Sunday, April 22, 2018

Construction Zones and Bandits on the Road to Comalcalco, Tabasco

Garmin Info and Map: Villahermosa to Cárdenas

Garmin Info and Map: Cárdenas to Comalcalco

I really enjoyed my stay in Villahermosa but, after 4 nights, decided to move on. After the tremendously high temperatures over the weekend, I was relieved to be riding on a cooler day.  The roads were busy at first getting out of the big city and then I turned onto a road that followed the Rio Carrizoll. After a few miles it was lovely.  This was the first quiet road I had taken in a long time and it felt great. Occasionally, I had glimpses of the river but mostly I was riding passed a lot of banana trees. The terrain was lush, green and very humid. I think the temps were only in the low 80's but the air was still very wet.

Vegetable vendors

Open hole warning
Unfortunately, I had to get back on the highway to cross a river.  There was a construction zone and the lanes in my direction were blocked off to traffic. The diverted traffic was on the lanes in the opposite direction. There really wasn't enough room for the trike with the big trucks.  Riding with traffic would be very stressful. Since I couldn't see any machinery or workers in the blocked off lanes, I decided to take a risk even though I had no idea how long the construction zone was. Well, my empty road ended just before it merged back with traffic after about 2 miles. There was a huge bulldozer and a giant gully where a large pipe was being installed. There was no way I could get across. I was really disappointed that I had to ride back the way I came and then would have to ride in the heavy traffic. Ugh! While I was sitting in the trike, absorbing my situation, a construction worker approached. After first, he said yes, there was no way I could get through and I needed to ride back the way I came. I pointed out that there really wasn't enough room to ride with traffic and asked if there was anyway we could get the trike across the break in the road. First he said no and then he showed me a possibility on the other side of a large mount of sand. He suggested we roll the trike around it. Great, fantastic. The construction guy moved the trike so quickly all I could do was show him how to steer and get out of the way. Next thing I knew I was back riding. It was like presto chango and my problem was fixed. 

Construction worker rolling my trike beyond the break in the road.

Cárdenas Church
A day in Comalcalco

My destination today was Cárdenas. Sometimes the name of a town gives it an aura. For me, the name conjured up an upscale colonial town. Maybe with some nice architecture.  I crossed a river into a largish industrial city of more than 200,000 people. It didn't look anything like my imagination. This town is really ugly. Online I had picked what I figured was the best hotel in town, Hotel Alberto and got checked-in for $16. It had everything you would expect from a hotel but it obviously had been built with the cheapest materials. The tile didn't match, sometimes the grout was thick, sometimes thin. The walkway had strange little steps where they had probably started construction at one end and then the other and when the two ends met they didn't meet up and a small step was used as a junction. There wasn't a toilet seat and no hot water in the sink. There was plenty of room for Myrtle and she was safely tucked away in a gated patio. I walked around town and it was so unattractive I couldn't even find anything to take a picture of. The best thing I can say about Cárdenas was the delicious cup of coffee I had the next morning with a plate of fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast. 

Kids trikes

Cárdenas Church

After leaving Cárdenas, I went through a tiny little town to check out the Light of the World church and then turned to what looked like a sweet back road. Unfortunately, as soon as I left the little town, the road turned to sand and was impossible to get traction on. So, it was back to the highway. While looking at the map I saw there are 2 highway roads next to each other. I figured each went a different direction but, instead, one was the new road and the other was the old road.  I took the quieter old road. There were lots of little towns and I really enjoyed this road. At one point, I came across what I think was a political rally. There were lots of different groups waving flags and chanting songs. They were all excited to see the trike and I became the center of attention as I rode passed. It was really fun. 

Light of the World Church
Comalcalco North Temple Mayan Ruin

Not far after the political rally a taxi driver stopped to ask where I was going. He said this is a dangerous road. I asked how and he made the sign of someone shooting a gun. He said there were bandits on this road that might rob me. I have no idea if he was joking around but he really spooked me. A little bit further there were some transit police parked and I stopped to ask if it was true. Their answer wasn't reassuring. In fact, it was very confusing. At first, they said the road was dangerous and then they said I didn't have anything to worry about. Well, in the next mile I, somehow, made an unexpected turn and found myself on the new highway. This is a much busier road but now I didn't have anything to worry about.

Comalcalco Cats
It wasn't much further to Comalcalco which is about the same size as Cárdenas. A motorcycle policeman pulled up to ask what I was doing. I decided to ask him for a hotel recommendation. He escorted me to Hotel Xochimilco which is very close to the city center. I got checked in for $16 to a very basic room. The people that run the hotel were super nice and excited that I was staying there. The owner gave me lots of ideas for things to see and places for food. This town is famous for Mayan ruins that are close by.  The next day I rode the 4 miles. The site is small with about 10 buildings. Comalcalco means 'Home of the Comal' which refers to the bricks that were baked for the construction of the buildings. The mortar was made from crushed oyster shells. This construction is completely different than any other ruins I have visited. The time frame of the civilization is the same as all the other sites, 600 bc - 700 ad, but the buildings at the other sites are mostly made of limestone.  In the morning, I took my time enjoying the mercado in town and I got to the ruins so late it was very hot while I was walking around. The Acropolis wasn't the most attractive but the most interesting of the buildings. A crude ramp had been built to make it easier to walk to the top even though the railing was missing in sections. From the top of the acropolis it is possible to walk within the walls and see the construction up close. The view of the site from above was also very nice. There is also a museum showing artifacts discovered at the site. It is small and didn't take long to get through. 

Selfie at the ruins
Walking on the Acropolis
View from the top

I took a ton of photos, some video and spent the rest of the day processing and uploading using the very slow wifi. Slow wifi continues to be a very frustrating issue.  I really like the town of Comalcalco. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Big City of Villahermosa

Garmin Info: Macuspana to Villahermosa

Trike ride in Villahermosa

After a very enjoyable 2 nights in Macuspana, I got packed up early for a hot ride on the highway to Villahermosa. I was hoping to take a smaller road today but there was a big storm overnight and some of the roads I wanted to take are unpaved. The people at the hotel advised me it would probably be a muddy mess. The highway is more direct and there is plenty of room for the trike but noisier.

The ride was very hot but straightforward. I think temps got up to the low 90's. There were plenty of roadside cafes to take a break and get a snack in. There is always food in Mexico. Even on the most desolate roads, someone will be out selling something to eat. Today, I stopped in a rather strange taqueria. There was no salsa to go with the tacos. They had pico de gallo which is a mix of chopped tomatoes, jalapaños and onions with a bit of cilantro. I really like pico de gallo but I can't eat raw tomatoes so it took some time for me to separate the ingredients. It really is almost unthinkable that there wouldn't be salsa with the tacos. Sometimes I think the salsa is the most important part. Maybe they ran out?

Finding Natural Beauty in the Big City

Another view of the pedestrian bridge over the Grijalva River

Pedestrian Bridge

I arrived in Villahermosa after crossing a bridge over the Grijalva River. There were lots of cars but not room. Luckily, as usual, traffic was very patient. This was the biggest city I've been in since leaving Cancun with a population of around 800,000. I pulled into a large and fancy tourist hotel that had a good rating and checked-in. They had a special going and rooms were $45. I was hoping the wifi would be better at a tourist hotel. On this trip, so far, the wifi has mostly sucked and I have lots of photos and video I want to upload. After getting settled I walked to a large park to see the Lago Ilusiones. The museum La Venta was closed but I really enjoyed walking the path around the lake. There were many animals and birds. Crocodiles, turtles, cuotis and very colorful birds I don't know the name of. 

Making my way to the historic area of Villahermosa

The wifi sucked, as usual, and I decided to move to the old historic area that has a lot more charm. In the morning I rode to the Plaza Independencia which was far more aesthetically appealing with a pool and much cheaper at $28 night. The wifi was marginally better but still very slow. Mexico is a rich country with lots of resources and Villahermosa is a big city. How can businesses operate with such terrible internet? I could understand slow wifi 5 years ago but now, really? Seriously, the wifi is so slow it's taking all night to upload 4 minute videos!

Hotel Plaza Independencia
Not only was nice hotel in a good location, cheaper and comfortable but the food was also fantastic. I stayed for 3 nights and every morning I got the start the day with a delicious meal. There was a mango, papaya, pineapple and banana plate. Fried plantains which I love. Eggs to order, chimichangas, beans with cream, pan dulces and good coffee. I really enjoyed exploring Villahermosa and it was also incredibly hot. Friday was 103F and Saturday was 104F. Saturday was so hot that it was actually harder to breath. I'm not sure I've ever experienced such a high temperature with 80% humidity. The air was thick. I went out early, hunkered down in my air conditioned room during the heat of the day and then went out again after sunset. Saturday night there was a huge storm and it rained all night. On Sunday morning, the temperatures were significantly lower. Sunday morning is a also a really good time to leave big cities but, at the last moment, I decided to stay in Villahermosa for another day.

Local franchise of KFC?
Exploring Villahermosa

I'm really glad I did too. I visited the anthropology museum which was much more interesting than expected and stumbled on a grand parade as it was setting up. This parade is one of the biggest of the year. All 17 municipalities in the state of Tabasco are represented with elaborate floats and beauty queens. For everyone involved, it had to be a relief that the temperatures were lower. I ended up having a very fun day.

Shopping for shoes?

From here, I'm heading to Cárdenas and then the coast to see more Mayan ruins. Let's hope I don't have to deal with outrageously high temperatures along the way.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Small town Mexico, Catazajá and Macuspana

Garmin Map Info: Palenque to Catazajá
Garmin Map Info: Catazajá to Macuspana

Church in Catazajá
After a delightful visit to Palenque and the fabulous ruins, I got up early knowing the ride to Catazajá was going to be a hot one. I love that Palenque has cycle paths and got to take another one to get out of town. Luckily, the ride was flat and wasn't very long because the temperature rose fast. There was a long section with road construction which took away my shoulder but traffic didn't seem to mind me being in the road and all the drivers were very patient. It appears this road is getting widened which will be nice when it is finished.  By the time I arrived in Catazajá the temperature was over 100 degrees. On the map, this town looks fantastic.  It is on the Rio Trapiche which feeds into the Catajazá Lagoon. If this town was in Europe,  it would be a total tourist trap. Catazajá is not a tourist trap. It is small, old, poor and tired. I rode to the plaza where there is a beautiful and interesting looking church hoping to find a good hotel. There is typically a nicer hotel near the plaza in most towns. A group of guys sitting in the shade of a cart selling drinks called me over. They gave me a cold agua mineral and a lay of the land. I pointed to Hotel Clio a block away and they gave me the name of another hotel which they assured me was the best in town. They said Hotel Clio wasn't very clean and the people who own it are grumpy. We chatted about many things but mostly how corrupt the government in Catazajá is. For sure, the best looking building was for government services. These guys were very entertaining but didn't have many nice things to say about the people running the town. They also said the only thing to do in town was take a boat ride on the lagoon. It was so hot I would have to wait until sunset before even considering that. After awhile I got up to find Hotel San Jose on their recommendation.  I thanked them for the cold water, conversation and found my way back into the little town. Hotel San Jose didn't look any better than Hotel Clio. This one was also tired but there was a big space inside to park Myrtle. I checked into a room with a fan, no toilet seat and no hot water for $12. I think the water for the shower came from one of those black, very large water containers that you see on most rooftops here in Mexico. It was so hot today that the water in the shower was actually quite warm. The ceiling in the room was very high and there was a ceiling fan but the fan was so high up that it didn't provide much relief. Holy moly, it was so hot I took 2 showers in the afternoon. The hotel did have surprisingly good wifi. I probably could have done Gary's YouTube show from here yesterday with no problem. I spent the afternoon uploading photos before heading out to a nice restaurant on the the lagoon for dinner.

Walk through room at Hotel San Jose

Red wrapped cheese

Gringas, like a taco but with more stuff in it

I slept well and, again, headed out early expecting another hot ride. This ride would be my longest of tour at 44 miles. I was on the road before day break stopping at the junction back to Palenque for coffee and tacos. My breakfast cost less than $2. Today's ride would be on a 2 lane highway. Luckily, there was also a good shoulder used by slower moving traffic such as scooters, food trikes and beat-up cars and trucks. As I rode, I could see a colorful sunrise behind me. Having the sunrise in front of me would have been much more dangerous as I'm not sure drivers could have seen me with the sun in their eyes. At one point someone burned their trash right next to the highway. I think they were burning a tire because the smoke was thick and black. I had no choice but to ride through it. It was so gross. I was sweating a lot which was like glue for the soot. There were soot smudges all over my legs and probably on my face as well. I could taste the soot hours later. I see people burning trash all over the world.  Even though most countries have laws against burning trash, the people continue to do it and this is a big environmental problem.

What's playing!
As I was riding, I realized that I didn't really know anything about the area I was riding through. When I started my tour I kind of knew what to expect up to Palenque and then I had no idea what I would find. Often, it's ok that I don't know much about an area but today, I didn't like it and felt that it was important for me to learn more. I have a feeling there is a lot of history here and many things to see. If I don't want to miss cool stuff I should probably be doing some research. Maybe in the next town someone can help me plan better.

Flying in Macuspana

I crossed from the state of Chiapis to Tabasco arriving in Macuspana in the early afternoon. This town is bigger than Catajazá but equally as gritty, dirty and tired. At first, the town gave me a feeling that it is rough and, perhaps, not very safe. But then I started seeing the trici taxis. Pedal powered tricycle taxis. These taxis are everywhere. I bet there are hundreds of them. The taxi drivers were all hootin' and hollerin' excitedly and seemed to see me as a kindred spirit.  I loved it. I found what may be the only hotel in Macuspana, Hotel Claudia. Like the last hotel, they had a large space inside a gate to park cars. There was plenty of room for Myrtle. I got checked into a huge room with 3 beds, a toilet with a seat, ac and hot water in the shower for $18. They also had so-so wifi.  One really odd thing about the hotel was they locked the front entrance all the time. Whenever I wanted to leave or come back I had to ring a bell so they could unlock it. The door was actually a gate that was padlocked and I wondered if there was another exit in case of a fire. The hotel really had a quirky feel to it and I was about to find out just how quirky.

River bridge into Macuspana
I found a pitcher for water in the room and remembered seeing one of those 20 gallon bottles with cold filtered water by the reception desk. Cold water sounded great after such a long, hot ride. I went downstairs and filled the pitcher and the owner's wife stopped me saying I couldn't have the water, that the water wasn't for me. She was a little late because I had already filled the pitcher. I stopped and simply stared at her not really sure what to do. Then her older daughter approached and in a very soothing voice told her mom everything was ok. Her mom was not ok. She started questioning if I paid and her daughter said I had. Then she questioned if I paid enough. Her daughter was very patient and trying gracefully to defuse the situation but, at that moment, I was feeling not very welcome.  I took my pitcher of water and went back up to my room. 

Later in the day, the daughter approached me with lots of information pamphlets about the area. This was perfect and exactly what I needed. She gave me so much information. Then she took me up to the roof to point out where everything worth seeing in the town is. She made me feel so much better I decided to stay another day to find out more about the trici taxis.  I also have the feeling it's possible her mom may be in the beginning stages of dementia or alzhiemers.

Lagoon in Macuspana

Religious lotions?
The next morning, her dad, the owner of the hotel approached me. At first I thought he wanted to talk to me about religion but he wanted to tell me about this radio show he does every Sunday on health. He also gave me a book he has written about health. It is a very small book that has strong religious over tones but it mostly talks about how to improve health through diet which I completely agree with. The book also seemed to be written in Spanish that is basic enough I might actually be able to read it. Although my Spanish is still quite limited, I enjoyed my conversation with the owner. 

Religious oils
I spent a few hours wondering through town, walking around a big lagoon and then taking pictures of the trici taxis. Macuspana is not a tourist town. Everywhere I went people were staring at me. Everyone was nice but I don't think they see many older, blonde white gringas visiting. I got far enough from the hotel that taking a trici taxi back made sense. The taxis only cost $.80 and I think they will take you anywhere. The 1st ride I took, the driver didn't understand where I wanted to go and dropped me at the big store that is the Mexican version of Walmart, Chedraui. No problem. This meant I got to take another trici taxi and there were probably 25 trici taxis waiting for passengers. I love the trici taxis. Everyone uses these taxis and I also loved how chatty everyone is with people on the street and their driver. These taxis really give the town an interesting and special ambiance. I also got to see more of the town this way. As my driver, Juan, cycled through town, I took lots of photos and videos. 

Trici Taxis

The Trike Taxis of Macuspana

Juan, my taxi driver

Considering my trepidation when I first arrived, I ended up having a great time in this town. But 2 nights was enough and I was ready to hit the road.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Back in Mexico Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Palenque

This has been such a relaxed tour.  If distances are too far, I simply get transport to the next town with accommodation.  I'm loving this simple and stress-free way to cycle tour.  If I was carrying a tent I know I would be fighting with myself about whether it really is too hot to camp and looking for any excuse to continue riding. I can see camping in hot weather for a few days but this heat and high humidity is unrelenting and from what everyone here is telling me, it will get worse in May. I'm sweating so much that having a shower at the end of the day isn't a luxury but a necessity. And luckily, I budgeted for hotels before starting out. Most of the way, so far, has been in touristic areas where hotels are sometimes more expensive than usual in Mexico. Even still, It's been easy to find hotels for less than $50 and my stays haven't been nearly as expensive as, say, staying in the US but sometimes they have been quite expensive for Mexico. 

Trike Shadow

1st Shuttle from Flores
Lake Peten
So, again, the distance from Flores to the border with Guatemala was too far for me to ride in one day to make it to accommodation. In Flores, I stayed in a fabulous hotel with a wonderful view of Lake Peten for $45. The reception gal spoke English and totally took care of all my transport needs. She arranged for a shuttle to take me to Palenque in Mexico. It arrived in the morning and the door guy helped the driver load Myrtle up on the roof rack. There was only 4 of us taking what turned out to be 2 shuttles. The 1st shuttle drove us to the border with Mexico at El Ceibo where we walked through customs and paid our $30 entrance fee. Guatemala doesn't charge to enter or exit. I,  of course, rode Myrtle through the border crossing. Once we all completed the paperwork and got our passports stamped another shuttle was waiting for us. This whole experience was so easy. 

Approaching Mexico

The drive from Flores, Guatemala to Palenque, Mexico is about 200 miles and probably took close to 8 hours. The thing that slows drivers down is all the topes, speed bumps, going through every town, big and small. I bet we went over a few hundred topes on this trip. Sometimes they aren't obvious and the driver slams on the breaks because they are harsh to go over at speed.

Riding to Palenque and visiting the ruins

Palenque Town
In Palenque, I really want to find a hotel with better wifi. On Sunday, Gary Solomon had invited me to be on his Laid Back Bike Report show on YouTube. I figured a hotel in the tourist area would have better wifi. The hotel I pulled into was very nice and it was having a promotion offering rooms at $45/night. The next morning I cycled to the famous Mayan ruins of Palenque. The site is about 6 miles from town and there is a great cycle path almost the whole way.  After paying the 29 pesos ($1.60) to enter the park, the last 2 km has a good hill with terrific views of the area. Even though I arrived shortly after the park opened it was already very busy. The ticket to enter the ruins is 57 pesos ($3.15). From the moment you enter lots of kids approach selling stuff where ever you walk in the site which I found very annoying. It was also really hot. This experience was completely different from Tikal which is much bigger. I also loved the Tikal ruins. The ruins at Tikal require a map and the map they give out often doesn't match up with the signs on the paths. Palenque only has one path and a map isn't necessary. The ruins at Palenque are completely excavated whereas only the front of some the temples at Tikal have been cleared leaving the back still enveloped by the jungle. At Tikal, you are walking through the jungle and Palenque is mostly open with large expanses of grass. I found the Palenque site to be better organized and a more aesthetically pleasing experience. Even through Tikal is much more expensive ($35) to enter, I feel like Mexico has put more money into the care and maintenance of the Palenque site. Both ruins are outstanding and I throughly enjoyed each experience. 

When I returned, I wanted to do a test with Gary for the next day's Youtube show to make sure the connection would be sufficient. So far, I wasn't impressed with the wifi at the hotel and went to find an internet cafe. It wasn't too many years ago that I had to do all my online stuff at internet cafe's while traveling. In those days I was using small PC based computers like the EEEpc and using an ethernet cable at the internet cafes. Now I'm using a MacBook Pro and which doesn't have an ethernet port. Most of the internet cafe now are really for gaming rather than using the internet. The 1st cafe had wifi but it was too poor and I couldn't get anywhere on the internet. The next cafe didn't have wifi so I tried using one of their PC based computers to get onto Youtube. The Mexican keyboard is completely different and I couldn't figure even out where the @ key is. This was too confusing and I went back to the hotel to try their wifi again. Surprisingly, the test went really well. 

The next day I worked on my blog until Gary's show started but, wouldn't you know it, the wifi didn't work nearly as well as the day before and the connection wasn't strong enough. I was bummed to not be a part of Gary's show but maybe I can find better wifi for the next show in May. Hopefully. 

Up until Palenque I kind of knew where I was going and what I was doing. From here on, the tour is a mystery. Aside from visiting the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltun, Ek Balam and Chechen Itza, I really don't know much about the area I'll be visiting for the rest of the tour. I'll be figuring it all out as I go. The next big city will be Villahermosa and then I'll be heading to the coast making my way back to Cancun. I really freed up a lot of time taking transport from Flores to Palenque freed which means I can be super duper relaxed. Being able to do shorter days will also be key as the weather heats up even more. 

I'm looking forward to discovering more about the states of Tabasco, Chiapis, Campeche and Yucatan in Mexico.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Guatemala and the Mayan Ruins of Tikal

After many days in San Ignacio waiting out the Semana Santa holidays, I got packed up saying goodbye to the very nice people at Martha's Guesthouse. The morning was very foggy and cool which was nice as I slogged up the hill leaving town. Most of the route was along the Mopan River. There were lots of different kinds of birds and the scenery was thick in foliage.  The distance to the Belize border with Guatemala wasn't far. The skies cleared just as I approached immigration for my exit stamp. There was also a fee of $20. I can see asking an entrance fee but I think it is so interesting that countries also charge to leave.

Arriving in Guatemala

Guatemala doesn't charge to enter or exit and I received a month long visa stamped into my passport. The whole process of exiting Belize and entering Guatemala was very easy and probably took about 15 minutes. Once in Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala I needed to find transportation to my next destination. The distance was too far for me as there were no other places with hotels along the way. This too, was very easy. I found the bus station quickly and as soon I entered someone approached to ask where I wanted to go. I was directed to a van and Myrtle was quickly loaded on top.  This van was parked under a roof with not much room for the trike to clear a cross bar. Many of us were watching as the van pulled forward. We were all watching to make sure the neck rest on the seat cleared. None of us were watching the HP standing aid which, of course, hit the cross bar. The driver stopped immediately and backed out where there was more clearance. Once we left the bus station we made a few stops around town to fill the van. There were probably seats for 10 but the van was probably traveling with closer to 20 people. Many of the men had to stand hunched over because the roof wasn't very tall. No one seemed to mind.

Casa de Don David
The van was making a run to Flores and I was dropped off at the junction of El Cruce. It was here that I learned the standing aid was broken when the driver handed it me separately. The thin metal piece that wraps around the cross boom ripped. It also put a nice gash in the paint of my trike. I liked the standing aid but I wasn't using it which is good because now it was useless. I originally installed the standing aid to use as a camera attachment point but it never worked out for that purpose. Once I got the bags back on Myrtle, there was only a mile to go to El Remate and the Casa de Don David where I wanted to stay while I visited the Mayan Ruins of Tikal. The hotel is on Lake Peten with stunning views. A room including one meal, of your choice, is $33 which I thought was very reasonable.

Flying Over Lake Peten

Once I got checked in and settled, I wanted to find out about how to visit the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal. There was another couple, a Dutch woman named Charlie with an American man, Dennis, that were also interested in doing a sunrise tour. They had already purchased their tickets and explained that I needed to take a local bus to the entrance of the park to buy 2 tickets. The ticket people do  not take credit cards so I needed to get some cash and I also needed to bring my passport. After purchasing an entrance ticket, I needed to buy another ticket for the sunrise tour that requires a guide. This whole process was very complicated and cost $70. I was very surprised how expensive visiting Tikal is. The van driver had waited for me while I bought my tickets which I thought was very nice. When I got back into the van I understood why. He assumed I wanted to visit the ruins right away and started driving into the park. It never occurred to me that he would do anything else but drive to the entrance and then back into El Remate. Once I got him to stop and explained that I bought tickets for the next morning, he was really annoyed but opened the door to let me out and gave me some money back. After returning to the ticket office I had to wait quite awhile for another collectivo to take me to El Remate. The bus went through many small pueblos which I found interesting. One pueblo had electrical wires hanging so low they got caught on the roof rack of the van! 

View from the air at Casa de Don David
The Dutch woman, Charlie, had been very helpful in explaining what bus to take and all the steps she took with Dennis to secure tickets. When I returned to the hotel she informed me our sunrise tour guide would pick us up at 3:30 am! Oh my! Charlie, Dennis and I had dinner together where I learned they had met that morning on the way to Guatemala. Dennis had rented a car from Belize City and he picked up Charlie who was hitchhiking just outside San Ignacio. He didn't have insurance to drive into Guatemala so they parked the car, walked across the border and took a van similar to the one I took to El Remate.  While looking at the menu, Charlie explained that she is vegetarian. Lots of people are vegetarian. It's not new or weird. Dennis had no idea what she could eat even though the menu had many vegetarian options including the meal of the day. I find it odd that people, often Americans, simply can't imagine a meal without meat and I am not vegetarian. Somehow, at dinner, we got to talking about safety issues in Central America and I commented that people in the US often talk about safety in other countries suggesting the US is safer. I remarked that with the drug and alcohol use epidemic combined with an abundance of guns, I really wasn't sure the US is safer.  Dennis took that comment and segued the discussion to the politics of assault style weapons saying he owned many guns and felt that gun control was the same as abolishing the 2nd amendment. Not only that but any gun control meant that all weapons in the US would be confiscated. He was also clearly very emotional about this. I've heard similar arguments before but I have never understood how regulating assault style weapons, which is essentially a weapon of mass destruction, translates to ending 2nd amendment protections or confiscating all weapons. I also didn't understand how having a dinner discussion with strangers in a hotel restaurant in Guatemala, far removed from US politics, could be so upsetting. I wasn't upset in the least but, it seems, this discussion would make our tour the next day quite awkward.

From the tallest temple after watching the sunrise

On the bigger temples

The hotel offered wake-up calls but I set my alarm for 3 am and, as promised, we were picked up at 3:30 am. Along the way we also picked up our guide. Once at the site we made arrangements to meet our driver between 10 and 10:30. Charlie had also hired the same driver to take her to another site later in the afternoon so timing was important. Seeing how dark it was at 4 am when we arrived at the ruins, I can understand why a guide is necessary. There was no way we would have found our way to the tallest temple to watch the sunrise. Along the way our guide pointed out plants and animals, stopping to show us tarantulas in the road and to listen for the sound of jaguars in the distance. Unfortunately, this morning was overcast so we didn't see a sunrise over the jungle. There were probably close to 70 people sitting on top of the temple. Lots of people were meditating as the day got lighter. One woman started chanting and the group quickly shut her down. There are many signs asking for silence during the sunrise.  Once the sun rose, the 3 of us started exploring the temples. Dennis and Charlie, not surprisingly,  are much stronger and faster hikers. At one point, I thought I would lose them but Charlie hung back helping me get down some of the more difficult temples. Tikal is huge and only a very small part has been excavated. Recently, there was some kind of laser technology used to reveal Tikal actually includes around 60,000 structures in 800 square miles that even has an elevated highway. It's possible there may have been as many as 10 million inhabitants living in the area. Here is a link to an article about the incredible discoveries.  Tikal was built between 4 bc and 900 AD. 

While I was walking around the main temple complex, I watched a Mayan family setting up for a sacrifice that included a live chicken. A man was chanting and lighting herbs to cleanse the pit when a Tikal official approached and asked him to produce a permit. The man showed him a permit but something still wasn't right. I think the permit was for another alter pit. The man got up and walked to the office to clear up the misunderstanding. I later heard that the family was allowed to continue with the sacrifice of the poor chicken. 

Sacrifice pit with a live chicken
Some of the temples allow climbing and some don't. Many of the temples have steep stone steps that my legs aren't strong enough to climb. Luckily, some of the temples also had staircases added and I didn't have any problems climbing those. It was nice to look out over the jungle from the top of the temples. Climbing up and down these temples is also a big work out!

Stairs down from one of the temples

Dennis, Charlie and I were exploring the main temple complex when, suddenly, Dennis disappeared. Charlie and I walked all around looking for him. After awhile we gave up looking and figured we would see him back at the van. But, he didn't show up there either. We sat with the driver waiting for over an hour and Dennis never arrived. Back at the hotel, the owner, another American, said sometimes people get separated but they always get back to the hotel and he wasn't worried. But Dennis never came back to the hotel. What could have happened to him? The next day Charlie was returning to Belize and she would see if his car was still there. If his car was at the border where he parked it, she would call the US embassy. I gave her my email address and asked her to let me know.

Lake Peten from Flores
The next morning, I rode 20 miles to Flores and the other side of Lake Peten. Flores is a beautiful island. It is much bigger than El Remate and much more touristic.  This is the hub for the area and there is even an international airport. From here, I wanted to take some kind of transport into Mexico. There was a heat wave happening and it was incredibly hot and humid. Much too hot for cycling. The forecast called for the heat wave to continue a few more days. Also, looking at the map, there didn't appear to be any places to stay between Flores and the border with Mexico or from the border to the town of Palenque which would be my next big stop to explore more Mayan ruins.  I pulled into Hotel Peten which is very nice and my room had a lovely view of the lake.  The receptionist lady spoke English and effortlessly took care of all my transport issues. She made me a reservation for a shuttle in the morning that would have a roof rack for Myrtle. The whole process couldn't have been easier. Temperatures were close to 100 degrees and the sun was so strong I couldn't really enjoy much of Flores. The wifi was barely good enough to take care of photo, video processing and I was able to upload a couple of short movies. Adding video updates to my blog really takes a lot of time but, luckily, I'm enjoying the process. 

Recap of travels through Belize and Guatemala

Even though the timing of this tour prohibited me from doing any camping, I would like to return to Guatemala and Belize with more time and options for camping. This time of year is simply too hot and humid for camping. I think when I return I will bring not only a tent but also a hammock. I think a hammock would be more comfortable than a tent in this stifling humidity.  My Spanish is also really coming along but I hope next time to have even stronger language skills which will make traveling in the area easier as well.

View from my hotel room on La Isla de Flores

I really love Mexico and am looking forward to returning.