Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Into the flatlands?

From Palenque its about 500 miles to the diving Mecca of Cozumel Island. So it's 10 days of cycling with a few days of sightseeing thrown in...should take me about 2 weeks then.

The 1st day I had planned to only cover about 40 miles to the town of El Zapata...I didn't even get that far.

By the time I had carried my bike and bags down to the hotel lobby I had already broken into a sweat! The road out of Palenque was across gently rolling countryside and after a few hours I hit the main road and turned right. The theme of the road continued past small woods and grass chewing cattle. After 4 hours on the road I had covered 31 miles (it's a lot easier when you're not climbing) and it was midday and hot. The town of El Zapata was 12kms down a side road and I was having a cold can of coke outside the petrol station wondering if I was in fact going to El Zapata or continuing along the main road instead. In the end I decided to carry along the main road and was just about to mount my bike when I saw that 80m away in the corner of the petrol station's large forecourt was a small hotel....fantastic!

For 250 pesos I got the largest hotel room in Mexico I've ever been in and it had A/C, what a bonus! The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging the hours away. When I went outside for the occasional fag by the time I had finished my arms were glistening with beads of sweat, It was like standing in front of a blast furnace. Me thinks that I am going to have to keep a close eye on my hydration levels. Just after 7pm I was hungry, as I was bimbling to the restaurant on the other side of the forecourt I looked skyward and watched in wonder as a huge electrical storm surged low across the horizon, its jet black clouds swirling in the strong winds. By the time dinner was served the storm was overhead and sounding angry.

In the morning I was up early and on the road just after 7am. The rolling countryside of yesterday was replaced by a flat waterlogged landscape and Romanesque roads. 10 hours and 76 miles later I came across the next hotel...I was knackered! A cold shower and a 2 hour lie down watching TV whilst the A/C cooled the room helped (but not that much). Tomorrow, due to today's high mileage I only have about 30 miles to travel to get to the large town of Escarcega, should take me about 6 hours :)

Well it turns out it only took me 4 hours. I'm having a day off the bike or more importantly a day out of the sun! Plus I need to once again go to the bike shop and get not 1 spoke but 2 replaced!!!!!

This never happened when I cycled across Europe but then I did have a German made bike!

After a day of rest I wasn't ready to get back on the road but I did never the less. The sunrise was spectacular and it was the highlight of the day! The road started out flat but that was soon to change. Usually when going along a flat road I bimble along at 12-15mph but today it was hard work to manage even 10mph. The reason was the strong headwind! It's the hurricane season right now and there was one out in the gulf of Mexico, this meant that were I was, whilst being 200 miles away, I was still being affected by it.

Then the dips happened! The rolling countryside whilst being nice to look at was a bitch to pedal across. The road stayed straight but the gradients were steep. Each “dip” was no more than a 1000m climb but in a strong headwind and in temperatures heading towards 40oc it was soul destroying. 4.5 hours after leaving the hotel I had only covered 30 miles and it was 11:30. I pulled into a shop and spent the next 30 minutes trying to cool down (somewhat unsuccessfully). I asked the lass behind the counter how far the nearest hotel was and when she answered part of me wished that I had never asked the question. Damn!...it was 30 miles away....oh boy!!!!!

Back on the bike it was hard work, forget about 10mph, I was working hard to manage 8mph and that was on the flat bits. An hour later I was in desperate need of shade, I stopped at a bus shelter and rested the bike against the long bench seat. As for myself, I laid down on the seat, my head resting on the front pannier....I had given up! (if only for an hour)

By 5pm I came to a small village called Conhuas near the Mayan ruins of Balamku. Stopping for a much needed drink I asked the question and got the answer. For 250 pesos I got a small thatched hut which had a bed and mosquito net in it (but no fan) whilst the nearby shower and toilet block had no water. Still, it was better than sleeping at the side of the road.

Following a somewhat smelly and sticky night I only had about 35 miles to the town of Xupjil, where I knew there were several hotels. The day was pretty much like the one before except the wind was stronger and I was weaker. The hours and kilometres passed slowly whilst the sweat trickled down from my head and slowly made its way to my shoes.

Around 1pm I stopped in the small village of Becan, I only had about 5 more miles to go!! After a couple of cold drinks I was back on the bike relieved in the knowledge that there wasn't much further to go. A couple of miles down the road and I was bimbling along quite happily when I approached a couple of young men at the side of the road. One of them was sitting down in the narrow shade of a large bush whilst the other one was just standing up. As I drew level with the upright man he swung a metal bar at my face! I'm guessing his plan was to knock me off my bike then unconscious before robbing me of all my possessions. Thankfully I have very quick reflexes so instead of the pipe smashing into my face it impacted heavily with my crash helmet, breaking into two pieces in the process. Immediately I found lots of energy and accelerated away with the guy giving chase. After 20m he gave up and badly threw the other half of the pipe at me. At this point I stopped, looked back and was giving serious consideration to getting off the bike, going back and beating the crap out of the guy. The two guys then choose that instant to disappear into the dense undergrowth and I, now with a cooler head, decided to carry on.

A short while later I arrived in the town of Xupjil, got myself a very nice hotel room (500 pesos pn) turned on the TV, watching the San Marino round of the MotoGP and relaxed as the A/C cooled me down.

The next day I woke up and turned on the TV.

The following day I was back on the road and it was “only 70 miles” to Chetumal. I was hoping there was a hotel about half way there.

The road was still being a bitch. The undulations were steep and the wind had gotten even stronger, It was hard work! After several hours I reached a small town which was about at the midpoint. Sadly there were no hotels...looks like it was going to be one hell of a day. ¾ of an hour later I saw a sign for a hotel and 15 minutes later I was at the turn off. Now it was decision time, I could either carry on peddling the 30 miles to Chetumal or I could cycle the 4.5km down the side road to the hotel. It wasn't just any hotel....it was a luxury resort hotel i.e. bloody expensive!!

30 minutes later I was checking into the Explorean Resort Hotel @ Kohunlich. It's an all inclusive hotel with isolated bungalows, infinity pool etc. etc. I had already steeled myself, so when the lass told me how much it was a night I didn't even flinch (however when I got to my bungalow I did whimper just a little bit...I mean 2700 pesos a night, that's a week's accommodation in one day). After a shower and a lie down I had a welcome introduction thingy.

Everyday they lay on an activity and today's was a twilight kayak paddle in a wetland lagoon. Even though I was drop dead tired I agreed to go. Following a plate of “whitey soul food” I whiled the 90 minutes away on my fantastically comfortable king size bed till it was time to go on the excursion.

We were on the water just as darkness approached and in the glow of the head torch there were loads of eyes looking back, mostly frogs but also one crocodile. After an hour or so it was completely dark and we all turned off the lights, laid back in the kayaks and checked out the milky way...WOW! By now I was absolutely famished and when we got back to the shore and out of the boats some 30 minutes later nothing had changed. Thankfully, on the shore of the lagoon a table had been set for dinner, illuminated by oil lamps and a log fire nearby.

The food was fantastic and the night's sleep was blissful.

In the morning I really didn't feel like leaving so I spent the day by the infinity pool on a day bed under a parasol. When it got to hot...I did mention about the pool already!!!

Before a late lunch I had an 90 minute hot stone massage.....today life is good :)

The next day I really had to leave, my wallet couldn't stand the strain any more. Turns out it was actually 40 miles to Chetumal and as there was no wind for the 1st two hours by 9am I was halfway there. After that I started to take it easy.....

I found a okay hotel with A/C, cable TV and wifi and settled down for a restful long weekend. After two days of pondering I decided that I couldn't be arsed to cycle the 200 odd miles to Cozumel (I was only going there for the diving) so instead on Monday morning I'll be pedalling the 10 miles to the Belizean border instead.

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