Living the Dream
I did it!!!!!!! I managed to cycle into Antigua early in the afternoon on December 16th, 2012. 111 days and 4,656 miles after leaving Vancouver.
As I cycled into Antigua, I felt as if I were in a dream. The traffic, cobblestone roads and baroque architecture went by in a blur as I pedaled for the end. As I sat in the plaza contemplating what I had just done, I felt oddly alone. All around me were tourists and locals going about their day, absolutely unaware of what I was feeling. Yet here I was, at the end of a 4 months journey that had taken me from Vancouver to here. I felt a great sense of pride welling up inside, yet had no one to share it with.
And that, I realized, is why I love bike touring so much. Every day I have spent on my bike, touring in the past few years, has been a personal victory for me. Though it’s hard not being able to share it fully with anyone else, it makes it something that is mine and mine alone. This experience has meant the world to me, and I am eternally grateful for it.
However the journey to the end was an experience in itself, one that deserves mentioning.
This final leg of the journey found me in a very different head space entirely. Knowing the end was so close, it was hard to fight the urge to pedal my ass off in an all-out sprint to the end. Struggling to maintain a proper pace and stop enough to truly appreciate these final few days has been fairly difficult to say the least.
In addition to these urges to sprint to the end, I’m finding myself in an existential funk of sorts. The past 4 months I have been on the move constantly, never in one place for more than 4 days. The thought of stopping somewhere and not having to cycle anywhere else scares me. Every day that I have woken up in the past 4 months, I have awoke with a clear and distinct purpose. Eat, pedal, explore, meet people, eat then sleep. Everyday has been an adventure in itself and the thought of going back to “normal”, where days upon days are spent in the same place, life is staggering. Luckily, I will be returning to a job I love. That makes things a little better. It also helped a lot that the final few days would be so memorable in terms of scenery, people, culture and gnarly riding terrain.
I had arrived in San Cristobal unsure of how long I would stay and ended up only spending two rest days there. I was nearing the end and knew I had to make each moment count from this point on. I spent more time lazying about than actually being a tourist, though in the moment it’s exactly what my body needed. I did however get to visit one church in particular that simply blew me away.
If you have ever been to San Cristobal, then you no doubt aware of the the small town of San Juan Chamula next door. It is a small town of mostly indigenous people famous for it’s central masterpiece, the Catholic church. Upon entering the town you come to the Zocala (main plaza) and see the distinct yet homely green and white church setting the stage. All throughout the Zocala indigenous men, women and children are selling crafts as vendors cycle in and out of the crowds with their carts selling snacks. The sounds of fireworks and music coming from the entrance of the church pulls you into the main attraction. Upon paying a modest fee, you are allowed into the church itself and warned that photography is absolutely not allowed inside. Immediately upon entering you are immersed in a spiritual experience unlike any other Mexican church. This is a church with no pews, priests or choir. Instead your eyes dart about the smoke filled room as you try and take this whole experience in. Through rays of light filtering through the smoke you see the floor beneath your feet in littered with pine needles and vegetation hangs off some walls. You feel as if you are in a cave or other natural place, which is the purpose. All around you, mainly on the floor, are hundreds of candles burning away in front of the numerous effigies to the saints that line both walls to your right and left. As you weave in and out of crowds of people praying to different saints, the intoxicating mix of incense, smoke, prayer and fireworks exploding outside pull you further and further into the experience. As you study the people gathered in groups praying you notice they are passing around bottles of pox (sugarcane liquor) and Coca-Cola. It seems as if the old and new ways have melded once gain, and in the highly political world of soft drink distribution, Coca Cola has won here. Coca Cola has seeped into their faith as a remedy of sorts, producing cleansing burps, replacing older and more traditional ways. After a few minutes of wandering about, you have to simply find a place to sit in the back and take in the experience. Watching these cultures mix in such a loving and devotional way is truly an amazing experience and it was a nice reminder of why I’m cycling in the first place.
Eventually however my stay in San Cristobal came to an end and I began the final leg of the journey to Antigua, the end!
San Cristobal de las Casa to Comitan
My last full day cycling in Mexico was quite pleasant. It began with a short climbing out of San Cristobal followed by a whole day of downhill and flat terrain. Along the way I encountered two other cyclists headed North and gave them directions to the hostel in San Cristobal. It was exciting knowing that the next day I would be passing into Guatemala, something I had been looking forward to for the past 3 months.
Comitan to La Democracia, Guatemala!
Finally in Guatemala!!!!!! The ride out of Comitan to the border was mainly flat and downhill, passing through lush mountain landscapes and agricultural pueblas along the way. As I cycled towards the border, the imposing highlands of Guatemala loomed in the distance, as if guarding some magical land. It’s as of the border is set exactly where the mountains begin their rise into the clouds, something I found oddly satisfying. Mexico had been an amazing experience for me, and I was ready for something new. Beginning that climb into the highlands made my entry into Guatemala that much richer.
La Democracia to Huehuetenango
Today was the day cycling tours are made for. A steady and gentle climb punctuated by brief flat or downhills sections kept me going physically. However it was the endless views of the Guatemalan Highlands and the small pueblos I passed that made it truly unique. As I passed through small pueblos, I was able to watch locals engaged in every step of the coffee harvest and processing; from the washing,shelling and drying of beans to the final product ready to be shipped all over the world. As I rode through the towns, the parents worked as the children ran about, usually running after me as I rode by shouting, giggling and laughing. I ended up making it into Huehuetenenango early enough and managed to hook up with a Warmshowers host. Artutro was a great host and even invited me to the Radio station where he works to see the local Huehuetenango radio scene. As much as I wanted to join him for a night of celebrating with his buddies that night, I instead found myself passed out on the bed within minutes of closing my eyes for a quick nap. Oh well, I was going to need my rest anyways….
Huehuetenango to Xela
Another day of beautiful brutality in the Guatemalan Highlands. Constant climbing and narrow shoulders kept me on my toes all day long, while the endlessly changing vistas allowed for plenty of vista-filled breaks. A little after 2 PM I found myself in San Francisco de Alto asking a man at a bus stop for directions to the next town/hotel. As I was chatting with this man, I heard the all too familiar sound of a chicken bus tearing into the stop and the shouts of “Xela” in the air. Within a second my mind was made up, the universe wanted me to visit Xela, Originally I had planned on by-passing Xela since it was 10 km’s out of the way. However the next thing I know I was sitting not he chicken bus, bike tied to the roof, taking a small detour into Xela for a spur of the moment rest day. True, a purist would have cycled there, but having cycled over 4,000 miles so far, I was ok taking a little ride. After all, this is my trip, none else’s. Immediately upon getting to the hostel I made a friend and went out to a nice restaurant overlooking the city. The rest of the night well in tot he next morning was a bit of a blur as we party-hopped from bar to club to after party to after party ’till 4 AM. I hadn’t quite fully planned on a rest day the next day, however I was committed at this point.
Xela Rest Day
It’s awfully had to truly enjoy Xela when there’s an elephant stomping on your brain. At least that’s how I felt for much of the day. I did get some sight-seeing in, but mainly just slept, ate and drank a lot of water. Nothing like a little pre-emptive congratulatory partying, eh?
Xela to El Encuentro
I began the day fully stoked to be cycling again with nothing but 1.5 days between myself and the end. In my haste, I managed to take the wrong road at a fork outside town and cycled through 10 km’s of downhill bliss before realizing I was headed to the Pacific! I ended up adding about 20 km’s and an hour or so to my day, but not even that could dampen my spirits. The rest of the day was honestly spent counting down mileage markers on the road, knowing I was getting closer and closer to the end.
El Encuentro to Antigua!!!!!!!
I did it!!!!!!!! I made it to Antigua, cycling into town on the all-too familiar cobblestone streets to a town bustling with tourists and locals. I cycled to the plaza and plopped myself down, sure of what to do. Part of me wanted to tell everyone within earshot what I had done. How I had just cycled 111 days and made it to Vancouver. How I had just completed a leg of a larger journey, having now cycled form the top of Alaska to Costa Rica. How I had just realized a HUGE part of lifetime promise to myself. Instead I found myself sitting in the plaza as people walked around, oblivious to what I was feeling inside. Instead I found myself beaming with pride from within and fully content in everything I had done. To celebrate, I treated myself to a nice Cuban cigar as I sat on the stoop of a church watching the sun set as I wrote in my journal. It truly was everything I could have hoped for. As I settling in for a quiet night alone, I happened into a conversation with a couple from Romania who was staying in the hostal. I ended up spending the evening chatting with them, drinking rum and sharing stories from the road. It was, in all honesty, exactly what I needed. Lucy and Cornell, if you are reading this; Thank you. An evening spent with good company was exactly how I needed to end this trip.
I spent today running around town procuring supplied to pack up my bike, arrange for transportation tot he airport in a few days and making calls to family back home. Finally, it’s done. My bike is in a box and my entire life for the past 4 months fits in one bike box and one pannier bag. With my whole life packed up, I’m free to let tomorrow take me wherever it will.
I look forward to seeing family in a few days and coming back to my life in Yosemite in the New Year.
A more meaningful/reflective post is in the works so look forward to that. For now, I have some Gallo chilling in the fridge with my name on it.
San Cristobal, Chiapas to Comitan, Chiapas 57 miles
Comitan, Chiapas to La Democracia, Guatemala! 62 miles
La Democracia, Guatemala to Huehuetenango, Guatemala 46 miles
Huehuetenango, Guatemala to Xela, Guatemala 46 miles
Xela, Guatemala to El Encuentro, Guatemala 58 miles
El Encuentro, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala 59 miles
Total for the ENTIRE trip 4,656 miles!!!!!!!