Monday, 24 November 2014

Why Do Bad Things Always Come in 3s?

Once again I feel like I owe everybody a bit of an apology just because I am so behind on my blogs. It isn´t even like, I can say that I haven´t had the time because I have been bed-bound because of the recent injury to me knee. So, at last, I am finally going to catch up to where my journey I am at present - which is Colombia. Ecuador, damn I am slow.

The beautiful Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

From what I remember from the last blog, I spoke about "A man called Carl" in Guatemala. Well in this edition I am going to talk about a few unfortunate events which happened on consequetive days during my journey through Central America, which I am hoping will provide you with a bit of a giggle. The 3 stories include: my aluminium rear rack (an integral part of a touring bike) going kaput and breaking into 3 separate pieces in Guatemala; the following night, Ingrid and I decided to go for a night-time swim, when a flash flood hit and finally the attack of killer ants on the beautiful beach in El Salvador.


The day Ingrid had a Paddy

First of all, I am going to tell you another story of yet another indescribeable act of kindness from a host of people in Guatemala. As the stories goes, I was having absolutely wild one, while descending at speed down from a volcano down to the coast. Unfortunately for me the road surfaces aren't as good as what you would find in sunny England and when hitting close to 50mph with 50kg worth of bike uncontrollably careering down the road, it is reasonably difficult to stop, especially when you start to panic. Well as it so happens, when I hit one of these 'sections of potholes craters' my rear rack that holds the majority of my belongings decided to break into 3 pieces. Qué una lastoma.

Moments after this happening, I stopped in what I could only class as the middle of nowhere, but luckily for me after 10 minutes of thinking "shit", a friendly ol' chap pulls up beside me on his motorbike and explains that he knows of a guy, who may be able to help me in the next village (only 8km down the ride). Now 8km doesn't sound like much and it isn't - that is if you have a fully functioning bike, but when you have to carry roughly 15 to 20kg worth of bags on your handlebars while cycling it proves to be reasonably difficult; so when I eventually got to the town I was shattered. Turns out this happy chappy only can weld steel. Shite!

After cycling another 5km to my next hope, I had really had enough and was ready to ditch this guy and go at it alone. However to my disbelief, this next chap could actually weld aluminium and so he did (reasonably rare, especially in the middle of nowhere).

The gents hard at work
Branded with their brand

Not only did he weld the arms back onto the rack but he add a couple of reinforcements onto the rack itself and after about 2 hours of working on it, it was safe to say I was getting concerned about how much money this was going to set me back. Next he sat me down at his kitchen table and fed me a couple of tamales (a sweetcorn-based wrap with chicken inside) and then a litre of coke (my favourite, "Winner"). Right now down to "La Cuenta". He wanted the grand-sum of 50 Ketzales, which is the equivalent of about 4.5 quid. Unbelievable generosity once again and if this would have happened in England, I would say I would have been waiting for the best part of a week to get a slot for the repair and then get charged 5x the price. Crazy.

Not only were these chappies great mechanics, but they also raised and fought cocks. Lads.

P.S my rack has decided to break again but this time in Ecuador, Tom's Top Cycle Tour tip - never buy anything that is aluminium (especially rear racks)


The night I nearly died

The following day the bad luck continued. On this particular day, I thought I had found an absolute gem of a wild camping spot - easy access to river for a wash, water and a nice quiet spot with a cracking sunset over the mountains. Boy, was I wrong. After watching the sunset and getting some tuna and pasta down my gullet, I was ready to crawl into bed and what good timing too; as two massive lightning storms honed in on me from both north and the south. I settled down in my humble abode named 'The Hubba Hubba' (don't ask why) and Bear Grylls lulled me sleep with some useful advice about how to survive in the desert.

Cycling through El Salvador

Three hours later, I was having the strangest dream and I awoke by something quite unusual and what I have never experienced before during sleeping. The cold splashing of water on my feet; what the hell was it? Immediately I knew this didn't feel right and I whipped my headtorch on. When I switched the light on I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing...

My whole tent was full of water. I then heard the thumping of the rain against the river and the fact that it felt like white water was rushing within a foot of my tent. It then clicked. FLASH FLOOD TIME!

The bloody river had risen 3m in the matter of hours. My first thought was "Is Ingrid alright?", after all, a man has to look after his woman. I left the poor girl down by the river and when I ripped the tent door open, Ingrid was not in sight. Where on earth was the old girl? After what seemed minutes, I noticed the her little handlebars and seat post poking out of the whitewater. It didn't appear that the old girl was enjoying her midnight swim, so I dived in for her straight away and dragged her out onto higher ground; which I believe looked like something from Baywatch. Next was the tent, but as I was sprinting down hill bare-footed, I noticed that half my clothes were floating downstream, including my Jesus sandals. Shit. Next priority was the tent with all my valuables inside, which at this point were taking a swim of their own. Great. That is another camera down the drain. After the tent was safe with Ingrid, I went down to search for my clothes. I found a sandal and a top and that was all.

After those traumatic 5 minutes, it felt as if my heart was trying to break through my ribcage. Luckily for me, the iPad was dry and I knew that the only thing that was going to calm my nerves and get me off to sleep again was the sound of Bear Grylls telling me about the Belize rainforest, bliss. I climbed into my tent and got him on, but as the screen brightness revealed the inside the tent, I noticed an unreasonable amount of spiders in my tent - I am talking about 10 or 15 and these were not the small garden spiders you find in England. These little fuckers were big. I could only describe my tent as a small Noah's arc, but he only decided to save the aracnid family. It took me a good 10 minutes to get these bastards out and eventually I drifted off to the sound of my idol.

A couple hours later I was awoken again by torrential rain. Not again! I opened the tent door as fast as I could and checked the water level of the river. Some of the trees had disappeared and it was probably close to 5 metres above it's original level. I drifted back off to sleep and dreamed for sunrise to warm up and to see the damage.

I woke and fortunately the sky was clear and the sun was bright and after chucking everything back into my sodden pannier bags and hunted for my remaining sandal and clothes, which I found in a small eddy downstream, I got back on my bike and found a quiet road to dry absolutely everything. Luckily the condensation within the lens of the camera and the phone dried out and to my surprise was fully functioning after 2 hours in the sun and a full factory reset. Unfortuantely for my clothes, tent and sleeping bag the river left a rather disgraceful smell ingrained and everynight it reminds me of this beautiful night.

On the bright side - Edgar an El Salvadorian took me in off the streets feed me and gave a comfy bed a week later


The night of the attacking ants

I had found my a new found respect for mother nature, not just in the the form of the weather, but of animals too and the following day I camped on the beach and got attacked by a large colony of ants. The main mistake I made was eating my dinner in the tent because of another storm was rolling in from the North. From what I remember I had a ham and cheese baguette and a packet of biscuits. The biggest mistake I made this night was I left half of my sandwich in my tent with half a packet of biscuits and once again I fell asleep to the sound of Bear Gryll's voice.

I awoke 2 or 3 hours later, but this time it wasn't just to the sound of torrential rain, it was in the form of an incredibly itchy leg. Damn! I must have left the tent door open and the mosquitos were feasting. When eventually I got a my headtorch on, it wasn't mozzies feasting on my legs, but hundreds of ants. The bastards had actually chewed through the tent floor and were feasting on my fucking sandwich as well as my leg. I wasn't sure what I was more pissed off about: the fact that the bastards were biting on my leg or that they had eaten a quarter of my ham sandwich.

There was only one thing for it, to kill every single one of them. To be fair to the sods, they put up a good fight and after they knew my leg wasn't the threat and it was my hands that was their enemies, they changed their battle formation and attacked my hands. Damn the little bastards had a bite on them, but I dispatched them all the same.

The morning after The Ant Rebellion

In the morning I inspected the full extent of the ants attack and was surprised that they had generated four or five substaincial holes in the bottom of my tent and a few in the netting on the side. Little fuckers!

I am not one for making the same mistake twice and from that night I check whether I am setting my tent near any ant's nest and if I do, then I always respect the lil' minions and feed them a biscuit or two (a moat of biscuit crumbs around my tent) - enough to keep them occupied for the whole night without having a go a my tent.

I found a lot of fruit on the side of the road through CA, but when I found a couple of watermelons I was pretty chuffed with myself


OK now for a bit of Tom's awesome facts about El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in Central America

  • El Salvador is a pretty poor country and was voted one of the top 10 most dangerous in 2013; 19% of El Salvadorians live on less than $1.25 per day!
  • In Honduras there is a phenomonen known as "Lluvia de peces" or the "Rain of fishes", it is explained as whirlwinds that bring the fish out from the lakes and sea and literally it rains fish.
  • The oldest city in Central America is situated in Nicaragua and is called "Leon Viejo" or "Old Lion" founded in the 15th century and is still used today as it was all them years ago. Not.
Leon Viejo - the oldest city in Central America, if you can call it a city.



Friday, 17 October 2014

The Week I Stayed with a Man Called Carl

First of all I should probably apologise for being a lazy bastard and not uploading dor a fair few weeks. It is probably about time that I posted another blog, so in this episode of "A 15 Month Adventure of an Intrepid Norfolkian", I will be telling you about a week I spent with a 67 year old chap called Carl from Guatemala (mostly in the form of pictures, because I am too lazy to be writing much right now).

Carl's Beast

Carl. This guy was a true inspiration and after spending a week with this extroverted grandpa, I felt like getting old wouldn't be too bad after all. So let you tell you a bit about him. At 67, Carl has a stronger set of lungs and heart than most people in their 20s - on regular occasions he climbs the volcanos that surround his beautiful home in the heart of Guatemala; these are no molehills either, they stick out at well over 3000m and some over 4000m above sea level. He spoke of a trip he did a few months' ago, where he had climbed 7 volcanos in a week on consequetive days, including the tallest and second tallest in the whole of Central American. He is also quite the avid cyclist and there isn't a day that passes by, when he doesn't get on his little bitch :D (so he called it) and on occasions I was panting to keep up with the sod on some of the ascents we did around Guatemala. A true inspiration.


So what did the old boy have in store for a young whipper snapper? Well, a lot is the answer. And you would think that after a week-long stay in his botanical haven (my own home for the week), I would be well-rested, but instead I was more drained than when I got there.

My little botanical garden for the week
Inside my home
Wood powered stove


To give you an overview of the week:

  • Climbed Santa Maria Volcano with an overnight camp
  • 40km ride with and copious amounts of uphill in order to talk at a conservation meeting he had with at his local district bosque (woods) on the top of a volcano. Surprisingly
  • Climbed Volcano Chicabal at the crack of dawn 04:00 for sunrise.
  • Digging up his organicly grown vegetable allotment - which is the size of most people's local park.
  • Climbing and camping at the top of Tajamulco, Central America's highest peak at 4220m.


As everybody knows a picture tells a thousand words, so instead of mumbling on about the treks. I will just present a few of the photos to give you a taster of what it was like (plus I am feeling lazy and not very creative to write about it):

Volcano Chicabal, extinct with crystal clear green pools

Santa Maria from Chicabal
Extinct Olcano Chicabel with it's green lagoon
And again

Volcano Santa Maria 3770m high, camping at the top...

Camp fire at the top of Santa Maria
Sun rise
Best sunrise. I have ever seen!
About 06:00 looking down south
Looking North from Santa Maria
Looking down at Volcano Fuego, still smoking away

Volcano Tajamulco 4220m high (tallest mountain in Cental America), camping at the top...

A cold ascent to the top of Tajamulco
Carl sorting out the bangers
Morning jobby looking over to Mexico
And again...
Descending into the clouds

Tom's Cool Facts about Guatemala:

  1. The name "Guatemala" is said to mean the "land of many trees," and there’s truth to that. The country’s three types of terrain include the volcanic central highlands
  2. The first inhabitants of Guatemala arrived as far back as 18,000 B.C. And Guatemala was the hub of the Mayan civilization
  3. Lastly, Guatemala is home to 33 volcanos despites it's small size


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Las Comidas Corridas y Cervezas Bonita

After the last episode of my blog, I want to move on to lighter things, so as promised I am going to tell you a bit about Mexican food and I have got a few stories, you may or may not want to have a little chuckle at.

Wild coconuts are a bit of a delicacy for me, but damn hard to get into

OK, When you think of Mexican food, what do you think of..?

Well, if you are from the UK and like me, I bet you had chili con carne on your mind. So entering Mexico, I was thinking "great!", this is one of the three meals that I could make reasonably well (if I say so myself) and sustained me the whole way through uni (James W would know). Therefore, I really couldn't wait to try some CCC made by the locals to make a comparison. Boy was I wrong. This dish that so many British people associate with Mexico is actually non-existent. I hunted high and low for this baby; scoured the menus that I could find and even asked at a few local comedors for it, but all I got was blank looks shooting back to me.

Can I eat this?

Now you are probably thinking, "What have these Mexicans got up their sleeves then?" And I am going to reveal their dirty little secrets...

Their big secret. Contains one word. Chilis. Mexicans love chilis. If you do not like spicy food I would advise strongly to avoid Mexico like the plague. I mean these guys put chili on everything. You ask for a hard-boiled sweet, it contains chili; take a bite of any packet of crisps and they are going to be twice as hot as the fiery red kind of Doritos we get in the UK; then to top it of, you get some bastard adding a bit of chili powder to your mango... WTF. All your food is going to come partially spicy, whether you like it or not; but then to add the icing on the cake they will normally ask something like: "¿Què tipo de salsa quiere, roja o verde?", translating to "Do you want red or green chili sauce?", but the great thing is in every restaurant the hotter sauce is always different to the resturant before, so it is pot luck on whether you get the hot or the unbearable-hot sauce to go with your already spicy meal.

Do you want chili with that? Mangos like no others!

Winge over. What does Mexico really have to offer... If you have been reading my other blogs you will already know in parts of Mexico fresh blood from the head of an Iguana is a bit of a delicacy; but what else have they got in store. Well, me being classed as a beginner at speaking Spanish, I have found it extremely difficult to understand what the hell I am about to go and order, plainly because few of the food words are remotely similar sounding in Spanish and therefore I may pick up one or two words like "chorizo", "carne" or "arroz" during the waiter's ramble about what they have to offer. So my food experience have been somewhat of an adventure in itself, especially when trying to convey what I want to eat. You may say, why don't you just translate the menu or point at it. Well, I will tell you why I was unable to do that chappys; because there is fuck all menu to translate. The menu is nearly always verbally spoken, at what seems to be an auctioneer's vocal pace. Therefore, I have been presented with some quite extroadinary palates, including: black beans and chorizo dumped onto a plate (not forgetting my side of chilis), egg with chorizo and just chorizo by itself (can you see the general trend and guess why...), obviously these all come with tortillas too...

On one occasion my waiter looked particularly confused and after she brought me a coffee, which I ordered successfully (a good start), albeit without milk. So I asked the waiter "Con Leche, por favor" (blank look returned) probably my pronunciation, so I repeated "Leche con cafe por favor" and she seemed to understand the second time. To be honest, I thought this was pretty straightforward request, but after about 5 minutes I was wondering the hell she was up to. A minute after that, she returned with a hot glass of milk and dumped a full jug of Nescafé coffee granules next to me. I smiled and accepted it gratefully.

Me with my host Glenda in La Paz, Mexico, chomping on some Mexican cuisine

There has also been some absolutely cracking dishes that Mexico has provided me. Things like Molè, which is typically a chocolate-based sauce you have with your meal, pozole, which is a soupy based dish with rice or maize as the carb, based around one or two types of meat, atolé, which is a typically a chocolate-based hot drink and ischada, which is a sweet drink made from rice and one of my favourites, Tomales, a kind of mashed up sweetcorn thing with chilis or carne inside. Not forgetting the standard hot spicy whole roast chicken and carne asada. With every dish you get a standard side of hot salsas, which can place on your food to eliminate all the flavour from the dish, along with the standard mountain-sized portion of home-made tortillas and a small side of chopped tomatoes and peppers.

Pozole, in a quaint little resturant with my fellow WS hosts
Home-cooked food from another WS host
Molè with carne asada. A meal fit for a king.

One of my fondest memories of Mexico is the 20 de Noviembre Market of Oaxaca. This market could be described as one massive kitchen and how it works is you go through segments of the market including: meat section, vegetables and bread and finally beverages. This market probably isn't best if you are a vegie, because of the facts there is tons of raw meat hanging on these stalls looking particularly delightful, including plucked chickens, big steaks of beef and much more. I went for the standard half kilo of beef steak cooked medium with a side of bread and orange juice, but you could buy and cook this meat by the kilo, which was simply dreamy for a meat fanatic like myself.

20 de Noviembre market (photo pinched from internet)

In general the food is not at all pretenious, like the fancy shit you sometimes you get in these nice resturants in England. It is not flamboyant or delicately presented, it is solely really good tasting food with a tint of spice, which I adored. At the end of the day, who the hells wants a tiny spoonful of thyme-infused mashed potato with a pinch finest sea salt from so-and-so place, who gives a F. I speak sense, right? In Mexico, almost all of the time, all the food is cooked in front of you on a wood-burning hot plate in plain view, which is always a bit of a show and I enjoyed greatly. Overall one happy camper...

Work them tortillas baby
This is how my meals compare, pasta or rice with a side of tomato sauce and tuna. D-E-Lightful

Moving on. Drink. What can I say. The beer in Mexico is sooo cheap and all the premium brands we have in the UK, like Sol, Estrella and Corona are the equivalent to Carlsburg's price in sunny Mexico, so you can only imagine how I got my fill. Some of the more interesting beers I had a chance to try included brands like Indio, Tecate and León; and these all were good. The spirits are also extremely cheap and a high-quality bottle of Tequila or Mezcal you can grab for less than a tenner, which inevitably meant I had to endure a few nasty hangovers on the bike. I even became slightly famous by the locals after a big night out in Oaxaca city, by making quite a scene in the late night take-away taco place. The following morning, when I was crawling past the same place to soak up my demons, a few Mexicans came out to greet and laugh at the state of me.

Tequila tasting in the city of Tequila

OK, that is all for food and drink, now on to another episode of to Tom's Cool Facts (TCF) and this time they are going to be about Mexican food and drink, so here goes:

  1. To truly be a good Tequila and Mezcal should be drunk with a worm at the bottom of the glass to enhance the smokiness of the flavour. Well, sorry to be a party pooper but this is all a bit of marketing gimmick and doesn't really affect the flavour.
  2. Mexico is one of the top 4 megabiodiverse environments in the world and it actually contains between 60-70% of all the types of environment in the world. Therefore despite popular beliefs, a lot of food originally originated from Mexico, including: dragonfruit (considered asian, super tasty tropical fruit), vanilla (despite being very expensive in Mexico) and tomatoes (a lot of people think these originated from Italy) among much more...
  3. Tradional Mexican restaurants must contain a Mayoria, which is a female sous chef and translates to a female head chef. Although with the modernisation this has only become a part truth and nowadays some Mexican resturants do not even have one. A sad truth.

Wildlife update: dead monkey road kill, green iguanas, vampire bats (these lil' bastards spread rabies), a lot more species of lizards, crazy fireflies and a lot of interesting birds (including what I thought were birds of paradise, with a crown of feathers for their mating ritual).

I know you are all dieing to see my beard growth, but I am not going to give you that. I am going to give you something better. Behold...




The calves, a.k.a the sheds, the turkeys or the tumours by many people

Even I thought that they were looking particularly grotesque. But I know the ladies dig them. I did it for them.

Thanks for reading fellows and hopefully it has put a smile on your face,

Love from your adventurous duo - Tom and Ingrid



Monday, 11 August 2014

Wow, I really wasn't expecting that...

So in this blog post I thought it would have been a good time to talk about the food of Mexico. That was until what happened on Sunday 3rd August at around 12:30 when passing through the mountains in the region of Oaxaca. Therefore, I am going to go over this quick story and then another post a few days later will talk about the weird habits of Mexican food and a few funny food-related stories.

Nasty passes on the ol' girl

O.K. You have to picture the scene. Leaving the hostel in Oaxaca City reasonably early on Sunday (apart from the rotten hangover from an abundance of Mezcal, the local spirit it felt like any other day. I knew I had a tough few days passing through the mountains to the coast, in order to cross through the Guatemalan border near Tapachula, Chiapas. But little did I know what was in store for me that day...

Typical mountain road through the region of Oaxaca

As the previous days cycling through Oaxaca, I was busting my arse cycling through the 8000ft mountain passes and after a brief stop in a small town named Santiago Matatlan and gobbling down the standard carne asada, a bit of cooked beef, with he standard side portion of tortillas and frijoles (beans); I hit the road with a new lease of energy. Everything was going swell, until the astrocity what I came across after a tiny town on a long mountain pass. Just after leaving ....., I glanced across and on the left-hand side of the road, and as always there what looked to be a large bit of road-kill, probably a large dog. However after a second glance I realised what I was looking at. Laying in a driveway of a small mountain cottage. Was a dead Mexican guy. Just laying there. It took me that second glance to actually register what I was seeing. As soon as it registered; shivers shot up my spine and my head genuinely felt like my head was going to explode, under all the nerve endings jolting. It felt like what I could imagine shock or shell shock would feel like. My body froze. The next 3 seconds my eyes were fixated on this body. And more details were showing through: I noticed this guy was soaked in blood from head to toe and a puddle had accumulated around his life-less body. The next thing I noticed and it shocked me was. This guy's right foot had literally been chopped off. God knows how this happened. And if I would have had to take a guess, I would assume that he was tortured and murdered, because this poor chap was an absolute mess. He couldn't have been there long; maybe 5 minutes. Becuase the murderers must have dumped the body off by his or his family's cottage.

Ingrid - what a stunning mare. Good ol' girl


What was I meant to do?

I wasn't entirely sure what to do... Do I contact the police? Do I go and speak to some of the people in the city and explain the situation with my broken Spanish (I do not even know how to say 'dead')? or Do I just run? Well, you can probably guess what option I picked. I just got the fuck out of there. I wasn't willing to get involved with people who are going to chop guy's feet off and dump them on the side of the road and the police may suspect me and would no doubt want to ask me a bagfull of questions and a statement.

Beautiful scenery in Oaxaca

So instead, I pedaled my little heart out for the next 20km at a silly speed to get out of, what I thought might be the danger area. The shear realisation of what I saw was playing over in my head, while cycling and I really just couldn't believe what I just saw. Was it just a make-up doll? Or a joke? It may have been; but it was damn realistic. I eventually stopped just to cool off and I realised my little beater was on overdrive. I sat down, to give the poor bugger a rest. I read Game of Thrones for 30 minutes to get my mind of the situation, but just couldn't concentrate. In the end in the end I tried to slee. But all I could see was this dead Mexican...

My wildcamping spot the day of the dead guy sighting

To say I slept like a log that night would be a complete lie. All I can tell you is I braved a wild camping spot about 50km south of the scene. The scenery was stunning as seen above, but I had my knife at the ready, close at hand ready for war...



Later in southern Mexico, I got pretty friendly with an English teacher in a smallish town on the coast. He also had stories of similar happenings, but they were 10 times more descriptive and brutal. They honestly sounded like medievil wartime stories.

The lesson of this post is don't get on the wrong side of any Mexican. Or look like you have a lot of money. Fullstop.


Hasta luego muchachos,

Love Tomás and Ingrid (still alive and still going strong in Guatemala)