Today started with a crash! But let’s start at the beginning of what should be just a normal day of bicycle touring…
The place we chose for camping yesterday was not too bad. It was a small crater – like a cenote but not as deep and without water – away from the main road we were traveling on. We pitched our tent on a small highpoint on lots of stones. Surprisingly the tentfloor and our mattresses did a very good job!
Today we were aiming for the ruins of Coba which were halfway on our way to Tulum at the coast.
Just a normal day of bicycle touring – How it started….
After breakfast and packing up we had to cycle up a small, very rocky hill to exit the crater. Brad cycled ahead in small gear. I tried to follow but realized halfway up that I wouldn’t make it. The weight of the panniers was breaking too much and gravity won the battle. Reaching out with my legs I tried to keep my bicycle in an upright position and push it up the hill. I failed. The bicycle fell to the left onto the left pannier and onto my rear view mirror. I mourned and struggled to lift the weight up again, gave up and called Brad for help.
Back on the bike and riding along a flat road I was thinking about the high mountains of Guatemala and if I would ever be able to make it. Today we are on the road for a couple of weeks so I am still a beginner, right? I just needed more practicing and stronger legs.
As I cycled along I felt quite good and tried to make peace with what happened early in the morning. Very soon only the dirt marks on my right leg would remind me of my failure.
Changing the oil of the Rohloff hub
The sky was blue and we rolled along some pretty jungle plants and the usual yellow flowers along the road seemed to be even more pretty on this section.
After a while we found a shady stop on the side of the road and stopped for what should hopefully be the only maintenance our bicycles required until Panama: a change of the oil of the Rohloff hub. First you put some kind of cleaning fluid into the hub through a very small hole. We used a siringe to do that. Then you ride for a short time and shift through all of the gears, especially riding in gear 3 and 11. Then the stuff can come out. Again we used the siringe and afterwards filled the Rohloff hub with about 20 milliliters of new oil.
Bicycle touring through rural Mexico
The downside to blue sky was a burning sun and rising temperatures. My watch showed some 36 degrees Celsius during our maintenance stop. It was nice to keep pedaling and feel a light breeze in the face.
We arrived in another small village around lunchtime. They don’t see a lot of white people at all and so the kids called us “gringos”. We were something special!
Lunch was rather disappointing as the only place we could find was a mini supermarket with a broad selection of unhealthy snacks and Coca Cola bottles in all sizes. Would a bag of chips and half a coke bring me all the way to Coba?
When we got back on our bikes the road got even narrower. In some parts the road was barely visible between all the bumpy holes. Some of them big enough to swallow a whole car! We zig-zagged our way through the obstacles, definitely getting some extra kilometers in.
The ruins of Coba and why we didn’t visit
We arrived at Coba past 3 pm. Despite some ancient Maya ruins Coba offered a big lake inhabited by crocodiles. As it was still early in the day we made our way to the entrance of the ruins. The areal was very big and best explored by bicycles. Lucky us we brought some! Or not. We asked for the price. Admission was MXN$ 70 each plus we couldn’t bring our bikes. We had to rent some from a company inside the ruins. We were both very disappointed about that and thought about what to do. I pointed towards the sky. Some dark rainclouds were hanging up there. Would it be fun to be in the ruins in a thunder storm? I had some doubts. And there was also the money. We just had paid so much for Chichen Itza and we also wanted to see the ruins of Tulum and so on. As we are on a tight budget we had to choose.
We agreed to skip Coba and spend some money on food instead. A nice little restaurant down the road offered local cuisine at a reasonable price. We “parked” our bicycles on the pedestrian walkway and settled down. I decided for empanadas con queso y pollo that were served without pollo. Brad opted for a typical Mexican hamburger.
A tropical thunderstorm
We were right in the middle of our meal when the downpour began. I haven’t seen that much rain for a while… on the next table was a Mexican Canadian couple, traveling as well. We chatted a little bit and as the rain got more and more we had to scream to understand each other.
All of a sudden thunder and lightning mixed in, coming close quickly. We were right in the middle of a tropical thunderstorm! The wind got stronger pushing hard on nearby palm trees. Chairs from the restaurant fell down and table cloths tried to fly away. The Mexicans got busy to get everything inside and to keep things dry. Together with the other couple we also found some shelter inside. While all that happened our bicycles stood on the pedestrian walkway, upright against the wind and the rain, like two rocks in the ocean.
I was still a little bit concerned about all our equipment and if the Ortlieb bags would keep everything dry. We were about to find out soon!
Camping in the rainforest
How to pick the right campsite?
We waited until the worst of the storm was over. An end of the rain was not insight. The water stood evenly on the road and on the pedestrian walkway forming a lake next to the lake. We started cycling out of town to find a good spot for camping. We passed some nice hotels and I looked at them. Wishful thinking… It was 40 minutes until sunset and so we took the first trail that turned off from the main road. Brad was looking for a place to pitch the tent while I felt some urgent needs. Ignoring the wet from above I grabbed my bathroom set and head into the jungle. Something must have been wrong with the Empanadas… Relieved I tried to find my way back to Brad and our bicycles on the trail. Nearly there, I slipped and stumbled over the wet vegetation. My right foot got hooked under a stone and I heard a not so nice sound when I went down to catch myself with my hands. A quick look revealed a bad result: my right shoe was ripped open. Great. In a bad mood I stumbled all the way back and helped Brad to pitch a wet tent in the rain.
Dry gear but bad campsite
Surprisingly my gear in the Ortlieb bags was still dry and I put everything I needed for the night into the tent. Everything else as well as the bags themselves stays outside in the vestibule. Did I already mention that our tent is too small for bicycle touring?
Sitting inside the tent I pointed out some plants that would certainly poke through the tent. In fact there were some small trees underneath. Brad got out his knife and tried to fix it. Moving around in the rain was not an option. The usual tent setup and process of getting comfortable was more complicated as we had to do it all while already being in the tent. But then it was done.
The downsides of Mexican food
We talked about the day and our plans and just as I wanted to start to read I couldn’t help it. I had to go out into the rain again. Thanks to the Empanadas! I switched on my headlamp, got into my shoes and quickly left the tent to avoid mosquitos coming in. Only a little bit along the trail I settled down to do my business. It was not only raining on me. The air was dense with all kinds of sounds. Suddenly a big crack in the bushes. I swung around my headlamp. How annoying would it be to stare into the eyes of a Jaguar with my underwear hanging at the knees? I sped up and made my way back to the tent.
Getting comfortable after a normal day of bicycle touring
Back in I checked for mosquitos and found some water collecting at the foot part of the tent. Other than that it was surprising how well our small tent held up against the huge amount of rain. The sound of the raindrops crashing on the tent was deafening. We were both halfway dry after turning into our sleep clothes but we really needed a shower. The air was thick and humid, stinky and sweaty. Anyway, I got comfortable and opened my ebook. I am currently reading Douglas Preston’s “Lost City of the monkey gods”. It’s about an expedition into the jungle of Honduras to explore an ancient ruin in Mosquitia. In his book Lincoln Child just got comfortable in his tent too, fighting against biting chippers.
Now it’s time for me to sleep. It was just a normal day of bicycle touring and tomorrow is another one to come. I close my eyes for now and listen to the sound of raindrops and the sounds of a nightly jungle…
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