So that was Central America and what a contrast to South America. The first thing that struck us was how close everything is. Gone were the big journeys in the saddle from our times in Argentina, Chile & Peru, where it could take days to ride from one place to the next. Central America is really compact – you can ride across entire countries in a morning if you have a mind to. To put it into perspective, the entire Central American countries make up an area only ¼ the size of Mexico, but don’t be fooled that you can whiz through them for, small as they are, they are jam-packed with things to do. Spectacular volcanoes abound with the opportunity to see real lava at last. The magnificent ruins of the Mayans at Copan and Tikal were the best of the entire trip (we found them much more interesting and alive than Machu Picchu) and for beaches – take your pick – Caribbean with lush coral sands or Pacific with its stunning sunsets. Central America is hot. The heat in South America was tempered by altitude and we mainly encountered hot dry conditions there, not entirely uncomfortable for riding (saying that, we did avoid the Amazon & other jungly areas). Central America on the other hand is hot and wet with one or two exceptions in the central mountainous regions and occasionally from the sea breeze on the coast and it was something of a shock when we arrived in Panama. We were there too in the rainy season, but to be honest this consisted mainly of short heavy showers early in the morning or late in the afternoon with the rest of the time fine for riding and caused us no major problems. We spent 3 months in Central America and we loved it. Looking forward now to more of the same in Mexico!
The frontier into Mexico was straightforward. On entering Mexico you must present a credit card, which is swiped as a guarantee that you will not sell the bike without paying the import tariffs due. After an overnight stop in Chetumal, we set off to ride up the Caribbean Coast to Playa Del Carmen and Cancun to sample the world famous ‘air conditioned’ sand on the beautiful beaches there. This sand is made from tiny fragments of crushed seashells that do not retain heat, providing a lovely cool surface to walk & lounge about on. It was not to be. Hurricane Ivan was lurking and was due to pass through the Yucatan channel between Cancun and Cuba. It had already killed 68 people as it rampaged through Jamaica, Venezuela, Grenada & the Cayman Islands and was not weather to be taken lightly. On the road we were informed that Cancun and the surrounding area was on Red Alert and although the hurricane itself was not predicted to pass that way, strong side-storms were expected with high winds and storm-tides. We decided to avoid the storm and instead headed northwest to the city of Merida, where we hoped to use the city as a base to explore the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and also to find tyres for Mags bike. The run across the Yucatan was a fairly boring route, big straight roads with tree-lined verges obscuring any possible views (not that there was much to see over that flat terrain) and only the odd small town with streets filled with road bumps as a diversion. We reached Merida after a long day in the saddle, our first in ages and checked into the charming Dolores Alba hotel. The next day or 2 we spent wandering the centre of this old city and trying, unsuccessfully to get tyres for Maggie’s bike. This would have to wait until the nearest BMW dealer at Puebla. During this time, the city was lashed with violent rainstorms, side storms from Ivan that flooded the streets and gave the traffic a nautical appearance as cars flooded the pavements with their foamy bow waves.
15th September was monster party time all over Mexico. It is the eve of their Independence Day and celebrations were planned long into the night with a ‘hangover day’ on the 16th. Buildings and streets were colourfully festooned in the green, white and red national colours and a lovely festive spirit filled the air, even through the damp weather. On the morning, a routine check of the latest emails from home brought some very bad news. My Mum had been in hospital for the past week or so. She had pains in her legs that the doctors had put down to arthritis / old age but then her legs seized and she couldn’t get down stairs. Once in hospital she was diagnosed as suffering from Osteoporosis and given the relevant painkillers. When these failed to alleviate the problem, an MRI scan found some tumours on her spine. She had Cancer and we decided then and there to bin the trip for this year and get home. It was a very hard irony to face up to. Here we were, half way through completing a fundraiser for Cancer Research. We’d already lost a father and brother between us in the previous 3 years to Cancer and we felt we were at last putting that pain behind us, even fighting back through the fundraising, only to be knocked back again. But that’s life. It isn’t meant to be fair and none of us can say what the future holds. Over the next 3 days we rode to Puebla. It was a sad ride as we rode on past landmarks and routes that were to have been on our itinerary for this part of Mexico. Chichen-Itza, Palenque, roads south to the Pacific, Veracruz – it would all have to wait as the only place we wanted to be right now was at home with our family. Mum’s condition was stable but in the next few days doctors advised we should return home sooner rather than later. In Puebla we found our old friend from Patagonia, Joaquin – one of the 3 Amigos who had rescued Maggie when she crashed on Ruta 40, way back at the start of our trip. Once again he would come to our rescue providing us with shelter and a safe place to leave the bikes. On 22nd September we flew from Mexico City to London and from there on to Belfast a day later.
So that is the end of the trip for 2004. Looking at the map, Puebla is almost exactly half way from Ushuaia to Alaska and a good place to pick up again next year, with Mexico a fine land to start any new adventure. We are home ensconced in a world of hospital visits, meetings with doctors as we try to unravel what is really wrong with Mum and get her the best treatment we can. We do find time for the occasional reminiscence back over the past year on the road and it all quickly comes to life again in talking about our experiences with friends and family. One day we will be back, but for now the world must wait.