Archive for the ‘Guatemala’ Category

Travel Summary – Central America

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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Hello from South America!

   Since the last update, I have biked the length of Central America, visiting all 7 countries (see map of my route) and adding 2,400 miles to the trip. This trip continues to exceed my expectations, and I have visited schools and appeared in the national media of almost every country I have biked through. I am now in Colombia, where I arrived from Panama only a few days ago.

In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Escuela El Progreso, Los Arroyos, La Union


  • 3/12 Mayan ruins and climate change
  • 3/17 Dennis Murphree joins me for Belize
  • 3/21 Learning to SCUBA and the fate of coral reefs
  • 3/26 Dennis Murphree speaks
  • 3/31 Honduran countryside
  • 4/7 A week through El Salvador
  • 4/15 Should I bike Colombia?
  • 4/15 Media coverage for rideforclimate
  • 4/16 Honduras, Nicaragua, and swimming with the locals
  • 4/18 Hurricanes and climate change
  • 4/29 Pops joins me from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
  • 4/30 Biodiversity and climate change
  • 5/8 Costa Rica to Panama City
  • 5/14 Deforestation in Central America
  • 5/15 A sailboat through the Panama Canal
  • BEST VIDEOS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (click on the links below to watch)
    Scuba diving in Belize
    Kids dancing at pool in Nicaragua (large file – watch only if you have a high speed connection)
    My father joins me and rides a silly looking bicycle
    Dogs chasing me in Costa Rica
    Riding through the Panama Canal

       Central America is a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels and stronger storms could cause hardship, especially for the poor (of which there are a lot in Central America). Climate models for the region show warmer temperatures as well as perhaps less precipitation, both of which will be bad for agriculture. Many species as well may be threatened by a warmer climate. Finally, the coral reefs that line the coasts are greatly threatened by a warmer earth.

    Monte Verde Cloud Forest
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)
    Coral Reef in Belize

        Environmental Defense has a new website to help you reduce your carbon emissions: On this site you can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, and learn how to reduce these emissions.

       I have created a paypal link so that you can give money on my site to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense. Many people have also offered to help with my travel expenses, and there is now also a link for this. These are on my take action page.

       Did you really think I would stop biking? I have decided I need to take rideforclimate to the U.S. Here are the tentative plans.

       In Colombia, I am biking through Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. I’ll then head towards Venezuela, following the northern coast before turning south into Brazil. I will arrive in Manaus, which sits on the Amazon River, where I will likely send my next update. If you know of organizations, schools, or researchers to visit on this route, let me know!

       I am now in Cartagena, Colombia, on the northern coast of South America. If all goes to plan, in 10 or 11 months I will be at southern tip of the continent, in Ushuia, Argentina.


    Total Miles Biked: 6321

    Flats by country in Central America:

    four flats in one day

    Belize: 0
    Honduras: 4
    El Salvador: 1
    Nicaragua: 0
    Costa Rica: 1
    Panama: 10 (ugh)

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

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    Deforestation in Central America

    Sunday, May 14th, 2006

       Deforestation is a major problem in Central America. A quick look at the statistics shows that in the past 15 years, 20% of the countries’ forests have been destroyed. As I have biked through Central America, I have seen countless roadsides which were once covered by forests, but are now ranch land or farmland.

    Deforestation in Honduras
    One of El Salvador's many volcanos (Volcan de San Vicente)
    Lots of land cleared for cattle along the road.

       The problems associated with deforestation include loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, more landslides, greater flooding, and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases a large amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and in these small, mostly poor countries, these emissions are comparable to the countries’ use of fossil fuels.

    Deforestation in Costa Rica
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)

       While in Panama City, I talked to someone who wrote Panama’s proposal to reduce deforestation. The people cutting down the forests, in general, are very poor – subsistence farmers who need to clear land to grow food to eat. It seems that the only viable method of reducing deforestation here is to find these people other work or to pay them to not cut down the forest. Protecting forests without finding these people other income could cause great hardship.

       In Panama City, I also visited Futuro Forestal, a company that purchases pastureland and converts it to forest. The wood from the forest is harvested after 25 years, and sold. While this is not as good as a full forest, it still takes significant carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and is far better than ranch land. It also provides local jobs and makes a profit. You can also buy carbon credits through them as well.

    This part was hilly.
    First day of biking in Guatemala

       Stopping deforestation in poorer regions will require foreigners and locals to work together – with foreigners helping to provide financial incentives to protect the forests.

    Placencia Belize to San Pedro Sula Honduras

    Sunday, March 26th, 2006

       After three days of SCUBA in Placencia, Dennis and I biked south to the end of Belize, camping one night near some Mayan ruins before catching a boat to Guatemala (there are no roads). The following day, we biked into Honduras, stopping at a water park, and then spent a day at the beach in Omoa. We finally arrived, by bike, at the San Pedro Sula airport, where we disassembled Dennis’ bike and built a protective cardboard box for its ride on the plane. (Yes, we biked to the airport with all the cardboard shown below).

    Nim Li Pun Mayan Ruins
    Which of these people is not Honduran?
    Waterpark near Omoa
    Coast at Omoa
    Biking to the San Pedro Sula Airport with Bike Box
    Dennis is ready.  I later learned the bike didn't make it...

       I have met many people on this trip, but I have not been able to spend more than a few days with any of them. Two weeks with a good friend was a welcome addition to this adventure, and I’ve invited Dennis to add some words of his own here. Dennis? (The rest of this post is written by Dennis.)

       First I’d like say thanks to you Dave for inviting me on this trip. Bike touring is the way to go! I’m a complete convert.

    Children waiting for the school bus in Belize
    Children in Southern Belize

       My thoughts on the trip….I’d say I was most surprised by the diversity of Belize. The entire country is like New York! With large populations of Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Chinese and Arabs, Belize is making a strong bid for a true melting pot. The Chinese in particular struck me the most, it felt like every other shop sign was written in Mandarin/Taiwanese. There were also sizable populations of East Indians, plus a community of Mennonites. This diversity is in stark contrast with what I’ve encountered on other trips to Central America and made Belize quite interesting.

       I was also impressed by the diving, particularly the number of larger animals that we saw. I saw many dolphins, a manta with a wingspan larger than I am tall, several eels, a sea turtle, and a couple of small sharks.

    SCUBA diving: Dave and Dennis
    Banana Plantation

       This is the paragraph for my mother. Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras all impressed me with the quality of their roads for cycling. I felt more comfortable biking there than I do in New Haven. The roads often have broad shoulders, and drivers are much more aware of bicyclists (likely due to the much larger number of people on bicycles). I also think that in many ways (traffic notwithstanding) it is safer to travel by bike in Central America than by more traditional methods. Why? First, you are more mobile, you’re moving faster, people have to think ahead to accost you. Second, and more importantly, when travelling by bus you are frequently deposited in seedier areas of town, and at places where travellers are known to congregate. This perhaps puts you at a greater likelihood of encountering problems. Biking, by contrast, puts you more frequently in rural areas, farther from urban issues. Of course, there’s no real way to know. I do know that I felt very safe throughout our trip.

    Hot in the miday - swimming is mandatory

       Finally I’d like to comment on how impressed I was with Dave’s creating RideForClimate. He’s very professional in his RideForClimate interactions, and takes his work very seriously. Keep up the good work D.

    Northern Guatemala – Climate and Maya Civilization

    Sunday, March 12th, 2006
    Boat ride to Guatemala

       Gregg, Brooks, and I crossed into Guatemala from Mexico by riding in a small boat across the Usumacinta River. Although this region is sparsely populated, I noticed an immediate change in the people across the border. The children, instead of asking me how much my bike was worth (as nearly every person in Chiapas asked), smiled, played with my bike seat, and tried to say ‘how are you’ in English. The police told me no one had been attacked on the road in three years, and I rode the dirt road until I found a small town where locals allowed me to camp. Gregg and Brooks continued by van, and we split ways.

    We have arrived in Guatemala!
    First day of biking in Guatemala
    Campsite in Jose Fino

       Thinly populated, northern Guatemala is mostly flat and is covered by thick rainforest except for places cleared for crops or cattle. Riding a day and a half, I arrived at the ruins of Tikal, a city that was once one of the largest and most important cities of the ancient Maya. The Mayan civilization thrived from a few centuries before Christ until around 900 AD, when the civilization collapsed, and nearly all cities across the peninsula were abandoned. Now the impressive stone pyramids and palaces are covered by jungle and tourists.

    Ruins of Tikal
    The ruins of Tikal sit in the Jungle
    Ruins of Tikal
    Lake Peten-Itza

       The Tikal ruins sit near the large lake of Peten-Itza, and I stayed in a hotel overlooking this lake for $5 a night while nursing a small cold. Here I met with a group of researchers who are drilling into the lake’s bottom, attempting to determine the past climate of the region. By looking at the composition of layers of sediment on the lake’s bottom, the scientists can determine past rainfall patterns and temperature, as well as the type of vegetation that surrounded the lake.

        According to their research, around 900AD, when the Mayan civilization collapsed, a series of intense droughts struck the region, likely making it difficult for the Mayans to feed their large cities. The lake sediments also suggest major deforestation of the region, and it is possible that a combination of drought and land degradation led the Mayans to abandon their settlements. We cannot be sure of how the Mayan civilization collapsed, but it now seems that climate change helped end one of the greatest ancient civilizations of the new world.