Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Today I moved in to my new apartment in Panajachel, Guatemala.  $200/month for a furnished two-story-1-bed-two-bath with a garden on the river.  Apparently it's high season in this lake-side tourist town so I'm paying 30% more than normal.  I've found it difficult to pay more than $4 dollars for a meal here.  If I didn't feel the need to eat 6,000 calories/day I doubt I'd ever spend more than $2.

I have mixed feelings about settling down, even if its just for a few months.  There's something about stopping that makes me feel like I'm falling behind.  Or, more honestly, like my inadequacies are catching up to me.  When you don't spend more than a few days around the same people, its not difficult to project a flattering image of yourself. "Yea, I'm cycling my way through Latin America, stopping only to volunteer and help the poor, no big deal."  But when you're spending weeks with people who are the real-deal and have been at it their entire lives, it becomes a lot harder to hide the fact that you're a selfish, incompetent prick.

Overall though, I'm glad I'm here.  It's challenging and I need that now more than ever. I want to be a better person, even if deep down its only because better people attract better people and being around better people makes me want to be better so I can attract more of them so that I can be like them so that I can be with them so that I don't ever have to sit alone with myself and ponder the terrifyingly cyclical nature of existence like this anymore...

Ok I'm back after a quick trip to the r/depression sub of reddit.  Why can't I get through a single blog post without things getting dark?  I'm learning to love the fight. The never-ending struggle that is existence.  I just have to convince myself that there is a difference between learning and deceiving oneself.

My new house has a lot of bugs.  I am watching a centipede cross the line of ants that have already formed to harvest the carcass of the spider that I squished when I sat down to write this post.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain on corrugated fiberglass.  It was loud and I was tired so I let myself sleep in because "no fucking way I'm riding in that".  It was a foolish lapse of discipline seeing as how I still had a solid hour of packing ahead of me.  It was a little after 9 when the rain let up but I wasn't riding till 11:30.  By this time I was hungry so I tried to find a quick bite before leaving San Ignacio.  Everything was closed. Fucking Sundays in Belize.  I don't remember having this problem in Mexico.  Do Catholics just not take Sundays off?   Just as I was thinking "There's got to be a place where everyone goes to eat after church" I came upon exactly such a institution called "Hodes Place" with a giant covered back patio and I got my order in minutes before the church crowd packed it.

I always get strange looks from the server when I order multiple entrees.  It makes me a little uncomfortable, surrounded by poverty and eating food for 2 or 3 people.  Dammit, I'm hungry. And fuck me if I don't use it all.  According to my bike computer I burn nearly 5,000 calories/day.  Today I did 6,000.  Whatever.

Regardless, I need to stop being so anti-social.  I've started listening to my audiobooks during meals now too. So much more interesting than most of the people I run into.  But even with the interesting people I struggle to stay engaged.  I'm listen to Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker Guide series.  Finished the first book yesterday and now on the second.  I actually don't like it that much.  There are some great parts, but most of it feels like the humor of a different era. Like something maybe I would have appreciated at the time, but now it feels obvious and unoriginal.  I felt the same way watching the Usual Suspects a few years ago.  Anyway, I have this terrible thing I do where I can't just stop reading a book once I start it, no matter how terrible it is so I didn't switch to something else.  I guess its alright because I needed some thinking time today and with a book I'm not that into I don't feel obligated to skip back for parts when I daze off.

Took me a little under an hour to get to the border, 15km from San Ignacio.   They wouldn't let me take my bike inside while going through immigration which really bothered me.  There was plenty of room for it inside where I could keep an eye on it.  I'm in super-paranoid mode at borders.  No two borders ever work the same way except that they are filled with sketchy looking people who are way too eager to help you navigate the completely unmarked process.  I paid an exit fee and then went to immigration and got stamped out.  As I was riding through the border into Guatemala somebody yelled at me about getting my passport checked again.  They weren't wearing any official clothes and since I had my tout shields up at 100% I immediately ignored them and continued through the open gate and into Guatemala smiling at the guard who had no qualms letting me through.  It later occurred to me that both desks I checked with were on the Belize side and only one had stamped my passport.  Checking my passport tonight confirmed that I do not a Guatemala entry stamp and am apparently in the country illegally.  Not really sure how I'm going to deal with that yet, but I know where to go if I ever become a fugitive.

It was 2:20 by the time I started out in Guatemala.  I knew it would be impossible to make it the rest of the 120km to Flores, or anyplace near the lake, before dark (two hours away) but I was eager to get away from the border and didn't feel like trying to find a ride.  I started riding and told myself if worse came to worse I could finally break out the tent and sleeping bag that had thus far been dead weight on my front rack.

 An hour and a half later I began worrying. Definitely not going to reach any hotels soon. Camping is not going to be fun.  For one thing, its been raining and everything is wet.  The river along which the road has been winding is flooded and everything below the road is a swamp.  Everything above it is a steep hill and generally someone's property.  I am not mentally prepared to ask someone if I can pitch a tent in their yard like I have been reading about on other cyclists blogs.  I pulled up to a road-side bar to practice a little chit-chat and see what I could muster.  Nobody could understand me.  I couldn't understand them.  Goddamned regional dialects.  I ordered a beer and finally was able to communicate that I was looking for a place to stay.  An older guy mentioned something about a school.  Finished my beer in silence as I could not for the life of me think of how to conduct small chat in Spanish and nobody feigned any interest whatever in talking to me anyway.  The school was not a viable camping option.

I came across a small soccer field seemingly in the middle of nowhere that looked promising. But as I slowed to investigate I noticed a tiny hand-painted sign mentioning something about the military. I was thinking it was odd when a whistle drew my attention to two camo-adorned men smiling down from the hillside above me.  A harder look revealed little cabins in the trees and a clothes line covered in camouflage pants and jackets.  Around the bend I was informed by a large sign that this was in fact an army barracks of some kind.  I rode on.

 I came to a long steep 22% grade and eventually decided I'd make better time walking.  It was becoming painfully clear that I needed to either setup camp or flag down a ride the rest of the way into town.  I wasn't prepared to do either. My confidence in my communication/social skills was too low to dare flagging anyone down and I there's was no place that stuck out to me as a viable camping option.  The cognitive dissonance left me with only one option:  continue on into the darkness and hope for the best.

I swear I'm the luckiest person I've ever met.  Not 30 minutes before sunset, with rain drops beginning to fall, 3 Guatemalans in a tiny pick-up pulled and asked me if I wanted I ride into Flores.  I spent the next half hour wedged between my 75kg bike and a ladder developing a mild case of white knuckles.  My bike computer says we were only going 110kph, but with the little pebbles of water making visible welts on my skin I would've believed we were approaching mach speeds.  Buses and trucks were passed, dogs and potholes were swerved around, the road alternated between dirt and pavement, but the velocity never faltered.  It was thrilling to say the least. About halfway we picked up a young couple hitchhiking from Argentina who claimed to have been on the road for over 2 years.  I tried to talk to them but making audible sounds at near-mach speeds requires far too much concentration and we were all pretty focused on hanging on.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tomorrow I should cross into Guatemala. I don't expect problems.  Everyone says its a very easy border.

Last night I stayed up all night trying to get some audiobooks working on my phone.  I've listened to 5 books in the 13 days I've been in the saddle.  It's one of my favorite aspects of this mode of transportation.  I get shit occasionally from other cyclists who say its dangerous to ride with earphones.  I agree sheepishly and then continue listening.  It's worth the risk.

I'm excited about getting back to a Spanish speaking country.  I keep hesitating here in Belize, accidentally opening with Spanish greetings and sometimes even speaking English with a Spanish accent (what?).  I am more confident in my interactions when I can use my native language though.

I'm still debating whether or not I want to try catching a ride or just finish my ride and be late.  I'm due to be there tomorrow but I still have a good 7 days of riding ahead of me.  It's awkward to take a bus with a loaded bike as your carry-on.  I'm thinking I might try for a few hours every day till I get good and tired and the trying to hitch a ride with a passing pick-up or something.  I don't know, we'll see.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Yesterday I rode all day in rain. I stopped after 6 hours, 40km short of my 110km goal. The water turned my $100 Brooks saddle into a soggy leather flap. I was just getting the damned thing broke in, too. Today it was supposed to rain all day again so I decided to take a rest day. Spent the whole day watching the second half of the 4th season of Archer, the first few episodes of the 8th season of How I Met Your Mother (aka, Friends 2), and browsing reddit. Feels like a set-back. I love this hotel though. Saan Yum Hotel and Restaurant. Reasonably priced food and lodging with hot water and decent wifi, and the rooms are large enough for me to keep my bike inside and still have my stuff scattered all over the floor.  Fuck the Black Orchid resort though.  Fucking extortionists.  I need to post that scathing review.

I'm still concerned about my motivation issues. It's like a flu that never goes away and effects everything you do. I can get myself all worked up and excited for short bursts of productivity, but I can't seem to sustain anything long enough to work up a healthy habit.  It makes me anxious that I can't divine a clear solution.  Obviously I need to start small and work my way up.  Develop one habit at a time. but I can't decide which habit to start with, and these things take months to develop.  Whatever.

I told the NGO I'm supposed to be working that I'd be there by the 15th.  I haven't even made it to Guatemala yet, which apparently is when the real riding starts (steep hills?).  I'm thinking I'll ride to San Benito, Guatemala which should take 2 or 3 days at my current pace and then bus most of the rest of the way.  It's definitely a defeat, but I'm ready to start my new job and I will feel guilty if I postpone it any longer.  Anyway, I have the rest of my life to finish this round-the-world bike trip (at the pace I'm making, it will certainly take up most of it.)  I'm looking forward to interacting with people from a similar background again and maybe even getting to know some individuals.  Not looking forward to working. Not so much because I dislike work as much as I ashamedly inexperienced with it.  I can't remember the last time I did anything that would qualify as work.  I'm counting on my adolescent need to impress people to kick-start some kind of work-ethic.  I guess the worst that can happen is I get fired, right?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dec. 9th

I used to think I was good with directions before I started this trip. 

On my first day, it took me an hour to figure out how to get out of Merida. On my second day I took two wrong turns, but quickly perceived my errors when the pavement ended. One my third day I got up two hours before dawn so I could sneak onto the toll-road in defiance of several posted anti-bicycle signs undercover of dark via riding the wrong direction up the off ramp (a trick I picked up from poor Mexican drivers in Tijuana) all to enjoy a speed-bump-free-wide-shoulder expressway to Valladolid. After an hour and a half of paranoid cycling, I took the wrong “exit” (I actually hopped the guardrail and climbed up the overpass, no easy feat with a bicycle that weighs more than you do) and ended up adding about 10 kilometers to my trip. I also discovered that the highway “libre” I took so much pains to unsuccessfully avoid had very recently been repaved with beautifully smooth asphalt, not a single speed-bump, and a shoulder broad enough to be an additional car lane. And after spending an hour trying to find a place to eat in Valladolid (mind you, I've already spent 3 days in this town not a month prior), I glibly set out on a 37 kilometer dirt road that dead ended in the middle of the Yucatan jungle. Not only do I have a perfectly functional GPS and internet powered phone, I have people in the street waving me down and telling me I must being going the wrong direction because there's nothing that way. Yes, I am a navigational genius.

But that's just the third day. I'm not even going to get into the hours I spent at the Belize border were I nearly managed to re-enter Mexico twice or the several “scenic” routes I accidentally found myself on here in Belize where the signs are all hand-painted and rarely give you any of the information you're looking for and the people are either oblivious or derive some kind of strange pleasure from sending you off in the wrong direction.

I didn't much like my first day in Belize. The polluted bay on which sits the town of Corozal didn't strike my fancy after being in beautiful Caribbean paradises like Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun. The “Resort” I was so excited to have booked with bitcoin was dilapidated, bug infested, and had abysmal wifi access. You just wouldn't expect a place as cutting edge as to accept bitcoin would make their guests stand 20 yards outside their cabana to get a wifi signal. There was no lobby or even a place to sit down. I had to stand in the sand fending off the bugs that flocked to the light of my phone as I tried to make contact with the outside world. Fuckers even had the gall to give me a inflated bitcoin exchange rate that ended up over-charging me $15. Whatever.

The rest of Belize I have enjoyed very much. Everyone always talks about how expensive it is here so I was braced for the worst, but so far I've found it on par with Mexico, if not cheaper. Maybe its because I'm traveling inland toward Guatemala and most people visit the Caribbean Cayes. The diversity here is unlike anything I've ever seen. On every block there is a Chinese restaurant/general store with a creative name like "Chun Ma's Store and Fast Food (Chinese)" hand-painted on the wall. The town of Orange Walk is flooded with blond haired-blue eyed Mennonites speaking German and looking like they just came off the set of Little House on the Prairie. There are Hispanics from all the surrounding countries and of course African descendants who speak some kind of Cloud Atlas jib-jab that mixes English with a little Spanish and some kind of native language spoken with a kind Jamaican syncopation that feels all the more exotic when they completely drop it and address you in perfect Victorian English.

The flora and fauna are more diverse down here as well. Most of which I've observed as roadkill. Brightly colored birds and snakes and unidentifiable mammals. Of course, like Mexico, most of it is just dogs and cats and butterflies :( . Insects are everywhere. And they are huge. They have grasshoppers bigger than my feet.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wheeling myself away from myself. (Dec. 8th)

So yea, it's been days. I'm not sure what to say. The addiction got me.

I spent a few weeks San Cristobal de las Casas and after a few days being sick and letting myself go I was back to spending 90% of my waking hours on Reddit and the other 10% running around doing minor errands and trying to be social. I quickly started hating myself and devised an escape plan that involved buying a bicycle and doing the rest of my traveling on that. Mostly I needed an excuse to exercise and get outside. I couldn't find a decent bike shop in San Cristobal so I decided to start in Merida because I have friends there and there was an eye clinic that could do LASIK surgery for like like $800 which I decided I should do to get the most out of my traveling experience (highly recommend doing it outside the US where the health care is better and cheaper).

I spent nearly a month in Merida doing pretty much nothing except internetting. It was horrible. My excuse is that the bikeshop I ordered my frame from could not get the frame by the time they said they would, eventually I went with a less ideal frame the shop already had in stock, but I should have made that decision much earlier, like 1.5 weeks earlier, and anyway I have no excuse for completely wasting my down time. I could have made/finished so many blog posts and edited/posted so many pictures/videos that I have stockpiled or I could have done a little traveling and actually used my time, but no, reddit reddit reddit. I still don't know what's wrong with me, but I simply could not find the motivation to become productive.

I've been in the saddle 10 days now and only now have mustered the courage/energy to start typing again. God I hate how horrible my writing has become. Reading it makes me cringe. Its so bland and thoughtless. It's like I don't give a shit what I say. Well I don't. I'm just trying to create a habit. Write write write.

When I was in San Cristobal I met some girls who work at an NGO in Guatemala. They were attractive so I drunkenly told them I would volunteer. All of the best decisions I've made in life have been intoxicated so now I'm headed to Panachel, Guatamala to work as a communications intern for Mayan Families. I don't really know what they do, but it sounds much different from anything I would be naturally inclined to do so I think it will be good. I can certainly affort some penance for all my recent indulgences.

The only thing is this bicycling thing is taking a lot longer than I planned. I was actually supposed to be there before I even left, such is the cohesion between my self-perceived potential and my actual output. That was partly a miscommunication, and partly me dragging my feet, but mostly just me not knowing what the hell I'm doing. I planned to be able to take on 150km/day everyday with maybe 1 or 2 single day breaks along the way. My average day is half that. So far my longest day has been 116k and I stopped for 3 full nights in Tulum. I have rode nearly 40km in the wrong direction and spent over 2 hours trying to get across 1 damned border. And I haven't even had any real issues to deal with yet.

Anyway, I'm exhausted and burnt to crisp and still have pack all my shit and sleep soon so I can get up and leave at 5am even though I have no idea where I'm going to stay tomorrow because this stupid fucking hotel that I paid .04272BTC for doesn't have working wifi and I couldn't get a Belize SIM card for my phone because the whole fucking country is closed on Sundays but I'm happy because I wrote this shitty fucking post and broke my dry streak :) It's going to be a great week.