Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting to Punta Allen

After the ride and the road, we figured that no matter how nice Punta Allen is, there is no way that it would have been worth it. To confirm suspicions, we are greeted with drizzle rain, gusts of wind and sandy streets in a gray bay. I'm sure it's lovely when the sun shines, otherwise what would truckloads of tourists be pouring in here for? (apparently it's for the dolphins and the turtles in the bay, and possibly the manatees in the lagoon).

The plan is to try and get a boat down to Punta Herrero on the next peninsula south. We wanted to go this way because we thought it would be a cool off-the-beaten-track experience and because I read somewhere that the highway from Tulum south is hideous for bikers (which ended up being old news - it was redone in 2009 and is now the same as the highway from Cancun with a great big shoulder for bikes). Because we are not herded around town in a tour group and we have time to kill, we talk to so many of the locals and we get varied responses about our P. Herrero inquiries. The "tours" quote us $500US, some people say it's impossible and eventually we find somebody who is willing to help us out and do the trip for about $130US. Now we just have to wait for the weather to improve otherwise the crossing is too dangerous.

We while away the days chatting to people, practicing our Spanish, discovering where to buy amazing fresh bread and honing our survival skills. Vinko comes running while I'm cooking dinner, and with a silly grin reveals a crab that he caught on the beach. We experiment with a cup of boiling water. It's strange in a primal way to watch the crab exhale a stream of bubbles and surrender to the inevitable. It's not very tasty. But it does make good bait, and the next day we spend 5 hours in waist high water out by the lighthouse catching fish. We caught 5 fish and feast like kings that night on our own version of fish and chips.

We also got to witness the festivities for La Revolution here. One morning we saw some little kids dressed up in sombreros and neck-scarves with wooden guns and mustaches drawn on their faces. Cute as buttons and chanting "Viva Mexico! Viva Punta Allen!" all the way to school.

We spend 5 days and 5 extremely windy, rainy, miserable nights in Punta Allen waiting for the weather to improve. I spent countless hours at night holding my breath and reminding myself that this was an alpine tent and that it surely had to withstand this terrible wind. But every morning the sunshine and clear skies deceive us into thinking that this will be the day... so we stay. It seems that many of the expats who are now locals came for a visit and never left. It's a bit of a strange thing, but again most people are super friendly and after a while we get waves on the streets and none of the tour touts bother to ask us if we want to go somewhere anymore. It was sitting in the back of Pierre and Alexandra's car talking about nothing and observing the tourists as if they were foreigners in my town that I realize the special opportunity we've created for ourselves by traveling this way, and I become really excited for our journey.

The pleasure of a pelicans hunt

The plan was to get to Punta Allen (another 30km or so down the coast) in one go. It's only 30km - how bad could it be? We almost disappear into another galaxy down one of the thousand or so potholes, only to dodge it and end up in another death trap of rocks and holes. So by the time that we hit halfway and see a sign for cabañas and cold beer, we don't even have to ask each other if we're stopping.

We enter Xamach Dos and meet Dan Hazard, artist / real estate agent from Seattle and King of his Own Empire down here in sunny Mexico. The beach is silky white sand scattered with a generous amount of shady palms, lazy hammocks dot the property and a shallow reef about 600m out turns the bay into a calm turquoise swimming pool. Five low impact bungalows are scattered around, one of which Dan built from driftwoo0d, washed up bamboo and rope, and conch shells. Dan let us camp on the beach and we had the whole place to ourselves. At night the bushes around us light up with fireflies. The food here is terrific - Francisca is the keeper of over a thousand recipes I'm sure and she treated us to a huge breakfast upon arrival, fresh caught snapper for dinner, home-made chipotle with every meal and the best banana-coconut pancakes in the whole universe.

I don't know if any of you have had the pleasure of watching pelicans hunting fish. I could (and did) lay for hours in a hammock and watch their kamikaze hunting techniques. First they sit in the water for a bit. Lord knows why the fish stick around for that. Then they clumsily take off, the whole time looking like an overloaded D6 airplane threatening to crash. But they make it up in the air, do a half circle and then hurtle themselves beak first and breakneck speed back into the spot they came from. Oh boy, and if there's two of them hunting the same fish? A delightful pastime indeed...

CESIAK - Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an

The gravel road from Tulum to CESiaK is slow (but now, in hindsight and compared to the other roads we've been on since, it's not that bad at all!). It's located on a thin strip of jungle covered peninsula between the Carribean and a giant lagoon. After gaping at the oceans and enjoying being off our bikes, we wander up to the roof and I immediately lose my heart over the spectacular vistas of the ocean to the east and the sprawling lagoon and jungle to the west. My feet feel grounded and I have no desire to get off the roof - ever! But, the stomach speaks and we make our way downstairs for lunch. The people that are drawn to this place are great! Pepe is the manager and his support of our project means that we stay here two days to talk and learn and enjoy. We also meet some other travelers from Holland - Arjean & Lukas - and the time we spend hanging out with them just adds to our overall feeling of happiness. They are traveling from Alaska to Argentina over one year, and I learned about the beauty of Southern Lakes up in Yukon. We resolve to do a trip up there next time we're in Canada in the summer (road trip, family?)

The sunsets here are simply stunning. When you stand on the top of the roof you get a 360 degree view of Sian Ka'an. The sky goes pink and orange and reflects of the trees and the water until the lagoon swallows the glowing orb and everything goes purple. We enjoy another margarita on the pontoon on the lagoon (we figured it out: the secret is in the fresh lime juice!). Everything is in pairs. Two margaritas. Two cool zebra-looking box fish. Two random jellyfish float by. Two pelicans. A German and his crystal skull. Two by two we heal the world. We all unite for dinner, where out of nowhere we are invited to participate in a healing ceremony. I don't know whether it was the strangeness of the experience, or whether the experience was actually strange, but we all felt something. For what it's worth, I hope my healing energies went to CESiaK and Sian Ka'an and that they stay as they are for decades more.

Tulum: trials & tribulations (Nov 13 & 14)

The night we slept in Luis' house in Puerto Morelos I found an old Lonely Planet and read an entry about Cenote Dos Ojos. We had agreed that we would make that our main attraction in terms of cenotes. Now, standing before the guide, we were wondering what exactly would be good enough to warrant a $300 pesos entry fee each. But we said we would, so we did. And it was remarkable!

Dos Ojos is a series of cave cenotes that are connected by underwater passages (like all cenotes, except that the current is very mild and the caverns are close so you are able to snorkel and/or dive between these ones). The stalactites and stalagmites have lost their sense of time and direction over decades; some hang suspended in the ceiling, some dip into the water, and some poke out from the depths. It's incredible to see them through the torchlight and chase the little silver fishies around them. Blue light glows where divers have been swallowed in adjacent caves. It's another world.

The wind beat us to Tulum and by the time we get to a campsite we are having a pretty grouchy time setting up the tent in the wind and the sand. But these are the "perks" of camping on the beach. And it is next to the ruins, which in themselves are not that impressive although the setting on the cliff overlooking the ocean is very cool. Little Vinko faces off against the big bad world when we learn that the beach we came to swim at to see the ruins from the water is closed to the public.

The other "perk" of camping on the beach next to the ruins is that it turned out to be a prime spot for some pirateering. One of the main reasons why we forked out $150 pesos to sleep in our own tent on a patch of sand is that the owner told us that the beaches are not safe and that their place is secure. So when Vinko's first mumbled words to me the next morning was "Baby, why is this open?", we both bolted upright to find our tent flap open, pants and toiletries bag outside the tent, and wallet gone! But it was only one of the 6 stashes of cash (what's that saying again about eggs in a basket?), the stash was a bit depleted, and the looter had the decency to leave the ATM card and drivers' licence in the driveway. So it was a lesson learnt, but at least not a tragic one. For the special price of $100 USD we learned where we will and will not be sleeping in the future.

The road of bountiful cenotes

Not actually sure where we are going today (spotting a theme yet?). The Italian couple had mentioned a camp site down the coast, somebody else mentioned the beaches at Akumal and one of the tour touts said that Xcacel was gorgeous.

Along the way, the highway passes by many cenotes. The Yucatan Peninsula has an extensive underground fresh water river system, and the cenotes are those places where the rivers surface. Some of them are in the open as rock pools or mangrove mini-lakes, others are submerged in caves. The water in all of them are crystal clear. On a whim we stop by Cenote Azul, a series of open pools right by the highway. The scenery itself is beautiful, but spending a few hours swimming in the pools and lying on the rocks in the sun was priceless.

We're in such a spell that we miss the sign to the first campsite, and almost ride right past the tattered sign for Xcacel. Unfortunately, the guide José tells us that camping is no longer allowed in the park. It breaks our hearts for many reasons - not only is Xcacel a protected Marine Park (over 1000 turtles nest on its beaches - that's 10,000 baby turtles!) and the beach cove is the prettiest we've seen, but the though of either riding 11km back to the camp site or 20 km further to Tulum is downright depressing. We site silently by the mangrove cenote and ponder our options. Now, I cannot tell you where we spent the night, but let's just way that there are some really kind people in the world and we're always very humbled when we meet them.

Playa del Carmen

The way from Puerto Morelos to Playa del Carmen (or simply Playa among locals) is the same old highway, with the same old resorts on the left and golf courses and fancy estates on the right. We experienced the most amazing thing about Playa the minute we entered it: a roast chicken, chorizo, onion, tomato and chimichurri sandwich from the Italian dude at La Rosteria. Heaven on a plate.

After some deliberation about the clouds, we decide to spend two nights in Playa, and we have fun with all the hype, fountains, break-dancers and the people dressed in elaborate Mayan shaman costumes. We watch a turtle being hatched from the hands of a glass blower, so delicate and fine and I again wistfully state that one day I am going to make my own magnificent glass pieces. We find out that the cheapest beer in town is right next to our camp site (La Ruina) and we end the night sampling some of the local brews and watching Jurassic Park III with the barman. Wow.... the 90s....

Pit-stop in Puerto Morelos (Nov. 7 & 8)

We left Cancun at 15:15...

Loaded with our toxic-orange milk crates, we are definitely a road hazard while we get used to the weight on the back, the trucks hurtling by on the highway and the reality of it all. Fortunately the road has a massive shoulder that seems to be intended for bicycles, so we arrive in Puerto Morelos at sundown and without any problems. We are greeting with a plague of relentless mosquitoes. Still, the town is very cute (a pretty church, a tidy plaza and plenty of inviting restaurants), the night is near and we're scoping out places to stay. We had it in mind to pitch a tent on the beach, but a local tour guide who had a jolly time with some mates on the pier offers that we can camp at his place. Halfway between hesitant and desperate, we accept. However, suffice it to say that there must have been some translation issues with his perfectly good English, because Luis, ourselves and our bicycles ended up sleeping in his one bedroom cabaña hut that night. It was an interesting night, and despite being humbled by his hospitality in the end, we head out of there at daybreak.

A flat tire and plenty of cursing later, we realize that the bike racks will hardly make it Playa del Carmen, let alone Panama. We ride to the local side of town across the highway and spend the day with Fabio the Handyman Mechanic as he takes us from one person to the next to get the parts and welding done that make the racks indestructible (we hope!). Unlike the sweet little restaurants and hotels lining the beach, the real lives of Puerto Morelons happen on dusty roads littered with rusty bikes and machete'ed dogs. But it is lively, interesting and we feel safe because the people are genuinely kind and friendly. That night we slept between the fancy guesthouses, twinkling stars and terrible thorn-balls that will literally become the thorn in our sides for the rest of our stays on the beaches of Yucatan.

Off the Beaten Track

To follow in the tradition of sharing bike travel tips which helped us out greatly on this adventure, this page is a collection of links to our blog posts containing information on some of the trickier routes we took on our travels, most of these are not available online and some not even from the local community. These will be useful as travel guides for anyone wishing to cycle through the same routes in Central America we took on our trip.

Punta Allen to Felipe Carrillo Puerto (Mexico)
This is a detailed description of the much mystical road that goes through the heart of Sian Kaán connecting the Punta Allen peninsula and the inland town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
- 75km through Sian Kaan
- The lookout tower
- Caseta Santa Teresa
- Pictures
- Detail Map

Felipe Carrillo Puerto to Bacalar and beyond (Mexico)
The newly upgraded federal highway heading South out of Carrillo has made traveling this route a lot safer and quicker for bikers.

The highway from Felipe Carrillo Puerto all the way to the border of Belize was upgraded less than a year ago. As a result it was pretty easy and safe for us to take the federal route with a two meter wide shoulder on the side. The road was exactly the same as from Cancun down to Tulum.

- Maya ruin on the side of the road in Limones

Corozal to Sarteneja (Belize)
We took a quick boat transfer to reach Sarteneja which enables us to ride to Orange Walk via a less major road.

We took a boat from Corozal to Sarteneja to check it out and avoid the main road to Orange Walk, this route should be nicer and more interesting.

- 7am boat from dock
- $40 belize for person and transport of bike (just seat is $25)
- 35 minute ride

More interesting roads to come...

Canned in Cancun (Nov. 2-6)

Ahhh... the tropics! The humidity greets you like, well, a slap in the face. We hit the ground running, opting out of the many tour-group mini buses that swarm you inside the airport terminal and making our way to the very cheap ADO bus stand (ask in the Departures terminal, it's $3.50 each instead of $15US each for the mini). Not that there would have been any point to taking a mini - we had no idea where we were gong yet. I was waiting for confirmation from my CouchSurfing host to see whether we had a place to stay for the night. We wander around town and come across the festivities in Parque las Palapas for Dia de los Muertos. We get our first tasty nibble of Mexican food, traditional dancing and modern Mexicana fiesta music. We can't wait to sample more of it all.

Our host's name is Francisco, and we learn that night about Mexican nicknames: Francisco = Paco, Jesus = Choy... We are 5 couch surfers staying at Paco's - one in a bed, 1 in a hammock and 3 on the floor. It's lively and most are great people. Nicholas from Argentina teaches us how to weaver bracelets. It takes us a short century - he completes 3 for every one that we do. Paco's friend Jesús is a champ. We just asked for some advice on second-hand bikes or bike shops and the next day he arrives with a car, a list of places to check out, a few call-backs from bike sales in the classifieds and a world of patience. It is the friendliest welcome to Mexico I could have imagined. It looks like we will need to stick around for another couple of days to get the bikes and equipment all sorted out. We have a ball playing charades for hours with the guys at Hadad bike shop. How to explain all the crazy alterations we want to the bikes? They are equally helpful and patient and we're forever grateful for their help.

Since we had some time to kill while waiting for the bikes, we spend a day at the beaches in the Hotel Zone. It reminds me of the Gold Coast, but worse. This is where all the monstrosities of giant hotel complexes congregate so tightly that we walk along the beach for 8 km looking for access back to the road before we give up and are ushered like criminals through one of the hotels back to the road.

Since the beaches held little appeal for us, we headed to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza the next day. Castillo de Kukulcan was the only real draw-card for us, since Vinko did some simulations in Sketch-Up of the serpent sliding up the temple and wanted to see the structure n real life. There are more hawkers than stones in the complex, and we're a bit relieved to leave after only 2 hours. We catch another ADO bus to Valladolid. We arrive blind again and meander through the cute little streets. Valladolid is charming and we're pleasantly surprised. There are beautiful plazas, old colonial buildings in great shape and a real Mexican cantina with swinging bar doors, casual gambling on the bar and pictures of naked women on the wall. I get a few confused looks when we enter, but two gentlemen get up and offer the lady their table. We just can't resist this gem and have ourselves some giddy cervezas. With limes. And salt. Giggle giggle.

Places We Stayed

Along the road we ended up in a number of different places, some were an utter delight to rest for the night and others somewhat different. Below is a list of all the places we stayed that are worthy a mention. Obviously we stayed at the ecolodges listed elsewhere on our site too, but these have a special page just for themselves - click here to read about them

Accommodation by Country:
Mexico (Quintana Roo)
El Salvador

Mexico (Quintana Roo)

Playa del Carmen
Las Ruinas, Playa del Carmen
(review on Trip Advisor)
This is a lovely little place that caters for campers and is located right on the beach in the centre of town. Should I say more? Well yes actually, they had showers (both inside and outside for when you needed to rinse off some sand from the beach), toilets and even an easy access outdoor sink with a mirror. You could camp under a solid roof or simply sleep in a hammock located in the same area. Easy, clean, no fuss, perfectly located and even economic - it cost us 100 pesos a night for the tent. A tip - for cheap and good food or drink, stay off the main drag in town, this place is designed for getting money out of tourists. Just around the corner and right down on the beach is a great place to eat and drink, La Torreta.

Santa Fe Cabañas, Tulum Beach
One of the cabaña sites worst hit by hurricanes - they lost all but their main house on the beach. We were able to camp here and find a nice spot just a little better shielded from the ocean winds. The staff here were really friendly and helpful which made the 150 peso a night camping fee much more tolerable. Plus they had a full bathroom block similar to what you find in Western style camp grounds. Their kitchen seemed to serve up nice food but since we were on a very tight budget we prepared our own meals with groceries bought from town (it was only a 10 minute bike ride away). The best part is the beach is gorgeous and this is as close as you can get to the Tulum ruins - we could see some of the main buildings when wading in the water. 

Xamach Dos - Trip Advisor review...
(review on Trip Advisor)

Felipe Carrillo Puerto
Hotel Maria Isabel, Felipe Carrillo Puerto
One After riding through Sian Kaan for two days, we arrived in Carrillo and felt we deserved to treat ourselves to a proper shower and a comfy bed. There really aren't too many accommodation options in this town, but we checked out two. Both are located along Avenue Benito Juarez, the first was Hotel San Ignacio which is located on the block just after Calle 61 and it was 400 pesos for the night which was a bit pricey for us. Hotel Maria Isabela is just on the corner of Calle 61, we stayed there as the price was right, the staff member on duty was friendly and everything was clean and comfortable. The cost was 300 pesos per room per night. Indeed we were happy with everything apart from having a terrible nights sleep due to excessive noise made by the staff; either loud TV in the front room (we were the closest), loud conversations with guests and friends right in the lobby, and finally the cars starting right next to our window at 4am. To say the excessive noise lasted all through the night is not an exaggeration, we are not picky types seeing as just having a shower available is normally a luxury. In retrospect it was probably just a bad experience just due to where our room was located, and we did have a choice for this. It was right off the lobby, closest to the front office and next to a side driveway come parking bay. Nevertheless, if you decide to stay here prepare in advance with ear-plugs as the noise generally in the town is loud all night long, they say the town never sleeps and indeed neither will you if you don't bring any along.

Punta Allen
Serenidad Shardon, Punta Allen
We camped on the beach in one of the staff members backyards for 100 pesos a night.

Serenidad Shardon, Punta Allen
We camped on the beach in one of the staff members backyards for 100 pesos a night.

Hotel Posada Melodia - Playa Del Carmen

Backpackers Paradise - Sarteneja (review on Trip Advisor)
Lamanai Riverside Retreat - Orange Walk Town (review on Trip Advisor)
Crooked Tree Lodge - Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (review on Trip Advisor)
Ruby's Guest House - San Pedro on Ambergis Caye
Yuma's House - Caye Caulker
Seaspray Hotel - Placencia
Parrot Nest Lodge - San Ignacio (review on Trip Advisor)

Ecolodge El Sombrero - Laguna Yaxha in Peten (review on Trip Advisor)
Youth Hostel Los Amigos - Flores (review on Trip Advisor)
Nitun Private Reserve - Lago Peten Itza (review on Trip Advisor)
El Encantandero - Jobompiche on Lago Peten Itza

Rio Dulce and Livingston:
Isla Xalaja - Rio Dulce (review on Trip Advisor)
Hotel Casa Perico - Rio Dulce (review on Trip Advisor)
Hotel Backpackers - Rio Dulce
Garden Gate Guest House - Livingston (review on Trip Advisor)

Lanquin and Semuc Champey:
Zephyr Lodge - Lanquin (review on Trip Advisor)
El Portal - Semuc Champey (review on Trip Advisor)

The Yellow House - Antigua
Posada el Viajero - Antigua (review on Trip Advisor)
Hotel la Casa de Don Ismael - Antigua (review on Trip Advisor)

Lake Atitlan:
Hotel El Arbol - San Marcos La Laguna (review on Trip Advisor)
Hotel Aaculaax - San Marcos La Laguna (review on Trip Advisor)

El Salvador
Horizontes Surf Camp - El Zonte
Villa Veronica - San Salvador

Matagalpa and around:
Selva Negra - Matagalpa

Hotel Valeria - Granada
Hostel Oasis - Granada

Pacific Coast Beaches:
Villa Jiquelite - Limon
Buena Onda - Limon
La Terrazza - San Juan del Sur
Buena Vista Surf Club - Playa Maderas

More to come...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Travel Blog Buddies

Here are some travel blogs from amazing people we have met round the bend on our travels all over the world.

Arjean and Lucas (Netherlands), backpacking - Alaska to Argentina

Rick van der Eijk (NED), Looking for a tropical sea change - His Travelpod

Shaun Vaniman (USA), Traveler in Central America - When is Shaun coming home?

Brian and Nikki (USA), Latin America enthusiasts - Setforth[Booyah!]

Tim and Cory (Canada), the world on motorcycle - Terranova Expedition

Romana and Stefan (Austria), world travel in a vintage landrover - Auf da Roas

Rebecca and Fred (Germany), USA to Panama in a vintage landrover - fern w2

Oriol and ... (Spain), Metalfans around the world - can't find their blog, will update when we visit home again

Inspiring Adventure Blogs

On Foot Through the World - in 2008 Reinhold embarked on a two year 7,000 km journey from his homeland Austria all the way to the Sahara desert in Morocco, in search of a minimal impact yet rich and sustainable lifestyle.

Captain´s Log Africa - this lady is riding from Cairo to Cape Town to raise funds for Tour D'Afrique Foundation, that´s 12,000kms folks, through Africa - Very inspiring indeed!

Paul Park - biking from Washington to Brazil

Anna Kortschak - travelling the world by bicycle

Up Around The Bend - our brothers in arms!

Down the Road - our original research source

The Gibbart Adventure

Cow Spokes

Calgary Family, they bike everywhere - Colette has info on this

14 Degrees

Jesus and Sarah, biked around Southern America - we met in Borneo (July, 2010) and they will be riding home to Spain from there

Other Interesting Lodges

This is a list of lodges that we would really like to visit (some revisit) but will not get a chance on this trip. Some of these are located in other regions of the world but are particularly interesting to us.

Chumbe Island (Coral Park), Tanzania

Jasmine Valley, Cambodia

Turtle Island, Fiji

Isla Verde Hotel, Guatemala

Laguna Lodge, Guatemala

La Cocotera Resort, El Salvador

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bikes and Equipment

The first thing we should explain is that no single method of travel, packing or financial planning for a trip like this is equally suitable for everyone. That being said, for our trip we decided to purchase our "hard equipment" once the trip got under way from Cancun in Mexico. By hard equipment, we refer to the bikes themselves, cooking and cleaning utensils, ingredients, food, and pretty much anything else that can be used up in under a month or so.

We strongly encourage anyone planning on starting a trip like ours to decide exactly what things they are willing to compromise on and also take into account the likely conditions of their mode of travel in their region of travel choice. For example, buying and fully equipping your bikes back home will save you a lot of hassle and will undoubtedly avoid any uncertainty about what you will be able to find once you arrive at your first destination. However, this will probably cost more money first of all, and in some cases equipment you buy at home may not be repairable abroad or the parts which might need replacement might not be available where you are heading. Ofcourse one major thing to keep in mind is that anything that is more advanced and you pay more for at home, you will probably be precious about on your trip. Take some time to consider how many such items you would like to take with you and how it may impact upon your travel freedom and overall peace of mind.

The last thing to mention is that we were able to pack fairly lightly on each bike because there were two of us. For obvious reasons some things were only needed in singles e.g. tent, 4L water bottle, cooker stove, tarp, tools, water filter pump, etc. just to name a few. If you plan on traveling by your self, either find a crazy friend to join you or plan on packing much, much lighter than this.

Ok, enough about introductions - here is all the info on bicycles and our equipment list below.

The Bikes

As we mentioned above we decided to buy our bikes in Mexico once we had arrived in Cancun. We knew that buying the bikes in Canada (where we boarded our flights from) would likely cost much more money and we´re uncertain whether we would be able to find parts and the technical knowledge to repair more advanced bicycles on our trip if something were to go wrong. We also decide to find our means of actually carrying stuff on the bikes once we got there, so having bikes from Canada may limit our choices in terms of what and how we can fit on them once we got to Cancun. In summary, simple and cost effective was our approach for pretty much anything bike related.

Cancun turned out not to be the best place to purchase bikes for two reasons, the first is that pretty much everything is more expensive in Cancun than in any other nearest major town (Merida, Valladolid etc.), and the second being that Cancun is a major tourist destination and most local people work and live around this industry therefore there is generally a very small market for the kind of bikes and racks we were looking for in Cancun which meant that choices were limited.

There were a few bike shops in Cancun central which we were able to find with the help of a dear newly made friend and resident of Cancun, Jesus. We found the bikes we ended up buying at Hadad Bikes, which is located here. There was also another decent bike shop with many mountain bike choices, located here.

Our bikes were Mercurio, a Mexican brand whose home operation was located in Merida. The model was Urban Concept which was a good hybrid mix between mountain bike and road bike, these bikes are well designed for touring or transport riding which what we were looking for. The bikes alone cost us 2250 pesos each, and another few hundred pesos for all the other bits and pieces (rear rack, front basket, bottle holder, two spare tubes).

To carry all our equipment we modified the bikes a little. The first addition was a piece of decking plank which we purchased at Home Depot in Cancun (they also cut the plank to measure in store, this was very cheap even with the taxi cost included). We used a drill at Hadad Bikes to make holes in the piece of plank and zip-tied it to our rear rack - this was all to allow a plastic crate to sit more evenly on the back and to prolong its life. We bought the plastic crates from Wal Mart (there are more than a few in Cancun) for 140 pesos each and it turned out to be strong enough and the right size for all our stuff.

To tie down the crate to our adjusted rear bike rack, we used ockie straps (you might call these bungee chords - essentially they are those elastic things with hooks on both ends that your dad took on camping trips). Three pairs of straps were enough, and we decided that a well tied but temporary solution was better so that at times we could take off all our stuff from the bikes in simple chunks, leaving the bikes bare but being able to take all our stuff with us (storing it in our tent flaps, in a room, a locker etc.). Sometimes it just made life easier to take the stuff off and carry it a little across sand than to push the bikes all the way to where we were camping fully loaded.

The only other addition we made to the bikes was in Puerto Morelos, it turned out that the original rear rack was not enough on its own and over time for the ride from Cancun to Puerto Morelos (2 hours and 40 kms), the back load was almost touching the tires. We stayed two nights in Puerto Morelos where we spent a day finding someone to weld vertical steel support struts for the rear racks. Once this was done, these babies were tough and ready for the bumpy roads ahead.

All up our bikes had the following features and were able to carry around 25 kg of packing each pretty comfortably:

  • Mercurio Urban Concept (26 inch wheel hybrid bikes with medium tires) - Hadad Bikes, Cancun
  • Steel rear rack attached to seat shaft (reinforced with twisted iron vertical support struts welded on later) - Hadad Bikes, Cancun + Sirena Bikes, Puerto Morelos (we cut the vertical struts off another set of rear racks from this bike shop)
  • Front steel cage baskets attached to the handle bars - Hadad Bikes, Cancun
  • Steel bottle holder - Hadad Bikes, Cancun
  • Rear timber plank attached to rack with zip ties - Home Depot, Cancun
  • Large plastic crates (40 cm wide x 30 cm long x 30 cm deep) - Wal Mart, Cancun
  • Ockie Straps (bungee chords) used for packed crate tie down - Canadian Tire, Calgary + Wal Mart, Cancun (needed a few more)
  • Straping tape and piece of foam mattress - the handle bars were little hard for all the riding distance we had to cover so we improved the comfort by slicing a strip off our foam mattress´s and strapping it to the handles of each bike (much more comfortable and soft for all those hours of numb fingers)

That´s it for the bikes, now if you are interested read below what the bikes and all this setup gear was actually carrying.

Equipment List

The following list describes some shared items and some which each person carries for obvious reasons:

Bought in Canada or Australia - these things are intended to last the whole trip and more
  • Tent - Salewa Denali II (2.5 person dome shaped tent with extra side flaps, ours is an older model...maybe 2007)
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping foam mattress (open cell - 1/2 inch thick) - NOT WATERPROOF
  • Thermarest self inflating mattress - MORE WATERPROOF
  • Cooking Stove - MSR Dragonfly (Omni fuel, which means it burns anything; white gas, kerosene, diesel, aviation fuel, Unleaded Petrol)
  • Fuel Canisters - 2 x MSR 600mL (you can fly with these only if they have never been used or appear so)
  • Water Filter Pump - Katadyn Hiker (made in Switzerland and pumps 1L per minute at 0.3 microns with glass-fiber filter)
  • Head Lamp - LED lights and 3 AAA batteries (we bought a backup pack of batteries)
  • Torch Flashlight - LED lights and rechargeable (we bought this crazy little thing for $3 US in Vietnam from a random hole-in-a-wall electronics vendor in Nihn Binh, it plugs directly into a US socket for charging via slide out prongs which it does rapidly, it has two settings; normal torch and stand up lamp just by pressing the button again - it simply kicks ass, Chinese made!)
  • Leatherman - Wave (no need to say more, very useful and powerful)
  • Field Knife - Excalibur flip knife with leather pouch
  • Permanent Marker - Black Sharpie (multi tip, useful for marking stuff)
  • Bike Pump - Bontrager small but powerful hand pump
  • Bike Tire Puncture Repair Kit - Mountain Equipment Co-op regular brand
  • Bike Tool Set - small Mountain Equipment Co-op regular brand
  • Padlocks - Two tough and big padlocks from Canadian Tire (for locking up bikes and whatever else)
  • Bike Lock Cable - Canadian Tire, just cable and loops (we used the padlocks, more versatile this way)
  • Waterproof Tarp - Small 3 x 3m from Canadian Tire
  • Ockie straps (bungee chords) - Strong set of six 24 inch from Candian Tire (wish we got more)
  • Water bottles - 3 x 750mL aluminium water bottles
  • First Aid Kit - Small travel type, upgraded with some better band-aids and iodine solution
  • Zip ties - 50 x long ones from Wal Mart (in all honesty we should have left them for Cancun - they have Wal Marts there)
  • Pack of cards - this was really from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, but nonetheless important for passing time
  • Multi Vitamins - Pack of 250 from London Drugs generic brand
  • Clif Bars - 12 x Backup energy and nutrition bars, they are tasty and awesome and must be bought in North America
  • Gshock Watch - Tough and reliable watch for keeping time and setting alarms
  • Duct Tape - could have been bought in Cancun
  • Strapping Tape - same as above (useful for injuries and improving the comfort of handle bars it turns out)
  • Nylon Rope - same again (100 meters, waterproof and light weight but strong)
  • Freezer Bags - tougher than basic zip-lock bags and keep things dry
  • Pain Killers - Basic Ibuprofen
  • Random lady products (obvious) and contact lens goodies (spare lenses and eye solution) - Colette took enough to cover a full year in case our plans changed (Colette requires prescription lenses and wished everyday to have had laser eye surgery instead of dealing with contact lenses and glasses on this trip)

Bought in Mexico - these things are usable items and were easy to get on Cancun or otherwise
  • Cooking Pot - Found at Wal Mart in Cancun (this was just a very basic raw aluminium cooking pot, very light and cheap)
  • Cooking Cups - We bought two from Wal Mart (same as above, the added bonus is that our cooker fits snugly inside one)
  • Cutlery - Wal Mart (two spoons, forks and steak knifes, very cheap and simple)
  • Spatula - Wal Mart (very cheap plastic type, its hybrid so works as ladle and spatula)
  • Lighter - A trusty little Bic lighter from Wal Mart (always useful)
  • Matches - put in zip-lock bags for keeping dry
  • Zip-lock bags
  • Garbage Bags - for keeping things dry and dust free (we wrapped our sleeping mats once rolled inside a bag for each ride)
  • Dish-washing Liquid
  • Soap
  • Mosquito Repellent - DEET type for tropical insects (keep in mind not to use these often as they damage the environment, and their use is prohibited in all protected areas and when visiting cenotes)
  • Suncream - 50 SPF (same as above, contain metal oxides)
  • Fishing tackle - Bought in Punta Allen and comes in very handy when near the coast, should be thick line and suitable for beach fishing (fresh fish for dinner, yumm!)
  • Powdered Cordial
  • Salt Grinder
  • Oil
  • Herbal Tea - A nice alternative to just plain water sometimes and handy when you have to boil it anyway
  • Rice
  • Tiny Pasta
  • Tomato Puree
  • Garlic - may seem silly but it makes a big difference, and it´s super light
  • Canned Tuna - good source of protein as back-up
  • Other food stuff - we ate fresh produce whenever available, the above is mostly for backup or filler
  • A stick - for warding off chasing dogs and hoisting up yer pirate flag (ARGH!)

So there it is folks, hope this helps or provides some guidance should you require any. Quite a lot of the things we bought prior to departing for our trip and those which were mentally prepared for finding once we got there came to mind due to other peoples bike travel blogs which we researched beforehand.