The journey begins

Hello! I’m Fredrik, Swedish guy, just entered my 30’s. I suppose the older you get, the better you figure out who you are and what you want with life. At least that’s how I’ve felt up until now! Life has made more and more sense, and I’ve felt that maybe this “life” thing will work out after all!

Well, I will not get into it too deeply, because that’s not at all what this blog is supposed to be about! Let’s just say that I wanted a big change, and last week I ended up in Cancún, Mexico, simply because it’s usually the cheapest airport to arrive in when wanting to go to Central America. That’s a pro-tip right there! Cancún, write it down, and search for cheap flights.

I’ve wanted to travel through the countries in Central America for a long time, to practice my Spanish, and just see what it’s like (and cross off more visited countries, as I aim to have visited all of them one day). And I stumbled upon the idea to buy a bicycle and travel that way, for the freedom (and low costs). This will be the lowest budget trip possible, hopefully less than $500 USD per month. ($5-10 USD for per night at hostels (and preferably other options), $5-10 USD for food,  and then room for unexpected extra expenses.) I will keep track on what I spend, and share what places, restaurants, hostels, roads etc are like.

First off, here’s the bike I bought yesterday, in Playa del Carmen! (It’s a pretty nice beach city you can get to directly from the Cancún airport, it’s 1 hour by bus.) There are many bike shops on 30 Avenida / calle 30, and I went in and asked what they had, and settled with this one.01 Fredde with bikeWhat I ended up buying:
– Bike with lots of gears, new and shiny
– Small rack behind me, to put my backpack on
– Basket in the front to put water and other things I want to reach quickly
– Padlock
– Pump and tire repair kit

I spent about 2000 MXN (around 100 USD) for it all, which I felt was cheap, but maybe it’s a crappy bike, I can’t really know! (Until it breaks in the middle of the road somewhere.)

Alright, I think this is enough for today! Tomorrow I will begin with my first distance; going from Playa del Carmen to Tulum! Wish me luck! 🙂

Advertisements

Playa del Carmen – Tulum

a playa - tulum04 me and bike

Except for the initial confusion of how to bike through a Mexican city without dying, the trip started really well! It was not very hot and I kept a good pace, I sang loudly, I enjoyed the wind, I compared my speed to the cars (counting seconds until I reached a certain spot that the car passed), and there are decently wide paved sides of the road where it’s easy to bike without getting killed. Also, barely any uphill at all! “This is the perfect route to start a biking trip!” I thought.

Then the road kept going, and kept going. The smaller cities I was supposed to pass never came. I had suspected that it would often get dull, biking through the same terrain for hours, and my solution is to listen to an audio book to pass the time faster! But this first time, I wanted to experience it al natural. Then suddenly the cities came swooshing by one by one, and my mood got better again. Perfect route to start a biking trip.

It’s worth noting that I’m not an experienced biker. I did actually bike for an hour or so in Croatia back in 2014, but other than that, I doubt I’ve used a bicycle at all since 2001.

A sign said “Tulum 35”. Halfway there! I celebrated by taking a short break and eat a banana. It was probably the best banana I’ve ever had. Was thinking of taking a longer break somewhere, for example by the many cenotes (cold fresh water streams surrounded by trees and vegetation, they’re quite nice), or by one of the Maya ruins that were advertised along the way, but I decided to just go on while I was in the zone. “I can do some fun things tomorrow instead!”

05 bananaI think it was around the sign “Tulum 25” where I realized that I was getting exhausted. I felt new pains every five minutes. My foot cramped up, then my shoulder complained about the position, then my legs started dying. Then my neck hurt. Then the foot cramped up again. Then my knees.
“Almost there though, it’s a little challenging but not more than that.”

My second banana was eaten in practically one bite. My 1 liter of water was almost out.
“Definitely need more than that next time”. I started eating cereal out of the bag while biking, because by now, my stomach was the loudest complainer.
“Come on Tulum, any minute now!”

Then finally came a new sign. “Tulum 15“!! The kilometers got longer and longer for every minute! All I could do was to look down and power through, step by step.

I kept wishing for a new Tulum sign, but it never came. “Tulum 10 should have been here by now. Maybe even Tulum 5!” It was so demoralizing that I never got an update! I began to plan what to write in this blog. Something like: “Then it finally showed up. Tulum 10. Never in my life have I hated a sign so much!”

But in the darkest of moments, I was greeted by this sign:
06 tulum 500m
Never in my life have I loved a sign so much!

Found “Emotion Hostel“; I had chickened out and booked an 8 USD dorm bed before departing, and as I entered and told them I had a reservation, I could barely stand up. Had a shower, and crashed down on my bed in this wonderfully air-conditioned room.

Now an hour later, I’m already fully restored, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore! But unless you’re fit and have done some regular biking recently, I recommend that you take a lunch break and a couple of hours of rest somewhere in the middle of the distance! 64 kilometers in one go is a lot. It’s satisfying now though, and I’m sure my body needed the wake up call! I’m sure there will be much tougher roads yet to travel…

Now let’s see what I can find to eat.

Stats:
– Distance: 64 km
– Time: 3 hours
– Difficulty: Let’s call this one a 2.5/5
– Number of crashes: 0
– Number of sudden wiggling that could have resulted in death: 3
– Number of insects in mouth: 1
– Number of dead birds on the road: 2

A day around Tulum

b tulumTulum is the most touristic place so far. Sure, Playa del Carmen is also touristic, but it’s a bigger city and at least half are Mexican tourists anyway, so it feels more authentic. Here, it feels like everyone is European, and they’re the typical hipster backpacker kind, so there’s a lot of vegetarian restaurants, souvenir shops, and a lot of bike renting shops (80-150 pesos for a bike of varying quality per day). The reason for the latter is that the beach is about 5 km away, and ruins and other sights are also a few kilometers away.

There are also lots of burritos here, even though I’ve been told that burrito (my favorite dish!) is NOT really Mexican (or at least not southern Mexican), but rather Tex-Mex. Here they have it in spades though, because tourists keep asking for it.

Emotion Tulum Hotel & Hostal
I’m staying at a very normal standard hostel, 16 beds in a well air conditioned dorm room. One loud and drunk guy at night and music played outside past 3am, but I’m an earplugs lover, so sounds don’t bother me much.
The included breakfast consisted of the standard coffee, white toast and cereal, as well as the usual “I’m from this country and I’ve been here and there for this long, how about you?” conversations with the other backpackers. 2 eggs per person was a nice bonus though, and for 8 USD per night, this place is affordable.

07 easy road
Most were about to rent bikes for the day, and me and a Danish girl decided to go to the Tulum Ruins archaeological site just outside Tulum together. The trip was 3.7 km, and it was a breeze compared to the long trip from the day before, with a separate path for bikers to avoid deaths. My friend’s bike was quite crappy and its saddle kept breaking, so that made it even more slow-paced, which was nice in a way, because we were in no rush anyway.  Perhaps a bike for 100+ pesos is worth it, rather than the cheapest you can find!

Upon arrival, I was very disappointed to see huge lines of tourists, queueing to get in. I don’t know why I expected the place to be empty and ready to be explored in privacy.
We decided to bike back and find a beach instead, and maybe get back to the ruins early tomorrow morning instead.

08 beach roadTrip was nice, went in a “wrong” direction first but eventually found the place, and I ended up biking almost 16 km today. Yesterday I forgot to complain about how my hands got very numb now and then from biking. It happened today as well, but not as much. I think my body is learning that biking is not a lethal activity!

09 beach arrival
We arrived to the beach through some vegetation, and it was amazing to cool down in the Caribbean sea.

10 playa
La Playa! Plenty of tourists, overpriced sun chairs and king sized fluffy sun beds, but there was also empty patches of beach that we could enjoy.
Then we got hungry.

El Paraíso
Nothing along tourist beaches is cheap, but we settled at this beach restaurant and ordered a “molcajete” for 300 pesos; a meal for two people. I just had to mention it because so far I have not been super impressed by the food in Mexico (it’s my favorite cuisine in other countries, heh), but this one was awesome. Unlimited corn tortillas, guacamole, beans, sauces and a big pot of chorizo, beef, pork, chicken, and veggies. Normally I try to be vegetarian (for all the reasons, it’s the future if you ask me!), but when traveling in non-vegetarian-friendly places, you need all the protein you can get.
So yes, I recommend that one if you’re in the neighborhood!

The trip back home was uneventful, but when I came back to Tulum and wanted to withdraw some money from the ATM, that little douchebag decided to eat my card and not give it back to me! This is a pretty serious problem, because you know. It’s how I get money. I woman tried to help me, but the bank attached to the ATM was already closed, and we couldn’t do anything.
I suppose I can send money online to Western Union offices here and there in each country (it’s probably cheaper than the ATM fees even), but I will still go to the bank tomorrow morning and try to get my card back.

Let’s hope for the best. 😦

Total biking distance for the day:
Hostel – Ruins: 3.7km
Ruins – Wrong way: 3.9km
Wrong way – Beach: 2.2km
Beach – Hostel: 6.0km
Total: 15.8km

Tulum pt 2 and the ruins

c tulum pt2
Not the best start of the day. The power went out early in the morning in the whole city, meaning no aircon in the dorm. Damn, that got sweaty.
To get back my Visa card, I had my alarm set to 7:30am to go to the bank in time for the opening, but the hostel owner had given me the wrong info, because it opens at 9am and not 8…
Now I’m back again at 9am. Please gods, karma monsters and other supernatural forces, give me some good stuff now!

*Five minutes later*

Okay crap, I couldn’t have my card, and I had to contact my Swedish bank to block it, and have a new one sent to me. I’ll figure out a good address for it, probably to a new friend in Belize.
Meanwhile, this blog will now be about how to survive without a credit/debit card!

11 viewTo make the most of the day before continuing my journey tomorrow, I went to the Tulum ruins. Fewer people today (I arrived much earlier, around 10), entrance ticket is 80 pesos without a guide, but me and a friend ended up with a guide for 170 instead. Definitely worth it, because I learnt a lot about the natives, Mayans especially, who built the city around 1200, and their fascination with astronomy.

The ruins themselves were honestly nothing special. A pretty big lighthouse was the highlight, but there was nothing like the temples that can be found elsewhere in Mexico.

13 lighthouse
12 lighthouse
The tour was 40 minutes and then we could walk freely. We felt like we had already seen it all, so we biked to the beach.

Three old locals, a man and two women, were sitting in the shade as we biked the last bit on the sand to reach the beach. They were super nice, asked about my trip, offered a beer, and promised to keep an eye on the bike while we cooled down in the sea.
When we came back, I saw an outside shower there on the beach. A guard said that it’s only for the hotel guests, but as soon as he walked away, my new oldie friends started saying “hurry, take your shower now!!”
I hesitated, saying it was against the rules, but they kept insisting and encouraging me until I finally gave in and took a quick shower after all.
I’m such a rebel!

Food in Tumul (To make it easy, 20 pesos is roughly 1 USD.)15 tacos
Despite being a touristic village, there are definitely cheap places to eat. Tacos can be found everywhere, for 12-15 pesos each. They’re smaller than we’re used to though, always soft corn tortillas, and usually only have a few ingredients each. 3 are enough to get full! Home-made horchata (rice drink with almond and cinnamon) or simple fruit juices can be bought for around 15 pesos each.16 tamales
Tamales don taco has tamales for 15 each, and can come with chaya (the Mayan spinach), chicken, beans, eggs and/or many other things. Very soft and unusual, but tasty!

Las Quekas is a simple eatery with soups for 15 pesos and quesadillas (tacos but slightly bigger and cheese, but no vegetables) for 13 pesos each.

La Hoja Verde
If you want to spend a little more, this is one of the vegetarian restaurants in Tulum. They have a large amount of freshly made juices (choose 3 ingredients among things like pineapple, carrot, celery, orange, cucumber, and a lot more for 35 pesos, which is not super cheap, but certainly less than half of what you’d pay in Scandinavia), and today I tried their Nopalina salad, which ended up being another personal favorite, with vegetables and a warm tomato mix, surrounded by nacho chips. A good lighter lunch!
14 nopalina
Tomorrow I’m biking to Felipe Carrillo Puerto!

Tulum – Felipe Carrillo Puerto

d tulum to fcp
Pro-tip: Drinking too much alcohol the night before a demanding bike trip is not recommended.
Pro-tip 2: Neither is eating new/sketchy/street food. Make sure you have at least 12 hours to get the worst out before starting to bike. Too much information? 😀

I knew that today would be a long day. 96 km is a big step up from the 64 km I biked on my first day on the road, so I decided to start early and split the trip in three.

23 km south of Tulum, we have another archaeological site, called Muyil. Biking there was a piece of cake. A very sweaty piece of cake, but a piece of cake nonetheless. A straight well-paved road with plenty of space for biking. (Though it doesn’t seem like a common activity, because everyone looked at me as if I were crazy when I said I’d bike there. Imagine their reaction when I added that I will continue all the way to Nicaragua.)

Most exciting thing on this route: A bump made my bag of nuts fall out of the basket, and I had to walk back and pick it up.

Muyil
The town doesn’t seem to have any hostels, so it’s not a place to stay the night. I could only see a few small huts and the archaeological site, which costs 40 pesos to enter. (Roughly 2 USD, or a little less than 2 EUR.)
17 muyil ruins
This is the type of ruins I had hoped for! I can believe so many people go to the Tulum ruins and pay more, when it’s so much less interesting.
18 muyil
Seems to still be worked on though, as people were still digging, and it was quite badly signed. What’s in this cave for example?! No sign told me.
19 muyil hole
For 50 extra, you can take a short jungle hike to a lagoon, and it’s cool if you like walking in the jungle. There’s also a watch tower where you could see everything from above.

I really wanted to cool down in the water to survive the rest of the trip, but was disappointed to learn that you can not swim in this lagoon, only take a boat trip for more money.
23 muyil laguna
There’s supposedly a swimmable lagoon nearby, but I was already a little late, so I had to get going.

We need two more pics of the ruins:
17 muyil
20 muyil ruins

I barely got up on the bike when I saw a roadside restaurant called “Chunyaxche“, and decided to avoid the midday sun and get something to eat. 4 tacos for 65 pesos is a little more expensive than usual, but won’t break your bank.

It was time to do the main biking of the day! I put on my headphones and listened to the audio book for Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower“, and enjoyed the next 29 km of forest highway, barely seeing a single building along the way.

With 44 km to go, there’s a cafe/pub called “Cafeteria La Selva” on the side of the road. It’s your last sign of civilization until you reach Felipe Carrillo Puerto, so I recommend that you take a break and enjoy a freshly made and very fruity honey melon juice for 15 pesos. At this point, I was still not tired at all and thought that this was going to be a breeze, but little did I know the horrors of being a small human on a bicycle until that same afternoon.
25 exhausted
(I added some special effects to this picture to simulate my discomfort.)

As with my first longer distance, each 10 kilometer seemed twice as long compared to the previous 10. When I had almost biked 90 kilometers (plus an unplanned one hour hike in the jungle, including climbing a watch tower), I really wanted to throw in the towel!  This was too much for one day, and I stopped and sat down on the side of the road. No water left, and no energy left. Would I die?!

No, I wasn’t quite that melodramatic! 20 minutes later, I was up on the saddle again, and managed to ride the final kilometers of this incredibly exhausting day. “More breaks next time might be good”, I thought.

In the next post, I will tell about my experience of Felipe Carrillo Puerto!

Felipe Carrillo Puerto

27 hostel
La casa de los sueños
The yellow building you see on the picture is a small hostel. I had booked for two nights via Airbnb.com and was happy with the price, but it turned out that they had set their Airbnb page wrong, having 2 nights still showing the price for 1.

I had just come from a long and exhausting bike ride, and they kept saying I should just go and rest and we’ll deal with it tomorrow! But I didn’t want to do that, because if it turns out to be overpriced (and falsely advertised), I would want to find another hostel instead. We argued and it was frustrating, and in the end, I said we’ll deal with it later.

That’s not the only complaint I have with this hostel though. The dorm room is hotter than any other room in Mexico ( I haven’t visited them all, but I can’t imagine anything warmer), and the ceiling fan does nothing to prevent me from sleeping in a puddle of my own sweat.
The WiFi is the complicated type where you have to go to a website and add a username and password, and because it keeps disconnecting all the time, you have to redo it, again and again. In the end I just went to the town’s central square (plaza), where they usually have free WiFi set up.

At least I could join up with an older Italian guy to buy some groceries and make some simple Italian cooking in the kitchen. Tasty and certainly the cheapest way to refill with carbs after a long intensive day!
26 Felipe Carrillo Puerto plaza
This is the town’s central square. Kind of cozy, but it’s probably the highlight of the town, except for a small museum nearby. It’s also far from the sea, so there really is no point staying here more than one night.

Update:
The day after arrival, I wasn’t as grumpy anymore. I woke up feeling rested, and managed to solve the payment problem by asking Airbnb nicely if they could return my online money, so I could pay cash instead. It was decently priced, 170 pesos per night, and now I will recommend this hostel if you need a night or two to rest.

28 bodega aurrera
In the morning, I went to buy some groceries at the cheap supermarket Mi Bodega Aurrera. In non-touristic places like this, these are some prices to expect (again, 20 pesos is roughly 1 USD, or almost 1 Euro):

Bananas – 13 pesos/kg
Mangos – 19 pesos/kg
Honeydew melons – 15 pesos/kg
Pineapple – 19 pesos/kg
Oranges – 12 pesos/kg
500g pasta – 10 pesos
590g cornflakes – 30 pesos
390g Fancier cereal (Special K/Nestle Fitness) – 30 pesos
1 liter of juice (mango, pineapple, Apple or others) – 12 pesos
1.5 liters of Fanta – 15 pesos
2 liters of Coca-Cola – 21 pesos
2 liters of bottled water – 8:50 pesos

I stayed only one night in this town. Perhaps not quite enough to recover fully, but I wanted to continue to a nicer place as soon as possible!

Felipe Carrillo Puerto – Mahahual

e fcp to mahahual
My plan had been to go straight towards Chemutal next to the Belizean border, but I was convinced to join another backpacker to take a detour to a final Mexican coastal town, called Mahahual.

Since it’s off my track, I decided to cheat a little, by letting a bus take me half the way. It costed 46 pesos per person for the 60 km trip, and it was modern and air-conditioned. We got off at a tiny place called Limones (which also has ruins, but we didn’t visit them), where my friend got on a 50 peso colectivo (a smaller bus, or van), and I started biking.

Limones – Mahahual (64 km)
I realized right away that this would be very tough. The frikkin’ wind! I didn’t think about it before, but it makes a crucial difference. And this road goes straight east towards the Caribbean sea, with a constant warm wind working against me non-stop. Every push took twice the effort and I had to pedal on a lower gear the entire trip.

Had to take a longer break after 20 km, and as if that wasn’t enough, the road got considerably worse right after.

After five hundred years, I had to check my GPS, and I was still only halfway. This route was just as tiresome as the 94 km one I biked the day before, and more monotonous than ever.

With 20 km left, I was once again sitting on the road, trying to muster up some final strength. At that point, I was out of water (again I had not brought enough), and I started holding out my bottle upside down whenever a car passed me, but no one was kind enough to stop.

“This is what I signed up for though!” I thought. A challenge, to see what I’m made of!

And I kept going.
32 Mahahual sign
With 5 km left, I was finally greeted by civilization again. A gas station,  where I could buy some water! After consuming 1 liter in a few seconds, the final stretch was easy, and I arrived in this beautiful little town right next to the beach!

I really look forward to a future distance where I arrive not completely exhausted! That would be nice.

Next update will be about Mahahual, the nicest place in Mexico I’ve visited so far!