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Maya Calle — Sunsets, Skeletons, and Hippy Hoppy Hats!

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Fotos de Merida.

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Maya Calle — Merida!

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Rode 120km today.
A short story called “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” tells of a man, Walter Mitty, who is the hero of his daydreams.  In his dreams, he saves lives, barrels into dangerous situations without the least bit of fear, and demonstrates coolness and bravado in the face of death.  The daydreams are all that Walter Mitty has, other than a termagant wife who breaks into his fantasies and reminds Walter of his daily responsibilities and his humdrum existence.  After about the 100km mark, my own daydreams were more of the “Secret Lives of Lassitude in the Lower Latitudes” variety, polar opposites to those energetic fictions of Walter Mitty.  My first daydream of sloth centered around a scene in which I am wrist deep in a bag of Tostidos, a great cup of salsa nearby, a cold beer at my elbow, football on the TV, surrounded by friends, with a poker game in store for the evening.  It is the paradox of the human psyche, however, that whatever we´re doing, no matter how wonderful, we often want to be doing something else.  If I were at home, with my grubby paws deep in a bag of chips, very likely I would want to do something other than watch TV.

Kilometers passed.  The temperature climbed like a monkey.  A second daydream visited my wistful coconut.  It was winter, snow fell outside, and I lay cozy under thick quilted blankets in an enormous room.  Jeeves — Wodehouse´s Jeeves — had just lit a fire.  ¨That´s excellent, Jeeves!” I said.
“I endeavor to please, Sir,” this sterling butler replied.
“That´s all for now, Jeeves,” said I.
“Very good, Sir,” and he shimmered out.
And then I slept for a month.

At last, Merida.  The capital city of Yucatan state, Merida boasts museums, good food, cool architecture, and — most exciting of all — close proximity to Campeche, city on the sea.  My mother remarked that the ride is a bit ahead of schedule.  If Campeche is reached with time to spare, the plan is to bus to Chetumal, capital of Quintana Roo, and then cross the border into Belize.

Below you can find photos of the last days in Valladolid, Coba, and Chichen Itza, when the computers would not allow photo uploads.

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Maya Calle – Windows to the Past

There are few actions as satisfactory as singing in the rain.  Old songs proved the right medicine for rain riding, and it was with Bob Dylan´s Tangled Up in Blue on my lips and some ad hoc poetry of my own that I pedalled through a thunderstorm.   Rain licked off my face, steam rose from the road, and in an Aha-Erlebnis moment, it became quite clear how galley songs developed: toil in miserable conditions conjures songs.  Indeed, with cadence and music as my anchor, I felt surprised at how tolerable it is to be soaked, with two hours´ride lying ahead, and thunderclouds extending to the horizon in all directions.

The 1,000 year old Mayan ruins of Coba lie in a sea of green forest, and the tallest temple, Nohoch Mul, rises above the waves of leaves.  The climb to the top is not a task to be scoffed at; the stone stairs are steep, with steps of uneven heights and widths and angles, but those are the least of your concerns because vertigo strikes like a snake about three-quarters of the way to the top, and you feel as if you´ll tumble backwards into oblivion.  But once at the top, the view is incredible.  From the heights where virgins were once sacrificed, you can see birds flitting above the trees and butterflies of such extraordinary proportions and colors that they can be spotted from half a mile away.  Far in the distance is a lagoon which alligators inhabit.

Onwards through Coba and storms, one arrives in Valladolid.  It is a city which was first inhabited by Mayans; overtaken, razed, and rebuilt by Spaniards; retaken by Mayans; and eventually turned into a conglomerate of the two cultures, with the Spanish colonial style retaining architectural dominance.  A little hotel — more like a B&B — run by a lady named Maria, her daughter, Isabelle, and her son, Julio, was the first place that I saw and, at the end of that long ride, the place that I selected.  It is painted bright yellow with flowers and greenery in the corridors, and they serve fresh fruit for breakfast.  It´s a wonderful place, and Maria, Isabelle, and Julio are what really make it great: in only a night they knew my name, were caring and attentive, and directed me to a cenote of local repute.  A cenote is a limestone cavern, often filled with water, and this one — Cenote Samula — was remarkable for a tree which grew at the top of the bedrock, and whose roots had, over time, stretched a hundred feet down to reach the water at the bottom.  One can swim in the cool, mineral rich waters of the cenote.  There are two kinds of fish there: small black catfish and inch long minnows that nibble at your toes.

Was off early this morning, and now am in Chichen Itza, the best known Mayan ruins.  No pictures either today or yesterday because the files are not being accepted — the computers in the interior of the Yucatan (away from the tourist hotspots) are older and slower.

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Maya Calle — 110 kilometers, Coba, y Valladolid

I rode 110 kilometers today, climbed the stairs of a Mayan temple, and am now sightseeing in Valladolid — the breakfast doughnut is long gone.

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Maya Calle – The Agony of Sloth, a Chronometer, and Postcards

Many thanks to you all for visiting my site!  WordPress´ statistical page showed that I had 89 unique visitors on the 9th of July  — I am glad that people find this interesting.  🙂  In return for all the interest, I would be delighted to send you a postcard.  If you want one, send me an email and include your mailing address.  🙂

Beginning in Tulum, I will use the chronometer on my watch to record the amount of time that I spend on the bicycle, going from city to city, so that there can be, at the end, a way to determine total hours ridden and average speed.

Yesterday, due to the sheer sloth of not wanting to ride the 4 or 5 km back to the motel to put on sunscreen, I was burned by the sun and am now the hue of a lobster — such is the fruit that laziness reaps.  The clothes are at the laundromat, and the buttocks are getting a reprieve from the seat of the bicycle.  Off day in Tulum.  Tomorrow: depart from the coast, to Coba, Chemax, Valladolid, and the center of the Yucatan peninsula.

The Mayan ruins of Tulum
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Maya Calle – Where the Sky was Born

Never before have I considered using an iguana´s perspective to view life, but today I did.  Staring off the top of a rock at the waves crushing in on the shoreline, and at the crystal blue sea beyond, this iguana´s view would be a king´s envy.  The ruins of Tulum — an ancient Mayan city on the sea — lay to the east.  Below them lay a beach as smooth as confectioner´s sugar, and just as white.  The wild palms and crags of cacti grew to the west.  The sea lay before him, and the warm morning sun shone down upon him.  For a moment, all was right in that iguana´s world.

The ruins of Tulum were on my Must See list because they were on the cover of The Lonely Planet which I´ve been using.  Furthermore, they were recommended by that great sum of recommenders, whose names need to be mentioned here.  Many thanks go out to Enrique Castillo-Sosa for the long, detailed, and informative emails; to Monica Flores for her recommendations about Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Merida, Campeche, and Cancun; to Parley Valdez and to Brenda Bernaldez for making the connections with Monica and Enrique; to Jose Villafuerte for his comments on places to go, things to see; to Valeria Bove for her sound advice; and to my brother, Paul, for his medical advice about traveling.

Sian Ka´an (pronounced Seen Kahn) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 15 kilometers away from the Tulum ruins, and its name in Mayan means, Where the sky was born. It is a biosphere with a great lagoon stretched through its midst, inhabited by all manner of flora and fauna: cormorants, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, ibises, crocodiles, mangroves, great blue herons, egrets, red winged blackbirds, jaguars, needlenose fish, sawgrass, manatees, and many more.  For people from Louisiana and Florida, many of these names will register as common to those regions too.

The guide was a Mexican from the city of Puerto Morelos, in the state of Quintana Roo, in his mid-forties, with a salt and pepper goatee, black hair, dancing eyes, and a personality that was quick to laughter.  He was also incredibly competent.  In addition to knowing every single bird by sight, he also knew their Latin names and classification, “There´s the turkey vulture, family Cathartidae!”  Indeed.  He guided myself and an English couple, George and Katy, through the mangroves of the place where the sky was born.  The water, he explained, is brackish, and the salty water from the Gulf is funneled through undersea channels beneath the peninsula where it mixes with the fresh water of the lagoon.

The mangroves, Luis said, serve as a retaining wall and barrier against the hurricanes.  And they serve as the focal point for life in the marsh.  Each of the mangrove stands has taken roughly 400 years to develop into its current shape and size.   The termite mounds that you see — he pointed out the enormous black mounds amidst the branches of the mangrove — are critical in the cycle of life because they chew up the dead mangrove branches and facilitate decomposition.  The black lines that you see, Luis mentioned, on the mangrove branches are in fact tunnels for those termites to move through the branches, like blood running through veins.

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Maya Calle – Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum

Although the final morning on Cozumel, the afternoon in Playa del Carmen, and the bike ride from Playa del Carmen to Tulum were uneventful, two people should go on record: Pedro and Marta.

Pedro and I met on Cozumel, where he was a worker in the tourist industry for 6 years, until 2002.  After the 9-11 attack happened, the tourist industry, Pedro said, declined dramatically.  He had worked in Cozumel for 6 years until 2002, and 7 July 2012 was his first day back on the island in 10 years.  I asked him if it had changed a great deal.  “Oh yes,” and he pointed to a grimy, weatherworn, derelict building, 10 stories tall and inhabited by pigeons, seagulls, and crows.   “I used to live there.”  Pedro had brought his family with him: a wife and three small children, one of whom was Pedro Jr., who was deeply interested in the iguanas — as I also was.  Returning to an earlier insight, Pedro spoke excellent English, almost fluently, and — although he had never had formal schooling in English — apologized for his skills.  I said his English was excellent, and that there was no need to apologize, and I asked him where he had learned to speak so well.  He said he had learned the language through talking with tourists, and that was the extent of his education.  Very impressive.

The second person, Marta, is the lady who managed and owned the hotel where I stayed on Playa del Carmen.  She is a tiny little lady, about five feet tall, wiry, dark-haired, and about 50.  She is one of those ladies who speaks Spanish at you with the rapidity of an auctioneer, who is a barrel of energy, yet who is warm enough to make you smile.  She knew exactly what she wanted: practical, level-headed, she instructed me to turn off the lights and ceiling fan when I left the room, “These other people never turn them off! And my bill goes zooop!” and gestured that the bill goes right through the ceiling.  A very sweet lady, she was one of those people who had me nodding acquiescence with everything she said, and I was near to taking out the trash and sweeping the floor, if only she had asked.

This morning was the ride to Tulum, a pueblo which boasts one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world and famous Mayan architecture.  After the ride, I ate a lunch of pork, beef, rice, beans, guacamole, and tortillas, polishing it off with a diet coke with ice — and followed that with a 3 hour nap.

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Maya Playa del Carmen

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In Playa del Carmen, there are Leopards, lions, iguanas, flame throwers, aging hipsters flashing the peace sign, Johnny Depp look-alikes throwing the horns, toucans, macaws, street artists, and — of course — la playa.  Throw into that a tattoo parlor with a bar (sounds like a good way to wake up with a lifelong regret), live music, and top it with Haagen Dazs ice cream, and you have La Quinta Avenida.

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Maya Calle — The Burger Bar

Up early and out the door on Friday, 6 July, with a 70 kilometer bicycle ride to Playa del Carmen awaiting me, and the knowledge that the furthest in my life that I have ever ridden is 40 kilometers.   The tunnels are the worst.  Trucks roar by like jet planes, and the shoulder of the road disappears.  Once free of the two short tunnels, the ride is merely a matter of: pedal, pedal, pedal and don´t stop, never ever stop.  There´s quite a bit of traffic, which is to be expected, but I have water enough.  I left before breakfast, so about 55 kilometers into the ride, I was starving, and there were no places to eat along the way.  And then, just then, there was a Mexican miracle: The Burger Bar.

It just so happens that the manager of the Burger Bar, Isaac, is a bicyclist, and he comes out to speak.  He recommends the hearty 150 gram burger with fries, followed by a dessert of banana bread, pan de platana.

La Isla de Cozumel, where I am typing from now, is a beautiful island.  Its beaches are of white sand or rock — smooth stone floors — and it is a hub for cruise ships, whose passengers come for the snorkling, diving, and day trips.  The cruise ships seem to be a source of consternation to the islanders.  A lady named Susan, a Mexican who studied in London and who lived in Copenhagen for eight years, griped that the cruise ships have caused the decline of the island. “The passengers never stay,” she said sourly.  “They are gone by 5 o´clock.  They take, and then they go.”  She was, for the record, equally critical about the local Mexicans — her own people, “Cozumel is the safest place in Mexico.  But be careful, or your bike will disappear.”

But the island is awesome.  It is beautiful, and most of the people are laid-back, relaxed, and they seem to know that a life is to be enjoyed.  They take delight in their days.  They are a friendly people, the Mexican people, and they seem full of love and laughter.

Also, the old Volkswagon Bugs are ubiquitous here, which makes sense.  Their small size makes them easy to park, and their engines will never be strained on the flat island roads.  The VW Bugs come with license plates in the front that depict a sailfish and say the name of the state, Quintana Roo.  Most also have a sticker or two — a Superman sticker, perhaps, or Bienviendos — stuck on the inside of the windshield.  They are brightly colored, and remind me of pictures that I´ve seen of Havana.

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Maya Calle: Cancun — Yo ho ho!

The bike and I arrived, and I put it back together.

All went well during the flight to Cancún.  In the airport, a tall lean man with a beard and thick black cotton socks was cursing volubly to himself.  Filthy, noisy curses as he scrolled through his iPad.  He then sat directly behind me on the flight from Tallahassee to Atlanta.  The curser was polite during the flight, on which he ordered two bloody marys that seemed to soothe him.

The hotel in Cancún had separate signs in Spanish and English that advised guests to respect opossums, describing them as “Mexico´s only marsupial” and continuing on to say that a marsupial was “an animal that carried its young in a pouch like a kangaroo.”  

No clubbing, a dinner of lime-soaked ceviche and a beer, bed at 9:30 after continued reading of Ty´s book, Aku-Aku: The Mysteries of Easter Island, which is enthralling, and an early start at 6:00.

Many thanks to my mom and dad for their help in making this adventure a reality!  Thanks!

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Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!  It’s America’s independence day today, which commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  Today I am in a small town, Bainbridge, in southwestern Georgia celebrating the holiday with my parents and watching the fireworks from a grassy field between a gas station and a grain silo.  In 2011, I was in the national capitol, Washington DC, with my fiance.  Tomorrow, I will be at the first stage of a jaunt across the Yucatan.

Happy 4th of July to you all, and I hope that you each have a safe, fun, and memorable holiday.  Enjoy!  🙂

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Maya Calle – Packing

Bicycling across the Yucatan is not a big expedition, but it seems that way.  Keeping in mind such famous explorers as Thor Heyerdahl — who crossed the Pacific to Easter Island in a Greenland trawler with 130 tons of oil, 50 tons of water, and 3 archaeologists on a stretch of ocean more desolate than any other in the world — a jaunt across the Yucatan is an easy feat.  And think of Roald Amundsen, the famous Antarctic explorer, who not only wintered through the bitter Antarctic July with 5 other Polar Party members, but also raced (and won) to the South Pole more than a hundred years ago in 1911, passing, as he sledded, chasms so deep and black that they appeared bottomless, and crossing through such areas as the Devil’s Ballroom.

Biking across the Yucatan is a drop in the ocean compared to such magnificent explorations.  Still, as the packing list grows longer, and the planning becomes more nuanced, the number of questions tends to mount rather than diminish.  Furthermore, these questions seem to become ever more knotty and the answers more difficult to reach.  To ship the bike across the Gulf, for instance, you must use a bike box.  Well and good.  But how to ship the bike home?  Where to get a bike box, because if the bike shop in Cancun doesn’t have one, where can one be procured?  Can one leave a bike box with the accommodations for a 3 week duration and, if so, what happens if it is accidentally thrown away or destroyed?  How will the bike come home again?  What if passport theft occurs?  What if an injury occurs?  Disease?

Preparation, preparation, preparation — toilet paper, tools, and photocopies of the passport go a long ways, but not all the way, and in the end one must wave goodbye with a cheery smile and begin the journey knowing that not all contingencies can ever be fully accounted for.  Yet while there are circumstances which are as yet unforeseen, I am excited to move from the tedious planning stage, in which I was impatient, and on to the ride itself.

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Maya Calle – Itinerary

Maya Calle – Itinerary

 

Point of Origin Destination Distance (km) Day
Bainbridge Cancun 5 July
Cancun Playa del Carmen 70 6 July
Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen 0 7 July
Playa del Carmen Island of Cozumel Ferry ride to island 8 July
Cozumel Cozumel Ferry ride to peninsula 9 July
Playa del Carmen Akumal 24 10 July
Akumal Tulum 39 11 July
Tulum Sian Ka’an Biosfere 10 each way 12 July
Tulum Tulum 0 13 July
Tulum Chemax 74 14 July
Chemax Valladolid 29 15 July
Valladolid Chichen Itza 53 16 July
Chichen Itza Kantunil 57 17 July
Kantunil Merida 70 18 July
Merida Merida 0 19 July
Merida Tekit 71 20 July
Tekit Santa Elena (Uxmal) 45 21 July
Santa Elena Hopelchen 73 22 July
Hopelchen Campeche (Edzna) 89 23 July
Campeche Campeche 0 24 July
Campeche Cancun 476 (Bus) 25 July
Cancun Bainbridge 26 July
    Total: 714km / 443 mi  

 

Comparable distance: Washington, D.C. to Boston, MA: 443 miles.

Bainbridge to Charlotte (I-77): 432 miles.

Bainbridge to West Palm Beach: 456 miles.

Bainbridge to Memphis: 487 miles.

Long Beach to San Francisco: 405 miles.

Nocera Inferiore, Italy to Parma: 680 km

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Maya Calle – Cycling the Yucatan

How hard can it be?  Bicycling is not rocket science.

Voy!
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Afghanistan Photos

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For two and a half years, I worked in northern Afghanistan.  I was in the field of Education, and I was a contractor for The World Bank.

When I had spare time, I liked to take photos of the country.  Near to where I lived, there were orchards and rivers.  The foothills of the Hindu Kush lay along the southern side of the city.  Donkeys and camels were still used.

These photographs were taken between June of 2008 and December of 2010 when the war was on.  The photographs show a domestic perspective of Afghan lifestyles, working animals, agricultural scenes, and landscapes.