Friday, November 23, 2012

Mexico part 2

I am now sat in a nice little hotel in TAPACHULA (the border town to western GUATEMALA)... tomorrow will mark my enterance into country number 4, and the beginning of what I see as the last leg of this amazing journey.

Since I have last updated alot has happened:

 I have dealt with roads of varying condition, tackled mountains, and heavy rains, and crossed what I think of as the wind tunnel of the world(also known as la ventosa).
 I have had a few nerve-racking experiences; almost been hit multiple times (ironically more than once by an ambulance) and I DID hit a Taxi (it was in slow motion so no damage, luckily). And I have my first few experiences stealth camping in central america..sometimes much closer to the highway than I would have liked.
But, fitting with the rest of the trip, I have continued to be treated with unneccessary kindness by strangers; being let into their home, given warm meals and treated with huge amounts of trust.
 I also got to return the favour of these wonderully unnecessary act of kindness, letting a random stranger who helped me off the road after dark stay on the floor of my hotel room in Arriaga, Chiapas.


The few days after leaving Veracruz city were challenging ,as I entered the hilly region of southern Veracruz.But they were also wonderful- As with the hills and volcanic mountains come all the beauties that go with them, rivers, waterfalls, cloudforest, and breathtaking views! The last little while there has been more times than I can remember thus far that I have wished for company not only to help with the hard times but someone with whom I could share the beautiful landscape that I am surrounded by and memories that I am gaining..

 I did not leave Veracruz as planned on the 12th, as my wonderful hosts set up an interview with a local television station and a last minute newspaper interview as well.

After the TV interview I said goodbye to the rest of the family and me and Tiago set off with the aim of getting me started on the road out of the city. (Santiago Sanchez is a wonderful man and borrowed a bike to help get me around the towns on the unfamiliar city roads).However, not too long into our ride we came across a vehicle belonging to a newspaper in town and Tiago, being the wonderful man that he is, ran in to ask if they could do a story on my mission and cause....welll.. turns out the guy didn't actually work for the newspaper, only the family that ran it.But now that the idea was in our heads we turned around and pedalled back along the 10km or so to a little passed where we had done the TV interview to talk to the paper..(sorry for making you ride around all day tiago.. your a star). When the interview with the paper was done it was around 2pm and therefor a little pointless to be starting on the road. So we headed back to his house where we were greeted by his very surprised and happy family.

The next morning was an early start. After a final wonderful homecooked breakfast and round two of goodbyes. My wonderful hosts handed me the packed lunch they made( along with an assortment of gifts of toiletries ect. that would be useful for the road) and I was out the door, with Tiago leading me on his borrowed bike. Thank you again to all that helped me in Veracruz, there are no words that can explain my gratitude.

It only took about 20 minutes to get out of the city with Tiago leading me... a task that would likely have taken 2 hours or more on my own; likely getting completely lost, confused and nervous on the city roads.
He left me on a wonderful stretch of road-flat, not too busy with a good side shoulder and it would continue on like that for most of the day and into those that followed. That day I covered around 110km into the town of Lerdo (alot of which was along side the beautiful Laguna Alvarado) .. and along the way had yet another heart warming and inspiring experience.- while sitting on the side of the road in the town of ALVARADO, eating the sandwich my wonderful hosts sent with me, an old man walked up, handed me a coca-cola and without saying anything he walked away, barely giving me a chance to say thank-you.... one of those things that make your heart skip a beat.

The next day got tough... tough but rewarding. This is the day that I entered the hilly region of LOS DOS TUXTLAS and CATEMACO.. a region know as "La Suiza Veracruz" ( the Veracruz Switzerland). The climbs were long, and as seems to be the norm, where the roads get steep and bendy, the roads get narrower and loose their shoulders.Making pedalling sometimes feel like a death wish as cars speed around corners to find you much too close for comfort and unable to get out of the way due to large drops along the road side. ( It was on this day that I almost got ran over by not one but two ambulances.... that would have been ironic wouldn't it?). ... BUT, the challenge did not come without reward as on this day I also witnessed many waterfalls, beautiful rivers and streams, countless breathtaking mountain views and at the end of the day set up my tent in an RV park along a river that leads to the heartstopping beauty that is LAGO CATEMACO.... all experiences that made the difficult ride and close calls worth their while ( added of course to the reason I am on these roads at all!- To provide learning opportunities to a group of  very deserving people!!)

I awoke early the next morning to a downpour and alot of fog.... this continued through most of the day, causing me to stay put for the day. At first I wasn't so happy about stopping again so close after my long stop the in Veracruz, but it gave me a chance to explore the town, the beautiful lake and enjoy some local cuisine... CATEMACO IS AN AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL PLACE... if given the chance, GO!.. the only thing that would make it better is if the lake was an ocean and you could dive!

The next day, was rainy but not enough to keep me still. After a very nice breakfast, courtesy of one of the permanent residents of the RV park, I was on the road by about 10. The day would prove to be mildly hilly, a continuous mist with occasional actual rain and periods of TERRIBLE roads.And terrible roads accompanied with rain are a pain... as puddles hide massive potholes and other dangers..... but this being said I had a WONDERFUL day and loved every minute of it soaked to the bone or not!.. ( I also realized that the only necessary piece of rain gear in this part of the world while cycling is shoe covers!... being soaked to the bone in this temperature isn't a problem, actually quite nice while riding... but having your feet in puddles all day isn't  fun no matter where you are (well.. unless of course your completely submerged and blowing bubbles, then it is the most fun you can have!!)). With all the rain and hills and a bit of a late start I made about 80km to the city of ACAYUCAN ( the last city on the Atlantic untill I board my boat to the island :-) )

road side camping
Upon leaving Acayucan, it would take me a few days to cross the skinniest part of Mexico, to the state of OAXACA and the wind tunnel of the world that is La Ventosa. In these days I would have my first experiences stealth camping in Mexico. Both times I did so would prove to be a terrible nights sleep... first because I was right along side the road ( slightly nerve-racking and very loud) and second because the field I chose to put my tent with was sooo windy that most of the night my tent was basically flat on top of me.... This being said I have decided stealth camping is a great way to make sure you get alot of ground covered- it means you don't stop until dark, and you are up and on the road at the crack of dawn trying to avoid getting caught..... butttt sometimes you still get caught and when you do, the people usually ask you to stay another day and offer you a place in their house...makes you feel a bit bad to have done it and wish you could take them up on their offer. BUT a mission is a mission and got to keep the goal in mind.

In these days I would also have not only my first but my first three flat tires in Mexico ( that will happen if you don't look in the tire annd take out what made it flat in the first place you know.. haha ooops). But I am getting very good at changing and patching tires... only takes about 15minutes on average to change and patch a tube!

Upon reaching the coast and being struck with the insane winds of the La Ventosa region, at the same time as dealing with a tire that would only stay inflated for 10 minutes (and by this point I HAD taken the culprit out) I was not a happy camper. But, as seems to be my lucky ways, when in need- help arrives. This time it was in the form of a very wonderful family. They pulled over and asked if I needed help ( I may have been on the verge of tears if not already there), I told them my problems and they said they would be back in 10 mins with a truck if I stayed put. They took me to a mechanic (that happened to be her father) and helped sort out my problems free of charge. They then asked if I wanted to stay in their house for the night... even though it was only 2pm and I had alot of riding time left, I happily obliged. And as soon as we arrived at their house they said they had things to do but I could stay. "mi casa es tu casa"... soo trusting to leave someone you just met in your house alone for hours.... another skip of the heart..

In the morning we went to watch their 3 beautiful children march in a parade for November 20th before they gave me a ride out of the extreme winds... only minutes in a car that would have been along battle on the bike. They wanted to take me further but luckily there was a road block that stopped them, I felt bad to tell them no when they were offering but feel guilty taking a ride too far, so the road block was welcome as no one could pass in a car but bikes were allowed...problem solved.Thank you my wonderful new friends for everything you are amazingly kindhearted people.

That night I made it out of OAXACA and into ARRIAGA, CHIAPAS. Though I was not sure I was going to make it; I was on the road with still over 10km to go with only 5 mins left to complete darkness. As I contemplated giving up on reaching town and setting up camp along the road again, a man pulled over and offered me a ride to town, of course i accepted. And this is where my chance to return all the favours Mexico has given me came into play... on the way into town he asked if we could share a hotel room to save money. I was skeptical; having only known this man for a few minutes, having very limited communication abilities with him and knowing the stereotype of latin american men's attitude towards white women... but, all of this considered I decided to do it anyway. So many people have helped and trusted me for no reason so I let him stay on the floor of my room. And woke in the morning unscathed with all of my stuff still where I left it and after he left he came back with sandwiched to give me for the road as a thankyou...If you open your heart to the world  and take risks you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how amazing this world and the people who live in it really can be.

The next few days into Tapachula were fairly uneventful.. beautiful but uneventful. And now here I am, about 30km to my chosen entry point to Guatemala and the last leg of my journey. Only a few short weeks away from the beautiful island and wonderful people that are my second home and family.

It is coming close to Christmas and in the spirit of Christmas I ask everyone to do everything they can to make sure that the dream  become a reality.. Donate if you can, and encourage everyone you know to do the same; Every dollar helps. Everyone deserves to experience the Christmas spirit of giving and receiving and if you can help those less fortunate why not. Let's give these wonderful people the best Christmas they have ever had.

Thanks all for your continued support on this journey... it is the support and seeing the donations that keep me going on the hard days. I as well as the people of LITTLE CORN truly appreciate it. Thank-you from the bottom of my heart.
-Steph :-)
-p.s... don't let the spirit of giving... buy lunch for a homeless person, open doors for strangers, pick up a hitch hiker.... do everything you can to keep the spirit of giving going; and it doesn't just need to be because it's christmas, kind acts are appreciated year round

..sunrise oneside, full rainbow on the other

Monday, November 12, 2012

MEXICO thus far

SO, far Mexico, (as with the rest of the trip), has been full of ups and downs. Luckily, the ups have outweighed the downs.

The roads; though VERY scary at times, are full of the most beautiful scenery. The people, even with the language barrier that exists, are the most KIND AND WELCOMING people. Everytime I ask if there is somewhere I can put a tent near by....the answer is no no no. Me casa es tu casa.... and with that I am invited into their house and treated like a member of the family ( a family member with which communication is quite difficult!).

 As I explained earlier, I got a bus from Brownsville to Tampico to avoid the dangerous border area. I was glad I did so, for a short portion of the journey from the mexican immigration to the bus station in Matamoros, I road on the stairs at the front holding my bike.While I was here, we passed a huge group of men on motorcycles with their faces painted for day of the dead. As we passed them, they were hissing growling and banging on the bus.... interesting to say the least, glad I was not on my bike.

When I arrived in Tampico at 4AM, I was sat outside the bus station waiting for the sun to rise before making a decision on my next move. I was approached by a man who knew my name and was there to pick me up and take me to a hotel which he paid for. A WONDERFUL SURPRISE that had apparently been set up through some friends of my mom (Jan and Lino Vella-Gregory) overnight while I was on the bus! Thank you soo much for this arrangement Fernando and Carlos were a huge help, paying for two nights stay in a hotel, showing me the sights of TAMPICO, and getting me set up with some necessaties (a better map and span/eng dictionary, a mexican phone and much more)... they made my stay much more enjoyable and less stressfull than it would have otherwise been.
It reminds me of a time... while in Africa, after a period of lack of contact with my mum longer than I am happy to admit to I got a letter from with in Africa when I knew no one in country... and when I DID finally get ahold of my mum she knew everything that was going on with our camp, logistical problems and what not... it is funny how mothers have this capability of knowing everything even when you are half way across the world.

Fernando and Carlos advised me that it was a good idea to keep bussing onwards to Veracruz, as the area is fairly dangerous at the time with Day of the Dead and what not. At first I was a little skeptical feeling getting on another bus would be a bit like cheating, but after learning that another cycler was kidnapped in the area recently and held hostage for a few days, the decision was easy and I got on a bus! I did not however bus all the way to Veracruz. I compromised and bussed to Poza Rica, whe my on bike adventure around 3:30 pm.I felt a bit bad for bussing through such a large portion of my Mexican route, but I do want to reach in one piece to the beautiful island that is my destination and safety needs to come first. Not only were there the dangers that most people think of while in Mexico but also the fact that everyone is still celebrating the day of the dead and therefor alot of drinking and driving making the roads even more dangerous than they already are. I am sure I would have made it safe on my bike... but better safe than sorry!

Upon getting on my bike I was immediately the happiest and most excited about my journey I had been in a while!! I was very excited for the start of the REAL ADVENTURE that was about to begin.

In my first day on the road I did not get far but that did not keep the smile off my face. I think the local people were as happy with me cycling through their area as I was with being there as I entertained them by constantly laughing and talking to myself as I went. ( I laugh because I was nervous about cycling through a country I don't know, a culture I don't know, surrounded by people who speak a language I don't know; I laugh because I had no idea really where I was or where I was going and I laugh because I LOVE everything about the previous statements!!).

Well, as I said I didn't get too far. I got a bit lost in the city of POZA RICA, and then as I got out of the city I got into construction... which in small town Mexico means large rocks, large holes, and a VERY large amount of dust that makes it impossible to see anything really...including oncoming cars.So after a couple of hours on the road I had only made the short distance from Poza Rica to Coatzintla... A town which only had 2 options in hotels. One looked like a castle and would surely have cost an arm and a leg... the other also cost more than I would have like to pay as it was normally rented by the hour- a truck stop that even came with your own personal strip pole and funny shaped sex couch in each room! I opted for the latter ;a point at which I was glad to have my own sheet in my packs.

The next morning I hit the road early with a permanent smile plastered on my face. After a fairly short and easy distance I came to my first site seeing event in a while. El Tajin Ruins. A beautiful site to start off my Mexican adventure. It was shortly after lunch when I left Tajin, and was immediately greeted with extreme heat and extreme inclines.... A VERY DIFFICULT YET VERY REWARDING few hours into  the city of PAPANTLA. Beautiful views from the hills, beautiful people and beautiful buildings.

Upon leaving Papantla city I was rewarded for my efforts, relieved of the extreme heat by a nice afternoon downpour! Though I was soaked to the bone, I appreciated every minute of it... until the rain got soo hard I could not see the cars so well (and there for they couldn't see me!), and large puddles on the roadside hid massive potholes making continuing quite dangerous! (I wish I had pictures but at this point all of my electronics were dead..including my odometer/speedometer which doesn't work so well while wet!)... So, again I did not cover too much distance, stopping at a restaurant at the top of a hill to take cover for a while around 4, and when the rain didn't seem to be lightening an hour later. I asked the ladies running the place if there was a place close by I could put up my tent for the night. To my genuine surprise, there answer was, come with me we have a bed you can stay in... which actually meant a whole house to myself for the night in their family compound and a free and very filling and satisfying meal..... An unnecessary act of kindness from a stranger I did not expect, especially with the language barrier that is quite prominent.

The next day; having showered, eatin and had a good nights rest I made good progress and reached the coast. Around 10 AM, after a few nice hours of light rain and slight declines, I could see the point at which the trees stopped. Even though I could not actually see the sea and even though I had never been there before in my life I could not keep the smile from my face. There is nothing that says welcome home like the view of where the trees stop and the ocean begins after a long a difficult journey through mountains, plains, desert and back.
 When I actually got to the point when I could see the water, there just happened to be a cold coconut stand. I sat and sipped the coconut, enjoying the wonderfully new yet familiar surroundings. I think the only coconut I will enjoy more is the first I pick and crack upon reaching my beloved island again!

After taking a minute to soak in the coastal air and views, I continued along on my way. A road running parallel to the coast, dotted with tonnes of amazing views and a fair few picturesque towns that I wish I had time to stop and explore... but after all I am on a mission and if I stopped everywhere I would like to it would Christmas 2014 by the time I actually made it to the island.

Around 4o'clock,  I came across some children and young adults tending goats along the side of the highway. I stopped to chat a bit; asking them how far to the next town, if there were any cheap hotels of hostels around and chatting as much as my Spanish allowed. It wasn't long before they too invited me into their home for the night, as it was a decent stretch to the next town and there were no cheap hotels to speak of. After being fed a WONDERFUL meal and chatting with the large and welcoming family, I was able (with some difficulty) to convince them that giving me the bed they would otherwise be used by more than one member of their family was not necessary. If I took the bed, their children would sleep on the floor, where as I had a perfectly good tent and air mattress...but their in their kind hearts giving me the bed was not even something that needed consideration..But eventually I won and the entire family came out, helped set up my tent and then took me around town to meet family, friends and neighbours before a late night snack and coffee before saying good night.I say again... I am BLOWN AWAY by the kindness of strangers!!
In the morning, the whole family helped me pack up my gear and get ready to go, another round of coffee and crackers and they all gathered to see me off and wave as I road away into the rising sun.

The day was fairly uneventful; minor hills, more spectacular views, a few scary moments on the road and an failed attempt at Internet and blogging in a small coast town (after being online for 1/2 hr I was unable to even update my facebook status, at which point I gave up, feeling trying any further would just be wasting money in the Internet cafe and getting nowhere.) I road around 75km into the pretty little town of PALMA SOLA, where after a long upward stretch of pushing my bike on the very busy narrow road I decided to stop for a rest.... said rest turned into the sort of rest which extends over night and is accompanied by a beer or two with a new friend and a good nights sleep.

The next day (wed., 6th/11) would be my entrance into Veracruz city, and the first day in Mexico I was truly scared on the roads and questioned why I was doing this whole insane journey.... being passed often much closer and faster than I would like by a stream of semi's on their way to port. Luckily for me, in a small town not far from Veracruz one of these semi-drivers who had passed me earlier in the day approached me and asked if I wanted a ride the rest away into town to escape the nonstop string of trucks that could quite easily be the death of me... needless to say, I thanked him, tied my truck to the bottom of his tanker and hopped in (which I was VERY glad to have done as not 10 mins into the ride we came across a sign that informed me bicycles were not allowed on the highway...don't know what I would have done really.

My new friend dropped me off at the entrance toll gates 10 km outside the city, pointed me in the right direction and said goodbye.... and then it got interesting. It took ages (and alot of very stressful moments) getting through the city on busy to find a cheap hotel for the night... which ended up being one not quite as cheap as I hoped near the beach in BOCA DEL RIO, as I was terrified of the roads that led to Veracruz city center. But I was happy to be anywhere off the dangerous streets and immediately fell asleep when I got into my room at 7.

The next day I relaxed for the morning before attempting the dreadful task of getting my self into Veracruz where I would await the arrival of my good friend May who would be joining me for the weekend. It wasn't so hard to get most of the way, as I found I nice wide walkway along the beach which I could safely ride my bike. And it turns out that would be as far as I would pedal that day.... my friend Alex Miramontes ( ...the wonderful lady that she is!!), got me in touch with her family in Veracruz; who, on very short notice came and picked me and my bike up on the beach to take me to their home and go above and beyond in making me feel welcome and making my stay in Veracruz the most enjoyable it could possibly be. They fed me amazingly, showed me around, arranged for media coverage I would otherwise never be able to get to help spread the word in another county and did more than I could ever expect from anyone... friend or stranger! Thank- you so much to all parties involved. ( Santiago Sanchez Arano, Maribel Corro Coello, Edith Coello Vscanga and Alex Miramontes and everyone else who I met and helped along the way! Everything is greatly appreciated you are AMAZING PEOPLE!!)

It is now Monday, November 12th. I have been on the road officially for 2 months. Spending close to a week in Veracruz it will have been the longest I have stopped but it was the most enjoyable it could be and worth every minute that it may put me behind if I had been pedaling all these days. I have had the chance to meet new friends and I will remember their kindness for the rest of my life. I had a chance to meet up with old friends, spending a WONDERFUL weekend with May Hackman...a good friend I met back on the island last spring and got time to relax, enjoy, have a few beers and be a tourist for a few days.

I was supposed to be back on the road early this morning, but yet again my hosts have surpassed any expectations and have arranged a television interview which will take place at 10:30 ( an hr from now). This will help to spread the awareness on my mission and cause in a country it would otherwise be impossible for me to reach.. so any delay is worth it 10 times over to help reach our goal to get the LEARNING CENTER up and running in as little time as possible.

When I do hit the road it will probably be another 12 days or so before I reach the Guatemalan border. The journey in between will have some spectacular views and some very tough days as I take on the mountainous region of Chiapas to get to San Cristobal and from there, Guatemala.

exhausted after hills&heat

a bit of nerves for starting to ride in Veracruz

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hasta Luego USA... It's been real

I have now been on the road for a total of 49 days. In that time I have managed to pedal about 4,000km from the the Northwest to the Southeast of the USA. I have crossed one international and five state borders, and if all goes as planned (though what ever does), I should be crossing my second international line later today.

The trip thus far has been one to remember to say the least; full of ups and downs, good days and bad. Beautiful scenery and some landscapes that were considerably less memorable.The states in which I enjoyed the scenery the most were Montana, Wyoming and Texas. But as I have said before what I will remember most about this whole trip is the wonderful people I have met and all the support I have been given from people on the road as well as those following and aiding my progress from a far ( both those that I know and that I don't..your help and support is greatly appreciated) .

 In addition to the approximate $2, 000 I have raised so far through the fundraising page, I have been giver around $300 from random strangers on the road, had multiple nights in hotels and meals paid for,even a few spare beds in people's own homes for the night. I have been in around 20 newspapers to help spread the word, and had countless people stop to aid me on the road. The list is endless in the ways strangers have outstretched their hands to help me on the way

While in Shiner, TX,I even got caught clearly in the act of trespassing (throwing my gear over a locked gate just outside of SHINER, TX). When the family who was out checking their cows caught me doing this and heard my story, they didn't get mad for what I was doing as one would expect.... they gave me an old house to stay in instead! very unexpected act of kindness I will never forget.

The last week has been a little rough.Though my tire problems seem to have been put on hold other problems have replaced them. I have started to feel quite lonely, being alone on the road 100% of the time.I had to camp in a very busy truckstop just off the highway after not feeling well, got stuck in a blockaded construction site barely making it out before dark; I got stung by a wasp not one but five times when it got stuck in my shirt in heavy traffic,  and the same day I almost went head first over my handlebars in rush hour traffic of the freeway in Harlingen, TX when I dropped my front wheel into a Storm drain.

I have spent the last day or two stationary in Harlingen, recouping and getting stuff organized for my entrance into Mexico I will be making later today. From here I will ride the last 25miles to Brownsville where I will be putting my gear on a bus to Tampico (as long as they will let me!). I feel slightly guilty busing this far but have been advised by a number of people that it is the best option to get out of the dangerous border reason... the goal IS to make it in one piece, so this is what I will do.

In the travelling world I am used to Americans get a bad wrap; marked as ignorant and coming from a land of commercialism. But travelling through the states in the way I have I can tell you that this is not the case at all; you have to be in a fairly large city to see the commercialism we connect with the USA. Most towns I have travelled through have been full of small private businesses and even a few one room school houses. Even Canada in my experience is much more commercial than rural USA, you have to be in a much bigger town to see a WALMART or similar stores here then you would back in Canada and I am happy to see that. I have thoroughly enjoyed my travels through the states, with many places I would love to come back to and many more I haven't seen that I would love to.

My entrance into Mexico is going to be a major turning point in my trip... a whole new trip in itself, really. I am entering an unknown territory both in landscapes and culture, one in which there is a bit of a language barrier so the loneliness is bound to increase even a little bit more. But I am excited!!! Even though I have been on the road for over a month it feels like my adventure is about to begin. THIS IS WHEN I WILL BE NEEDING EVERY ONE'S SUPPORT THE MOST.

I will no longer be able to be spreading the word and talking to newspapers to help raise funds and  support.I am asking that everyone do everything they can to help me in this matter. We may have gotten the funds up above the $2,000 mark, but there is still a very long way to go be for we reach our goal of having enough to get this learning center complete and give the wonderful people of LITTLE CORN the learning opportunities they deserve. So please, donate if possible, spread the word anyway you can.. we will also be trying to get computers and other supplies donated so if you have anyway you can help in that matter leave a message on here and I will get back to you.

Thanks guys, wish me luck :)