Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

The Rising Oceans

Friday, March 16th, 2007

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

A Ride for the Climate in the Media

Saturday, April 15th, 2006
Two page spread in May 2006 issue of Bicycling Magazine

   If you pick up the most recent issue of Bicycling Magazine (the May issue), you will see a nice two page spread on rideforclimate (photo left). Other recent appearances include an interview on Honduran national television (‘Buenas Días Honduras’) and an upcomming article in the El Salvador national newspaper (El Diario del Hoy, on the 21st of this month). The Belize national television also covered rideforclimate. And, a month and a half ago, Univision television tracked me down (as well as my friends Gregg and Brooks), and recorded us biking around Chiapas, Mexico. (I learned that this actually made it to television when a man here in Managua stopped me and told me that he saw me on Univision.)
   While visiting schools is a more direct way to communicate, it is also satisfying that I am able to use this trip to get my message out to a larger audience.

San Cristobal to the border – some roads are not safe

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006
Gregg and Brooks just outside of Ocosingo
The east side of the Chiapas mountains are green and wet

   Leaving San Cristobal de las Casas, I biked with Gregg and Brooks for one more day. We climbed over the mountains, and then descended to the east, where a thick green rainforest grew up around the road. The language changed, rendering useless our tiny Tsotsil vocabulary (‘hello’ ‘goodbye’ ‘you are very pretty’ ‘I do not want to buy that’). I also did not feel comfortable interacting with the locals. Passing one house, a young child yelled ‘gringo!’ stuck out his hand and yelled ‘da me un peso,’ or give me a peso. We arrived in the town of Ocosingo and we were advised the road ahead was unsafe in the afternoon or night. A car made a few passes by the main plaza, where we were seated, and each time a teenager in the car leaned out and yelled ‘un peso,’ more to taunt us than to ask for a peso. I did not ask if there was a fire station and went straight to a cheap hotel that I split with Gregg and Brooks.

   The following morning, as I was planning to ride farther that day, I left at dawn while Gregg and Brooks were still asleep. I biked 30 miles to the town of Agua Azul where I played for 4 hours in waterfalls and clean cool pools. A poorly translated sign (middle photo) encouraged swimming, and I obeyed.

The del Fuego at Agua Azul falls
Poory translated sign, Agua Azul
Swimming at Agua Azul

   After 4 hours, I was surprised Gregg and Brooks had not arrived. I returned to the main road to continue on, and I asked a police officer if he had seen my friends.

   A few miles short of Agua Azul, while Gregg and Brooks were slowly climbing a hill, two men with machetes and masks jumped out of the forest. They demanded all of Gregg and Brooks’ stuff. They grabbed at their panniers, yanked hard, shaking the bikes Gregg and Brooks were still on, but were not able to get the bags off the bike. Growing frustrated, they hit Gregg and Brooks with the back ends of their machetes. Gregg gave them a tent and a jacket, and they managed to pull off a pannier (full of dirty laundry and a broken GPS) before they were afraid a car was coming and jumped back into the forest. You can read a more detailed (and scarier) first-hand account on Gregg and Brooks’ website.

   I learned of this story with 30 more miles to bike at 3pm. The police assured me that the road ahead was safe during the day, but that is also what we had heard of the road behind. I rode without stopping, and feared every uphill. It is not an experience I want to repeat.

Gregg and Brooks the day after
Ruins of Palenque

   I spent the next day with Gregg and Brooks at the ruins of Palenque, walking around ruins of an ancient Mayan city and trying to relax. (The city had maybe 20,000 people living in it during the first millennium AD, but was abandoned by 900 AD.) The photo on the right gives you an idea of the mood of the day.

   We had about 90 more miles to the border with Guatemala. The police told me it was safe during the day and not at night, but they had said this about the other roads. I then asked, ‘when was the last time someone was robbed?’ After some reluctance, the officer said ‘three days ago.’ ‘What time?’ ‘2pm, but it was just a pickup – the tourist vans are fine.’ ‘But, don’t you see I’m on this bicycle right here, like I just told you?’ ‘Oh, yeah…well, that may not be safe.’

Some stretches of road just are not safe to bike
Saying goodbye to Mexico

   The following day, Gregg, Brooks, and I threw our bikes atop a van and drove the 90 miles to the border, where we had to take a boat across a river. It was not the way I wanted to end Mexico, and it is not the way I will remember Mexico. The journey will continue, but I will be careful to ask about the state of the road ahead, and lose no pride in taking a bus.

Travel Summary – Mexico

Monday, March 6th, 2006

(Travel Summaries are sent out as an email if you are signed up for the email list.)

The Metro
Logos School in Mexico City

   Welcome to the second Ride for Climate update! Since last update, I have biked from the northwest corner of Mexico to its southeast corner, covering over 3,000 miles. I have stayed at 7 fire houses, stayed with 16 different families, and camped on many roadsides. The awareness-raising-campaign has proceeded well, and I have talked at 12 different schools, been in 4 different newspapers, and appeared on national television.

   It is sometimes difficult to believe everything that I have seen these past three months. I have a notebook full of names of people who have helped me out and who I have promised to send a card to when I reach Argentina. Mexico has proved to be a beautiful country to bike across (although there are lots of hills), and every day – from Baja California to Mexico City to the southern coastline – has provided exciting new adventures.

   All of these experiences are recorded within the journals of my website, and below is an index with links to all Mexico entries, as well as a few additional comments. There is a lot here, so feel free to read only what interests you.

Baja California
A Sail to Mazatlan

Entries in Mexico:


  • 12/12 Crossing the border
  • 12/12 My message in Mexico and my first Mexican school
  • 12/21 Riding the one-car-a-day road
  • 12/26 Riding with two Mexican professors
  • 12/31 Discovering the firehouses
  • 1/3 Water problems and climate change
  • 1/9 Hitching a ride on a yacht and wind power

  • 1/10 Home schooled kids at the Mazatlan marina
  • Mazatlan to Mexico City
    I am the fastest vehicle on the road.
  • 1/13 Stomach problems…
  • 1/19 Climbing in the mountains and dodging forest fires
  • 1/20 American School of Durango
  • 1/24 Tec de Monterrey
  • 1/26 Joining forces with other gringo cyclists
  • 2/1 5 School presentations in 5 days
  • 2/6 Millions of monarch butterflies and a few small farms
  • 2/10 Will we lose monarch butterflies because of climate change?

  • 2/15 Bicycling in Mexico City
  • 2/22 Riding to Oaxaca and playing soccer with the locals
  • State of Oaxaca - the road was never flat
    Felipe and his shrimp boat - all shrimping is done at night
  • 2/28 Climate change and small Mexican farms
  • 3/3 Fishermen along the Pacific and indigenous villages in the mountains
  • A ride to the border: ruins and bandits (not yet posted)
  •    I have also put together a short album of narrated videos providing a virtual tour of small Mexican towns.

       I have posted about water issues in Baja. You can also read about how we may lose the monarch butterflies due to climate change, as well as entry on how Mexican farmers will likely suffer under climate change. There are plenty other possible effects that I have not written about, ranging from health-harming heat waves in Mexico City to flooded coast lines in places such as where I went fishing with shrimp fisherman.

    Yes.  Those are all butterflies
    Plowing the fields

       I talked about the monarch butterflies, saying that we may lose biodiversity as the climate changes. Indeed, some studies that I have recently looked at show that the forest types all across Mexico will have to change to another forest type to survive at the right climate. According to one paper I have read, 50% of the deciduous forests here in southern Mexico may be completely lost due to climate change. These massive shifts in ecosystems, combined with the fact that there are people everywhere, will undoubtedly cause extinctions.

       If you haven’t yet, consider signing the following two petitions.
       Also, here is a great list of recommended ways to cut back your energy use.

    Mexico City
    del Fuego takes a break

       I will be traveling through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. If you have contacts with schools, local researchers, or people who have an extra bed, please let me know! (My route has changed – I am now biking through Belize instead of central Guatemala so that I can visit the coral reefs).

       You can leave a comment here!

       I am now one day from crossing into Guatemala, entering the third country of the trip! My next update will probably come in two months, when I reach Panama and prepare for the cross to South America.


    Miles biked: 3,905
    Flat Tires: 4

    A Ride for the Climate is sponsored by:
    Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto
    Pearl IzumiChaco
    Clif Bar

    Oaxaca to San Cristobal de las Casas – 8 days, 459 miles

    Friday, March 3rd, 2006
    State of Oaxaca - the road was never flat

       After a morning television news interview, I left Oaxaca and rode three days through steep dry mountains and deep valleys before arriving on coastal plains of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. At sea level for the first time in over a month, I found the mid-day heat almost unbearable and was almost pleased when winds gusting over 50 mph blew from the north (video right).

    Río Quiechapa near San Pedro Totolapan
    Flat land.  At sea level for the first time in over a month.
    Incredible Wind, Gulf of Teuantepec

       On this coastal plain, I turned off the main road to take a 20 mile detour to the ocean. At the tiny town of Ceritos, I made a critical error and turned right instead of left. After ten kilometers of biking sandy roads, found myself at an impassible canal connected to an inland sea, still far from the Pacific as dark fell.

    Felipe and his shrimp boat - all shrimping is done at night

       A group of shrimp fishermen, consisting of a man, his brother, and three of his sons, told me of my error, and then invited me to spend the night at their camp. Shrimp apparently only move at night, and the fishermen have check and place their nets in the middle of the night. Between checking their nets, they slept on wood planks, and had built a small wall around their fire to keep out the persistent wind.

    I joined Baltasar on his 'bike commute' home in the morning
    Baltasar shows the catch from the night

       Baltasar, a man of 55, after expressing pride in his 5 children and explaining to me why he enjoyed shrimp fishing, told me that in his 40 years of shrimp fishing at this camp, I was the first gringo he had seen here. I asked if he ever saw gringos in his home town, to which he said ‘sometimes, but they all turn left.’ I asked the fishermen if they liked their work, to which they said, ‘Yes, it pays well,’ but remarked that in recent years they have caught fewer shrimp as more fishermen had started fishing. That night, the 5 men caught a total of 2 kilos, which could be sold for about $8.

       In the morning I biked with Baltasar to his town (photo above), and then, turning left instead of right, followed a dirt road to the Pacific Ocean. On a beach devoid of services or tourists, I spent an hour in the shade of a fishing camp, meeting yet more local fishermen. Soon, the fishermen had me help carry nets and anchors and invited me to jump in their 20 ft boat, spending the next two hours motoring along the coast while they placed nets. Riding many kilometers along the shore, I saw a coastline completely devoid of people, and only a thin strip of sand between palm trees and shoreline vegetation.

    I helped the fishermen cary these nets and anchors.
    I rode with these fishermen in their boat on the right as they placed nets for 2 hours.
    Biking through a sand strom, gulf of Teuantepec

       Perhaps there are not tourists here because it is incredibly windy – almost all of the time, a huge wind blows from the north, from the land towards the ocean. In the photo on the right, you can see the sand storm I had to bike through to leave the beach.

       After sleeping in a hamock at the home of yet another fisherman family in the town of San Francisco Ixhuatan, I departed before sunrise and, returning to the mountains, climbed into the state of Chiapas, Mexico’s most southern state. Reuniting with cyclists Gregg and Brooks, who are also cycling to Argentina, I rode two days to the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, where I talked to 40 high school students at the Tec de Monterrey.

    Back into the mountains and the state of Chiapas
    Road to San Cristobal in Chiapas - 7,000+ft of climbing
    El Tec de Monterrey, Campus Chiapas (Tuxtla)

       The following day we climbed over 7,500 ft, passing through mountains full of indigenous villages before arriving in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. Purchasing cooked corn from people on the roadside, I was surprised they were not replying to much of what I was saying. I soon learned that Spanish was their second language – they spoke the Mayan dialect of Tsotsil. Two women were able to say in Spanish ‘we are very poor’ as well as, once we told them we were from the U.S. ‘Is there money in the United States?’ But, when I asked if they were happy, they apparently did not know those words in Spanish.

    Kids on roadside teach us how to count to 10 in their native language of Tsotsil

       Their children spoke Spanish though, and we had them write down how to count to ten in their language, as well as how to say hello and thank you. Further down the road, we managed to get some local kids to laugh really hard when we passed them on the road and yelled ‘liote!,’ hello in Tsotsil. These are definitely the poorest people we have seen yet.

    This girl kept trying to get me to buy this.  This made me rather uncomfrotable, and I felt bad taking this picture.

       In San Cristobal de las Casas, a town with a beautiful colonial downtown and cobblestone streets, indiginous children no more than 5 years old persistantly beg for money or approach the many tourists attempting to sell trinkets, refusing to take no for an answer. I eventually paid some of the kids to teach me some more of their local language, and when approached by the vendors, I would try to tell them in Tsotsil ‘I do not want to buy that.’ I also learned how to say ‘you are very pretty,’ which seems to be enjoyed more. Sometimes I will give the kids food, but I feel just as bad supporting children begging as I do seeing them need money. The mix of wealthy tourists and poor locals is always uncomfortable.

    Maria speaks Spanish and Tsotsil.  She spends 8 days to make one of these.

       There is definite tension between indigenous groups here and hispanics, and, in 1994, an indigenous group, the Zapatistas, literally invaded San Cristobal and took it over, demanding more rights. Indeed, when I asked the students at the Tec de Monterrey in Tuxtla, they told me that if you called someone an ‘indigina,’ or indigenous, it is taken as an insult.

       From here, I will continue east, heading into the jungle and crossing into Guatemala where, due to a change of plans, I bike towards Belize.