon of the year to shined like a queen diming down all the lights of the fun fair below it, what can you asked more if you have your princess next to you to share all this magic with you.

Written somewhere in the Peruvian jungle June 2013  

pictures for the story here


 28 June 2013, Tocache, Peru
We felt in love with Ecuador from, pretty much, the very first sight; I even started to say by the end of our stay in this little unappreciated country that it is my favourite place from all the ones we’ve seen during this trip. Until then I never wanted to give a definite answer to the question we are being asked so many times: “Which is your favourite country so far?” There isn’t one. To me, the more I see the harder it is to give this answer; world is just too beautiful to pick one place. So, before Ecuador, if the person insisted on an answer, I could narrow my choice to 3; now, Ecuador isn’t an unquestionable number 1, but it’d be the first one on the list.
In order to call a place favourite or just to like it, there must be more than one aspect of it that appeals to us, a selection of features that mix’n’match so that it simply makes us feel good in that place. And that how we feel about Ecuador. It is a small, quiet country, where life is pleasant and easy, where they don't have big overwhelming problems, like the neighbouring countries (drugs, guerilla and other paramilitary groups in Colombia and Peru), so they can focus on improving their state and surprisingly (and very exceptionally for Latin America) money seem to be invested well (I know! Hard to believe! But I haven't found if there is any 'trick'). People there are simply nice; the friendliness of Colombian is famous (at least among cyclists), but to me it was sometimes to much, while Ecuadorian seem to know the right 'measure'. The part of the country we saw is very beautiful and we haven't seen such rich indigenous culture since Guatemala.
So we first met with Ecuador in Paramo El Angel. Paramo is a high altitude (over 3500 masl) ecosystem that is home to very peculiar plants that grow in tropics above tree line, but below the snow one. The king of this land is el Fraylejon, this strange plant with yellow furry flowers that we already got to see in El Cocuy in Colombia. But here, in El Angel, this plant literally took over the whole territory – every single hill we could see all the way until the horizon was covered with it. It was very magic and peaceful ride along old forgotten dirt road; we didn’t see a single vehicle for nearly two days. From there it was just better and better.
We decided to stay in the mountains. If you look at the topographical map of Ecuador, you will see that the mainland is very distinctly divided into three parts: coast, fairly narrow strip of high Andes in the middle and jungle (Galapagos is the fourth zone of Ecuador). After visiting so many beaches in Caribbean area we decided that Ecuadorian coast doesn’t have much to offer to us, tempted by the jungle, we found out that the Peruvian one is more interesting and Galapagos, unfortunately, were beyond our financial possibilities. So we remained in the highlands, first proper Andean highlands! For most of our stay in Ecuador we didn’t go lower than 2000 m asl, and it seemed so natural. When we were going down to some valley and were not much higher than 2000 m, it felt that we are so low; and then I thought that before this trip I was only once above 2000 m and it was when I climbed the highest mountain in Poland that doesn’t even reach 2500m asl! And here I am now riding down to 2000 m and feeling that I’m not very high at all!
The drawback of cycling along the spine of Andes was that the busy PanAmericana runs this way, but we managed to loop here and there to avoid the worst traffic. The side trips took us through some picturesque farmlands to magnificent volcanoes. These together with indigenous villages and markets are the highlights of the northern highlands. The volcanoes of Ecuador are mighty high mountains reaching normally over 5000 m asl and mostly snow-capped (unless recent big eruptions melted the glacier). And there is so many of them that on a clear day we always saw minimum one on the horizon. Some of them are world’s most active volcanoes shooting stuff up in the air non-stop for decades. Some generously heat up underground waters that surface as hot springs; the most famous one is Volcano Tungurahua that gives life to four different thermal springs. We unsurprisingly ended up soaking there for few days.
We didn’t try to climb any volcano (which is fairly easy to organize), it is not my cup of tea, neither Raul’s. Volcanoes are excited to me if there is lava to see (and there isn’t any in Ecuador), otherwise climbing a volcano comes down to very strenuous, steep ascent with scrambling over lose stones, sand and sometimes ice. The reward is, if you are very lucky, with a beautiful view and then followed by knee-killing descent. But we cycled up to them as close as we could. My favourite ride was around Chimborazo. I guess it was mostly because of the weather; it was then, when we left Banos and headed towards this mighty mountain, when the heavy grey clouds of far-too-long rain season finally disappeared and we had three days of perfectly blue sky. For the first time we had views all the way until the horizon; we could see Chimborazo, which is the highest mountain in Ecuador (6268 m asl; and due to its proximity to equator and not-that-perfect spherical shape of our planet, it is also the furthest point on Earth from its centre) as well as Cotopaxi, El Altar and twin Iliniza cones, some as distant as 100km away from each other. We were climbing those days a lot, as at the point when we came the closest to the extinct volcano, we reached an altitude of about 4400 m (I say about, because me speedometer was showing different data than the one on the information board and by experience I learnt that I shouldn’t trust any of those sources), but it was a very pleasant climb. We started ascending at about 2000 m in a busy hot city and as we kept going up we were passing through pasture and farm lands and small indigenous villages that gradually where getting smaller and smaller and more spread apart until we got to a point when there were not much alive things left around us. Around 4000 m the area became arid and desert like with only few scrubs that can withstand the harsh condition of that altitude and vicunas (wild cousin of lamas) happily grazing on it. The nights were as beautiful as the days; with clear sky and full moon we could still gaze at Chimborazo; the air was fresh and wintry and there was shimmering frost in the morning. I woke up before the sunrise and well wrapped up went for a stroll; with the crispy frost under my feet, mighty Chimborazo just in front of me, beautiful Cotopaxi on the horizon, full moon setting on one side of the sky and the Sun rising on the other it was one of the most beautiful mornings on this trip. And Raul? Well, frost was an unquestionable sign of cold for him, so he decided not to leave his cosy sleeping bag.
From there we went down into green valleys, where slopes are covered with patchworked pattern of potato and corn fields. I particularly liked the ride in the area of Guamote and Alausi, both located by the rail road running from the coast to the capital. It was once very busy route to carry goods from the port in Guayaquil to the capital, but its prosperity didn't last long. The government has recently invested lots of money to restore historical train station buildings as well as the rails and the ride by train along deep Andean valleys and down steep cliffs is becoming one of the biggest tourist attraction of the region. Then we popped to Cuenca, the colonial gem of Ecuador, but it didn't impress us. I guess we have seen already too many 'colonial gems'. And from there we had the hilliest, hottest and most boring ride in Ecuador. But I suppose all those impressions were emphasized by the fact that we already wanted to be in Peru.

Pictures as usual on Picasa: here and here 
21 April 2013, Banos, Ecuador
Down into the River  Magdalena Valley and up over the Trampolin of Death  - Southern Colombia
After living the Western Sierra we jumped into the Magdalena´s Valley, toward the Putumayo County. That was a fast, flat section of the road. It becomes less and less busy due that is a dead brunch which finishes it at the Putumayo jungle gate.
When we entered the Huila County the national coffee strike hit us right in the face slowing our speed down and at some point even stopping it totally waiting to be allowed to pass the trench. As a small info note, the coffee farmers organized a strike in the whole country, hundreds of roads blocked during 11 days, cutting totally the flow of transport until the government recognized and accept their petitions, the cost of production became higher than the price they get for the coffee bean so the situation is unsustainable for them. The farmers asked to raise the subsidy to the double. Luckily enough though we were in the middle of the “war” being on bikes the allowed us to move, slowly but we did not get stuck as thousands of people on cars and trucks got for more than a week, until that extend that we met people who were an hour by car from home and they were trapped for over a week paying a hotel room not able to go to work, supermarkets supplies starting to be scarily short.
With a death line to leave the country on the back of the heads, we “flew” miles and miles in a dull section of Colombia. There is a place called “Desierto de Tatacoa” which called our attention so we head down taking a side road from the main one crossing the Magdalena river one more time to visit the Colombian desert, well it´s not strictly desert, like a tinny miniature of Utah’s desert, a dry-red patch of sandy rock formations and other patch made of gray rock formations give the name to this desert. Please, my Colombians friends don´t misunderstand me I´m not taking the piss of your “desert” I know you all deeply believe that is a proper desert but the same we don´t have jungle in Europe outside of the Tropical sections in our botanic gardens, boxed inside of a greenhouse. A desert need to have certain conditions that Tatacoa has not, nevertheless it´s a fun place to see and walk. I felt like in a miniature western movie.
After days and days of long riding the body was begging for a rest and S. Agustin was the place chosen for Marta and me, S.Agusting held the remains of an ancestral culture, unique funeral sculptures are the most representative footprints of a much unknown culture. For those who like archeology Google it, it´s fascinating.
Right! More excuses to avoid or delayed the ”Trampolina de la Muerte”, since <Medellin we have been hearing about the legendary road that climbs from the low lands in the jungle up to the Andes, a legendary road that has taken the life of thousands of people, because of the topography of the mountains it´s literally carved on the slop, muddy, rocky with heavy rains all the time washing off sections of the road and with it everything that is on it, tons off rocks and mud falling down from the mountains. Sections where hardly a truck has space to pass is the main road that links Putumayo county and Nariño County. It gets busy real busy and the skillful drivers played with the luck every single day.
Well mentally ready we left Mocoa, we had to climb more than 2000meters in less than 60 km in a very dad dirt road, our thin tyres hardly managed to get grip on the slippery wet rocks that the road is made off, a nonstop climbing throughout a wonderful cloud rain forest
The first day when the light was starting to dim we arrived to “el Mirador” where we camped by the few sheds- restaurants called, “el mirador” One of the best things you can get in Colombia is a fresh made buñuelo and a cup of hot chocolate, when you are hungry, cold and knackered, it was heaven! It was a rainy night and even though our beloved tent is super waterproof nothing you can do when the camp pitch is concrete, the water stays in the bottom forever and after some point it starts to get inside through the bottom of the tent not much but enough to get wet everything that touches the bottom of the tent. Nothing dramatic but everything got wet. And us you all know nothing more fun than packing all your gears when their wet, isn´t it? 
The second day on dirt was even harder, perhaps was the tiredness carried from the first day or the lack of oxygen from the altitude but we arrived to the second summit with a feeling of weakness that very few times we have felt in our life before. It was getting late and soon dark, close to the Ecuador line the sunset last minutes before it gets pitch dark, it´s amazing how fast it is. But the idea of sleeping in the wet tent with hardly any food left made us to push a bit more and go down to the Sibundoy Valley to sleep in a room, hot shower and place to dry the gears. Great decision! 
It´s here in the valley where the paved road starts, you know what? I felt happy to go back to paved for once J the day after we changed our plans and we stayed at the local hot spring resting for hours. Oh, our body loved it! With the engine fully “greased” we took off to Laguna La Cocha, the place with the famous smoked trout, supposedly the best in Colombia. Like a celebration for the strenuous, demanding trampolina the Lacocha is an Oasis, a friend in Medellin told us about this restaurant he found by the lake when he was riding the Trampolina. Totally out of the blue such an exquisite feast stroke us, the presentation of the food, the quality of the service,( this 9-10 years old waiter was far better than any of the waiters I´ve seen in the last year, following a perfect etiquette), and explosion of flavors not just in the trout also in my vegetarian food, remarkable!
We could have kept cycling bit longer this day but with this feeling of “glory” and fulfillment inside, we called a day.
The last day of trampoline was ahead; surprised by a 10km of dirt with crazy grade between 10 and14, we climbed like an old truck until the top. I looked backward, we did it!
This road is one of those that leave a mark in the memory of a cyclist, beauty and hardness.
The mountains ahead, Ecuador!

Picture from this part of our ride can be seen here

05 April 2013, Quito, Ecuador
In the heart of Colombia - Santander and Boyaca

We left mighty River Magdalena behind and said ‘Hello’ to even mightier Andes; we’ll be friends from now all the way to the end of our trip. The meeting happened in San Alberto, tiny and insignificant town, apart from the fact that from there the road drastically changes its angle. Andes, like a good friend, didn’t pretend anything, but showed us their real face; from there onwards we started gaining on average 1000m daily, dropping as much as we’ve ascended. On the top of that it was still very hot, as we didn’t climb that high yet. The road to Bucaramanga, our very first experience in Andes, was especially bad – it was constant roller-coaster with climbs that steep that to do 4km I needed an hour. I’d rather steadily climb 20km than do two hills like that.

As a result we barely moved forward that month; our daily average was 45km, we done a bit over 500km in total and we were stopping all the time. But, I have to say, it was very easy to find an excuse to stop. This part of Colombia was a definite highlight on our cycling route through this country; great people, delicious food, beautiful nature and cute colonial villages.

In Bucaramanga we found our Colombian home; we stayed with Luz and her husband, super sweet and helpful couple and we were dining (or rather ‘lunching’ as in Colombia late lunch is the main meal of the day) at Gabriela’s, their neighbour, who invited us to come every day for lunch. Not to mention that we could use sauna, swimming pool and gym facilities in the neighbourhood where they all live. In Tunja, on the other hand, we found our ‘pal’ and student flat. We were hosted by German, who, having a spare room in his flat, let us stay as long as we wanted. He also devoted lots of his spare time to show us around; he took us for a ride around Boyacá to destinations we wouldn’t have visited otherwise. So we went to see Lago Tota, the second biggest lake of South America (after Lake Titicaca) located over 3000m asl, with its famous white-sand, Caribbean - like beach, where some brave people (maybe deceived by the turquoise colour of the water) actually swim! The lake area is also famous for onion growing; around the lake, all the way until horizon, every smallest patch of land is filled with onion. On the way there we passed through many unknown (or maybe just known to locals) cute and equally beautiful, as the more famous ones, colonial villages. Most of them seem to follow the same pattern – they are whitewashed with bottle- green finish off. Maybe apart from one, Raquira, that is insanely colourful. However, our favourite one on this ride was Iza with its cute little market square full of stalls with, as delicious as beautifully decorated, cakes. Talking about colonial villages, we couldn’t miss the two most famous ones, rivals for the crown in the beauty competition – Villa de Leyva and Barichara; we would vote for the second one.
Barichara feels as if the time stopped over there; no wonder it is the place where the most soap operas are shot. It is a tiny place, that you could walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes and it seems that it hasn’t grown much since colonial times. All the houses are white-washed, with green windows and doors and pink bugambilias blooming year round. In the afternoons locals put their chairs outside or simply sit on doorsteps and just let the time pass; and no more than an hour after the sunset it is hard to find anything open.

I haven't mentioned the nature part yet; well, Santander is full of waterfalls and we saw some beautiful ones on our walk through the jungle in El Playon and around San Gil. We rode through pretty amazing Canyon Chicamocha, where we first went some 30km downhill to the hot, dry and sandy bottom of the Canyon to immediately start the day and a half ascent winding up along the opposite wall, over the rim and along the other side of the gorge. When we finally
summited we were surrounded by lush jungle. But the definite highlight of the Colombian Eastern mountain range was El Cocuy National Park, about which the pictures we posted on Facebook can say much more than worlds. We spent there only 3 days, but I wished our stay were minimum twice that long. We hiked to Lake La Plaza, we camped by this – as the information board states :) – most beautiful lake of South America and the next day we came back. We were lucky to have just the perfect weather – sun, blue sky and fine mist coming up from the valleys and passing slowly through, just to create the magical atmosphere, but not obscuring the views for too long. El Cocuy NP protects vast extensions of paramo, which is a very unique alpine ecosystem that can be found only in Neotropics – a very narrow strip North and South from equator – and only in South and a bit in Central America. The term refers to vegetation that occurs above tree and below snow line, which is what we call tundra on Northern Hemisphere, but here in tropics the plants are pretty peculiar, with the most characteristic being the furry yellow flower, called fraylejon. We’ve enjoyed them a lot and we adored the whole place so much that it was the first time on our trip that we run out of memory cards. 

To see pics click here

09 Feb 2013
Colombian low and hot lands

After we left the boat in Cartagena we went to look for a place to stay few days, we were waiting for Marta's sister, Ania to arrive with a friend of hers, they were coming to visit us, the plan was to be traveling with them. Because they came backpacking, Marta and me decided that we will leave the bikes somewhere so we could go backpacking to to explore a bit of Colombia with them. It wasn't easy to find a place to leave the bikes when we thought that everything was arranged the person who told us that will take care of us did not unswer our calls so we were a bit worries Where? Safe?

Finally my mother who works in a religious school in Spain contacted the Nun from the same religious order who has a house in Medelling, they gently offered us to take care of the bikes as long as we need, so the plan was to take the bikes with us to Santa Marta, Taganga were we plan to stay few days in the meantime Ana and Kamila were scuba diving. Great week swimming one more time at the Caribian sea, I just love it! Although this part of Colombia or t least Santa Marta and Taganga weren't specially pretty but to be the 4 of us together was that magic that the places weren't to important. From Santa Marta we took a bus, a big one in which we managed to fit the bikes toward Medellin where we will leave the bikes to keep tyraveling with Ana and Kamila in the „Eje Cafetero”, that was the best part we did backpacking, we went to Manizales from were we explore the rigion. 
with Ania and Kamila
The eje cafetero are all those vilillages, mountains, fincas were the most of the Colombian coffe is produced. Hill after hill, with rivers crossing the valleys in wich the coffe plants grows everywhere colouring with a dark, shinny green all the hills. It's a very fine image, banana trees, bambu, coffee fill up all the land scape and here and there coffee fincas and sometime an small village down in the valley or up in the mountains like a farytale, the most farytale like is called Salento, a charming small colonial town, gate of the famous Cocora Valley. One of the most beautiful pleaces we have seen so far in Colombia, house of the wax palm, a rare palm that grows up to 60 meters high endemic from this valley no where else in the world. It's a wonderful 5-6 hours loop walk through the cloud forest, where it starts going down to a surrealistic valley where there is not much trees just low grass and the giant palms like Babel's towers trying to reach the sky.

The days were flying by fast, very fast Ania and Kamila were planning to go down to Peru to spend a month over there and Marta and me we were flying to California to work and make a bit of money to carry on with our adventure so the 4 of us we took off to Bogota from where the flight were living.

2 days in Bogota to say bye to Ania and Kamila to give thanks for the wonderful time we had together I have to say that super good when you are used to travel on your own or just with your couple you never know how is going to be traveling with more people but it worked our super good. Un beso Ana and Kamila, safe money and I'll see you in Argentina ? :)

After hard work we went to spend Xmas with the family for a month. Marta went to Kalno and I went to my loved Montecorto.
ready to start South America

After we left the old Cartagena we head down toward San Onofre trying to avoid busy roads. In San Onofre we asked in a Elderly House run by Nuns where they take care of homeless , those folk that the society has abandoned.Those 2 sweet nuns invited us to spend the night over, sharing with us theyr food and really taking care that we had a resting eve with them. Every time I see people like those women, who has dedicated her entirely life to help other, makes me feel happy, trustful with hope.

When we left San Onofre we took off toward Coloso with the intention of avoiding the busy road and trying to make a short cut trough the hills, we did not know the road conditions, we asked a bit to locals and they said “it good, very good” The paved wasn’t bad patches of gravel here and there but well bitten and the best after we arrived I went to the church looking for a place to stay when one of the villigers come to invite us to stay over in his place, after we were settle in his place he shown us that not far away from there there are few natural pools on the river where we could refresh our overheated bodies and that is what we did we took the bikes and we follow his instructions until we arrived to a very pretty corner shade by big trees where one of the river branches ends making a wonderful pool, few youngster where jumping from the trees to the water after we got rid of our dirty “ cycling uniform” we joined in Uhmm! It’s one of the best things you can give to a dirty and tired cyclist a swim in a clean, fresh river How I did enjoy.

The following morning we started the first intense, demanding cycling day on gravel climbing the section between Coloso and Ovegas, going through a tiny communities, patches of houses here and there where the biggest population are donkeys more than Colombians and field of Yuca ( it’s a root not far away from our potatoes though I like it much more) The gravel when you go with thin tires as we go requires a very technical ride to keep the front wheel on truck and that drains your energy because you have to be very focus and hold the handlebar tight, very tight otherwise you hit the ground! 
dirt road to Mompos
After this section was done and we got to paved road I felt a Urban guy how smooth and effortless runs the bike and the road wasn’t busy at all, such a pleasure, taking the road 75 we went down from the main road to a secondary road to San Pedro, nice easy ride we arrived into San Pedro, big village in which we went to speak with the prist to ask him if he has a place to host us for a night, the prist was very helpful looking for a place but outside of his property although he felt there was place inside I think he thought we wanted to camp outside of the church in the street and I did not feel pushing and asking what about in this patio?, where we where chating with him. The prist called the police officer who came with 2 other officers explaining that we were traveling and we wanted a place to stay over, the prist told the officers to put us up in the park in front of the Police Station so we will be close and safe, because apparently this town recently is being quite insecure with assults and so on even more few months back there was a problem where a big group of the villigers rioted against the police literally they were kicked out from the village and it’s been recently that the police came back so the situation is still fragile, and the prist wanted us in a safe place.
The policemen took us inside of the police station where we had the whole yard for us to camp even a rustic shower., very sweet people, the woman who cooks for them even brought a bit for food for us.

The next day we hit straight away the dirty road, clouds of dusty every time a car was passing by, I had the feeling of beeing a Tiramisu, with layers of suncream, sweat and dust one on the top of the other :)

it took us to days of hard, hot days (most of the time over 40C) to reach the colonial town of Mompos where we sttopped for a day to rest our exahusted bodies, it's not easy to ride bikes with such as thin tires as we have on dirty roads the ride becames very tecnical where you need to pedal in a low gear very hard so you keep the rear tire tracking through the sand in which the heavy bikes sunks all the time, the average goes down to 10km an hour although is pretty flat. The Magdalena river which is the main river in Colombia runs along the town of Mompos giving to it an special charming look, one of my favourites moments overthere was the first light after the damm where the river glows with the first lights of the day. 

We asked locals what was like the rest of the road until Tamalemeque, the unswers werent to positive, Dirty road for KM and KM, after more than 200Km on this sort of roads is such pleasure a release to ride on paved roads where the whole bike and you on the top of it, it's n ot jumping in each single meter 20 times or more. Hard on the bikes, hard on the body! Little by little we went breaking throung util got finllly to a smooth paved road ;)

The low lands of Colombia starts to change little by little a few hill here and there, the horizon starts to show the Cordillera in the distance, it is in the town of San Angel where defenitaly the Colombian mountains starts for us, the famous 100 km of up and downs to reach Bucaramanga were ahead, it's mad to go from 300meters above sea level to 900, Bucaramanga you have to go up to 900meters five times and then down to almost 300 again to start to climb back up with grades from 6% to 14% non stop. Sometimes the memory plays funny but I would say that is one of the hardest climmbings we have done. We had a couch arranged in Bucaramanga with our friend Luz, Luz lives in a gated community in which we could relaxed for a couple of days recovering our bodies, the community has sauna, jacuzzy, pool a heaven for tires muscles and on the top of that like the cherry of an icecream we met in there a wonderful woman called Gabriela, a wonderful colmbian angel who was inviting us for lunches to her place every single day we stayed in Bucaramanga and What a lunches! Since we hit Central America we had never had such a fine, flavoured food, this woman is a wonderful cook, Uhmm this salad of strawberries, carrots and spinach, the rice with coconauts, the pumking cream … She became inmediately in our ”Colombian mami” Every time we meet people like her makes you feel that this trip is the best thing I've made in my live because thanks to it I can meet people like Gabr

To see pictures click here and here

12 Jan 2013
Panama is one of those places where the old way of living is still visible, although each year is remaining a bit less of it. It´s impressive to see how the modernity is changing, modifying the landscape, the old rural way of living, sometimes it feels that the people and the place itself can't cope with the speed. Since the Panama Canal was transferred to the Panamian Government to be managed fully by Panama, the economy has incised hugely, the country has started to receive an enormous income from it.
Panama is right now living a moment of transition between been a poor rural country to a new modern economy with hundreds of foreign countries interested on investing over there, every day new investors arrive, that is causing a very fast change in the "Medio Ambiente", people, way of living, social structures, international relations.
It´s very surprising in such an small country to see a super modern city, growing madly as Panama city is doing it every day and not far from there paradisiacal beaches where the fisherman is still knitting the nets sat on the shore and net to him a massive working side that soon will be a residential area for rich tourist. As I saw in many other places the locals will be sharing the area for some time until little by little the price of the lands and the lack of fish will make to move away from there. I know it sounds a bit pessimistic but I saw it happening so many times that it would be a marvellous surprise if that won’t happen in Panama. I feel the next time I see Panama will be a totally different place.
One of the most authentic places We´ve seen in Panama is called "Isla Canas". Marta and I were trying to see Turtles laying eggs since Mexico unsuccessfully, so this place was the last chance before we head down to the Colombian Andes far away from the ocean. After we spoke with a bunch of super cool "bomberos" to leave our bikes with them, we agreed with them that they will babysit the bikes until we comeback. Right! We went down to the coast looking for this island with a community project on it, protecting and helping the turtles. A bus took us to the beach where the road finishes, the place to catch the boat that crosses the mangrove between the mainland and the island. The island is very close from the mainland, when the tide is low the boat can´t go to the shore where the bus drop us off, so we had to walk, with the rest of the locals who were on their way to the island, through the mangrove. We rolled up our trousers and helping out with the load to one of the locals we made our way. It was a very interesting experience to walk inside of the river that crosses the mangrove with all this vegetation around. The river bed is very muddy and slippery it makes you be really focus on where you are stepping, no more than 40 meters away from the island the water gets dip and we needed to get a boat to cross to the other side when we disembarked we went straight away to look for the ranger office to get info about the turtles and what to do. It´s very common in the whole Central America people stilling the turtles ‘eggs there is a stupid believe that the eggs have aphrodisiac powers and because of this several species are in serious danger of extinction. All those thieveries are risking very seriously the survival of all the spices of turtles.
The guy who was in the office was a local with not much information and totally terrified with our presence, it seemed to us that he was in his first day of work and he got a bit panic with a couple of international tourist asking  for information about places to see the turtles, activities, a place to camp, etc. The only answer we got from him was that later the ranger will go to the beach to explain us everything.
Marta and I were so excited about being so close from seeing turtles finally this night, at least one!
After we walked to the beach to look for a place to set the camp later on, we went to have some food. The only place in the island is a family who serves food on their front yard working as a restaurant for the few tourist who goes to such as remote island, after a big place of rice and beans for me, and local fish for Marta we went back to the beach for a swim. Like many other beaches in Central America the palm trees are drawing the coast line in front of the ocean with nothing more that sand a crabs in-between. Thousands and thousands of crabs, different sizes and colours with a common feature the curiosity about us, as soon as we were minding our business they get closer and closer that much that sometimes you can feel the pincers holding a bit of your flesh ;)
We had such a great time running behind them seeing how they run looking for an empty hole in the sand to scape. It´s very interesting to see how the crabs look for an empty hole and how if it´s busy the former crab fights back the intruder until they reach an empty one to hide safely from us. Running here and there the afternoon flown away. Time to set up the tent and have a bit of rest before the night walk. Just before we started with the tent the ranger turned up to meet us, talking with him we found out that was very lucky that we will see turtles this night , the pick of the season was starting, that they were arriving every night to lay eggs. The ranger explained us that the beach was protected, that the community was helping on a project to protect the turtles, preserving and protecting the eggs. To be more precise he pointed a section of the beach where it was totally band to take any eggs, supposedly the section where more turtles arrive to lay eggs.
The alarm went on at 11pm, time to go for a walk! For those who doesn´t know, the turtles go back to the same beach where they were born to lay the eggs, this circle of life is been repeated year after year for the last millions of years, turtles are one of the oldest creatures in the Planet Earth. We took our head torches before we left our tent behind us. We were so excited looking for marks, We were knew on this trying to look for the marks that the turtle makes on the sand when they walk up and down looking for the right place to live the eggs, the eggs must be dig outside of the wet sand so they have to walk a long way outside of the water. For such a heavy animal is a very strenuous activity first of all using the torches then without After few 100 meters from the tent we started to see a flow of people, walking cycling on the sand and even riding a horse everybody in silence and with flashing light from time to time, sadly all of them were there for the same reason to take turtles eggs, with such amount of people I can tell that not even one turtle is going to be successful on keeping the spice alive at least not in this beach, this night. It´s quite weird the situation where you see people moving fast in darkness without talking to each other, avoiding contact with the rest of the people who are doing the same as they are doing, just using a flashing light from time to time to mark their territory-position and in the mind time hiding their selves from the ranger in case he appears. There is just one ranger for several km of beach, a guy who patrols on a small ATV so the thieves have plenty of time to hide themselves when they see the lights or hear the noisy vehicle before they are caught.
We started to feel very sad with the whole situation in a place where we thought there was a spirit of help and protect the turtles and instead we found that the whole community was looking for eggs to steel them How ironic is that!
After more than an hour without seeing any mark we found a turtle mark, just one! That means the turtle is still laying the eggs. At the end of the mark there was a light o, someone was waiting nervously for the eggs. Without following any of the eggs hunter rules we got closer until we were next to the guy and the turtle. How wonderful was to see it the turtle was like in a trance without noticing that we were there next to it, the moonlight was just giving enough light to see it. It´s a privilege to be there, to be a witness while the cycle of life is happening just in front of you.
A young guy was there waiting for the turtle to finish to take all the eggs, the situation is very weird and sad at the same time. The 3 of us we were witness of this magic moment of life, but not all of us were there with the same intention, energy. The guy was trying to excuse himself saying that his first night that he hasn´t come for eggs in years, that he will feed his friends with them, probably just a poor excuse, just lies to avoid a possible confrontation with us.
It´s very sad to be there in such a moment with the turtle burying the eggs without knowing that the predator is waiting just there to take all of them, not even one is going to survive as normally happens with the rest of the predators. A regular "puesta" has around 90-120 eggs each, so that way the nature makes sure that some they will survive from the predators to keep alive the species. But humans we are to greedy we take all, that means a generation with no new-borns and if that happens year after year, Generations with no turtles so the population gets older and the risk of "extinction" for the turtles grows bigger and bigger
As soon as the turtle went away the guy started to dig out all the eggs, it was too sad to see it so Marta and me we walked the mother back to the sea, slowly, exhausting way back. The feelings we had were very confusing few seconds ago were in the middle of a birth and now we were walking a mother back to her place after all her babies have been killed, it´s been few months since we started to look for this moment and we felt deeply sad with the situation, not understanding at all why humans can´t leave in harmony with the rest of the Nature. With this thought occupying fully our minds we walked back to the tent.
Sustainability and progress don´t work together yet and sadly the Nature is paying a too high price

Some pics from Panama City and San Blas are here 

12 Jan 2013
Costa Rica
When I’m trying to recall now, after four months, my memories of Costa Rica, the first thing that comes to my mind is the animals. An obvious choice for this country; Ticas (that’s how Costaricenas are called in Cenral America) are very proud of their nature and they have the right to it. However we’ve been in Tropics since mid-Mexico, we haven’t seen that many exotic animals anywhere else. And it wasn’t even in the parks, but just by the road. Since I could recognize which is the favourite tree for sloths, I’d been tree-top gazing while cycling (which sometimes was a bit dangerous, because when I looked back down again I was in the middle of the road) and I managed to spot two, hanging just over the road. The enormous and vibrantly red, blue and yellow scarlet macaw parrots flew over our heads many times; those birds are so beautiful that they look to me unreal even in Costa Rica. A bunch of shy keel-billed toucans flew away quietly from a mango tree, when we were passing by. There was a bridge, a spot tourists know about I must say, however just a regular bridge on a secondary road, where you could look down and see giant crocodiles just chilling out in the shallow water. We were high above them, maybe 10 meters, but even from there they looked so powerful, that it made me feel timid. They might’ve looked as if they were sleeping, but when annoyed by their pal passing by, they reacted instantly and with such predicament that I wouldn’t like to be any closer to them than I was. And there was this funny monkey (used to people as we found out later) that, when we stopped to have some water, she climbed down the tree, walked slowly towards us (I was just watching in awe, with my camera ready), with the same peaceful mode climbed at Raul’s bike and tried the bananas he carried on the rear pannier. However, to her taste they were not ready yet. Luckily for us they were not ripped yet, because I wouldn’t dare to fight with monkey over bananas.
And we were on a quest to see sea turtles nesting. Yet, it didn’t happen until Panama. Costa Rica is one of the world’s biggest sea turtles nesting sites and there are some turtles lying eggs pretty much all year round; sadly, the giant Leatherback, the biggest of the turtles wasn’t nesting at that time we were there. Here you can also see a phenomenon called ‘arribada’, which is thousands and thousands of those reptiles arriving over one night to one beach to lay eggs together. No-one exactly knows why and how does it happen, some theories say it depends on moon cycle; but whatever the reason, it must be magical experience.
But this is the Nature spectacle, for which you can buy a ticket, but the time is never precisely given and the place might not be convenient. And in this case we lacked the time to reach the inconvenient place and to wait for the final show. The closest to Colombia we were (where we were meeting with my sister and her friend), the less time we had. In Guatemala we enjoyed ourselves for a month, we spared 10 days to do the diving course in Honduras, we still had an extra week to spend with Raul’s brother in Nicaragua, but in the two last Central American countries we could barely afford few days off. It took us 24 days to cycle from Granada in Nicaragua to Panama City and over this time we stopped only 3 days. For us it was killing speed, as it turned out recently that we are lazy cyclists. We never counted how many days we cycle and how many we stop, we just take days off when we feel so; but just for curiosity I did some statistic recently and we found out that on average we don’t cycle for 12 days per month, which is very close to ‘half month on the bike and half month off the bike’; which is perfectly fine with us, we are not rushing anywhere, but just imagine how knackered we arrived to Panama City J Anyway, back to turtles; the two most spectacular turtle nesting sites were out of our reach, so we decided to cycle along Pacific Coast, where there are few minor turtle centres and a couple of very beautiful parks to see. In one centre we were invited to go for a walk with the night patrol, but – as I said before – we didn’t encounter any turtle; however, we found nests; some of them robbed by racoons and crabs, some by people, but other well hidden and untouched and so we could help to collect the eggs and then dig them safely in the nursery. So we realised baby turtles in Mexico, collected the eggs in Costa Rica and finally got to see the mum-turtle lying eggs in Panama.
We kept hearing about this exceptional beauty of Costa Rica and we couldn’t understand how it is possible that neighbouring countries can be so different; after all they are all so small in Central America and nature doesn’t understand the idea of frontiers. Well, nature doesn’t, but people do and they cut the forest, leaving nearly nothing, all the way to costaricenan borders. Central American countries have huge problem of deforestation and, while the others where chopping their trees down, Costa Rica decided to invest in them. It was thanks to couple of Europeans, who in 70-tees, I think, came across a beautiful piece of land in Costa Rica that was being destroyed by human intervention. They decided to fight for this area to be preserved and somehow they were successful; and somehow this changed the government way of thinking and since then the whole movement of preservation have started. Costa Rica is also one of those countries that don’t have army; the money is invested in education and nature protection instead. 25% of the country’s land is under some sort of preservation! No wonder so much flora and fauna is happily living there and no wonder Ticas favourite word is ‘biodiversity’. They are very proud of their country and they have the right to it.
There is a downside. All this beauty of Costa Rica has its price; touchable, it is an expensive country, all the prices for tourist are in dollars and are way higher than for ‘nacionales’; and in peoples’ mentality, we were always perceived as tourists, never as travellers. Unfortunately, even in the smallest village we were gringos and we felt that people looking at us saw this ‘$$’. There is always an exception and to be fair I need to mention it; we owe big thanks to Maria and Mainor with their children and grandchildren, who hosted us so generously.

11 Dec 2012
Nicaragua was the place where I agreed with my brother to meet up; over a year I haven’t seen him. I was looking forward to see the Benjamin of the family.
The route that Marta and I decided to do was following the coast through Mangua until Granada, the meeting place! Although Nicaragua was, unfortunately, a quick ride because of being a bit short of time to reach Granada by the time Floren would be there, it was long enough to get a feeling of it and some pretty intense moments, like this touchy evening with a Nicas family (Nicas is the way people from Nicaragua are called in Central America) who opened their home to us in “Villa 15 de Julio”. After a long ride we arrived into a very small community with a church where we had the plan of asking the priest to pinch the tent in the garden. Unfortunately, the priest told us that he has no room inside for us and the yard outside is guarded by dogs all the night long and they will bark and even may attack us so we had to put Plan B into action. I asked some locals for the police station in case there was any; someone shown me a house where the policeman supposedly lives so I went there but no one answered. Next to this house there was a group of young girls sitting on the street and chatting. One of them call my out asking what do we need I told her that I was looking for a place to pinch the tent for a night in the village, straight away she invited us to her back yard and showed us the place to pinch the tent. We started to pinch the tent when the whole family came to meet us: parents, sisters, brothers in law, cousins, nephews … Everybody!

The father, Don Pedro told us “Please don’t sleep out here it would be an honour for us to share our house with you” and  he invited us to a small house next to where the tent was standing. The house was a new built shed for his daughter who had come back home after few years living away in Managua. As Don Pedro told us later on the daughter was 16 when a guy much, much older than her “kidnapped her” and after few years he abandoned her with 3 small children.

The house is made of black plastic like the one people use for green houses held up by an structure of sugarcane sticks, in the inside 2 rooms separated with plastic, kitchen and bedroom , all together no more than 9m square-27m square. Kitchen, the only furniture was: a shelve where the pots, few plastic plates and a colander hanging off the wall, a small sort of table with a tinny stove with 2 hobs and as the biggest piece of furniture a plastic table with 2 plastic chairs. The second room was the bedroom where a big plastic bag working of wore drove for the whole family, attached to the canes 2 small school bags, between canes from the ceiling and from the walls shoes fit between gaps just under it a rectangular board of wood without mattress or any kind of foam, the bed for the 4 of them! The floor of the house was just a continuation of the one from the outside; sandy, dusty and muddy.

We moved the bikes and our bags inside and we started to get settle for the eve when all the children came to the room, more than 8 around us; laughing, talking, playing, asking for everything trying to help us out with each single movement we did. Once we finished with that outside we were talking with the family for a while (they were more than 20 people) often people who invites us to stay with them are very interested about the two” gringo” on bikes, what we do? If we are tired? Always is fun to see theirs expressions of surprise, their curiosity about our way of living? After a bit of talking was time for them to start all the cooking for the day after, the economy of this family was based on banana chips that they sell in the market. Every evening they peel and cut hundreds of plantain ready to fry then in the morning, the day start for them at 2 in the morning when the mother and the father get up to start 4-5 long hours of frying, then the daughters in the morning they go to the market to sell then.

So we got involve looking at them working and helping then too with the cutting of banana using a very simple but useful tool, a flat piece of wood with a whole in the middle with a blade fit on it. With a quick movement of the hand forward and backward sliding the plantain against the board, fine slides of plantain fall into the ball between my legs and the challenge is to do it without chopping off any finger.

In the meantime the daughter who lend us her house was cocking rice and beans, for the whole family and the 2 guest, top it up with fry plantain obviously J Marta and I we had just cheese with us but enough to give a different touch to the every day’s food that they have (beans and rice).

It’s difficult to put into words how I feel every time we meet truly generous people, they just filled up my entirely persona with good vibe. Perhaps I could describe in this piece of writing the toilet they have, or the kitchen where they cook all the day long but I don’t see the point of it. To describe how poor they are and how lucky we are as many times we do, it seems sometimes we need the misery of someone else to see our luck. Not this time! What is more important to me if after we finish this trip we try hard to help this people, wouldn’t be amazing if we can’t put together some money and built a small house for this family just to give a bit back the magic they irradiate.

Back to the road! We plan to get closer to Manawa, spent night somewhere and the day after to cross it as soon and as fast as possible, but you know plans! J We ended in the middle of Manawa with the last minutes of the day light looking for a place to spend nights. All the lads of emergency in our heads ON! We ended in one of those motels that couples rents for hours to mix and release energies. Normally those places if you want to rent a room for the whole night can be very expensive but the owner saw a couple of cyclist with fearful faces and felt sorrow for us giving a very cheap price. The room was a world itself! If my mother could see some of the places where we slept, she would cry! But as we said all the time it’s part of the game!

Any horror movie could’ve been shut in this room; the only decoration matching with the rusty metallic bed was the greenish-bluish patches of mould covering the walls. That was the luxury part of the room the worst came when I looked up to the far end of the room where a wall splits the bedroom from the in suite bathroom, when I went around the wall to see the “toilet” I saw an ancient loo with no lead on it instead a tap in one of the corners when I got closer to this clever invention loo-sink all in one and I looked down dozens of balls of wet paper sunk all around the pump-mechanism where this brown water was giving the perfect ecosystem to anything willing to live in there. The next movement for the eyes was straight down to the corner where a piece of metal stuck off the wall made me thought “that must be the shower”, but when I saw the “shower plate” I thought my flip flops they are going to shower with me. I laughed to myself and I sat on the bed, waooo! “I bet that is how a Fakir feels lying on his bed “:).

It was getting dark and the light in the whole Motel went off, the guy came to bring a candle so with the candle and our lantern we started to cook dinner, it was hot so we sat outside of the room where we started to observe all those couple of youngster and not that young too, looking for a room. What surprise us the most was that they were taking the room even without the power working, it was pitch dark but after I saw the room I think the darkness was upgrading the place quite a bit. Good for them! We were shocked with the entire buzz, it got busy! As a game we started to put more attention in seeing how they came and how they leave, the interaction between couples before and after releasing the hormones. How in many cases the chemist was left behind totally in the darkness of the room.

Laughing and talking we started to felt tired from all the cycling and the adventures of the day so we took off to sleep, once I was lying with my eyes closed a big smile filled my face while I was thinking is the funniest of the birthdays I had in my life.

Happy 35 raulillo! And with this thought I fell asleep.

We just arrived to the main square in Granada and you know what? The first person I saw walking was my brother, such a coincidence, what a surprise! After a big hug we went to look for a place to stay, we found a good deal. The plan was to explore the city for few days and then go for a couple of days hiking to a Volcano not far from Granada, the Telica volcano. It was fantastic to catch up with my bro after more than a year without seeing each other.

Granada is a charming colonial town with a remarkable lively Market full of food stands with the local bites and all those appetizing fresh juices I feel hungry and Thursday while writing! Granada was a week of not being worry or not too much about expenses as normally we have to. That was my mother birthday 200 euros to enjoy Granada for the 3 of us and in a country like Nicaragua that is a lot of money. We even went for dinner to a fancy restaurant, although if you are vegetarian, in these latitudes, as I am is a bit silly because you end eating the same bean and rice with fried cheese than the one3 you get in the market but 3 times pricier. Never mind Marta and Floren could eat exiting food that you can’t get in the local Market, so all was good!

We left the hostel for a couple of days they would take care of the bikes and we packed lightly to climb the volcano. Instead of buying a tour we decided to go on our own peace, so the bus dropped us where the path starts, asking to everybody we bumped into on our way up, the path wasn’t marked at all, so during 3 hours we climbed up following the best bitten paths we found. The light was diming, we knew we were real close but at some point we missed behind the truck so our chance was to walk through all this jungle of bushes to the top of the mountain where we could see where the volcano was. It was just behind it! The image of the crater wiped off all the tiredness of our faces in one stroke. The firs image we saw was a meadow of green grass with just one huge tree standing up and then next to it this gigantic mountain of rock emerges straight from the grass. We walked down to the meadow to find a good place to camp, just next to the tree a path was heading down to a section more protected from the wind, with few palm trees and rocks making a perfect natural shelter against the wind. It was unreal the crater was just in front of us not farther than 200mts from our campsite. Totally flat, spongy grass as if the nature has prepared the perfect spot for whoever climbs all the way up to see one of the “mother’s Earth mouths”. While the day light was painting with the last strokes of light covering with a golden glittering light everything. Our tents were up and we readies to go up to the mouth of the crater, the last bit before we reach the mouth was very steep that much that we need to go on all 4. The sound coming from the crater made us to walk extremely cautious, while getting closer to the rim, perhaps the 2 last meters we literally crawled terrified, each single hair in my body was rose up. The air was difficult to breath for the amount of sulphur’s fumes that contains but overall what made me feel respectful and careful with each single movement I was making was the sound that came up from the inside of the crater is like the engine of many aeroplanes together, moving, stirring, heating up the gusts of the Earth, and down there in the centre of everything the red magma, a fluid that reaches temperatures over 700C, rocks on its liquid state. The idea of being lying at the edge of the rim, the huge wall of a well of fire. Many if? If? Comes to your mind, “if a bit of the soil breaks and slides down…? Game over! But on the other hand something hypnotic made me to stay there longer, pushing the boundaries, looking at it, enjoying the mother’s nature power, facing how small and fragile I am. The idea of how ephemeral is the matter I’m made off is? It seems the immortality belongs just to the inert matter…

ps.  Still no pictures from Nica, Costa Rica and Panama; still hoping to recover them, hovever the possibilities are narrowing. This fer one here from Telica have been saved by Marta's mum.

10 Dec 201, Poland

Honduras has been so far the only county that we didn’t enjoy much. Well, apart from Utila, but this island is a different reality. In the rest of the county, on the mainland, the feeling of uncertainty, the atmosphere of danger, fear didn’t leave us; and Honduran people didn’t make us to feel better. They were undouptfully helpful and welcoming, but they also liked to emphasize how dangerous their country is (unlike other nations of Central America, who always say that the neighbouring country is more dangerous. In Mexico we were being warned about Guatemala, Guatemalan was blaming El Salvador etc.). They love to use numbers, so we quickly learnt that Honduras is number 1. in terms of crime in all Latin America, San Pedro de Sula (which we had to cycle through!) is the fifth most dangerous city in the whole world, that every 3 minutes someone is shut here etc. I guess it was all done with good intention, to warn us, but at the same time it just made us more alert, distant and less trustful towards locals.

We ended up looking at everything through 'danger glasses', which changed our perspective of the country a lot. We didn’t stop in any big city, why? ‘Because they are all dangerous’. The morning we set to cycle across San Pedro de Sula, we were actually advised NOT TO stop in the city at all! So as soon as we saw the outskirts of it, we switched into ‘speed mode’ and didn't slow down until we reached a petrol station on the other side of the city by-pass. There, under a watchful eye of a security guy (all security guys there carry big guns), we had our lunch. Sadly, eating lunch somewhere around guys in uniforms with big guns became common practice. As well, we started to ask for accommodation more at different institutions rather than to people. So there were police, municipalities, churches. And it was here, in Honduras where we had the most beautiful experience in churches. One with Augustans in Confradia, second with Franciscans in Comayagua. The second place especially touched our hearts. They had spare bedroom with private toilet that we could use. And just this, bed and shower, was for us the ultimate luxury. But when we came back from the shop, we found the bedroom tided up, bed perfectly made, with two nicely folded towels on it and a welcoming card on the top. We were speechless. Later we were invited to join them for dinner and the evening passed on a very interesting conversations.

Comayagua was also one of two pretty town/city (the second one is Copan, which is very touristy and not authentic)we visited. As the historical capital, built by Spaniards, it has colonial charm, but, at the same time, it is very unlikely to see some foreign tourists around. What I can recall from other towns in this country, is just dust, dirt, uninteresting buildings and poor markets. I guess Honduras was unlucky that we visited it after Guatemala, where the richness of Mayan culture, liveliness of markets and beauty of the nature is just overwhelming. With Guatemala in the background, it is hard to impress. There isn’t much pre-Columbian history in Honduras, the few native groups that reminded there, live deep in the jungle and don’t want to see white people. Spanish invaders settle just in few places around this country, but didn’t leave impressive structures, and even the nature in Honduras is just avarage (from what've seen obviousely, there are still remote parts of the country, where nature is apparently stunning). We cycled Honduras pretty much on diagonal (however on paved roads only, maybe off-road things look different) and what we saw was either farmlands (endless banana, oil palm and pineapple plantations) or young pine forest (Honduras is the second, after El Salvador, deforested country in Central America). Oh well, Honduras didn't ravish us.

Maybe apart from the waterworld. Because even the island itself is not beautiful, however peculiar. Utila, an island we'd heard of for the first time in Canada, a paradise for divers and especially for those ones who want to learn diving, as it is one of the cheapest and most beautiful locations to do this. Why peculiar? Well, it is one of three in Bay Islands that are situated on Caribean Sea, not far from coast of Honduras. They were claimed by Honduras fairly recently; before they were sort of no-man's land. Small, not really strageticaly located, without any resources, they were for many years a hideout for pirates. Also at some point in the history they were a dump for British Crown, who had 'a problem' with rebelious slaves and decided to abandon them on Roatan, the biggest of the three Bay Islands. This was actually very importand event in the history of Cariean, as this group was the beginning of the black caribean population, called Garifuna. So this Islands had been inhabitated, until recently, exclusively by descendant of English pirates (here you should imagine blond or ginger heads, freckels and white skin) and black Garifunas. Both groups speaking English only (garifunas, working as slaves fro British Crown, had to learn English, so by the time they were left on the island, they didn't speak their language any more). It was a decade ago or maybe a bit more, when the governament of Honduras set a rule that in all the schools around the country Spanish must be the language of teaching. Since then children on the Islands started to learn Spanish seriously. More or less at the same time the scubadiving buisness had started and many people from mainland (Latinos) moved to the Islands looking for job opportunities. Nowadays you can hear both languages and see all the colors of the faces on the street, but the older generations are still more likely to speak to you in English with their characterictic melodic accent, rather than in Spanish.

So we decided to take the plunge and jump into deep water. Raul with unabated, since Canada, excitement; myself, however, most excited about this new experience, with a bit reluctance at the same time; because if someone (in that case: me) has fear of deep and open water, scubadiving doesn't seem to be the best choice for a hobby. But fears are to overcome them, aren't they? So we did the course like tousands of backpackers at the same time; we were there in July, the peak of the season. It turned out that Bay Islands are the only place vacationers visit in Honduras and for a backpacker travelling in Central America a scubabiving course is a must.

How was it? Here I should list all the adjective expressing affirmation I know in English, but I don't want to compromise myself that I know so few, so I just say that it is trully an amazing experience. Undoubtly we were lucky to be diving in one of the most beautiful spot. The Bay Islands are situated at the end of the second largest coral rief in the world, which streaches from Yucatan in Mexico, along Belieze and until the coast of Honduras. The life there is crazily abundant and as exotic as it only can be. Because yes, we are in tropics and we can see all those monkeys, parrots, sloths etc., even those giant butterflies in their natural habitat, but we've seen all this in a ZOO before. And of course, it is totally different to see monkey in a ZOO or swinging on a branch over your head; I'm not comparing those two situations, but just trying to show that what is there under the water cannot be transferred to any ZOO. I liked to sit on the pier that was nearby our school and look at the gray surface ot the water (yes, Caribean is not always and not everywhere turquise, sometimes is just dull and gray as Baltic or North Sea ) and think how unappealing it looks from this point of view and what an amazing world is hidden down there. What's amazing is also the moment of going down; when the head submerges and the eyes cross the water line; the first breath is awkward, you hear the bubbles escaping up, but then you look down and you see totally different planet. It feels like leaving the Earth, the first look makes you always breathles (but you must not forget breathing! :) it is the first rule of scubadiving!). And the feeling of being suspended; it's funny because at the beginning I was trying all the time to stand on the ground, whenever we went all the way to the bottom; and if I couldn't reach the seafloor I was at least trying to be vertical. It took me some time to fully understand that I can position my body however I like. And what about my fears? Well, I think the most beautiful coral is close to the surface, where there is still lots of light ;) I guess I need few more dives to appreciate the one lower down.

More photos here


30 July 2012, Granada, Nicaragua
Guate! Guate! Guate!
That is how locals call their country and we are prone to believe that it is thanks to so-called 'chicken buses'. 'Chicken-buses', that can be encountered anywhere in Latin America, but reach their finest form in Guatemala, are old American school buses (that are too old for American standards, but perfectly fine here)  - converted, tuned-up, colorfully painted and individualized (each has a name) - that serve as a public transport. They are whole separate story and experience that it is hard to explain with words. They are all private, so the more trips they make , the more money they earn, so they make sure in any ways possible that they get passengers; one of this ways is to shout the name of destination. But since  the names in Guatemala are mostly Mayan words that are long, they make shortcuts from everything, so ti is easier to shout. And so Guatemala is Guate!, Chichinastenango is Chichi!, Quetzaltenano is Xela!, Chinantenango - China! etc.

After 5 months in Mexico we crossed the border in La Mesilla climbing straight away this section of the country, called West Highlands, famous for its mountains full of small Mayan villages where the people still live the same way as they used to do it 100 of years ago. Most of the population in Guatemala and overall, in this part of the country, still live in rural areas living mostly off the land growing corn, peas, beans and squash and having few chickens. Life is hard over here – often no running water, no electricity, walking several hours to collect and carry on their backs the wood for the daily cooking through the mountains.
Under foreign eyes Guatemala is full of colors, pretty much all Mayan women and many men wear traditional clothing. One of the first places we went to visit was the famous village of Todos Santos where over 70-80% of the population wears proudly theirs traditional clothing. It’s very interesting to see how the youth wears the traditional clothing but modifying in a very cool stylish way. From Todos Santos  we went walking to the next village San Juan, crossing through the mountains. It was remarkable, the beauty of the place yet the level of poverty we saw this day touched deeply our souls. How unfair is that some people have to have such a hard life…
From those villages we went up to Lago Atitlan an endorheic lake surrounded by 3 volcanoes. Wonderful Mayan villages full of colors and tradition are located along the lake’s shore. Being by the lake and taking advantage of the central location of it we took a side trip to visit one of the most famous Guatemalan Markets in “Chichi”, a market full of traditional Mayan clothing, everywhere was covered with cloth stands irradiating colors. Locals and tourist mixing in a very peculiar way where you can see as many blond heads as natives. I have to say that although is one of the most famous markets among the tourist route, it wasn’t my favorite one. We are more into smaller ones with less” blonde heads” around.
Once we left the lake we head again north towards La Antigua Guatemala. After few days cycling we arrived to the colonial pearl of Guatemala where we stayed few days enjoying the town and the around, there is an active volcano not far from there and Marta and me we had this dream of climbing one. Around Antigua there are two active volcanoes, Fuego and Pacaya from the three that surrounds Antigua. Pacaya is the most accessible one with just two hours of climbing to reach the crater, we took a bus to the foothill and from there we started to walk our way up. Antigua has been so far the rainiest place in the entire Guatemala and because of that we were a bit concern for rain not to spoil our climb. The day when we decided to climb the morning we were woken up by shinning strong sun, we tried to catch a bus but unsuccessfully so we decided to try at 2pm with the next bus available if it’s not raining. The day kept clear so we went to catch the bus; when we arrived the clouds were very low like a white sea with just the two picks of the volcanoes sticking out. The more we climbed up the more the landscape changed into something totally new, black sharps rocks everywhere mixed with dots of color such as red, yellow here and there. The traces of the Lava Rivers have made small valleys from the crater down to the foothill. Something we enjoyed a lot were those place where the steam, the heat was escaping up from the mountain through the rocks. It was that hot that you could cook easily in those vents. The idea of being in a mountain that is alive blown my head away. The closer we could be from the crater was like 200m away because in 2010 there was the last eruption which split the crater almost into two halves making the edge of it a dangerous place to step on, but it was close enough to feel and to see the power of the  Earth.
Antigua was for us the last place with few days break; from there we just headed straight to Honduras couldn’t wait to try scubadiving!

A month later…..      Scuba diving is one of the most beautiful sensations, you can really fly inside of the rainbow.

Don't miss the pictures! Here!

25 July 2012
A couple of forgotten writings done long time ago about Mexico, but so far wherever we go it still seems to be true...

Few words on how to get des-informed in Mexico and (so far) anywhere further south we go…
To get reliable information is a long and complicated process. First of all you have to presume that the first answer you receive is NOT correct. And we learnt by experience that normally it is true; we haven’t worked it out yet why is that - whether people think that they are giving you the right information, they want to be nice and try to think of the most correct answer or don’t want to say that they don’t know and they make something up. So you have to keep asking. Our golden rule is that if we receive the same(-ish) answer three times, we consider it correct(-ish). Sometimes we need to ask 6-8 times to get three similar answers. 
Secondly, if you ask suggestive question, you will always receive positive answer. So if you ask ‘Is the bakery round the corner?’ the reply will be ‘yes!’ – always; you need to ask ‘where’s the bakery?’ However, it is hard to do so, because if we’ve just ask someone and they told us to go this way, when we ask another person (in the quest of getting 3 the same answers), naturally we ask if we go the right direction. 
Thirdly, the way they explain the way is somewhat imprecise. As a rule they don’t use words ‘right’, ‘left’, ‘straight’. When asked for guidelines they will probably say something like this ‘go this way then that way and there take this road and it’ll be like on this side’, waving they hand as they talk. So the best way to know where to go is to ‘read’ the hand movements, as that is what is giving the directions, more or less…
On the road is not much better; there are informative signs, but they do not always correspond with the reality. In Baja every so often along the highway there were posts with a picture of a rubbish bin, which, I guess, was supposed to mean that there is such a facility and probably a rest area. Well, by any of this signs there was not much, but a usual pile of rubbish. Later, on the mainland we were frequently coming across big blue information board, with symbols representing sightseeing sight, archeological zone, restaurant, hotel etc. The problem was that majority of them was placed in the middle of nowhere, sometimes 30-50 km away from the closest town and without any indication where you can find all those services. I guess, just going ahead, somewhere, finally… But the definite winners were the signs giving distance to the nearest towns. So let say, we saw one saying for ex. ‘Oaxaca 34km’, quite likely there was another one, just round the corner, maybe 1km further saying ‘Oaxaca 47km’, and some 10km further, we would see a third one saying ‘Oaxaca, 32km’. The madness normally finished after the third one. And what shall we do with it? Find an average?! The problem is solved in Guatemala – her we haven’t seen any informative road signs.
And no matter whom you ask; in Merida we went to the Tourist Information Centre. Located in the council building, air-conditioned, with dark wood counter, leather seats, display of local arts and crafts behind spotlessly polished glass; the man and woman working there, in matching suits and extremely polite, gave us detailed answers for all the questions we had, including prices of hostel (which was of our main interest). We left bemused and super satisfied with the service and headed to the chosen hostel. When we got there we realized that the price for a night is three times more than the one we were given in the Tourist Information Centre. When we asked the hostel about this they told us that that price they had eight years ago, when they first open…

Los Indios...
Sometimes is an external input what cause, what brings a new thought to your mind. It has been that way, by reading the book titled ‘los Indios de Mexico’ by Fernando Benitez, how I got closer to the Mexican indigenes reality; culture, traditions, religion, superstition…
Like ghost they come down from the mountains or from the most inhospitable and remote places carrying heavy loads on their backs to find a good spot outside of the Market building where to sit and try to sell the few vegetables they have grown, or the crafts the whole family has been making the whole week in order to sell it on the Market day such as hats, dresses, blankets, pottery. Women carrying babies carefully wrapped on their backs with the most colorful pieces of fabric.  It is so beautiful to see three generations of women sat and working together. The men usually work a small piece of land where the beans and corn are grown beside a bunch of chickens to get some eggs and meat from time to time.
Forgotten sons of an old disappeared World. Many times come to my mind the same question  “what have they done to us, why we have treated them the way we did, we do. Every day in any of those wonderful Markets, full of indigenes trying to sell the little they have in order to survive in our reality. We try to bargain a bit more these tomatoes that are already the cheapest you have seen in your life or this top with 100 hours of embroiling on it that I tried to put down from 20 dollars to 15. Ah!!! It’s bitter the flavor you get inside when we face the reality that we are supporting, allowing with our actions the work exploitation in which they live on.
When I saw them in their churches bringing coca cola, eggs, chickens to be scarified, candles to pray for their souls, comes to my mind the same question always what is holding them, stopping them from shouting Basta!!!(We had enough!!!) I can imagine few answers but I do not know if any it is right one or not.
For many centuries a clear division has been well established between indigenas and criollos/ white people. Group which was moved from lands where they use to live in there was something profitable or the lands where good for agriculture, pushing away many times the whole tribe. The indigenas due to this situation had to survive adapting to the new lands, mostly up in the mountains, where the criollos didn’t want to go because of the remotness of the place, poor soil, cold weather, lack of water. Once they were left in such a remote place it was easy to control and explode the indigenous community. Many times it was done trough moneylenders. Indigenas were kept in a semi-slavery situation. We should not forget that the church hasn’t been very fair and helpful ending sometimes with a corrupt priest who owns most of the lands and who had a big influence among them. Keeping under control all the new faithful followers and leaving off them. I read few interviews made to some indigenas from the Mixteca and how they describe situations where the priest was holding all the lands and making the indigenas to pay a sort of diezmo in order to be able to grow in these lands. In many of these communities there is no school, or the lucky ones which has the teacher, who knows how to write and read Spanish and very basic knowledge of anything. Some of those rural teachers have to walk several hour every day through mountains to give class, spending months away from family and home, trying to give some future, hopes to the indigenas children.To learn Spanish is a huge tool, a needed tool to avoid, to stop criollos, police, government to treat them so unfair. 
Another black joke was made by the Mexican Government, after the indigenas communities had their ancestral lands back, thanks to Lazaro Cardenas. Those forests or mountains with minerals inside were rented most of the cases to foreign investors, the money paid as a rent instead of going straight to them goes into an account own by the government. The government keeps the money supposedly to avoid the indigenas spending it badly in alcohol, drugs or another useless stuff. The idea is or was to invest this money back in the community through building schools, hospitals, running water system … For years the money was kept by the officials, millions of pesos. Despite sometime the community was really struggling with hunger. The localswere all the time bringing projects to the offivialson how the money can  be spent to cover their needs, but all of them are refused. Until the point that they were seriously suffering of hunger. After many meetings with the government representative they found out that the money has been already spent to built a zoo in the capital of the region, millions of pesos! Stolen again from the most fragile of the society. Nothing they could do again but resignation. That is the on and on sad reality of many indigenas communities in Mexico still nowadays.

08 June 2012
The ride through Chiapas was relatively short, but we spent in this state, and in particular in its historical capital – San Cristobal de las Casas, probably the most time in whole Mexico. It was mostly due to the fact that we were waiting for a parcel; and from our experience in Mexico, a parcel cannot arrive without some adventures. It was sent for us way in advance with priority service, so that we won’t have to wait for it. However, when we reached San Cristobal, it was not there and nowhere to be found. It coasted us lots of calls to US Post and visits to Mexican one, just to find out that according to the first one it left US, but the latter insisted that they never received it. We were losing hope and the only mere consolation was that the parcel was 
insured so we could get some money back (however, what we were waiting for was a pair of cycling sandals for Raul that he really needs now in the tropical temperatures and no money can pay the release sandals can give in hot days). A day before we wanted to leave, unexpectedly the sandals appeared in the tracking system – after 20 days of leaving US they arrived to Mexican airport - long flight… it turned out that Mexican Custom Office held it for 3 weeks without telling anybody a thing! The extended stay however, turned to be a good opportunity to catch up with some organizing, take advantage of well equipped kitchen and cook some lovely meals and get to know this enormously interesting city of San Cristobal and its surroundings. All this time we were staying in a small and very homey hostel and when Ana, the person in charge, heard about our situation, she offered us to help her out and earn our stay; since then Raul became anything from receptionist to handy man, and me  - due to my not that quite fluent Spanish – his assistant. 
Chiapas in distinctively different from the rest of Mexico we saw; and interestingly it’s in total contrast to the first state we visited - dry and yellow Baja California. Chiapas is the state of rain (it receives more than 50% of total country rainfall), lush jungle, abundance of wildlife, streams and waterfalls. We visited few natural treasures on our way, with - the mentioned in previous post - Agua Azul being the definite highlight. It’s truly unreal; for the first time I was seeing something in reality and I couldn’t believe it is not photoshoped. It’s one of those paradise-like places (like the one with hammock, palm and turquoise water) that when you see them on a picture, you’d love to be there, but you know they don’t exist. Another, not mentioned, wonder was Sima de las Cotorras, a sinkhole in the middle of a jungle. Sinkhole is a huge well created, in natural conditions, in a process when underground waters move away loose material and form bigger and bigger hole into which the ground sinks. The one we visited was a decent one, measuring 160m in diameter and 140m of depth. And it is famous for being home to the green parrot that found this place safe and full of food and thrive there happily. The parrots have very peculiar, spiral way of flying up and down the hole and they are the most active in the mornings and evenings. We camped there and had the whole place for ourselves (it’s a bit off tourist path and unluckily for the community, but luckily for the nature it is not highly visited) and got up very early (before the birds) to see them waking up. It was before the sunrise and the whole forest was totally quiet. I have to say that the parrots are quite lazy, because they didn’t wake up until the first rays of sun hit cliffs of the sinkhole. So we were waiting for maybe half an hour for the spectacle to start. But when it started it was quite amazing – the total silence was broken by a single parrot squawk, like an alarm clock, a second after three birds were squawking and in few more seconds the whole hole was noisy. It took them few good minutes of shouting to warm up their wings before they started to fly up for breakfast. 

Chiapas is also the most traditional state; it is home to the biggest Mexican indigenous population – the Mayas. We tend to think about Mayas as lost civilization, and yes, many of their achievements had been unfortunately lost, their ruined cities hold more questions than answers; but it was the royalty and clergy who were killed during the conquest. The lay people with their languages, traditions and beliefs survived. The Maya population is huge and inhabits the same lands from centuries – the southern Mexico and western highlands of Guatemala, and the richness of their culture is unbelievable – pretty much each village speaks different 
language and wears different clothing. The first arrival to San Cristobal, which is the heart of Mexican Mayas, was a bit of a shock. The city centre has very European look, well maintained cobbled passageways lined with cafes and world cuisine restaurants and full of tourists. And when we saw a native people in their distinctive clothing passing through this crowd, they looked like ghosts, like creatures not from this world – they didn’t fit there. But it was enough to go few blocks away from the centre to the local market to make sure that is us who are the strangers and they are perfectly at home. All women and girls wear traditional clothing; men are more liberal – only some of the elderly will still wear their woolen or richly embroiled tunics. And for the first time on our trip language became an issue – many of them speaks very little Spanish, sometimes just enough to be able to say the price. Nowadays children have easier access to school (however in some places school lasts barely 2 hours a day!) and are the ones who speak better Spanish. Sadly that is why they are sent on the streets to work (and because they are cuter and people are more likely to fell for their charm); it wasn’t an unusual sight to see 6, 7, 8-year old selling souvenirs, sometimes with a younger sibling on their back. 
That was the only place in Mexico, where we saw children working. This is unfortunately another of Chiapas characteristic – it is the poorest state of the country. And what follows with the lowest level of education and awareness. Together with the fact that indigenous people have been for many years treated as second category citizens, it is the place where the abuse has been the greatest. One of the most shocking example is the Coca-Cola factory. Mexicans drink coca-cola compulsively (Mexico is number one Coca-Cola consumer in the world); it is so popular that around San Cristobal it replaced traditional drink used during religious rituals. Sadly locals probably don’t realize that the fact that they don’t have running water in their taps every day is due to the fact that Coca-Cola Company bought the rights to a huge underground natural water reservoir and it’s been draining is since ’90 to produce their sparkling drink. Because of the lack of potable water people are forced to buy drinking water in bottles that is ironically Coca-Cola product (I found an informative article about this issue here.
All this make it more understandable why the Zapatistas revolutionary movement has been born here. 

Pictures from Chiapas here 

15 May 2012
to Yucatan by public transport
How I ended up upside down with the head in the water and the camera wet
After we arrive to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas we decided to take a side trip to see the Eastern part of Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula. Our plan was to visit Palenque ruins, Agua Azul, few other waterfalls and then catch a night bus to Merida to explore
Cenotes around it and try to see the flamingos. Unfortunately the Lonely Planet guide mislead us and the flamingos weren't where the guide said they are, but that is another story. 
From all the wonders we have seen in Mexico one of my favourite ones has been Agua Azul. How to describe this place, which seems to be unreal. Imagine in the middle of an exuberant jungle a river with turquoise water runs through it, dozens of waterfalls, perhaps hundreds where the water plays and carves the rock making pools and eddies  in which you can swim right under a waterfall. I still can feel as if I was there floating on my back seeing all this blue waterfalls and being surrounded by the thunders of water.
 In the early morning we took a walk up following the river; after we walked like a kilometer seeing more and more blue waterfalls everywhere, we reached a point where you could cross the river walking on a kind of boardwalk made out of logs. When we were crossing the river, one of the youngsters, who work there as a lifeguards, told us that this section was closed to the public, that you can get lost in the jungle, bla bla bla. I managed to convince him that we want to see the jungle and we will just walk a bit along the path and be back; he could not say no, but he was saying there is a hanging bridge and asked us not to cross it. We started to walk the path and we arrived very soon to another section of the river and there was this amazing bridge made out of wood and metallic cables. At the first glance it looked scary yet attractive so even though we were not supposed, we crossed it. But when we were in the middle of it another youngster was shouting in broken English ‘no out of there no!’ I went to speak with him and in Spanish he was telling me that this part is closed to tourist, that this is a Zapatista village and they don’t like visits from outside. We hit on well and he said he can take
us for a walk in the jungle to look for more waterfalls the secret ones that just locals know. So we started to follow him through the jungle, but like real jungle! We got to a point where we started to cross the river in different sections walking on the edge of small waterfall, where the minerals carried by the water has built like a walking path just enough to place your feet trying not to fall into the river or even worst into the waterfall. After we crossed a couple of them Marta wisely thought "I'm going to stay here and you both carry on"; so my new friend and me decided to carry on looking for a waterfall called "Velo the Novia". To reach this point we had to cross like three waterfalls, walking on the edges; some of the rocks started to be very slippery. I was worry for the camera, trying to keep it dry and not to fall into the water with it. The current at some passages was so strong that I could barely walk without being thrown into the river. The fear was making me to walk slowly, the foam of the water did not allow me to see the next safe place to put my foot, but little by little I managed to cross it. Once I did it my new friend told me to walk fast, it is easier and that the brown rock is fine and the yellow is the slippery one. So with this basic induction the walk became much easier. I could almost keep his speed, it became more and more fun. We got to a point where we had to jump a big gap between to rocks in order to reach the other side of the river so he walked back to steps before he run and jump safetly on the other side;  now was my turn I though "don't think just do it" so I ran and jumped as far as I could and, yeap, I did it! I was standing on the other side of the river with a big smile on my face. We kept running through the jungle toward  the waterfall we wanted to see. Finally, we got there and it was marvelous! A beautiful jump were the water was dancing between rocks before landing in an small pool; the waterfall was long and white like a bride's veil (velo de novia). I don't know how far we were from Marta or how long we were walking but I decided it was time to go back so we started to undo our way back until we got to the point where we did the big jump and we realized that there was no way we could jump back. The 
landing rock was higher, much higher than the one we were standing on; so we had to look for an alternative route. We went down following the river and looking for a place to cross; after some time, we found a place to do it but on the other bank there was no path, just a cliff of mud and roots of more than 7- 8 meters. We crossed the river easily, but now we were facing this nearly sheer slope. We started to climb up; every single step was a hard work, your feet did not have anything to step on and if there was one as soon as you step on it, it came off the wall falling down into the water. Little by little I was climbing getting hold of any root that seemed strong enough to hold my weight. When I was like half way up one of the roots I grabbed, came off the wall. I started to fall down and before I realize my head was upside down and the next thing was water and soft sand against my head. Crazily my only concern was the camera, the camera! It was fully submerged into the water! I jumped up and I stood up when I saw my friend's face and signs of fear on it. He was asking “are you ok?" Yes, I was perfectly fine, so I climbed back again the wall, but this time slower and successful. When I saw myself once I was up there I realized that I looked like someone who have had an adventure and a lot of luck. I was all wet, cover in mud and with few unimportant scratches here and there. It could've been the last one if I had landed with my head on any of the rocks that were surrounding the only 
place with sand in which I landed with my head down. After a good laugh we started to run toward where Marta was waiting for me. The way back was fun, I was already wet and more experienced about walking on waterfalls cliffs. Thanks to this boy I had a chance to experience something I wanted so much - to walk in the jungle; we were both of us with bare feet running, jumping from tree to tree, he was explaining me about the trees, animals, but overall I was feeling how small and useless I would be in this media if I got lost from him, not knowing at all which way to walk; in the jungle paths disappear if people don't walk them daily. 
Nature on its splendor.

It’s more than year ago when Juan, a friend of my mother told me about something called Cenotes, somewhere in the southern Mexico, being more specific in the Yucatan’s Peninsula. ‘Don’t miss it Raul, it is one of the most remarkable places I’ve seen in Mexico. His words stuck to my mind. I looked it up on the Internet to see and understand what a Cenote is. For those who don’t know, the Yucatán Peninsula is a massive piece of land totally flat, where the ground is made mostly out of limestone, therefore throughout the work that water has made over the years, the rivers have disappeared from the surface and they have become a net, a circuit of underground rivers and pools with the clearest of the waters. There is not a single river or lake in the Yucatan Peninsula, the ground is simply too porous and too soft to hold any water atop. 
So here we are Marta and me in the Merida’s province of the Yucatán Peninsula, looking for the best Cenotes. After asking and searching we decided to go to a place called Cuzama. We took a bus from Merida to this village; it was late in the evening when we arrived. “Let’s find it, and if it gets dark we will camp around the Cenote and tomorrow… There were plenty of moto-taxis (moto-taxis are a different story; they are motorbikes converted so that they have a sort of trolley attached to carry 2-3 passengers, either in front of it or at the back) hunting for 
tourists; after a few minutes of bargaining the price was acceptable for us and  the moto-taxi took us somewhere called “El Parador”; a big empty piece of land with few constructions (palapas)  made out of palm leaves in which you could get some food. When we got off the taxi, a guy came up to us and  explained that in order to go to the Cenotes, we need to go with them in the most peculiar vehicle ever. Right there, there were dozens of old, horse-pulled wagons, the same ones they have been using in Yucatan haciendas for centuries, to carry the agave plants that they used to use, before synthetic fibers hit the market, to make henequen’s fiber for ropes, hammocks, hats, rugs and hundreds of other stuff.  Nowadays the horse has a lighter load, a few tourists to carry in a total distance of 22km to go visit The Three Cenotes of Cuzama. Hugo was the guy in charge of the horse, invited us to get on. The rails are tinny like for children, on every bump the wagon was jumping and cracking as if it was about to derailed on every curve. Hugo was sticking his feet out very skillfully to help the wagon not to lose the track. Alter 10 minutes of funny jumping I saw another wagon coming toward us and there is just rails for one; so when it got closer it stopped and all the people had to get off and the horse guy removed the wagon off the rails to let us pass (we had priority as we were on our way to the cenotes) and then he undid the whole sequence: wagon, horse and the tourists.
Our wagon stopped and Hugo told us that this is the first Cenote. So Marta and me went to where it seen to be the entrance. An old stairs with the shape of a section of those old rail bridges I saw in many western movies, led us down. There, half way down, I was standing, looking down at the water, it was intensively blue, the light was coming through the mouth of the cave; we went all the way down, until we arrived into a wooden platform, maybe 2 meters above the water from where I could see the whole cave. The water was so clear that the bottom seem to be closer than it was. I got undressed with so much excitement inside of me and as soon as I was ready to swim I went to the edge of the platform and jumped with a big smile in my face.

Raul's first swim in Cenote

And that's how we got there

More photos from our visit to Yocatan here

22 April 2012, Zanatepec, Oaxaca
Someone told us that we are discovering Mexico in the right order – from North to South. Because if you see South first, it is harder to appreciate the North. Undoubtly, the whole Mexico is beautiful, however, the Northern beauty is harder to appreciate (but we loved Baja’s desert!); it is mostly desert and mountains, the vegetation is poorer, the Natives from there never developed such complex communities as in the South, so the folklore is not that rich either; and then the more South you go, the richer everything becomes. So we’ve heard about Oaxaca and Chiapas from the very North of Mexico; about their Jungle, cuisine, arts and crafts, local traditions, rich history etc. and decided to discover those places a bit more.
So when we left Cuernavaca, we headed as fast as we could (which wasn’t actually that fast, because there were few tough climbs on the way) to Oaxaca city. There we spent over a week, partially because we were waiting for Raul’s new tire, that, at the end, never arrived (but that’s a long story and lot of phone calls and e-mails), but mostly because we wanted to discover the city and its surroundings. We were hosted by a lovely person, Silvia and her family, with whom we spent hours in the kitchen chatting and sharing new flavors. Some of her recipes will definitely end up on our blog soon. The drawback of our stay was the fact that it was Easter holidays, so the place was full of tourist and people trying to make money out of tourist.  However, we wandered through the Food and Artisan Market as these are places not to be missed in Oaxaca. Their cuisine was a bit of disappointment to us; they eat lots of meat, more than in any other State so far, so Raul’s choice was reduced to two meals and when I saw how the meat stored (temperatures around 30’s, the meat outside of the fridge with heard of flies around) I became vegetarian as well. They are famous for moles; mole is a sauce that could be compared to Indian curry; it’s a sauce that is made out of uncountable number of ingredients and each mama has her own secret for making it, so each person’s mole tastes different and you really need to know where to get a good one. We were lucky to try very good one at Silvia’s! On the other hand, their craft is very interesting; they are famous for black clay – very ornamental, indescribably colorful wooden animals figures, mescal (let’s call it type of tequila, however they like to emphasize the differences between those two drinks; they both made out of agave, but the process is a bit different and the flavor of final produce as well) and their traditional richly hand-embroiled clothing that takes months to complete (a skirt takes approximately 6 months!). Oaxaca is center for Zapotec, one of the Mexican natives, with two important historical cities nearby – Monte Alban and Mitla – both impressive. At the end we went to the most beautiful swimming pool we’ve ever been to Hierve el Agua. It’s a source of water that springs at the top of a cliff at pleasant temperature of 24-26 degrees and forms two shallow pools, there is also a sort of man-made dam to create deeper pool, and all this just on the edge of the cliff with stunning views of mountains around. To make the place more special, the water has lots of calcium and when it drips slowly down the cliff, it leaves sediments and, over the pass of thousands of years, it created petrified waterfalls. 
From Oaxaca we went over the last (for now) mountain pass and down to the coast. This was an exceptional ride, as in one day we went from 2800m a.s.l. to sea level. Normally we say that riding the bike is so special, because you go slow enough to appreciate all the changes. In this case we done 100 km (and it wasn’t purely downhill, we did well over 30km up steep hills, which is a lot) and the landscape was changing so drastically that we barely had time to realize it. We started in a misty, rainy and cold mountains (I had to wear my merino, that I thought I won’t need until Andes and under two blankets and sleeping bag we still felt a bit chilly at night) thickly covered in pine forest and on the way down I was wishing that my hat and fleece gloves weren’t on the bottom of my pannier. Gradually the air was warming up and then instead of the pines we were surrounded by dry, at this time of the year, leafy trees. And then the trees started to become greener and greener and the air stuffier and stuffier (by that time I had to change my clothes from the winter to summer set) and we realized wow! We are in the Jungle! As we learnt, in Mexico when you see something, especially food and you want to try it, buy it now! Because in the next village they might not know what you are talking about (it’s amazing how diverse and still not globalized this country is). So when we saw people selling bananas by the road and we saw the red bananas for the first time we had to try them! They are delicious! And since we reached the coast we haven’t seen them again. Just by the coast the landscape changed again; fertile jungle was replaced by bone dry small trees and greener mangroves. 
The last week we’ve spent on the coast. The temperatures are hardly bearable (mid 30’s daytime and high 20’s at night), the mosquitoes are eating us, but we are surrounded by mango trees and coco palms. Mangoes are now in the peak of the season, so Raul is in heaven; the prices for mango are for us ridiculously low (we just bought 25 mangoes for 1 pound!), but we hardy buy them, because people are giving us plenty, besides there are wild mango trees grooving just by the side of the road, so we can just pick them up (one of Raul’s dreams has just came true - to pick a mango from a tree). We spent three days on the beaches of Huatulco Bays (touristy, but very beautiful part of Oaxaca coast) - the Spanish part of our team needed some sun, sand and salty water. There is still lots of unspoiled beaches in this area, with thick vegetation, mangroves, lagoons and interesting species of animals. One of the small villages nearby is famous for sea turtles and crocodiles. Until mid 90's the locals caused near extinction of those two species as hunting them was the only source of income for the villagers. Nowadays, educated and trained by specialists, the same people or the next generation run a centre to protect the animals and organize tours to a mangrove where the crocodiles, iguanas and countless number of birds can be seen. We went there to see our first crocodile in its natural habitat and were also lucky (as it is not the season now) to 'launch' some baby-turtles. They are beautiful little things!
And now we are in the last town of Oaxaca, tomorrow crossing the border with Chiapas.

'Shall we run now or wait a bit longer?'

Oaxaca pics here

1 April 2012, Oaxaca
After we left Morelia we went to see this amazing Monarch butterflies sanctuary in El Rosario, Michuacan (there is a post with a video on the blog). With our spirits full of beauty we started to climb a lot; we long won't forget the 10 km, steady 6% grade hill to Taxco, with 30+ degrees of heat; it took us two hours to climb. Taxco, I felt at home. I never been in a place that reminds me so much my homeland, the white houses, clay roof tiles, narrow streets…  is totally like the Albahicin in Granada. Beautiful place and on the top of that we met there this really sweet guy, Efrain who host us in his place.

But before that, just after we left Mchoacan, we had to spend a night in a small town, called Villa Victoria. We arrived in the afternoon and were looking for a place to stay; I asked a woman if she knew any cheap hotel, instead she offered to take us to her sister-in-law who has a room to rent. So we went there to have a look and see how much the room was. I spoke with the owner and she gave me a reasonable price, but when I asked her to see the room, she told us that we need to wait, because the last tenant left recently and it hasn’t been cleaned yet. It was terrific to watch the whole family cleaning, moping, making the bed, bringing armchair, taking out children bicycles and other stuff etc. In no more than 15 minutes the room that they did not want us to see became a very sweet room with huge cozy blanket, however I believe that one of the members of the family spent the night without bedding :) When we got settle down in the room, they invite us to have dinner with them, delicious by the way and it was over the table when our host told us that she makes her living cooking and selling one of my favorite Mexican food, Tamales (sort of corn dough stuffed with peppers, chicken, salsas, fruit etc wrapped and cooked in corn leaves). So we started asking question about how are they made and so on, and she told us that she is about to cook them for tomorrow morning and we could see her while she prepares it; she was so pleased with that so we spent the whole evening helping her and spending the best of the times in this kitchen full of tasty smells and love, drinking atole (hot drink made out of corn flour and flavored with fruit or chocolate) and taking pictures of her food secrets. The morning after we went to have breakfast at one of her stands and when I wanted to pay for the room our new friend said " my friends do not pay" and not just that she invited us to have for breakfast too and prepare a bag with more for the lunch. It was amazing we arrived as two "greengo" and we left having a family of friends.

Cuernavaca brought us a wonderful experience through our friend Antonio who invited us to try our first Temazcal. What a Temazcal is? Well, it is a cleansing ceremony practiced by the Native American Indians throughout the whole continent. The cleansing happens through sweating in a sauna-like obscure structure. The idea behind is that you enter Mother Earth’s womb and go out new-born. However in Mexico, the one we had was following the tradition of the northern Dakota Indian (the principals are the same over the whole continent). We arrived around 11 to the place where the Temazcal was about to happen; once we were introduced to the guy who was leading the ceremony and to the rest of the people who were other participants, we started to help to prepare the ceremony. The structure of Temazcal is a sort of tent, but with very low sealing you need to get inside in all-four (traditionally it is supposed to be covered with animal skin and in Mexico it used to be a structure built with stones). The regular Temazcal uses 28 stones call "abuelas" (Grannies), which would be hit up on a big open fire until they get hot, very hot. The way to prepare the "abuelas" is very special; each stone is taken off the ground by one of us and the person who is holding it has to connect with himself/herself and think about an intention, for which their enter Temazcal; then still holding the stone up and your petition in your mind, you are turning to the 4th direction starting from the East side, once you have finished you place the stone on the pile of wood, making a pyramid shape. When the 28 "abuelas" have been placed, they are covered with wood. Then four chosen person are responsible for lightening the fire, each on one side, with the master of the ceremony starting from the East side and this first flame is pass it to the next person. The amount of wood is big to hit up the stones so it took over an hour until all the fire was gone. That is when the Temazcal starts; the people go inside of the tent in a certain order, two drums are taken inside too. When everybody is inside, but two people (in this case Antonio and me) who were responsible for passing the "abuelas", the first door starts. In a regular Temazcal there are four doors; doors are like intervals in the ceremony; that is when the door to the tent gets opened and ‘the stone people’ go outside and pass another “abuelas”; that is also when (and only at that time) you can leave if you had enough or speak up if you wish. So we were taking one by one 7 stones, brushing off ash and introducing it inside of the tent where the was a big hole in the middle to place the hot stones.  When passing each of the "abuelas" we had to say "abuelita caliente" or a compliment or petition to the "abuelita" such us "bring us clearance". Once the 7 stones are inside a bucket with hot water mixed with mint or other aromatic herbs is passed inside and finaly the two "abuelitas-taker” go inside, but not before asking for permission. When all of us we were inside the master of the ceremony picked drummers and singers, who would be singing the traditional native songs. The drums and singing don’t stop until the door is opened. When the music started, the leader poured water over the stone producing steam and bringing the temperature inside of the room very noticeably and he kept pouring it any time the temperature dropped. After the fourth song the door was opened and a bit of cool air came inside. The sequence is repeated 3 more times and each time another seven "abuelitas" are brought inside of the tent more drumming and chanting and the heat kept going up and up. It was on the last door when I had to bend forward to the ground because I could not cope with the hit in my face while sat.  It is extremely powerful the whole sensation of heat, altogether with the drumming and chants and you there trying to get into a meditation where your focus is with the petition or thought you put on the "abuelita"; that is your help when you think you cannot stand the heat any longer,  and that is what I did all the time - try to be inside of me honoring my thought. There was a moment just before the last door, were I lost the focus and I was somewhere else I do not know yet where. When everybody shouts open 4th door and the light starts to come inside I was looking around the expressions of the people faces with a mixture of release, happiness and suffer,  one by one we were living the tent in the same other that we came in once outside I could see our bodies and faces and, trust me, for someone who does not know what we did we were close to the image I saw in movies and pictures of prisoners on a concentration camp – all totally exhausted, wet, sweaty, pale white or burning red, dirty of mud (at the end we all lied down on the ground, because the heat was unbearable). Hey, but it was worth it, there are people, who does it regularly. The Temazcal ceremony finished with everybody in a circle passing tabaco and with a hug to everybody as a way to close the experience we have lived together.

 I felt very good afterwards, energized, clean and hungry :) and thankfully there was plenty of food to share.

placing an intention on the stones 

starting the fire

fire on; warming up the drum

washing with an incense before entering the temazcal

brushing the dust off the Abuelitas

the Temazcal tent

More pictures from this part of Mexico here

06 March 2012, Morelia
Fiesta de XV anos
The party we were invited for (someone waved us down on the road to ask the regular questions and by the end of the conversation we were invited for the fiesta; we obviously never turn the invitations down!) was a 15th birthday party. In Mexico and other countries of Latin America this particular birthday has a very special meaning for a girl, as traditionally it marks the transition from childhood to womanhood. Apparently it has its roots in Aztecs celebration of the same purpose, but with the arrival of Spanish it got some religious and European touch. It was an amazing opportunity to experience real Mexican fiesta in small town, where tourist normally don’t stop their cars, so we pushed a bit harder to be there on time. We arrived to Jaripo early afternoon on Saturday, just when the party was about to start. To get to our hosts – Leo and his daughter Amanda – house we had to cross the square. And just when we entered the square, we realized what ‘Fiesta de Quinceanera’ means – the whole square was covered with the sort of wedding tents, full of tables, all with golden decorations (as we learnt later, the color matching La Quinceanera dress), some guys were mounting disco lights, huge speakers and screen, where later in the evening there were pictures of La Quinceanera displayed. Mariachi were playing traditional music, catering staff was making sure that everybody has been served and guests arriving from all directions. The Princess in her long golden ball dress was sat in the centre, surrounded by the ‘Court of Honor’, which is a group of her chosen peers (in this case it was four boys, all in cappuccino color suits), who accompany her in the church (traditionally the whole party is preceded by a mass) and later during other highlights of the evening. We went for a quick shower and joined the party. There was some food served, tequila was poured generously and the time was passed on chatting and trying to catch the rhythm of Mariachis tunes (which, I think, is a skill only Mexican have).
The most important part of the evening is the dance. Traditionally a girl cannot dance in public, except for school events, until she turns fifteen. So the dance she was about to perform that evening was supposedly her first public dance. Conventionally it is a waltz, that she danced first with her Court of Honor (a chorography with four of them, that was practiced way in advance) and then with her father. Then was time for gifts, which are also determine by custom – a tiara, symbolizing that she’ll be always a princess for her family, a rosary or a necklace with a pendant depicting Virgin of Guadalupe, a doll representing her, sometimes high heels (that are supposed to be girl’s first high heels), then a cake and toast. The next act that took place is called ‘The last doll’, which symbolize that it is last such a toy for, becoming now an adult, La Quinceanera. What happens is that all little girls gather behind the Birthday Girl and, while the song talking about a father not realizing that the doll he bought for his daughter, was the last one, is played, she throws behind her last doll and whichever child catches it is lucky to play with it. The last thing is the final dance, which is a modern dance chosen by La Quinceanera. To perform it, she changes her from ball dress into more modern women clothes. And that marked the end of the official party. Then the Mariachis were replaced with a DJ and a disco started. It was trully an amazing experience to be part of something that is so deeply rooted into the culture. Thanks for invitation, Leo and Amanda!
From there we head to Patzcuaro, the historical capital city of Michoacan and now we are in Morelia, the current capital. Both cities are beautiful, both world recognized heritage sites, but we definitely felt n love with the first one. It is a small town by the lake, that kept its original colonial style from XV-XVI century and historically was an important site for local natives, Purepechas. We spent the whole day wandering its narrow streets, we got lost in their huge market, were admiring job of local craftsman, and were checking what sort of delicacies the native ladies have in their baskets.
Tomorrow, after couple of days of rest, we go back on the road to see the Monarch Buterflies, that migrate here all the way from Northern states of US, and then direction Taxco, the silver capital city of Mexico.

Pics from Michoacan here.

03 March 2012, Patzcuaro
Mainland Mexico
Is it nearly three weeks already since we left Baja? The ferry ride was a peculiar experience. 15-hour ride on a freight ferry (a cheaper option for tourist, who don’t want to pay for luxuries such as restaurant, shop, cabins etc.), where there was one more tourist apart from us and one more woman apart from me, the rest - truck drivers. The only common place was stuffy room, where they played ‘American Pie’ and this sort of movies and a cantina, where scary-looking guy was serving - free and tasty! – food. But all the guys were very friendly and showed us what’s the best way to organize your space for sleeping and, since there was no air in this room, I spelt very well for  most of the ride.
We arrived to Mazatlan, a holiday destination,  home to one of the biggest carnival party in Mexico and pride of the city - the longest promenade in Hispanic countries and second longest in Americas (after Rio de Janeiro). But Mazatlan is also very beautiful colonial town and we were lucky to be hosted in one of the amazingly spacious old flats. We spend an eventful weekend with our hosts, Maria Helena and her family, and after over a week of hardly pedaling (few days in La Paz, then rain delayed our leave, then another few days in Mazatlan…) we finally hit the road. We decided to take more or less the shortest way South, where we want to explore more Oaxaca, Chiapas and Yucatan  - as everybody are telling us the most beautiful states of Mexico. We didn’t expect our route to be very eventful, there aren’t many things to see (that we’ve heard of) and we just hoped that it’d be a good opportunity to cover some kilometers and get south before it gets too hot there for us, guerritos. And the first week was pretty much like that; although we are in tropics already, the views are not very exciting yet. Ok. there are banana palms by the side of the road, occasionally we could see some small exotic animals, here and there appear first sites of pre-Hispanic culture, but what we've been mostly seeing are cows and fields.
The most ‘remarkable event’ of that first week was the climb to Tepic. We choose not to go along The Pacific (which is longer), but to go a bit inland, which means climbing the Mexican Plateau. There is very little low elevation in Mexico, the country is one big mountain, so we accepted the fact that there’ll be plenty of ups and downs. However, we didn’t check the map properly and we thought that, since the road Mazatlan-Tepic parallels the Ocean, it is flat. Well, it wasn’t and on the top of that it was the worst climb we’ve done so far in Mexico. And I think the climbs are even worse when you don’t expect them. It was a steady 30-km climb on a busy road, half way in drizzle, other half in thick fog. We were very, very lucky that unusually this road had some shoulder.
So we’ve been going this way, in our peaceful rhythm; cycling every day, arriving to a small town by 4-5 in the evening and looking for a place to stay, which ended up to be normally a church. There aren’t many campgrounds in Mexico and virtually non on the route we are taking; there might be some hotel in a town, but there isn’t often any. However, there’ll be always a church, and a beautiful one. The churches in Mexico are very beautiful, rich, colorful and well maintained. Maybe there is some story behind, like for example when Spaniards first came here they wanted the churches to make an overwhelming impression on natives, but I don’t know, I’m just guessing; however, both of us appreciate their beauty. Anyway, not wanting to free camp, we followed the advice we’ve heard many times, that if you knock the door of a church and ask the priest to spend a night, you’ll be hardly ever refused. And, so far, it is so.
There was one touristy destination on our way – Tequila. The town and surrounding blue agave fields are UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were excited to learn more about this drink, with over 2000 years of history. Unfortunately, the place was a bit of disappointment; touristy in a cheesy, cheap way – full of ‘made in china’ souvenirs, places to buy cheap tequila in a 5-litre plastic bottles and people trying to convince you to take a barrel-bus tour. However, we found our way to enjoy this beautiful little town – we strolled the streets, visited the museum, Jose Cuervo facilities and obviously had a shot of ‘anejo’, since they say in Mexico that Tequila, in contrary to other alcoholic drinks,  is good for your health (haven’t I heard that in France about wine and from Russian about vodka?).

But the best of the last week were our unexpected encounters with amazing people. First one, in Magdalena, a town just before Tequila. We stopped there to spend night and, as usual, Raul went to speak with the priest, while I was waiting on the square. I saw a inconspicuous looking guy approaching me; he was maybe in his 70-ties, skinny, with a big mustache and a bit too big and slightly worn-off clothes. With a big smile and without saying a word (well, I definitely look for a person, who doesn’t speak Spanish) he stretched his arm to greet me. Then he tried: ‘habla Espanol?’ So I, with my broken Spanish, explained him that ‘solo un poquito’ and where are we coming from and where are we going to, as he was asking, and that ‘mi novio’ is Spanish and he’ll be back soon and can explain him everything. When finally mi novio came back and could have proper conversation with Ignacio we found out that he is bike lover and has in his house 5 or 6 gems that he built himself out of the parts he came across in  Magdalena and around (the bike market is big in Mexico, as people use bikes for everyday transport and Ignacio, knowing a lot about bikes is able to pick what’s the best and put tit together - proper re-cycling!) He loved talking about bikes and he was totally amazed with our bikes and their touring adjustments; he checked nearly every single screw, made notes of brands, lots of drawings and said that whatever he cannot get he’ll make himself. In the meantime his cycling partner, Manuel, joined us and they invited us for some tacos and ice-cream, while we were still chatting about bikes. The next morning they took us for a ride around Magdalena, which is famous for mining two stones obsidian and opal, and showed us the town, the mine a stone sculpting workshop.
Couple of days later we arrived to Tala, as we found out later, home to the second biggest sugar factory in Mexico, in the peak of sugar cane harvesting. What gives many locals seasonal job (the factory works now 24/7), covers the town in ashes, that fall from the sky like snowflakes (before the sugar cane is cut down, it is burned on the fields to clean it from dry leaves and since the ashes are light, they are carried by the wind). Just before town we met a guy, who was about to start his shift in the factory; he was very enthusiastic about our trip and wanted to invite us to his place, but he didn’t know if he can finish earlier. So we arranged that we’ll wait on the square and he’ll call us. He never called, but while we were waiting a teenager came up and started asking the regular questions; ones he heard the answers, he wanted a picture with us, so he called his girlfriend, then other friends followed and once we finished the photo session we had a bunch of teenagers surrounding us and listening to our stories. Some left, some came, but some stayed with us and we had a great time chatting about dreams, travels, Mexico, Tala, photography… until we realized that it is actually quite late and we have no place to stay. They whispered something between themselves, Gibran, the school president, who ‘knows lots of people in town’, as his friends laugh, made some calls and before we realized we were in a hotel room, where, someone ‘whom they know’, hosted us generously. We couldn’t say ‘bye’ just like that that evening, so we met with them for breakfast (luckily they had day off at school) and then couple of them cycled with us for over 30 km and at the end gave us little treasures from pre-Hispanic cultures.
After our companions turned back, we changed direction and hit strong head wind. So when we saw a small pueblocito with a church tower over its roofs, we decided to call it a day. The priest was busy, so we were sitting on a bench outside of a church and waiting for him. There was a bunch of children, some playing, some sitting on the steps of the church doorway and doing their homework and obviously looking at us with curiosity. It took 10-15 minutes for the bravest one to come up and ask us some questions. But the minute she came, we were surrounded by the rest. And for the next two hours they provided us better entertainment than any Mexican soap opera. They made as laugh and they made us emotional again. Paula, an 9-year old, when she saw our dirty hands and feet, she run home and brought a bucket full of water and some soap, so we could refresh ourselves. They obviously had one hounded questions a minute and even though I was trying to explain them that I don’t speak Spanish, they didn’t care and kept asking me things. My blue eyes and blond hair (yes, currently my hair is ‘sunshine blond’) were a peculiarity for them, they wanted to know what are the dots on my face (freckles) and why my feet are so pink, but ‘the winner’ was Raul’s bold hair. They couldn’t understand why he has no hair (Mexicans have very strong hair and it is very unusual for them to lose it) and they all wanted to touch it, but at the same time were a bit afraid of it. However, one they got the courage, Raul had free head massage. In the morning some of them past the church on their way to school, just to say ‘hello’ to us.
The next day of cycling brought us to another town, Cojumatlan, the first town of Michoacan, state famous in Mexico for the best ice-creams (that’s why all the ice-cream shops in Mexico are called Michoacana). So we couldn’t resist and made our way straight to the square to find a michoacana. And again someone stopped, we started to chat and we ended up being invited to spend a night. Leonardo, local doctor, put us up in an extra room in his practice and his wife, Graciela, who brought plates full of Mexican genuine home-cooked meals. Chatting about local attractions, we learnt from them that Lake Chapala (the largest freshwater reservoir in Mexico), that we’ve been cycling along is a destination point for pelicans that migrates here from Canada and that we’ve just passed one of the best spots to see them. The next morning just for the sunrise Leonardo took us to this tiny fishing village, where the pelicans spend winters lazily, just waiting for the fisherman to feed them with what’s left after they clean the fish. Well fed with quesadillas and frijoles for breakfast we hit the road as there was a Mexican fiesta in a nearby village that we were invited for, but this story to come…

Pics from this part of the ride are here

17 Jan 2011
Baja Desert

Past San Quintin there isn’t much, but desert; hardly any human settlements, random ranches here and there, but the landscapes are unique. The Desert in Baja California is something spectacular, the richness of landscapes, plants and animals is incredible. Almost every hill we had crossed there has been a change. The variety of cactus is better than any botanic garden or cactus collection I could’ve seen in my life yet they are in their natural environment. Perhaps the one that had take my breath away more often, have been the giant cactus and the Boojum (it is a very peculiar tree with carrot-like trunk and tiny branches and tinier leaves, which is one of the slowest growing plants - 1 ½ meter high one can be 500 years old; and we saw Boojums higher than 6 meters!).
And I had some face-to-face trilling encounter with the nature. It was dark and getting cold after the sun went down. We had the fire on, but the wind was blowing madly everywhere and so to keep the fire we decided to build an small wall around it using bricks that we saw not far from where we were. I went with Aladino( our cycling companion in Baja) to pick up some and it was when I was placing the last one around the fire when I felt a sharp pain like a wasp sting. I moved my hand away immediately.
Unfortunately we were talking about scorpions earlier on, someone even bet that we will see one tonight. Baja is full of them, I think there is like 300 different species here…
I looked closer at where the sting came from and yes! It was there - a small scorpion with the tale up looking at me while I was staring at it with terror on my face. I took a deep breath and I spoke internally to myself “be calm and just listen to your body and see what happens without panicking”. I had a sit and I pressed my finger instinctively with the hope that the poison would not run freely into my blood stream. In a moment like that when you do not know much about how bad the poison can be, when you are in the middle of the desert with the closest Hospital maybe 3 or 4 days cycling from, many thoughts come and go to your mind. I am positive by nature so I was wiping away any of the dramatic thoughts which came to my mind believing 100% that I would be fine. My senses were in a deep state of feeling any potential changes in my body; the outside became almost none-existent, just the voice of Marta asking me how I was feeling and trying to calm me down. I told her that so far I was fine and I went back to sensing any possible change. The finger was redish and sore and I started to feel like ants coming down from the finger to the elbow and then up to the biceps reaching almost the shoulder; this feeling was getting stronger until I could not feel much there. I started to be a bit scare, but I didn’t want to scare Marta, because there wasn’t any other option but wait and see how my body was reacting to the poison and better just me scare. The last thing I wanted in this moment was to see the face of Marta showing fear; I think I had enough of that inside not to want more from the outside, so every time that they asked me, I was telling them that everything was fine. After sometime I don’t know if it was 15 minutes or an hour the small paralyze started to disappear; I kept pressing up and down the arm giving to myself a bit of Shiatsu to move the blood, then I told Marta about the experience I just had and how the poison had almost paralyze more than half of my arm. I felt so release and lucky mentally I was giving thanks to the life and thinking that I need to be more cautious with the wildlife in the desert.

Pictures from Baja are here 

03 Dec 2011
On the way to San Francisco
our way to SF was supposed to be an uneventful short ride to a big city , where all attraction were waiting for us; well, it wasn't quite like that...

How we happened to have three hot tubs in a row 

We went to pick our bikes in the afternoon. We left them in a safe, however remote place, so we were lucky to get a lift there. The day was one of those autumny dull and windy ones, but it was ok. as w planned to cycled less than 10 km to a not-to-be-missed hot springs. When the car left us it started to drizzle; by the time we got all our stuff together and was ready to cycle it was 4:30pm (half an hour to down) and the drizzle turned into a regular rain. The first 6 km of our ride was on a dirt road and how bad it was we realized as soon as we started cycling. It was a not well leveled, narrow windy road, going mostly uphill. The wind was just madly blowing into our faces and the rain was getting worse and worse. So what we thought will be a 15-20 min ride turned into nearly an hour struggle. When we finally arrived to the hot springs, it was already dark. Freezing cold and soaking wet, but cheered by the thought of being in a hot tub asap, we went to the reception. (I need to add here that we were trying to call the hot springs the whole morning, we even left a message asking them to call back, but all unsuccessful; we did it just because they ask to make a reservation and to check if they still do camping in November; we didn’t really thing their campground can be full at that time of the year. We were also told that their accommodation is pricey, but however expensive and fancy a place can be tenting has always been for us at a reasonable price). So we are there at the reception and the guy tells us that they are full! But like fully full! No option for any accommodation (it was dark, hellish weather outside, we were cold and wet, we would pay for anything). So I’m starting to play a poor cyclist, saying that we are in the middle of nowhere, is cold, rainy and dark and that we were trying to call them and they never picked it up and that if they only have any piece of ground where we could pinch the tent we’ll be more than happy. He said he needs to check with a manager, we are waiting… the moment he is back and says ‘Ok we’ll make an exception’ the whole launch starts cheering and applauding us. We must have looked very miserable…We happily grabbed the wallet, but our smiles fainted when we heard the price. We've camped for over 6 months already and so we have some idea of how much a camping can cost; $35 is the most we've ever paid and that was a lot. We've been told this place is pricey, so we expected to pay more than usual; but, even if places that were considered expensive, we found tenting at a reasonable price. So when we heard "$50 per person, so it'll be $100 all together", I obviously thought I haven't understood well, but I saw Raul giving this guy a hundred dollar bill and there was no change given back! I'd never thought someone can be that cheeky to charge such a ridiculous amount of money for a camping spot! The only thing we could do was to use the facilities as much as we could. So we soaked and steamed ourselves until late evening and from early morning until we nearly fainted. :) So that was our first and planned hot spot treat.
 The next day ride were supposed to be short and fairly easy; that what we were told by some drivers (cyclist don't thrust drivers!!), so we jumped to the hot tub in the morning and didn't leave until noon. Well, I don't know whether it was because we lost the shape after such a long brake or the road was actually so bad, but both of us we found this 50 km ride one of the most challenging. Once we finally arrived to Mendocino, we were totally wasted.
We dragged our bodies to meet a guy whom we met the day before and who offered to put us up in his office (by the way, it is very interesting place promoting local art) and when we were there,a friend of him was passing by and poped to say 'hi'. This sweet person not only shared with us her dinner, but also, having a membership in a local spa, invited us there as her guests! Second day in a row our muscles received hot treat! :)
The next morning all relaxed we jumped on our bikes to enjoy Pacific Coast; and yes, it is beautiful, but not that easy to cycle and on the top of that we had strong head wind that day. So when around 3pm we passed a campground, we decided to stop there. When we reached the place we found out that it is closed for season. But closed for a state park means the gate are closed and the toilet are locked (a rural style outhouse toilets, so you don't loose much of comfort when they are not available), so we just decided to pinch our tent. There was two other cyclist with us and we hadn't finished pinching our tents when a group of four other cyclist arrived. We all just ignored the closed sign and made ourselves comfortable there. But not for long; we saw a car rolling slowly along the campground and when we realized that it was a police car, it was kind of clear to us what's going on. The policeman left us no choice but leave, but coincidently he knew all the details (including price for biker and the name of the Manager) of the nearest private campground, that we all passed. Hmmm…maybe someone there saw us passing and wasn’t happy that we didn’t stop…anyway, so we packed our stuff and all upset went to this private campground. To our total surprise it turned to be the best campground we’ve ever stayed on! As any other private campground it has special price for hikers and bikers ($9 per person; State Park will charge $5-7, but the facilities are not comparable), as no other campground it has communal kitchen, as no other campground it has communal fire (if you want to make a fire you normally have to buy a bundle of wood for $6-9 and one bundle will last an hour max) and as very few campgrounds it has hot tub!!!:)) Cyclist were the only ones using all those facilities! We made the best of the $9 J
Hwy 1 is fun!

State Hwy 1 is part of the Pacific Coast Bike Route and it’s a classic for cyclist. It is considered one of the most beautiful and most scenic routes in the US; it parallels Pacific coast in California for a little over 1000 km and it is said to run along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Because we went to visit some friends in Ukiah we didn’t follow it from the very beginning, se when we picked up on cycling after 5-week break, we head directly towards the coast to join famous Hwy 1.  We were all excited about this route, but it took half a day for our excitement to faint. Hwy 1 is fun! Surely! But not when you carry 30 kg (66 lb.) on your bike and have gusts of head wind of up to 35 km/h (22mph). The part of the road between Mendocino and San Francisco has probably only one ‘flattish’ stretch of about 500m, the rest is serpentine; it climbs up steeply just to drop down drastically and turns right and left at the same time. It literally follows the coastline with all it bends, dents, cliffs, drops etc. This part of Pacific coast is very dramatic, very rough, shaped by strong waves, winds and numerous rivers. The views are stunning, it is beautiful, but such a hard work! J And on the top of that we had this strong head wind. So what were supposed to be a three day ride turned into five. We needed a whoop to keep going: ‘Hwy 1 is fun!’ J


Thanksgiving’s been always something we knew only from the movies, it’s an exclusively American holiday, so being in the right place at the right time, we wanted to experience the spirit of this celebration. But it was kind of hard to organize – where are we going to be on that Thursday? Do we know anybody there? Asking strangers? However welcoming the hosting communities are, it’s a family gathering at the end of the day…Luckily we met someone who invited us for a Thanksgiving dinner organized by a bunch of friends who don’t/can’t go home for that evening. It was supposed to happen in San Francisco; we had five days to get there; we thought it’ll take us three. But the famous Hwy 1 changed our plans and so on Thursday morning we were still two days cycling from SF with no plans, what so ever, for this special evening. We had ridden not even 20 km, when, again on our journey, we met an amazing person. A woman stopped her car and asked if we go far today and said that if we want to change our plans a bit there is a free thanksgiving lunch in a town nearby. It was off our way, but there was no question we are going; Marta had to try an American turkey ;) We found the place, which turned to be a very nice event. It was initiated by this guy who built as a hobby some sort of turkey steamers and once he had them he thought of making some good use of them; so he gathered some volunteers, found some sponsors and has been preparing this free Thanksgiving meal for few years already. Honora (the woman who invited us) and her husband were volunteering there and when we found out that there isn’t any campground nearby, they invited us to spend the night at their place. So from not having any plans in the morning, we ended the day with beautiful Thanksgiving experience. That’s the magic of cycling…

How I found myself riding the first mountain bike in the history...

After We left Sebastopol toward San Francisco riding downhill smalls roads that would take us to 101, a busier and quicker road so We could reach Golden Gate by this evening. So We got to 101 and luckily the left line was close to traffic so We were enjoying the fast ride not being bother by cars and being pretty safe in such a busy road. I was with my head thinking about something I can not truck what was that when I heart the police siren behind me and a rough voice ordering me to stop the bike, so I did so and the police man came out of the car asking me what in hell I was doing cycling on this road that bicycle are not allowed, asking me in a very loud form if We did not see the signs of not bikes in this road I told him that We did not see any thing and He was are you mad... bla bla bla This guy was the typical guy(police) who like to show his power-authority shouting, anyway He told us to leave the freeway immediately at the next exit and that is what We did. So that was the new situation We were in the middle of no where without having a clue how we could get to San Francisco, We switched the GPS trying to find our way and any road which could take us parallel to 101 but unfortunately nothing like that so We started to work our way using very small roads that were taking us far away from 101 toward the mountains and our hope of being by this eve by the Golden Gate enjoying the sunset were disappearing in each curve and hill that we were riding. The day was developing into a hard day of climbing hills between mountains trying to reach a place where We could spend the night. It was after 3 when We took this last road that will take us to a junction where We had instructions for the day after of how to get to S Francisco, so We took this road that seem to be a shortcut but what it ended being a climb after a climb, the light was starting to fade out and we were in urge of finding a place. Finally We reached this junction with a busier road and taking a left according to thy map there will be a small town in few miles so We pushed a bit harder to reach it before dark, the name of the town was Fairfax, after a good climb a fellow cyclist told us that just after the downhill we will see the town and hopefully We will found a campground or a cheap place to stay, so We cycle down trying to find it. I've asked someone in town and She pointed a possible Motel a bit farther so We went to look for it(We were tired and a bit low) On the search Marta saw a bike shop so I've stopped to ask the guys if the new the place or any other place to spend a night as cheap as possible to keep alive our small budget so that is what I did. I went inside of the shop with my bike and I asked the guy if He knew about a place He told me that there wasn't any campground or Motel either just a Hotel and over 100 dollar for a room, "waaa" I said that is very expensive! Someone who was buying something in the shop came closer and told me don't worry you are coming with me to my place to spend the night. I looked at him, he was a guy in his cycling gears, helmet on and a big smile saying ok lets go to my place! Thanks, thanks I said repeatedly He introduce himself as Joe. So We picked up Marta who was waiting for me outside and We cycle to Joe's place following him. His place was very close to downtown on the Valley a beautiful wooden house. When we arrived to his He asked us to wait for a second while he went inside to notified his wife" about the 2 rescued cyclist", after few minutes He came back and he opened an small garage door where We could leave the bikes overnight. What a surprise when I went inside I saw anything but bikes and machinery for bikes(bike stands, tools....) We were shocked, when he saw our faces He told us that he built bikes and He started to show us around and little by little He was explaining more and more about what He does and who was him at the end of this first conversation at Joe's workshop, were Marta and me We were totally overwhelmed, where We realised that the guy who rescued us was Joe Breeze one of the guys who has developed the Mountain Bike, not just that Joe Breeze was the man who designed and built the first special purpose mountain bike frame in 1977, frame that was on the back of the workshop covered with blankets waiting to be shipped to the Museum of Technology in Washington DC where is going to be part of the History. Joe was explaining us how he and his friends were trying to adapt their road bikes to be able to fly downhill all the mountains around where the grew up and how those mountains were the trigger to make them to think and develop a frame strong enough to take off road trails.
As you can imagine Marta and me we could not believe where we were, it took us few minutes and a shower to  slow down our head and heart bit after that We had lovely dinner with Joe, Connie(Joe's wife) and Tommy(Joe's son) chatting and learning a lot about the History of Mountain and much more. The whole adventure does not finish here after We had breakfast with them and Joe was helping me and measure the chains in our bikes to see if they need to be replaced ASAP or not I asked him to take a picture of him with the first mountain bike he made and not just that he let me to have a ride I rode the first mountain bike in the History!!!! :) That was something big for me, thanks Joe.
If there is something amazing about travelling the way Marta and me We are doing is how open We are to adventures how every day is totally new, where we do not know where we are going to be, where we are going to spend the night and who we are going to meet.
Thanks Joe, Connie and Tommy for be our angels.
And for all the mountain bike fun don't be jealous I was riding this bike for all of you too

hugs from San Francisco
Pics here

19 Nov 2011
 After been wet, very wet in the breathtaking Oregon Coast,looking for a dryer and warmer weather We came to California. This piece of land is been a source of inspiration for many people, located in the West Coast of USA.When many of us heart the word California comes to our minds this typical image of a sunny beach. I have to say that is very poor and unfair California is far more than that. Forest in the North where the Tallest living thing in Earth lives the Redwoods, these giant trees can grow over 100 meters tall.If you haven't seen a Redwood is very difficult to imagine, to picture the size of it. I was walking under these giants and I did not have any previous reference size wise from any other tree that could help me to visualize the trees I was walking under I had to compare it with a building to try to imagine and it worked out like that,  in Spain a regular building of 5 floors is around 25 meters high so that make the trees That are around me taller than a 20 floor building Can you imagine that!
  I will remembered, perhaps for ever this Afternoon cycling along the Avenue of Giants(30 miles road trough an old growth forest) when We stop to see this old Redwood, the oldest We saw over 1800 years old!!! The sun was shining, warm enough to be light with close I went close and I leant against the "Grand Mother", the profound respect and admiration I felt while I was close to this tree. The thought I had when I was resting and leting my whole being to drift away, falling asleep asking the tree "It would be the greatest of the presents if you want to share with me just a tip of how to leave in harmony with the rest of the Nature as they do, and with this in my mind I felt asleep.If someone 1800 years old shares with you just a bit of their wisdom with you will be the best treasure you can have Wouldn't be?

California Is Valleys between big mountains, fertile lands where grapes,peaches,oranges,avocado,apple,plums ... you can grow almost everything. In one of those Valleys We have been working for almost 3 weeks helping on a farm, enjoying the sunny and warmth Autumn.
California is big Mountains. After our work We decided that We wanted to see some of the US Natural Parks.For those who does not know the origin of  National Park as a way to preserve a piece of Land and what live on and in it, starts in the 19th Century in US thank to people like John Muir We still have places almost untouched. Because of the distances we wanted to cover to go to 3 of those parks were more than 3500km-2000 miles and the Winter is coming We decided that We can not afford being in Winter for to months more in US so We took a side, We left our bikes in a friend house and We rented a car for 2 weeks. The first of the Parks we went it has been a place that I wanted to see for the last 13-14 years of my life, Yosemite. For those one who hasn't seen it, Yosemite is one of those places in Earth that still reminds fully the beauty of Mother Nature, where the water, the rocks and the light play together in and endless game of colours and shapes.
California is desert. It seems unreal, just crossing the Sierra you arrive into the second of the Parks we went to Death Valley, a depression that goes down see level. How to describe Death Valley is not an easy one, I've been in Deserts before but nothing like that. The richness of landscapes made us to sight again and again, the colours of the rocks do not envy the pallet of any of the Kandinsky paintings or how the light plays in the Canyons, how the rocks formations are mixed with the finest of the sands. The name Death valley is deceiving is not dead at all is full of life: A surprising amount of plants live here, many animal has adapted to this environment being able to survive here such as mountain lion, coyote, roadrunner,scorpions,snakes, rabbits, birds and many variety of rodents some of them they do not need to drink any water in their entire life. The first eve when We arrived I went to the top of this hill next to the campsite to watch the sunset unexpectedly behind me the full moon was rising, emanating this silver light that mixed with the reddish that the sun was leaving behind it after the Sunset and how the colours of the rocks went from yellow to red and then into silver and then all this pallet of whites and I felt truly in peace with myself with the silence of the Desert.
Death Valley is bordering California with Nevada and that is the way We took to go to the last of the 3 Parks Grand Canyon with an Stop over for an eve in "weird lands" Las Vegas. Gran Canyon is something you have never seen before is like to be in a World upside down where the flat part is on the top and the mountains go down hundred and hundred of meters. A plateau over 2000 meters above sea level and how suddenly the Earth brakes into this GIGANTIC hole-abyss with more than 1500 meters of fall down into the Colorado river who is the responsible of making, carving this wonder over the years!!!!!. I think We did not realise of its dimension until We walked down 2/3 of it, it's like nothing We have ever done previously you go down and down zig zaging along the cliff, you are fresh in the morning is downhill, the weather up there is mountain like but you are going down to a desert where the temperatures can go over 40 C-104F and as you can see written every where to down is optional to go up is vital if you are not fit, have plenty of water with you and salty food to recover all the minerals your body loose you can be in serious problems sometime over the summer can be fatal for some people who do not respect the Canyon as they should. We were lucky the weather wasn't hot at all the other way around freezing cold up in the plateau so We did not need to deal with that and thankfully We are in a good shape so was an intense 6 hours hiking which took us to this point where we were on a cliff 600meters above the Colorado River that was awesome.
After those 2 marvelous weeks traveling throughout the country, We were missing our bikes so much it was high time to go back to the road. After being driving a lot for the last to weeks on this massive US roads with up to 6 lines each way where I could not look at anything but the road, a vital game where you have to put all your senses if you do not want to be killed or be a killer, all the outside disappears for hours and hours in which I could hardly look at the landscape I was crossing so fast. You know what? Drive sucks:) I prefer so much my bicycle were I can be part of the road enjoying every single thing where my senses get wider and wider the road becomes bigger that just a piece of asphalt

Photos are here

11 Oct 2011
Portland - time to check up our bikes...
....and few reflections about our equipment after 4 months on the road

More than 4 months on the road, over 6000k is the right time to check properly how the bikes and the gears are getting on. And taking advantage of Portland as the most bicycle friendly city in US, the bike culture over there is just huge, bike shops and bike facilities everywhere is like a little bike paradise.
Basically What We needed to get done was a front tire for Marta’s bike the one We started with was a recycled one in good shape but after 4000 miles it was pretty wore off so We decided to replace it for a Schwalve Marathon Plus following the amazing result We had with them not even one flat and they have done pretty tough stuff!.
Also I wanted to check with a mechanic if it was time to change the chain or not so We found in Portland a place called “Citybikes” this place works very much like the Bike Station in Edinburgh, those guys they really try to promote recycling and biking through providing a wide range of secondhand bike parts, stands and tools where you can fix your own bike and mechanic to help you out. I did check the chains with one of the guys and We agreed that the chains they can run for a bit longer so We will check them in California before crossing the Mexican border.
An other task Marta wanted for her bike to upgrade it was to attach a new bottle rack on her handlebar where she is going to fit one of those thermo-mugs (cup of coffee while cycling sounds fancy doesn’t it?
The whole Portland experience was great very much so thanks to this amazing couple We met in Alaska(Teri and Rick) who invited us to stay at theirs They have been amazing! We had even a chance to meet the cyclist community on an event that took place while We were there, a manifest, more than 30 bike engineers were showing their new city bikes and testing them, some of the models are very cool trying with designs that will bring more comfort and cover the needs while commuting in a city. Portland also has a massive beer culture with many micro breweries one of them is the HUB a very interesting place where you have your beer on a bench-bike with pedals so through pedaling you are helping to run to generate the energy that the Hub needs to be run on, so self efficient with power that is pretty cool isn’t it?  The HUB is involve with art, recycling, biking and many other activities it is definitely a place to check out if you are in Portland.
Going back to checking gears it is also time to share our gear equipment’s experience after this 4 months of intensive used of clothing and camping gears so I’m going to list down the part of the equipment We are not very happy with:
*Gore Bike Wear Gore-Tex Cycling overshoes. Despite they were supouse to be the ultimate overshoes fully waterproof(very expensive) They do not certainly do it job and Raul’s even worst than Marta’s after 30 minutes max under heavy rain my feet get wet, the sides and the soul of the overshoes gets soaked it seems absorb and kept the water therefore it goes to the shoes and then to the socks and finally to the feet and if there is something I do not enjoy is to be pedaling under the rain with cold wet feet for hours and hours is not fun at all so I asked other cyclist and I started to use Vaseline on my feet so you make a waterproof layer around them then I wear my socks preferably wool is it is not too hot then a plastic bag between the socks and the shoes and on the top as the last layer the faulty “gore-tex” overshoes. If anybody knows about a good system or know about a good overshoes to keep your feet dry under hour of solid rain, Please share it!!!
*Montane cycling windproof jacket is an essential part of our equipment I love it! It’s the perfect piece of clothing when is not cold and you still need to protect your torso from the wind and from the changes of temperature between climbing(hot) and going downhill(cold).Although there is something to be mentioned in here regarding to Marta’s the bright almost fluorescent color Marta ordered to be well seen while cycling was fully fainted not even after a month cycling now is more “dirty white” than anything else where as the blue one I ordered is still looking fairly new. That is something that Montane should take care of it in our opinion the dyes that they use on cloth that is going to be exposed all the time to the sun, rain for the nature of the activity that has been made to be used.
Marmot water proof paclite over trousers, Very disappointed with this, they are a very expensive piece of cloth and unfortunately the zips that goes longwise on the outside from the uncle to the waist  are not sealed to be water proof so after a ½ max of rain the water gets inside and it starts to leak getting wet the inside trousers and after sometimes the water runs down to your socks, shoes and feet.
*With our tent in general We are happy but there is something We need to point out and that is the zips from the inner tent they are very poor quality ones, We had already to replace the sliders from one of the doors and the second doors has already started to play funny too. In top quality tents as Big Agnes SL2 makes they should put top quality zips in the inside tent as they do on the flying sheet you do not want to be in a place full of bugs with your doors open because the zip does not work, you do?
Oregon is being a great experience, the coastline is terrific it’s just unbelievable the amount of different land escapes you can see from dunes, cliff, never end beaches, forest … even with a WET weather as Oregon coast has, it is a place to definitely worthy to ride.

Photos fron our Oregon ride here

07 Oct 2011
Mossy Washington
We entered USA through a back door. The ferry arrived to a small sleepy town of Port Angeles, we got off in an industrial area, there was no flags, no signs ‘welcome to America’, nothing, but dusty streets…and as we kept cycling not much had been changing (we llowed US Hwy 101, along Pacific coast of Washington, so we never visited the capital of the state, Seattle). The main business in the north of the state is logging, but is seems that it doesn’t bring much money to locals. The towns are in decline, dusty streets, abandoned buildings, shut down business, gray, sad people. I guess the fact that it was overcastted or rainy most of the time increased the impression. (O! By the way the rain! Do you guys know the brand called ‘Ocean Spray’? They do cranberry produce. We passed the factory, and I think I know what inspired their name; there is only 60 sunny days a year in Washington, the rest is overcastted, mostly rains, or shell I say ‘sprays’? ‘The rain’ is just a fine drizzle. This is probably why Washington State turned to be the perfect location for shooting ‘Twilights’. And because of the forest. The northern part of the State has one treasure – old growth rain forest in Olympic National Park. We stopped in couple of places to do small side trips and enjoy what’s left from once vast woods. Unfortunately, white people managed to nearly wipe it off, before realizing the real value of old trees. So whatever had been left is now protected. (Sadly, the same story happened in Vancouver and Vancouver Island). Anyway, we saw some impressive stuff – trees neither of us ever seen before. And what’s best, it was only ‘starter’; we have even more stunning woods ahead.
After we left the Park the landscape changed from forest to a shoreline of shallow muddy bays that are, as we found out, perfect for fishing (or ‘picking’?) any kind of shellfish. There must be tons of it living in that mud as everywhere around we could see piles of oyster shells. And so until the Oregon border we were accompanied by Washington loyal grey sky, ‘ocean spray’ and the smell of fishing towns. 

More photos here


  1. Hi Marta and Raul,
    I hope you're having fun sailing down the California coast. It looks like you're along about Santa Barbara now.
    I have a few photos from your stay here in Fairfax. Just let me know where to send them: (me llamo)