Wind farming, free camping and an uphill battle
We rode for 9 straight days to get to San Cristobal. Leaving Puerto Escondido on Jan 16th, the journey of 654km consisted of 5 days riding into crazy head winds, with some steep climbs on most days. The longest and toughest climb being, of course, on the last day as we rode 40km of continuous steep incline (5-6%) into San Cristobal. That was after the 55km we had already ridden that morning.
Everyone told us it was a steep climb to San Cristobal, and we did believe them, it’s just that, well, it’s only 40km! Our daily km average is around 80km, and the road is what they call a ‘cuota’, which is like a freeway, so we knew it would be well paved and have a decent shoulder and that the ascents wouldn’t be above 7%. Why would we catch a bus for that? And besides, we had to climb the mountain range at some point to get to Palenque, and the only other option was to leave Falkor at the base of the mountain and catch a bus like regular tourists. Then we would have to back-track on the bike and ride a route with less incline. If you had the choice to either ride further with less climbing, or ride a shorter distance with a greater climb, what would you choose?
Well, you know the choice we opted for.
It was actually quite an enjoyable ride for the most part. The road was indeed decent, the weather a perfect high 20s, and the wind gentle and cooling. With good views and lots of encouraging honks and hollers from passing motorists, we settled in around 11am for the long climb ahead. We stopped for plenty of snacks and felt strong and certain that we could conquer this climb. But realized that with an average speed of 7km an hour, it was gonna be a long day that would have us cycling into town in the dark. Oh well, just keep pedaling.
Fast-forward to 5pm when the temperature starts to drop, and we experience several very close shaves with zooming mini buses. It’s a bit scary. We acknowledge our fatigue and find a road side restaurant where we stop for a hot drink and to beg for camping. They oblige with the drinks but we revive our first knock-back for camping. It’s only 15km before we reach San Cristobal, but it will take us another 2hours, and we still have 200 vertical meters to climb.
Deciding we need some serious power tunes to get us through it, I whack on Cold Chisel and we ride on. It was tough. The temp dropped to 11degrees and we were sweaty and shivering. It was now completely dark. Keeping up the spirits with some Arctic Monkeys in the speakers, we pedaled on to finally reach the summit at 2280metrs, with a vantage point looking down on the twinkling lights of San Cristobal. I wanted to cry. We were so happy to have a visual target and some well earned down hill, but the decent meant freezing winds licking at our sweatiness.
Within 5minutes we had descended 150metres and were desperately seeking a place to stay. We were starving, exhausted and freezing our bums off! It was 7.30pm and we had been up since 5.30am.
Seeing a sign to the “Policia”, we thought we would drop in and ask them if we can camp there. We had heard reports that they were as obliging as the Bomberos for free accom and we were willing to give anything a shot. After the standard confusing Spanish dialogue about where we had come from and what we wanted, a young coppa stepped in to save the day. Suddenly we had a police escort and were being waved away to our accommodation for the night. Several things rolled through our minds as we followed this cop on his motor bike, a further grueling 4km through town, to finally arrive at what we can only assume was a homeless shelter. Yep, a homeless shelter. We got signed in and escorted through this huge property, all the while shivering in our sandals in the 10degree evening. Too many ridiculous events ensued that I can’t re-tell here, but it took another 30minutes until we were safely in the “ladies and children” bunker, with Falkor stashed at the foot of our metal bunk beds. The shelter included about 20 bunk beds, and while the was only one occupant in our hanger, the men’s shelter appeared to be full of toothless blokes.
At some point in the middle of the night, we were awoken by an almighty explosion that pinged off the tin roof of our digs, and we both sat up with a start. No one else seemed to stir, so we laid back down.
We were to discover at 6.30am as we were shaken awake to leave the premises, that the back inner tube had completely blown apart. Must have been the change in altitude and temperature, but that guy was totally shredded. Bren dutifully changed the tube, only to blow the replacement with equal vigor. Seems you need much less pressure here, and perhaps a pressure gauge wouldn’t go astray either…
I should mention, that the day before this we had camped on a 3x3sq m piece of grass outside a public toilet block by a toll booth. We were absconded by spiders that appeared from under the walls at sunset, and kept awake all night by the click clacking of prostitutes stilettos walking the pavement, and the air-brakes of trucks pulling up. Needless to say, we weren’t as well rested on our 9th day of riding as we would have liked.
But this is what you get sometimes free camping. And we can’t really complain about it. The first 3 days of this leg found us enjoying some of the most incredible beach camping yet.
Camping under a huge moon with peaceful nights sleeping to the sound of the waves, waking to amazing sunrises and morning swims. It’s the best kind of camping you can get.
Day 3 of this stretch was hot and hilly riding. Just as we crested every peak, we enjoyed a kilometer of downhill only to have to climb back up again. It was maddening. We could see the coast as we rode high through the mountains, but found the road snaking further away.
The winds were swirling all around us, threatening to sweep us into the traffic or off the cliff, and at all other moments simply blowing hard into our faces. It was a real battle and we were utterly exhausted by 4pm as we rode into our 90th km for the day. Every part of our bodies ached and Bren was especially knackered having fought all day to keep the bike upright and on the road.
We were just looking for a road that led onto the beach, and were not at all surprised when we finally found an unpaved rocky road, 5km long, that indeed lead to the beach…..directly into the head wind. It was a laugh/cry moment, when you have used up all of your resources, both physical and emotional, but realise you just have to push that little bit further. On discovering the conditions of this final road, Bren lost it completely. He had it in his mind that we would at least find a small shop with a cold coke, alas, all that lay ahead was this long bumpy road. Falkor on a dirt road is slow going at the best of times, but add our fatigue and a killer head wind and you’ll wonder why we bother.
After 10 minutes of tedious bumpy riding, a small house appeared with a hand written sign claiming “refrescas” for sale. The light flickered back into Brens eyes as he imagined at least scoring a cold soda, only to find the only thing left for sale was beer. Now this did seem like a blessing at the time, but being so fatigued and dehydrated, it was anything but. We live and learn eh!
Feeling more spritely, we managed the final few kms down to the beach, only to be met by a an even more vicious wind. We were instantly assaulted by rocks and sand that the wind had chosen to throw at our bare sweaty legs, and toss at our faces. We had to quickly seek refuge, but where? A gorgeous beach lay in front of us through the screen of a sand storm, and there was just one tiny palapa (beach shack made of palm fronds).
It looked deserted but was full of old tools and furniture so couldn’t offer us much shelter. Commence the most stressful part of the day. What on earth are we meant to do? The wind is far too strong to even attempt erecting the tent and we have no strength left to turn back. Enter Silvano, a Mexican fisherman who magically arrives on scene and begins to inspect Falkor. In an instant, our mood changes and we delve into a Spanish dialogue about our trip and where we have ridden. As if suddenly becoming aware of the wind storm, Silvano asks where we plan to stay. We tell him of our intentions to camp on the beach as he frowns at us while muttering ‘mucho viento’ (a lot of wind). The conversations then switches to eating and we explain that we have a camp stove but again, the mucho viento is going to be a problem. He opens the door to the palapa and starts to show me a wood stove. I am thinking the palapa will offer enough protection to get our gas stove going, but he is insistent about the wood stove. I look closer to see a box of stones on top of the stove. Nah hang on a sec, those are not stones, they are tiny baby turtles! Tortugitas!
“Silvano! You can’t eat those! No comida per favor!”
He laughs openly at me, shaking his head. “No no comida!” And then rattles off some Spanish I have no chance of understanding, but l catch a few nouns and enough verbs to realise that he has special permission to protect the turtles. In fact, he is just waiting for the sun to set so the birds won’t eat them, and then he will release them onto the beach. Would we like to help him, he asks. While I have been engaging in national geographic charades, Bren has been investigating on the beach and discovered a fenced-off area sheltering the buried eggs. Just as he comes to reveal his findings to me, Silvano ushers him into the palapa to admire the tortugitas. “Oh cool, a wood stove with rocks to cook on”. They really did look like rocks and, after all, a box of 5 hour-old-turtles is the last thing you’d expect to see on top of a stove. I should confirm here that the fire was not going on the stove and the turtles were not in any danger.
And so we found ourselves, after riding 96km, on the beach
in a sand storm releasing 37 baby turtles into the surf. A magnificent way to end any day, as I’m sure you will agree.
Can you even believe that happened?
Silvano was an excellent dude and produced some friends to help restore order in the palapa so we could pitch our tent and cook our dinner sheltered from the wind. His mate Bano, left us his machete for “oversight security”.
Surprises like that night are unbelievable, but we accept them with the ease of people accustomed to the unexpected.
And we lap up those incredible times as we know the balance can just as swiftly swing the other way, finding us camping outside public toilets on the freeway, at petrol stations, fire stations, and even a homeless shelter. Still, even those nights find us feeling safe and making new friends. And there is always the opportunity to improve our Spanish!
And by the time we finish riding every afternoon, we are so seriously tired, that every one of these campsites seems like heaven. A safe place to lay your head is always a good thing. And our definition of safe has certainly……expanded.
On the afternoon of day 8 we arrived at the toilet campsite (which must be noted as terribly convenient) we were kind of at a loss as where to stop. It had been an extremely windy day and our legs were shot. We were in-between two towns but so knackered, the very idea of riding another 20km into the town was out of the question. This point of every day is really stressful. We have to have a conversation and make a collective decision, which is particularly difficult when you are exhausted and hungry. But there is something wildly reassuring about certainty. Knowing for certain where you will sleep, even if it comes with the added certainty of prostitutes and spiders, is somehow very comforting.
And where do you camp in gale force winds, when the wind is so strong that you just can’t pedal any further? Why, in a wind farm of course! I’m mean, it was a huge wind farm and it went for ages, and we were so exhausted from battling against the wind all day, that we just wanted to stop. We wanted to put the tent up and hide from the wind, but there was just nowhere to hide. It was brutal. So we tried to embrace the elements and found a spot to camp at the end of a dead-end road, under a huge, incredibly noisy, wind turbine. All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Somehow we managed to get the tent up and firmly pegged down, and even get our stove cooking in the growing winds. We thought that it may die down over night. Around 8 pm we were zipped in the tent when flash lights appeared through the fly and voices called out to us. It was the cops. We reckon they were just doing the normal rounds and were stunned to see a little tent and strange bike in the middle of a wind storm in a wind farm. They were very curious as to what we were doing there and didn’t quite believe the tale in our marvellous Spanish. They were also very concerned about a huge hole in the ground beside our tent that, once they shone their strong police torches into, proved to be a cathedral of marching ants. There were 1000s of them, and suddenly in the torch-light, it appeared as if the ground was moving. They mimicked being bitten by them and suggested that we move our tent, but the idea alone was impossible. The winds had picked up.
Along with the regular speak about our trip, we could explain that we were very tired and that the wind was too strong to move the tent or ride any further. But I reckon, even if we could speak fluent Spanish, they wouldn’t understand why it was that we had come to decide to camp beside an ant colony in the windiest part of the country. And at 2am when the wind was at its peak, whipping the tent around and blowing our 25kg Falkor over on top of the tent while we waited the night out (sleeping clearly not an option), we were definitely wondering too. In the morning light we packed up, with winds stronger than ever, and simply pedaled onward.
It was with great relief that we rode the short 58km to stay with our hosts Rodrigo and Lupita in Santo Domingo, and accepted with relish the comfort of their home and a wonderful bed.
So there it is. We leave you here, our last day relaxing in San Cristobal, before we set off on our 3 day ride to Palenque, where will get busy exploring more incredible ruins.
From here it’s a 5 day ride to Chetumal (on the border of Mexico and Belize) where we will meet with our next cycling host, Achiles, and prepare for our trip to Cuba! That’s right! It’s happening! We are all booked to fly from Cancun on Feb 11th for a 3 week cycle tour around Cuba! We are so super excited about it! I was fully committed to finding a boat and sailing across, but it turns out that we would be illegally entering the country via this method. Not ideal. We weren’t sure if we were gonna be able to afford the flights, but have pulled out all the stops and the flights are confirmed. And after many a discussions, I have even managed to convince Brendo that we can take Falkor. I mean heck, if he has pulled it all apart and put it back together once, surely a bit of flat packing for a flight will be a piece of cake right……?
Hey! Did you know that it’s Brens 40th on Feb 3rd! Whoohoo! We were hoping to be in Cuba, alas, these pesky winds have put us behind schedule and we will be somewhere on the road between Palenque and Chetumal. The celebrations will continue of course until we are able to do it in style. If you wanna help Bren celebrate, he came up with this grand plan that you can send your birthday wishes to him through World Bicycle Relief. Don’t buy him a beer, put your money toward the power of bicycles! So seeing as though it’s his 40th, how do you fancy donating $40 to help us achieve our fundraising goal, and making a much more positive difference than a few rounds of beers!
Be the first to increase our fund-raising total in 2014. With the generous contributions of our supporters, we raised $8,760 in 2013. That is truly awesome! We thank you all for your incredible support and look toward to a huge 2014 where we Totally smash all of our TotallyTandem goals!
Total TotallyTandem kilometers to date; 7791
Stats of our latest jaunt to San Cristobal;
Day 1 – 67.21km – Zipolite beach (the only nudist beach in Mexico)
Day 2 – 70.43km – Copalita beach, best campsite ever
Day 3 – 96.55km – Bamba beach, world famous for awesome surf – WINDY
Day 4 – 45.83km – Salina Cruz, camping with bomberos – WINDY
Day 5 – 78.54km – La Venta, wind farm – WINDY
Day 6 – 58.13km – Santo Domingo Zanatapec, with our hosts Rodrigo and Lupita – WINDY
Day 7 – 50.68km – 1st day in state of Chiapas, camped at Pemex & Bren played a 2 hour footy match
Day 8 – 91.46km – 25km north of Tuxtla, camping at the banos – WINDY
Day 9 – 95.02km – arrived in San Cristobal, slept at homeless shelter
Have you watched our video from the Baja Desert yet? Check it our here
And here are some pics since the last blog. There are so many stories we can’t fit them ALL into a blog, but a picture tells a 1000 words right? (and the rest you will have to read in the book….)