Cycling Mexico
Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. J.F.Kennedy
Map of route
Selected photos
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Writings from a trip
Northern Baja California
Southern Baja California
To Guadalajara
To Mexico City
Mexico City
To Oaxaca
To Tuxtla Gutiérrez
To Campeche
< To Cancún >
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List of trips
Three-month cycling trip, starting in late August 2010 in Tijuana, ending in Cancún. 7th expedition by the author. (Previous expeditions : New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, Alaska, Japan).

Cancún – The End of the Journey

Small Mayan Monuments
The road from Campeche to Hopelchen was not marked, but I did not mind, I simply cycled eastwards (towards the sun). After 10 kilometers, I asked some people for directions, they confirmed that I was on the right path. The road was slightly undulating with occasional bends. Without the strong headwind, it would have been a wonderful effortless ride. Within three days, I would be visiting several lesser known Mayan ruins ignored by tourists.

The first of the ruins was located near the road. It consists of three pyramids, one of them better preserved. The site was perfectly maintained, with ornamental plants, cleanly swept. A guard emerged a moment later from a semi-ruined hut in the corner of the plot. He was dressed in a tattered, probably once-white T-shirt and sweatpants. Regardless of his appearance, he was an enthusiast who had been working there as the administrator for 18 years. He knew everything about the place, and could also speak about it in pretty good English. He showed me the pyramids in the surroundings that look like normal hills. Within a radius of 5 kilometers, I think there were about 50 of them. He led me across the road to the Mayan underground pantry (there are 45 of these in the area). He explained about the four types of Mayan arches and showed me three of them on the site. He had obsidian tools and other Mayan instruments, statues, hieroglyphics carved in stone. I was able to touch, weigh and examine everything. He considered himself 100-percent Maya. I asked him if the place somehow affected him and if he felt a sense of belonging to his ancestors. He answered in the affirmative and in Spanish-English described his visions.

This is why visiting small monuments is worthwhile. One learns a lot and has the chance to enjoy the site much more than with photographing tourists and souvenir vendors all around. I paid the Tohcok guide well. We were both absolutely satisfied (unfortunately I did not have any smaller cash on me).

[Tohcok] Guide and permanent resident at the Tohcok ruins; according to him, he is 100% Maya

[Tohcok] The area around the ruins was carefully swept, with some decorative plants growing there

[Tohcok] Mayan natural pantry, 4 meters deep, 1.5-meter lower diameter; food and water lasted for more than 1 year

I stopped at Hopelchen, a nearby, small and uninteresting provincial town of 6,000 inhabitants. Local transport is provided by cyclotaxis, which are freight tricycles with a canopy and a seat for passengers. There are incredibly many of them there. Within 15 minutes, 21 of them had crossed the square, and those were probably not all. It fascinates me how Mexicans used the cyclotaxi, not just in this town, but everywhere. It was possible to walk from one end of the town to the other in about 20 minutes. Poor people—and those who use the cyclotaxis are certainly not rich—in our country would think, "I’ll walk, I’ll save money." The Latin-American (and I am afraid also the Spanish) approach is different: "I have a few pesos left, I’ll use the taxi. Never mind what happens tomorrow, maòana is maòana."

[Hopelchen] Taxi transporting a mother and two children

[Hopelchen] Popular cyclotaxi, no gears, only one brake ('torpedo', back-pedal brake), no lights, although used in the dark

The route from Hopelchen to the North was pleasant, leading partly through jungle and partly through agricultural landscape with lonely ranches and small settlements. It was overcast, not too hot, just the fresh headwind was a little irritating. The border of the State of Yucatán appeared 60 kilometers later and, just after it, the turn-off to Ruta Puuc, a route to the Mayan monuments in the Puuc style, which had its peak between 750-950 AD.

[Near Sayil] On the road through the jungle, the symbolic border gate between the states of Campeche and Yucatán was visible in the distance

The ruins were easily accessible. The entrance was usually only a few meters from the road. I always passed by the car park and cycled directly to the ticket office. There I left the bike unlocked, under the cashier’s eyes, took my camera and went to feast my eyes. Basically, I was almost the only tourist. In my photos, too, you will not see any other tourists—not to be avoided in the more famous sites. I thoroughly enjoyed it, looked at everything without any hurry, sat down for a while, often totally absorbed in the special atmosphere of the site.

The main attraction is El Palacio, a three-story building with an imposing length of 85 meters. The rugged, sunlit, decorated façade contrasted sharply with the verdant green jungle. El Mirador, another monument, was a temple on a pyramid. The nearby stele with a relief allegedly depicted the god of fertility with his huge phallus. Well, the stele was so weathered by age that it could have represented anything. Almost a kilometer from El Palacio is also the southern section of Sayil. The buildings there are in a far worse condition, overgrown by jungle and access to them was not easy. If I had known this, I would not have gone there. In Sayil, I only came across two people in 90 minutes.

[Sayil] El Palacio, three-story building, an impressive 85 meters wide

[Sayil] El Palacio, detail of decoration, stylized mask of the god Chac

[Sayil] El Palacio, right wing, ground-floor decoration

[Sayil] El Mirador, archaeologists are still working there

[Sayil] The southern part of the site is overgrown with jungle and ruins are hard to reach

There are only one small building and several “scattered” pyramids in the surrounding forest on this site. Due to the size, entry is free. But the place is wonderful, with plenty of birds. As I was leaving, I came across a tapir in the forest. A five-member expedition with a guide passed us, so I was alone again there.

[Xlapak] A small but neat building, 20 meters wide

This is the best known of the three named sites, and the visitor rate corresponded. I counted a total of 8 people. Everything is dominated by the large El Palacio. El Mirador, the temple built on a pyramid, emerges in the background amidst the trees. The somewhat atypical arch, El Arco Labná, is very popular. The decoration of the buildings is extremely rich and interesting. There are about 60 chultunes (underground water reservoirs) on the site, which allowed the Maya to survive the dry season. Several of them are right in front of the buildings, but they are half covered with large stones, so that a not-so-fat visitor does not fall into them.

[Labná] El Palacio

[Labná] El Mirador, a temple built on the pyramid

[Labná] El Mirador in the center, El Arco Labna (the arch) on the right

[Labná] Detail of the facade

As I was checking the bike before leaving, I discovered a cracked pannier rack bolt on the front fork, on the opposite side from the last time it had happened in Tuxtla. I already knew what to do, so I just removed the bag, unscrewed the rest of the screw with pliers from inside the fork and put in a new bolt. It took me about 10 minutes, but the guys from the ticket office kept giving me advice and I had to react accordingly. The cause of the breakage of the screws were certainly the topes and vibradores (speed bumps) on which the bike received mighty strong blows that could not be avoided. Some barriers are so perfectly made that their tops are scraped by the undercarriages of cars. However, it is a great business for the local mechanics, as the dampers get damaged on them, so they always have work to do. And in some areas it has become an elegant way of begging. One just needs to stand with a bucket of white paint at a topes, mark part of it with paint and then collect fees from drivers for having highlighted the speed bump, so that the next time they will not overlook it and bump their heads when hitting the car roof. Some swindlers even stretch a rope across the road and remove it only after payment, but they never tried that on me. Yeah, that's how it goes there.

Puuc Finally Emerges
In Mayan, puuc means hill. Why this is so, I understood after Labná, where there were several short steep hills, on which I was embarrassed to have to pedal in the lowest gear. The hilly belt stretches across the Kabah and Uxmal, rising before Muna for the last time, where a panoramic view of the Yucatán is advertised on the hill. After a steep descent to the town, the flat terrain continues in the direction of Merida, a plain as if constructed with a spirit level.

[Santa Elena] There are many such houses in the surrounding villages and towns, people live in them permanently, note the TV antenna on the left

The last of the “small” Mayan settlements was Kabah, to which I had to return from the other side, thus almost closing the Puuc circuit (the intersection before Sayil was 6 kilometers away). It was still early. There were only two of us tourists there, lost in such a vast area. The main attractions are the sculptures of two Atlases (figures bearing the weight of the vault). Three-dimensional representation of human figures was rare in Mayan culture. Further, it is the large-nosed rain god, Chac, who is depicted on the façade of El Palacio de los Mascarones about 300 times. And a first-class rarity is the El Arco, an arch built at the start of the paved road (saché) to Uxmal.

[Kabah] El Palacio, the round hole in front of the palace is a storehouse, places covered by stones are also storerooms

[Kabah] Pirámide de los Mascarones (left), Gran Pirámide (right background, across the road), the red building on the right is the ticket office at the entrance

[Kabah] The Mayans very rarely depicted statues of people (3D), there are only a few exceptions, such as in the Kabah on the Pirámide de los Mascarones

[Kabah] El Palacio de los Mascarones - the entire frontage is covered with stylized masks of the god Chac (about 300 masks), water was vital and this was the resort solely of Chac

[Kabah] Poor men cycling between the Mayan monuments, the rich observing them from the helicopter above

[Kabah] El Arco is located near Gran Pirámide; the arch marked the beginning of the paved road (saché) to Uxmal, approx. 20 km away

Uxmal – Once More among the Crowds
Uxmal is a magical place with the most beautiful Mayan monuments I have ever seen. But what can one do, everything there is a tourist trap. It all starts already at the purchase of tickets, when one pays the standard entrance fee of 51 pesos for sights of the highest category, plus 115 pesos for the sound and light show, which begins at 7 p.m. By that time, of course, almost everybody has left. A separate entrance ticket only for the ruins cannot be bought. I have no objection to the cost, if it cost 5 times as much, it would still have been worth it. But it bothers me when people try to make a fool of me. By the way, they quite openly charge different admission fees for Mexicans and foreigners. Discounts also apply only to Mexicans (pensioners, invalids). I am not sure what the case is for student discounts. I remembered the media campaign against the increased entrance fees for foreigners at Karlštejn Castle

The Magic House right at the entrance is impressive. It is a steep pyramid on an oval ground plan with a temple on top. Too bad it is forbidden to climb on to it, but it is so steep that a first-aid clinic would have to be set up at the base of the pyramid with an efficient surgical department. Four palaces of the former military academy with richly decorated façades, each conceived differently (the palaces were each built in different periods), are situated behind the pyramid. Above is the Governor’s Palace on the hill with the supposedly most beautiful decoration of the façade among buildings of this period. It is surrounded by a number of smaller buildings, including the ubiquitous pelota course. And finally something for me, a cemetery 10 minutes away on foot, too far for the typical visitor, where the stones are decorated with motifs of skulls and crossbones.

[Uxmal] Cuadrángulo de las Monjas - apparently a military academy - above the door again the long-nosed god Chac dominates

[Uxmal] Casa de las Tortugas - House of Turtles – according to the Mayans, if there was a water shortage, turtles as well as people pleaded to the god Chac for a solution

[Uxmal] El Trono del Jaguar (Jaguar throne) in front of the Palacio del Gobernador (Governor’s Palace)

[Uxmal] Casa del Adivino (Magic House) is a 39-meter pyramid with oval layout

[Uxmal] Casa del Adivino and Palacio del Gobernador protrude from the jungle

[Uxmal] The Mayan name of the plumed serpent, 'Quetzalcoatl', is much more acceptable to Czechs as 'Kukulcán'

[Uxmal] Mayan fascination with death is evident from the decorations at the site, Grupo del Cementerio (Cemetery group), but the average visitor does not go there, as it is 10 minutes away from the major attractions

This is the capital of the State of Yucatán, with approximately 750,000 inhabitants. However, on a Sunday, my arrival was peaceful. It always pays rather to be in the city than sitting in a car (or on a bike). I accommodated myself classically in the center, 50 meters from the Plaza Grande, where there are hotels in my nomad category. Expensive hotels are usually several kilometers away from the center. I did not know if I would be staying for two days, so I paid for only one night. The city has a bullfight arena. It was a Sunday, so it would be a chance to see the breathtaking performance again. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for a week later, I would be somewhere near Cancún by that time.

[Mérida] Church with a typical bell tower in the street of the Cathedral

[Mérida] Exhibition of art artifacts in the alley behind the cathedral

Sunday is the Day of Leisure
The main square was reserved for pedestrians, bands of different genres and quality were playing alternately in front of the City Hall all day. The cathedral was also celebrating. The famous wooden statue of Christ with its interesting legend (lightning struck a tree, the tree burned all day and night, but no wood was destroyed) was displayed at the main altar. Mass was celebrated every hour. But the band in Santa Lucia park was playing fast tunes, the catchy rhythms attracting most people to dance on the stage.

[Mérida] Park Santa Lucia - live band plays music for dancing and listening

[Mérida] Park Santa Lucia – dancing as if their lives depended on it

[Mérida] Park Santa Lucia - everyone loved it, only some individuals were a bit confused

In the evening, a Mexican pop (rock?) band consisting of 2 guitars, 2 keyboards, drums, bongos, 3 singers, no wind instruments, played on the podium, the construction of which had taken the whole day. I do not know how those musicians did it, but it sounded like typical Mexican (Balkan) brass. They played popular hits, all the people on the square sang along and danced to the music. However, I had other obligations. I finally had to clean the chain, lubricate the wheels and try to loosen the pedals to avoid a battle with them at the Airport.

[Mérida] The street lights came on in Zócalo; soon a rock group began to perform on stage, sounding like a Balkan brass band

City Transport
The organization of transport in Mexican cities is very simple. A lot of cities have a rectangular grid of streets. Most of the streets are one-way, alternating regularly. If the relevant street is not a one-way in the right direction, take the next one where the traffic direction is reversed. The effects of these measures are beneficial. Traffic priorities are not indicated, the traffic direction is marked by an arrow on the corner, mostly under a signboard of the street name. Then you need to watch the cars from one side only, with road safety thereby significantly increased. It is equally good that nobody has the right of way. In our country, some drivers when they have the right of way, will literally drive over a corpse. Not here, the UNO y UNO system is practiced. Cars take it in turn from all directions. And it works perfectly. Those who do not respect this rule are considered idiots.

But even where the priority is indicated, drivers do not consider it an absolute. Quite simply, the city is packed with cars: "Although I have the right of way, you push in front of me, so go bro, I might also need to do it next time!" Compared to our circumstances, it seems crazy and chaotic, but I did not see a single car accident and the traffic flow was definitely faster.

City Orientation, Street Names
If you are in Hidalgo, Morelos, Juárez, Revolución, Constitución or Independencia Street, you are almost certainly in the city center. The streets are mostly named after national heroes and the importance of the national hero decides the proximity to the city center of the street named after him. The City Council must really work hard to deal with this, which is why in some cities the streets are indicated by numbers (such as in Campeche and Mérida) or cardinal points and a number (in Cholula). It is common practice that the name of the street in the center changes. So you are traveling in Hidalgo Street and suddenly are shocked to find a sign that the street you are on is Morelos. If you want to find a specific place, you have to remember both names of the same street. There is only one rational explanation for this confusing practice – it enables twice as many national heroes to be in the center.

And speaking of national heroes, one major, long street in Mexico City is named after Czech President Masaryk, and surprisingly no one shares this avenue with him.

Corrida, Amigo!
Although cycling on flat terrain is a recreational matter, for the same reason it is not very satisfactory to me. I find it boring and so I look out for some distraction. Many cyclists solve this by wearing earplugs and listening to music. That's not so in my case. In the morning on the way to Dzibilchaltún, a cyclist on an expensive road bike caught up with me. We greeted each other, he looked in contempt at my battered, antiquated bike, laden with bags and overtook me. I stuck close behind him and he did not get away. I took a look at him, everything was as it should be – colored sweater, helmet, shoes, narrow tubular racing tires. Yet he did not look like a champion of the State of Yucatán and so I decided to test him. I caught up to him and said, “corrida, amigo.” He replied “sí, sí.” He stepped on the pedals and leapt about 20 meters ahead of me. A heavily loaded bike is not such a handicap on a flat road as in the hills, but it has higher inertia, so it takes a while before it gets going. After 300 meters, I caught up with the guy and, after 5 kilometers, he was about 400 meters behind me. Then the turn-off to the archaeological site appeared and I did not want to torture the boy any longer.

Dzibilchaltún archeological site is located 20 kilometers North of Mérida. According to the description in the guidebook, it is no miracle. However, I thought, as I was there, the 20 kilometers would not kill me. Firstly, I did a tour of Mérida, going through Paseo de Montejo (of course, anything worth something there is connected with the Montejo family). It was inspired by the Champs-Elysées boulevard in Paris and Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. It contains a number of beautiful villas from the end of the 19th century. In the surprisingly moderate traffic, even though it was the usual hectic Monday morning, and on the beautiful roads with new surfaces, I was in Dzibilchaltún in no time. The site belongs to those who are trying to earn as much as possible and the foreign tourists are there to save them. Admission to the site is 51 pesos, that is determined by the INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) plus a ticket for 65 pesos for service. Locals pay 30 pesos less for service. And one has to pay for parking, even for bikes. However, they did not want anything from me. On the contrary, they indicated that I should leave the bike behind their booth in order to be safe. That was fine, I did not even have to pull out the lock from the “technical bag”.

[Mérida] One of the historical mansions on boulevard Paseo de Montejo

[Dzibilchaltún] Templo de las Siete Muòetos (Temple of the Seven Dolls) in the background, was named after the discovery of toys

[Dzibilchaltún] Spaniards built a chapel on the original site of a Mayan temple; one of the pyramids is on the right

It was not very interesting. Moreover, due to the proximity to Mérida, there were several groups of bus tours. Templo de las Siete Muòetos (Temple of the Seven Dolls) is probably the best known, due to photographs taken of the equinox when the sun shines through the windows. It was not the day of the equinox, however, so there was nothing to be admired. The open chapel which the Spaniards built on the site of the largest Mayan temple is interesting. Cenote Xlacah is a natural lake with beautifully clear water. Although it does not seem so, it is 40 meters deep and visitors to the ruins can swim in it. Water lilies were blooming in it, which was a refreshing sight. Finally, I must mention the 130-meter long building with the “impressive” name of Estructura 44, which is the longest Mayan building of all. That is all fine, but it does not fit into the surroundings, as the venue has an atmosphere of a military training ground. Even the original steles could not be seen. The museum was under construction and the steles were coated in plastic foam, so that workers did not damage them in a fit of enthusiasm for the job.

[Dzibilchaltún] Xlacah cenote, a sinkhole over 40 meters deep in which one can swim

[Dzibilchaltún] Lilies blooming in Xlacah cenote

[Dzibilchaltún] Covered path leading to the local museum which was under reconstruction

Then I wandered along the side road through small villages to Izamal. Local signposting of minor places was almost non-existent, so quite often I had to ask the locals. In Motul I asked a local police officer for the road to Cacalchén, which was approximately 15 kilometers away. He showed me the road, but tried to discourage me from going that way. It was reputedly only uphill so it was better not to go there by bike. Well, the hill was really a joke –I was not sure if I was cycling on the absolute level, so I switched the cyclocomputer on to the inclinometer and, lo and behold, it showed an unbelievable 1-percent gradient! The officer was right, it was a climb!

[Conkal] Children perform scenes from Mexican history in a schoolyard

[Conkal] This church reminds me of a very bloated guy, nourished exclusively on pork and beer

[Cacalchén] One of the many attractive churches on the way

This is another of the surprisingly charming colonial towns with which the Yucatán peninsula is abundantly blessed. The whole town is bright yellow. It is dominated by the huge Franciscan monastery, Convento de San Antonio de Padua, which was established to distract the native residents from worshiping the Mayan gods, Itzamná and Kinich-Kakilometeró. Their shrines were on massive pyramids right in the present town, so the monastery had to try to compete in size as well. The pyramids now form part of the town, three of the original twelve have been restored and are freely accessible directly from the street. The others appear like hills overgrown with vegetation.

[Izamal] The large space in front of the Convento de San Antonio de Padua is a paradise for local boys

[Izamal] Impressive gilded altar in the Convento de San Antonio de Padua

[Izamal] The facade of the entrance gate and monastery are spectacularly illuminated at night

[Izamal] Horses wait for tourists on the square, supervised from the distant height by a pyramid in the background

From Izamal, I could take the shortest route to Chichen Itza, but I preferred to repeat the tactics of the past few days and cycle on the side roads through small towns and villages such as Tunkas, Dzitas, Quintana Roo (the villages are located in the State of Yucatán); Cancún, for example, is in the State of Quintana Roo. The route was about 25 kilometers long, but it was the perfect enjoyment of pleasant cycling along quiet roads with the minimum of traffic. And the attention I was attracting in the villages, of course, did me good.

Chichen Itza
El Castillo pyramid (also called Kukulcán’s pyramid) is actually a huge Mayan calendar. It has 18 separate terraces which correspond to the 18 months of 20 days each on the Mayan calendar. The four stairways consist of 91 steps each, together with the upper platform, these are 365 days. On each façade, there are 52 flat panels that correspond to the 52 years of the Mayan cycle. Due to the fact that the Mayan calendar supposedly ends in 2012, which is to signify the end of the world, the pyramid is extremely popular and clearly the most visited tourist attraction on the Yucatán peninsula.

I arrived before noon, the parking lot was crammed full of buses. I wanted to leave the bike at the ticket sellers' shed, but they sent me to the parking lot, so I had to lock the bike on to a tree. The parking area was not enclosed. I was worried whether I would later be reunited with all my bags. Inside there were crowds having their photographs taken in front of El Castillo. Taking a photo without people in front of it required a 15-minute wait for the right moment and a later Photoshop editing of the fat German woman who was not going to move away from the pyramid. People were standing at attention and with forced smiles having themselves immortalized. I do not know what they have about photos taken in the “I was here” style.

[Chichen Itza] El Castillo (Kukulcán Pyramid) – 25-meter high Mayan calendar

I had no idea why INAH allowed more than 100 souvenir stalls on this archaeological site. Vendors pestered one at every step, and together with the flocks of tourists, the Mayan sacred place became a caricature, a funfair. It really annoyed me, I did not like it there, I walked around all the sights, but did not enjoy them. I did not enjoy photographing them either, it was a real problem to take a photo without someone unexpectedly walking in front of the camera.

[Chichen Itza] The ruins are infested with souvenir vendors

[Chichen Itza] The vast number of souvenir stalls, together with a massive number of tourists ruined any authenticity of the site

Nevertheless, the ruins are interesting with many well-preserved frescoes, and a huge pelota playing ground. Pelota players literally played for their lives. The captain, at least, of the defeated team was always sacrificed. Pelota was played with a ball of solid rubber and the most common form of the game forbade the touching of the ball with the limbs. Players bounced the ball with their trunks and hips, the goal being to throw it through a circular ring.

[Chichen Itza] The heads of snakes at the foot of El Castillo

[Chichen Itza] Plataforma de los Cráneos (Platform of Skulls), El Castillo in the background

[Chichen Itza] Gran Juego de Pelota - a large pelota ground; the two circles at the tops of the walls are the goals

[Chichen Itza] Gran Juego de Pelota - detail of one of the facing panels

[Chichen Itza] El Osario (tomb of the Chief Priest), in front of it, a circular stage for religious ceremonies - atypical shape for the Mayas

[Chichen Itza] El Caracol (astronomical observatory)

[Chichen Itza] Edificio de las Monjas (Convent for Nuns)

[Chichen Itza] La Iglesia (church)

The Cenote Sagrado is a sacred place, a natural lake in a regular circular shape with vertical banks. The Mayans returned to it for over 1,000 years. The water in it is dirty and polluted by fallen branches and leaves, but it hid literally countless treasures that were collected during the archaeological examination of its bottom.

[Chichen Itza] Sagrado cenote ('Sacred Well') – the sinkhole has a diameter of 60 meters and a depth of 35 meters

The Hook Mystery Solved
In recent days, on the bedroom walls I had noticed massive iron hooks that were normally covered with sheet-metal caps. I did not understand what they were intended for. Finally I realized. They are hitches for the hammocks (suspension grid), which are commonly used here instead of beds.

[Valladolid] Mysterious hooks concealed in the walls

To the Caribbean
From Valladolid, I cycled for about 30 kilometers on a Libre road in the direction of Cancún. Then I turned sharply to the right towards Tulum. According to the map, I was expecting a narrow country road winding through the jungle with minimal traffic. In reality, it was a wide road with a new surface, a two-meter verge and little traffic. In addition, there was just a very slight headwind, which would have gently ruffled my hair, had I possessed any. It was simply an easy recreational cycle. The boredom was moderated by the expectation of the ruins in Cobá. I believed that the Chichen Itza fiasco would not be repeated.

[Valladolid] Cathedral in the weak morning sun

[Valladolid] On the Yucatán peninsula, these double chairs are often seen; they facilitate eye-to-eye contact, but prevent more serious physical experiments

[Valladolid] A lamp's shadow from the opposite side of the street cast by the morning light on the facade of a house; BTW, note the “sensitive” installation of the power supply to the light above the door in this protected historical zone

Cobá Ruins
The guidebook recommended arriving at the site before 11 a.m., because then tourist buses would start to arrive and the number of other people was always inversely proportional to the enjoyment of the site. I was there at 11 a.m. and, just as I arrived, four buses overtook me and the parking lot was full. I knew that the site was very large and that it was possible to rent a bike and sightsee that way. I asked at the entrance if I could take my own bike and it was no problem. They only suggested removing the bags and leaving them in their shed. I did, but it was unnecessary. I could have cycled around there with the bags without any problems. Inside the complex, I was charged an additional 30 pesos, the fee for biking, it also applied to those who rented bikes. Another way of seeing the area other than on foot, is to hire a three-wheeler with a driver who will take you wherever you like. But walking really does not make any sense there. I covered 8 kilometers by bike. That is why most walkers go to the most famous monument—the Nohoch Mul pyramid. The able-bodied climb to the top and then they all give up and go back to the parking lot without having seen any other parts of the large archeological site.

[Cobá] Bicycles may park only in designated areas

[Cobá] Although the roads were sandy, they were well-marked and easily passable, making a few spectacular skids in sight of the audience no problem

[Cobá] Bicycle rental at the site of ruins offered an enormous number of bikes of very poor quality

The ruins covered in and half overgrown by jungle have a peculiar atmosphere, making one realize the power and superiority of Nature over man and his accomplishments. The paths in the jungle between individual groups of monuments are succulent green tunnels. After a year without maintenance, one would not be able to find them any more. And suddenly from the greenery emerges a message from the past ages – the buildings of a civilization that, due to mutual bickering and a competition for dominance, was totally destroyed by a handful of astute conquerors. Beware of this, it could happen to us too!

[Cobá] Grupo Cobá - a tree growing through the vault of a room

[Cobá] Grupo Cobá – all the buildings are overgrown by jungle

[Cobá] Mayan Watchtower

[Cobá] The Great Pyramid at 42 meters is the tallest building on the Yucatan peninsula; exertion, walking or more precisely climbing, warms one up

[Cobá] Great Pyramid –the lady in front was wearing a stylish outfit, yet she did not hesitate to climb to the top, congratulations!

[Cobá] “Diving god” or “Descending god”; relief above the temple on top of the Great Pyramid, the head-down position was reportedly inspired by bees sucking nectar from flowers

[Cobá] A strange hairy creature emerged from the woods, begging for treats from the tourists

Oh my God!
People behave like sheep. This can also be well observed at monuments. One person stops and after a while there is a group of people who are standing there and looking at something –they do not even know at what. In Cobá there are many steles, but the material (limestone) is not too resistant and so the relief is usually poorly seen. Therefore, there are accompanying drawings at the steles, showing what is engraved on them. I was in Grupe Macanxoc where there are lots of steles. Because it is a pretty remote place, apart from me, there were only two young American women. They were already pretty tired, they were not cycling, so had already walked quite a few kilometers. One stele was on a hill, accessible by about 15 steps (local steps have an enormous height, it is difficult to use them). I could see that the girls would be skipping it, they did not want to climb uphill. I climbed up there, stood in front of the stele and said clearly, so that the American chicks could hear me, with feeling, “Oh my God!” The young ladies immediately turned around and raced up the steps. I was descending with dignity and, as I passed them, told them that I had just been kidding. Strangely enough, they took it in good spirits, began to laugh and then we had a nice chat.

[Cobá] Steles are original, no copies, covered by shelters and equipped with a diagram to show what is to be seen on the stele

The journey to Tulum was also relaxing. I passed several cenotes –sinkholes, usually completely or partially concealed within stalactite caves. It made sense to visit them if you wanted to dive in them. This is not actually my hobby. For the first and last time I had gone diving on the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns in Australia six years previously and had still not got over the horror of diving. Well, we all have our priorities, don't we? However, I have nothing against snorkeling, it does not bother me at all.

Tourist Paradise
I turned towards Tulum from a quiet, relaxing road and suddenly found myself in the middle of tourist madness, where everything was subjected to the aim of earning some money from tourists. Pubs, souvenir stores, stores selling alcohol, people strolling about with cans of beer and drinking publicly, music blaring everywhere. Simply a different Mexico from the one I had got to know. However, the majority of my fellow citizens consider this to be the real Mexico. Most tours have their destinations precisely here—Cancún, Playa del Carman, Cozumel. And in those cities, the “tourist paradise” is even more intense than in the still rather remote provincial town of Tulum.

Tulum Monuments
The last of the Mayan seats which I wanted to see were the ruins near the city of Tulum. I arrived there just before opening, to avoid the later crowds of tourists. And I was successful. When they opened at 8 a.m., we were a total of six visitors there. Only after 9.30 a.m. did the number of tourists began to increase significantly. These ruins are special due to their proximity to the sea. It was once a fortified harbor, protected on three sides by walls and on the fourth by the sea. The Mayans were not good sailors, but diligently shipped their goods in large canoes along the coast, trading with coastal cities in what is the present-day Guatemala. There is a small sandy beach in the area where you can swim. The sea, lush green tropical vegetation, ruins and the ubiquitous iguanas create a magical atmosphere. In addition, it was excellent photographic weather, overcast with distinctive clouds. Indeed, a dignified farewell to the Mayan monuments.

[Tulum] View of the main buildings, El Castillo on the right, Templo de las Pinturas on the left

[Tulum] On the left, Templo del Dios del Viento (Temple of the Wind God), on the right, El Castillo

[Tulum] Under the Casa del Cenote is a small cave with a lake, in the cave there is also a small tomb

[Tulum] The Temple of the Wind God is on a rocky promontory above the sea

[Tulum] Templo de las Pinturas has a human face on each corner, it is easy to overlook them if you do not know about them

[Tulum] Templo de las Pinturas - face on the corner of the Temple

[Tulum] Ruins, rocks and sea, perfect combination

[Tulum] Lush tropical vegetation surrounds some of the ruins

[Tulum] Part of the archaeological site is a small beach where you can swim

[Tulum] Ruins, greenery and iguanas, this is Tulum; in addition there is the sea, but all this did not fit into one photo

[Tulum] This is what the Mayan god, Kukulcán, looked like

Playa del Carmen
I wanted to hit the road, but it started raining heavily and so I waited for an hour in the building at the entrance to the ruins for it to blow over. But the rain did not cease, so I pulled out my rainwear, although I was reluctant to put it on in the heat, and set out on the route. About 10 minutes later the rain stopped. And so it continued throughout the whole day, only the downpours were shorter. It would start to rain, I would quickly put on my rain suit, or I would have been wet to the bone, a quarter of an hour later, I was taking it off again. All this while I was cycling on a busy road, which was fortunately safe thanks to the wide verge. However, I had almost stopped being used to the noise of passing cars when on the quiet country roads. I thought I’d visit some places at the seaside, but I misjudged this. There are only tourist resorts along the coast, where you have to be a resident to be allowed entrance. Alternatively, there were various theme parks and adventure parks, with very high entrance fees, which is not worth it for an hour's visit. So I slowly made my way up to Playa del Carmen.

Both bags and bike were very muddy from the deep puddles on the verges with soft mud at the bottom and, due to the traffic, not all of them could be avoided. The shower had hot water, I showered the bags and then I admitted that the bike was member of the team too, so I showered it as well. The shower cubicle was unusually spacious. I finally also washed the dirt from myself, washed my clothes in the washbasin, strung a line between the hammock hooks and used my favorite trick—I directed a fan towards the laundry, it dried very quickly like that. There were some clothes lines in the courtyard, but unusable due to the frequent rain.

The city is de facto divided into a tourist zone and an ordinary city. This is also reflected in the prices: a gallon (4 liters) of water in the tourist area costs an incredible 25 pesos, a few streets further away, I paid the usual 12 pesos. I really did not like the artificial tourist Mexico very much, but I could not actually avoid it until the end of my trip. But I had a real problem with this. I did not feel like eating at restaurants for tourists and rather sought a pub for locals, even though the prices were basically the same.

[Playa del Carmen] Divers going on board

[Playa del Carmen] The sandy beach is lined with hotels

[Playa del Carmen] Not even the glassed vista could attract many worshippers to the local church

In the morning, I walked on the beach in Playa del Carmen, where there were high waves and swimming was prohibited. At 11 a.m. I took a boat trip to the island of Cozumel, surprisingly I did not have to pay extra for the bike. The boat was wildly tossed by the big waves. The crew distributed sick bags and many of them came in useful, although the cruise lasted only 45 minutes. It became overcast and looked like rain, so I found some accommodation. The lady owner asked me if I was an Iron Man, so I had to disappoint her. A week later, the significant race for Iron Men and Women would be taking place there and so the competitors were probably already arriving. However, her question pleased me. I removed the bags from the bike and went for a ride around the island. The wind was blowing pretty strongly, but only from the North and so it was fair – a tailwind for 30 kilometers, then a 20-kilometer headwind, and 15 kilometers of wind from the side. Along the way, I met about 20 obvious pros on bicycles, boys training for the race (it was to be 180 kilometers, three times around the island).

[Playa del Carmen] The view of the harbor from the ferry

Swimming was better on the West coast, small waves, clean water – most of the coast is occupied by tourist complexes and there is free access only to a few beaches. On the East coast it is different, just a few lonely smaller guest houses and restaurants, a jagged coastline with dangerous undercurrents.

[Cozumel] West coast near Chankanaab

[Cozumel] Restaurant on the south-eastern tip of the island

[Cozumel] Blowholes are often seen on the East coast

On the next day, I loafed around. I slept as if on a bed of roses, wrote a blog post, browsed the Internet to learn how badly the political guys at home were doing again. I swam at the city beach, looked at the old aircraft outside the Airport entrance, toured a few stores and had a great meal in a local pub (judging by the fact that I was the only foreigner there), where they were grilling giant steaks on an open fire. Added to this was a half-kilogram onion baked in aluminum foil and roasted chili peppers. I ate my full, washed down with two bottles of Negra Modelo. The next day's cycling would be great with such fuel.

[San Miguel de Cozumel] The entrance to the private marina

[San Miguel de Cozumel] Several old planes in front of the Airport, such as this Lockheed T33 jet

[San Miguel de Cozumel] The T28 Trojan, which was used by Mexican pilots during World War II for training; they were deployed for example in the Philippines

[San Miguel de Cozumel] Aircraft landing low over the road, the army is watchful, alert and vigilant

In the morning, I had some worrying moments. I wanted to leave Cozumel by ferry at 7 a.m., the next one was only leaving at 10 a.m. It was about three minutes from the hotel to the port, so I did not have any time pressure. After 6.30 a.m. I rang the owner's bell to give him the keys and to return the towel, against which they were holding my driver’s license as a pledge (a specialty of this local hotel, I had not seen this anywhere else). I rang the bell. The day before they had immediately responded, now there was no response. The owners lived in a house in the garden, the gate was locked. So I tried to make their dogs bark, but they took it as a welcome distraction that someone was paying attention to them, so they wagged their tails, grinning from ear to ear, but I was unable to persuade them to give a single woof! I finally began to ring on the brass marine bell, which I originally had considered was a decoration, probably waking the whole hotel and finally the owner. He apologized to me that they had an electrical bell malfunction, although I had told him the day before the time I wanted to depart and asked him how long I should allow. Finally I made it. Just one minute before the scheduled departure, I pushed the bike on board. The sea was calm this time, the voyage was smooth.

[San Miguel de Cozumel] My bike on the ferry, secured by a bale of tires

Back on shore, the route was extremely boring, even on the wide verge. Despite it being a Sunday, the traffic was heavy. I was slightly refreshed by a visit to Puerto Morelos, which is actually the only possibility to get to the sea between Playa del Carmen and the beginning of Cancún. I was close the Airport, so I cycled there to ask whether they sold any boxes for bikes. Aero México, with whom I would be flying to Mexico City, did not sell such boxes, in their opinion also no other airport company sold them. No problem, I would solve it with wrapping foil.

[Puerto Morelos ] This small fishing village has retained its small-town character

Police Maneuvers
The extent of the police maneuvers in Cancún was the largest I had experienced in Mexico up to then. They were preparing for a Climate Conference, which was to begin on November 29, I think. I stayed in a decent hotel in the center and, about an hour later, seven Federal Police cars arrived, the officers checked in and set up their headquarters there. They made an unbelievable mess, banging doors, loudly giving reports, just like in a police station. In the morning, one whizz sat down at the table where I was having breakfast, leaned his rifle butt on the table with such force that he spilled my tea and then started to smoke. I'd really had enough. Luckily, I had paid for only one night, so I packed up, told the receptionist the reason and moved to a nearby hotel.

The next morning, I tried to find shrink wrap in which to wrap my bike. I learned the Spanish words for 'foil' and 'packaging' from my dictionary, put together a short sentence and headed off. The first stop was at the nearby Office Depot – they did not have it, but at least I could tear off a sample from some packed furniture to communicate more easily in future. However, they sent me to FedEx, and it was the right place. Although they did not have it either, I found other shipping companies on the Internet and the very first one sent me to the correct store where I bought a package of shrink wrap. Before leaving for the Airport, I would throw away half of it, it was too much. I also bought 4 meters of bubble wrap, as well as the largest cardboard box they had. Transporting all these to the Airport would definitely be entertaining, especially in the case of strong wind and rain. And the packaging at the Airport would probably be closely monitored, I could expect police assistance. Perhaps they would hold the bike while I wrapped it in the foil.

In the afternoon, I set out on the bike and cycled through the hotel zone, which is a 25-kilometer road lined with hotels, stores and restaurants, leading to a relatively narrow strip of land between the ocean and the lagoon. It disgusted me, so I did not take a single photo. There is free access to the sea in only about five spots, otherwise you have to go through a hotel. In Mexico, you must be allowed to enter a public beach, so if you are a normal-looking tourist or vacationer, you have no problems. Which was probably not my case at that moment. It was enough that when I went for a walk down a street in a commercial zone, security guards would jump on me, claiming it was forbidden to have a bike there. If I locked the bike near the road, those zealots would follow me, always handing me over to each other, apparently at the edge of their districts, through walkie-talkie communication. Well, I did not enjoy it very much. I went to the mall and immediately guards approached me, asking what I needed. I do not know if this is normal or if they were fooling around just before the Summit.

Likewise, Cancún does not look like a Mexican town, it does not have any highlights, there is no classic or very outstanding feature – a church, City Hall, park with benches and a gazebo. The only advantage is that there are several supermarkets close to the center. On the other hand, there is no classic market for fresh food. It is obvious that the city was artificially created in the '70s from a small fishing village. Now four million visitors a year come here and of course everything revolves around them.

Isla Mujeres
This is a small island about 7 kilometers from the coast, 8 kilometers long and a maximum of 800 meters wide. Its name allegedly originates from the fact that the pirates who plundered the towns on the Yucatán coast located their wives and mistresses there. Small boats for individual passengers sail to the island from several ports. I chose Puerto Juarez. It was a pleasant, undemanding trip. The island of course lives from tourism, but it is on a much smaller scale than in Cancún and Riviera Maya. I saw two bigger four-story hotels, but otherwise everything took place in the original ground-floor and single-story buildings. Also access to the sea is not as restricted as elsewhere. The efforts to commercialize every, even miniature Mayan monument, is funny to me. There are two tiny ruins on the island, proudly promoted everywhere, with quite overpriced admission fees. The West coast has sandy beaches suitable for swimming, with a view of the Zone Hotelera in Cancún. The East coast is rocky and, apart from some exceptions, it is not possible to swim there. The best and most popular beach is Playa Norte which is directly at the port. The clean, significantly blue-green water lured me for a last swim. I locked the bike to a palm tree and had a nice half-hour swim. But all the time I kept a watchful eye on my backpack on the shore, containing my passport and credit cards. If someone had stolen them, I would have been in trouble.

[Isla Mujeres] Pont Sur - the southern tip of the island

[Isla Mujeres] Lunch with a view of Cancún hotels

[Isla Mujeres] The rugged East coast is not suitable for swimming

[Isla Mujeres] Piece of clam on a rock, this is how it was, no arrangement

[Isla Mujeres] Promenade on the East coast of the island

[Isla Mujeres] Playa Norte is the most populated beach on the island, but at its edge, it is possible to take a photo such as this, where it appears to be deserted

[Isla Mujeres] I could not resist it, locked the bike to a palm tree and went for a swim at Playa Norte

Go Home, Hobo!
My flight departure was at 6.30 p.m., so I had a lot of time. Everything was arranged and so in the morning I had one last walk in the sun-drenched city of Cancún. Then I carried the bike and bags two floors down, loaded everything on to the bike, had a chat with the hotel owner and a Bavarian guest who happened to pass by. I went out of the hotel and it started to rain. First slightly and, when I was halfway to the Airport, a real tropical downpour began. I looked for a suitable shelter, eventually stopping under some trees, but still I was completely soaked. I was glad I had put my wallet with passport in the waterproof bag. Even so, the wallet was quite wet. The passport was OK, as I had it in a plastic zip bag. Still, I had to compliment myself that I had wrapped the cardboard box for my items thoroughly in the shrink wrap, it remained dry and fully usable. If it had got wet, I do not know what I would have packed in at the Airport. After 20 minutes, the downpour changed into a slight drizzle and so I reached the Airport unharmed. There was only one cosmetic flaw, my rain-soaked shorts had not endured the increased load and a 15-centimeter hole appeared in them. Well, I arrived as a proper bum.

[Cancún] On the way to the Airport, I sheltered from the rain under some trees; when I left, the bike was standing in 10 cm of water

I familiarized myself with the situation, found out when and where to check in, and decided to pack outside. Sufficient space was needed for packing, the possibility of leaning the bike against something, having a trash can nearby and especially, having everything under control, without the interference of bystanders. And then the oft-practiced routine—take off the pedals, turn the handlebars, attach the shoes and pedals to the pannier rack, helmet into the frame, protect handlebars, transmission plates and switch with the cardboard. The bubble wrap, of which I had bought four meters, was just right for this. And then I wrapped the whole bike in the shrink wrap, which is quite difficult for one person to do, holding the bike in one hand and manipulating the foil roll with the other. Local porters were giving their advice (there are no luggage carts at the airport). Although there were six of them and they had nothing to do, no one thought of giving me a helping hand. But it is always like this, people like to talk about your trip, most are generous with words of praise, but it does not occur to them to hold the bike for you to make your work easier. Here, however, for the first time, someone appeared who realized this. An inebriated Yankie, who had gone outside to have his last cigar before departure, immediately rushed up to me, saying, “Bro, ya need help, I’ll hold it for you.” The bike was wrapped. I changed into civvies, put the other items into the box, made it a little smaller by cutting it and foil-wrapped it too. I was ready for departure. The suspicious-looking hobo who had arrived on a mud-splattered bike, was transformed into a regular passenger who would easily be admitted to his reserved seat on the aircraft.

[Cancún] Completed job at the Airport after 2.5 hours of packing

And so it happened. With the luggage no problem, I paid 888 pesos for the bike (the local variant of Bata’s rates, essentially identical to what I had paid in Prague). Only what took five minutes in Prague, took me half an hour here. I drank an overpriced beer at the Airport and sailed into the system which delivered me to Prague 19 hours later.

[Cancún] Impressive clouds, it was raining all the time













© Text and photos by Jiri Bina