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

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