members Bladimir Rodriguez and Chip Kent's epic ride for peace from Rhode
Island to Medellin, Colombia.
This page contains reports from Chip, beginning with his call from Corpus Christi, TX.
See also Photos , Map . The official Tour de Paz website is no longer active, but check the Providence Journal's excellent multi-media page.
End of the ride - Medellin, Colombia, Nov 27 2005.
Tour de Paz team - Riders: Bladimir Rodriguez (RI), Chip Kent (MA), Carlos Giraldo (NY); Driver: Reinaldo Perez (RI); UCI official/Comissioner of Cycling, Colombia: Dario Meneses.
Chip is home, safe and sound, and has emailed me some Medellin photos, which are now posted on p.7 of the photo pages
Monica: On returning home from our NBW club ride today, I heard Chip's final report from the Tour de Paz on my answering machine. Today they rode in Medellin's bike festival, and it was a fantastic ride with 16,000 riders of many different abilities. Chip says the TdP riders were introduced at the start, and that local rider Santiago Botero came up to be photographed with them and Chip promised to send me the photo.
Wait a minute! ... This is the famous Santiago Botero? The Colombian mountain climber, also great time trialist, who rode in Europe for Kelme, then was unfortunately submerged in the T-Mobile team mixing bowl (I could have warned him about that, but who listens to me), before resurfacing this year riding for Phonak to win the Tour de Romandie and stages in big European pro races? You think this is him? Chip, if you had your photograph taken with THE Santi Botero I need you to upload that jpg right now, so I can scoop the rest of the Rhode Island media!!
But I digress.
the important message from Chip today:
Today's ride was an emotional end to their TdP odyssey. Bladimir, Carlos and Chip were very moved by the warm welcome they received in the beautiful city of Medellin, Colombia, and send to all of you who have followed them as they rode their bikes for thousands of miles, a sincere thank you and farewell on their final day.
Monica: Chip called from an internet cafe in Medellin, Colombia, to report the final, exciting days of their long ride from Central Falls, Rhode Island. He was still a bit overwhelmed by the reception they received as they rode into Medellin, accompanied by TV crews interviewing each of them as they rode the last few miles (he said he tried to do it Tour de France style, hanging onto a vehicle and shouting into a mike). They arrived to a fanfare, he said ... a bit chaotic ... so here's my best effort to translate my jumbled notes as he described what had gone on. I gave Chip leave to correct anything I have misinterpreted in these notes, once he returns, so if you think something doesn't make sense, it probably will be corrected soon by Chip.
On Thu Nov 24 - the day of the "Legendary Climb" - they drove in the van for a bit to get closer to the mountains. Because of a bad truck accident blocking the roads, they had to hop out of the van and start riding a bit earlier than planned. After starting their ride in hot, humid rain, by a river, the five riders spread out as they climbed up, and up, into much colder mountains. Chip said they climbed for more than 30 miles* to 10,000 feet. And it was a very hairy road. Colombia has experienced heavy rain and they encountered major wash-outs, with backed-up trucks down to single file and they had to pick their way around the traffic as they climbed on the greasy roads, slick with spilled diesel fuel in the rain (Chip slid out, luckily while climbing). When traffic was moving, Chip said the trucks were flying by, so it was an unsettling ride, to say the least. Chip and Carlos were ahead of the other riders, Carlos in his big gears, Chip, prudently having no pride, in the granny gear. Carlos pulled away. Chip descended alone on a long downhill towards Yarumal. By now the temperature in the mountains had changed and he was freezing cold and wet, his clothes, wallet and stuff in the van which was God knows where. He confessed that he was getting anxious. Eventually he caught up to Carlos, also freezing, stopped with a flat. Despairing of meeting up with the support van, they managed to hitch a lift in an old Coca-Cola truck that got them to Yarumal, a lively little town in a valley in the mountains, where they stayed Thursday night. Mileage for Thursday's climbing day was about 70 miles. *Note: Chip corrected his earlier report that this was a 30 kilometer climb - big correction to 30 MILES; that's some climb. I hope I have managed to give you something of the drama I heard in Chip's voice as he described this big, bad riding day. The road they took through the mountains used to be notoriously dangerous in the old drug cartel days, Chip says, but he felt the obvious military presence now had pacified the road and forced the guerilla groups up into the mountains to fight their turf wars. Unfortunately, he thinks they have displaced the people formerly living in the mountain villages, who now camp out by the side of the busy road in obvious poverty, with trucks rushing by within a few feet of them.
Fri Nov 25: The team left Yarumal to start climbing again. However, they were lucky today and the weather changed and was beautiful for this day of climbing, before their long descent into Medellin - a total of over 80 miles for their final day. As Chip noted above, they were welcomed into Medellin in fine style. Family and friends were there to greet them. And they are now (Sat Nov 26) somewhat dispersed, staying in various places around this large city, catching their breath and trying to comprehend that they have indeed finished their ride. Chip confessed to a feeling of melancholy that his ride is over - finis; it had become somewhat of another life style and now he must organize his return to his New England life (current plans are for him to return to Boston on Tue Nov 29).
Tomorrow - Sun Nov 27 - the team will participate in a big bike festival in Medellin. Chip says over 16,000 cyclists will ride, and many of Colombia's racing stars will participate. Our Tour de Paz team will be involved somehow and I told Chip we needed a photo! However, he left his camera in Cartagena so is scrabbling to replace it in order to complete his photo record of the journey.
Nov 25 2005: Tour de Paz team rides into Medellin, Colombia!
Monica: Chip called tonight as I was making the stuffing for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner, listening to the snow forecast. Chip has no worries about snow, needless to say. The riders are well on their way now to Medellin, after spending four days in Cartagena, rambling around the old city with the tourists, visiting an internet cafe to upload their photos, convincing the hustlers and panhandlers that they are not rich tourists, and generally hanging in this lovely old city. Abandoning their plan to rent a van, they settled on hiring a father/son team with a brand new tour van to support them for the rest of their ride. Two new riders have joined them: one is Carlos II, a friend of Carlos' from New York City, and the other is a local rider whose name Chip forgot to give me. On Tue Nov 22 they rode from Cartegena for 113 miles to Sincelejo, where they stayed the night. At least, the seasoned TdP guys did; the new riders packed it in for a shorter ride. Today, Wed, they have ridden about 70 miles before piling in the van because they were behind schedule, to stay in Caucasia (that's how Chip spelled it, although I can't find it on the map but think it must be somewhere on the Cauca River). About this schedule: it's about 400 miles from Cartegena to Medellin and they had 4 days to get there. That would mean riding a century (100 miles) a day if you didn't consider the mountains. But every rider must unfortunately acknowledge that mountains definitely must be considered, so that means our riders must cover over 100 miles a day in the flat(ish) early days, to allow for shorter mileages when they get to the mountains. One of these mountains they must ride is a legendary climb of about 35 miles, steeply climbing all the way (no flat bits, so Chip says). This legendary climb is training ground for professional, or wannabe professional, Colombian riders, so we're not talking about Plain Meeting House Road here! But Chip assures me that he and Bladi are ready for it, and Carlos is absolutely chomping at the bit to take up the challenge again. Dunno about the new guys, however.
You may, like me, have been wondering about the dangers of ambling about Colombia on a bike, what with the reports one hears about kidnapping, guerillas, machetes, drug cartels, etc. Hence my relief when, after a few days of hearing nothing, Chip called to reassure me that the road to Medellin was well-patrolled by police/military, and they've had no dangerous moments. No official shake-downs, either. Only once were they were stopped by a police patrol, to be sternly told to ride in single file. Certainly sir.
They rode yesterday and today through fairly flat or rolling ranch land. Beef cattle is the big industry in this region, and there is plenty of local fruit and fish sold at the side of the road. Chip is now an aficianado of what he called local fruit smoothies; he stops at one of the numerous fruit stands at the side of the road and chooses his fruit (apart from papaya and mango, Chip didn't know the names), which is then peeled and chopped and blended with ice and local milk (they use boiled water to make their ice, and they have top-of-the-line blenders, Chip reassured me). These refreshing drinks got Chip through Central American mountains, floods, etc. and maybe we should consider inviting these guys to supply our TFCE century check-points, do you think?
Looking forward to Medellin, Chip says everyone tells him how beautiful this city is, with an old section like Cartagena, so he's looking forward to it, despite the mountains ahead. So I wished our intrepid riders a happy Thanksgiving, and hoped they'd find lots of fruit smoothies on their way to the Legendary Climb to Medellin. But by now I'm sure they're ready to tackle any number of legendary climbs.
Monica: Chip called from Cartagena, Colombia, which he says is a beautiful old, walled city on the coast (think pirates sacking Spanish galleons on the Spanish Main - shiver me timbers, it's that rascal Francis Drake!) - very attractive to tourists. They are staying with Carlos' sister in the old section of the city, where he has had a great time people-watching. This morning they rode early with a local bike club. Very early, on account of the heat later in the day. They set off at 5:30 am on narrow, cobbled streets to the 6:00 am start, where they joined 40 or 50 riders on a ride that went out of the city for about 30 miles, then turned around and came back the same way. Somewhat different from our NBW rides that meander in a sort of haphazard loop, and it sounds to have been a very interesting experience (bet that was the earliest they've set off on a club ride!)
Monica: A call from Panama City this morning, just before our team left for the airport to fly to Cartagena, Colombia. They'll be leaving behind their trusty Dodge van, having donated it to the El Salvador Cycling Federation. Chip said the guys from El Salvador had already arrived and will drive them to the airport. To catch up ... Bladi has recovered from the other day and is riding well. We last heard from them Wednesday, when they rode to Penenome (about 60 miles) then, because time was getting tight and a lot of arrangements were still to be made, continued in the van to Panama City. Panama has poignant memories for their driver, Reinaldo Perez, whose son, Cpl Ivan Perez, was killed there during the 1989 US Operation Just Cause.
Their ride to Penenome was the last ride in Central America. Dario taped a line on the road and painted their mileage so far (3,782 miles) to record this achievement. Chip is uploading some photos, which I will post as soon as I can, so keep checking the photo pages for them. It's on to South America now; they will hire a van in Cartagena, Colombia, to support them during their ride to Medellin, their final destination. In Colombia they will be met by two new riders - friends of Carlos' from New York - so there will be five riders in the team in Colombia. They will be riding on Carlos' home turf, as he used to train in the mountains around Medellin. Bladi and Chip are already eyeing the map warily and protesting weakly at the daily mileage, but Carlos is rarin' to go. They should be quite an impressive sight. Chip says one of the biggest kicks on this ride is the enthusiastic welcome they have received in Central America from everyone on the road - farmers, road workers, school children who come running - all cheer on the Tour de Paz riders. Way to go, guys. You're nearly there (well, relatively speaking - from Cartagena they'll be counting in hundreds of miles, not thousands)!
Monica: Chip called early this morning from Panama to report that the repairs to the van's brakes were minor and done quickly (he says that the repair shops they've used in Central America usually do the work in the open air, and you are welcome to help). The bill came to a grand total of only $8, so Bladi gratefully added a generous tip. So on they rode for 80 miles in heat, rain and energy-draining humidity to Santiago (Bladi was not feeling too good so packed it in along the way and finished in the van). Today they will ride about 60 miles to Penenome, then on after that to Panama City. Chip says they're on target to return to Rhode Island tentatively around Nov 30 (unless, that is, you are disappointed their ride is coming to an end so soon, in which case I suggested they might extend their target to Patagonia to make this a real odyssey - Chip seemed surprisingly amused, leaving me to wonder if by now these noble riders might not be averse to riding forward, forward, to the ends of the earth..... Nah, they want to get back home!).
Another note about those Nicaraguan roads (some of us just have to know): Since the Nov 15 posting Chip has done some further research (this guy rides and researches?) and on second thoughts thinks the reason for those unusually fine roads may not have been US funding of Contra interests in the 80's, but because of later World Bank investment (he said "World Bank" but, after doing some research of my own - see this Wikipedia site - I'm wondering if he meant "International Monetary Fund" - quite frankly, I'm somewhat hazy about the difference).
Monica: I'm combining scribbled notes from a message, and a phone call, from Panama today. Chip insists they are not losing track of the days, so here's their recent log in case I confused you all earlier: Thu Nov 10 - Granada, Nicaragua. Fri Nov 11 - Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Sat Nov 12 - Quepos, Costa Rica. On Sun Nov 13 they rode 87 miles to Rio Claro, Costa Rica, in pouring, tropical rain. Finally, they got rain on this trip, and it was quite a deluge! Chip says it was an exciting ride, what with dodging immense, wheel-swallowing (2 ft deep) potholes filled with rain, on the narrow Costa Rican roads. Chip describes it as riding through green tunnels because of the dense tropical foliage. So they're riding in hot, humid, tropical rain forests on bad roads and Chip and Carlos are hammering and Bladi is being the prudent one, trying to hold the pace down, when, BAM! Bladi hits a pothole, gets a flat and bends his wheel. He wasn't hurt, you'll be pleased to know. They've done very well for flats in all these thousands of miles - Chip says they've only had about 5 each (I've seen more on a club ride - must remember to ask them what tires they're riding). Chip says he enjoys the challenge of rough roads (well, he would, wouldn't he, riding in RI/MA).
A note about roads: Chip surmises that the reason for the great roads (wide, good shoulders, well-engineered) in Nicaragua was US funding during the '70s and '80s during the Contra era, as a counter-push to Russian/Cuban influence (Chip notes that a lot of the tractors and cars are Russian). So it's rather gratifying to see roads that were built for military purposes now filled with bikes (lots of bikes) and ox-carts with wooden wheels. As they rode past factories they saw parking lots full of bikes, not cars. Chip notes that people in Central America seem to take great pride in riding bikes to work, sometimes 2-3 on a bike, even on the crappy Costa Rican roads. I asked Chip about those "unbelievable bridges" in Costa Rica - they're narrow, with railroad tracks running parallel, lots of truck traffic makes them sway - very scary! Not to beat up on Costa Rica for the condition of their roads - they obviously didn't get the US military funding that Nicaragua did. They do, however, invest in ecological stewardship of their tropical forests, national parks and beaches, luring eco-tourists. More on the flora and fauna theme: lots of lizards, iguanas on the roads. Chip notes things got more expensive in Costa Rica because of the tourist influence perhaps, and he saw quite a bit of land development.
On Mon Nov 14, they left Costa Rica and crossed the border into Panama, riding about 56 miles to stay in David, where they are waiting now (Tue) while the van's brakes are being repaired again. Chip says the Panama border crossing was uneventful and the roads are very good (hmm). The terrain is fairly flat and getting arrid now, leaving the tropical region behind.
Monica: A message on my machine from Chip today, when I returned home from the club ride. They're in Costa Rica. Chip updated us on what's happened since his last report when they were heading towards Managua, Nicaragua on Nov 9. They rode over 80 miles to Managua but couldn't find anywhere to stay, so drove the last bit to Granada - a really nice place on a lake, Chip says, where they stayed the night. On Friday they rode about 70 miles to the Costa Rican border. Crossing the Nicaraguan/Costa Rican border took a long time - about 2 hours - not because of any shake-down shenanigans but just a lot of formalities (including fumigating their van, which by this time might have been a good idea). Having cleared both Nicaraguan and Costa Rican customs they hadn't much of the day left to ride to Liberia. Next day they rode to Puntarenas, on the coast, and stayed Fri night. Puntarenas turned out to be a beach resort, somewhat abandoned now in favor of nearby Montezuma. On Saturday they rode to Quepos, also on the coast. Chip didn't say where he was calling from, so they might have had a rest day in Quepos. Or I may have misunderstood his messages (he had to leave two, because my answer machine cut him off), but it seems to me there's a day missing here. Or else they've been riding so long now that they're losing track of the days (quite understandably, in my opinion). Anyway, we have now moved to a map that actually shows their destination - Medellin, Colombia - but it may take a while to load as it's a big file. I'm beginning to think they'll actually make it back home by their target date at the end of November!
Road analysis: Nicaragua is one of the best countries to ride through - really nice roads with wide shoulders, lots of bicycles, and slow-moving stuff like ox carts. Costa Rica, although known for its attraction to tourists, has the worst roads - lots of potholes, narrow roads, and "unbelievable" bridges (Chip didn't elaborate on what's not to believe about them, so must remember to ask).
Monica: You might have noticed the translation link on this page, courtesy of Babelfish. Bladi asked for this because there may be people from Central America accessing this page, which was a bit of a surprise to me as I thought this diary would just reach our NBW club. Well anyhow - Welcome to you all, just click on your country flag for a translation (Spanish is bottom right). However, I suspect you may get a laugh at some of the translations, especially Chip's name. But what the hey! (bet that doesn't translate).
and Bladi called this morning with updates - they've made it to Nicaragua.
Mon 11/7, after the Tegucigalpa problem, they rode to Choluteca and stayed the night. Tue 11/8 they crossed the border into Nicaragua and rode about 82 miles SE towards the coast and stayed in Chinandega. You will by now not be surprised to hear that there was another incidente at the Honduran/Nicaragua border. When they arrived at the Honduran border they were not allowed to leave because they had not been given a certain official form when they arrived in Honduras the day before, therefore they were in the country illegally and the fine was $140. Bladi politely pointed out that this was obviously an oversight by the Honduras border official at their entry point, since he had filled out every piece of paper they gave him, so the Honduran border manager politely apologized and sent them on their way ... NOT! ... Bladi and Honduran officials had a big argy-bargy about this obvious shake-down attempt. Eventually Bladi emerged triumphant and the group moved on to the Nicaraguan border, where there was no problem. Lesson learned from our TdP team: In any country that charges a fee to cross the border, you will encounter a shake-down, because where money is involved, there are skimming temptations. El Salvador seems to have the only clean borders so far. Advice from Bladi: If you ride across the border on a bike, no problem. If you have a vehicle, take a Latino with you and send him on ahead with the vehicle to negotiate border crossings so you don't get delayed. He thinks it's something to do with the big problem with smuggling of vehicles from the US into Central American countries.
Back to the point ...Today, Nov 9, they're riding about 80 miles to Managua, Nicaragua, although they would prefer to stay in Granada. 80 miles is enough to ride, Chip says, because they're now out of the mountains and near the coast, therefore it's very hot and humid.
Monica: Bladi called today - they're in Honduras, having taken a detour to Tegucigalpa to arrange a visa for Dario, then will cross into Nicaragua either tonight or tomorrow morning. A second message on my machine had me assuming at first that they'd been thrown in jail in Honduras, but it turned out that they'd run afoul of a state police-cum-army roadblock that turned out to be another shake-down. As guns were in evidence, some money was reluctantly handed over to the cops so they would overlook the major offence of not having Honduran licences for the bikes (huh?). Apparently this was the only infraction the cops could manage to find (or the only thing they could think of). These cops weren't as subtle as their Mexican brethren and came right out and asked for money. So it's on to Nicaragua! Courage, mes amis, but don't be too brave!
Monica: Chip reports from El Salvador that they have now ridden over 3,000 miles since they left Rhode Island. Yesterday a large group of eager young racers (including three girls) from the El Salvador Cycling Federation arrived at their hotel to escort them from San Salvador to San Miguel (about 70 miles of rolling terrain). Chip is very impressed with these very talented teenagers, who scrounged their van for old tubes and tires, then rode from the heart, fast and hard, racing through little towns and having lots of fun. Chip is now back to 100% fit and riding strong. However, in Alberto Santana, the El Salvador team coach, Carlos finally found someone who could challenge him (Alberto is a Central American Games bronze-medallist), and those two were soon long gone off the front of the group. By the end of the ride the TdP guys, with thousands of miles in their legs, not only kept pace with, but managed to wear down the young riders. Chip is uploading some photos, which I will post as soon as I can.
Monica: Chip called from breakfast in San Salvador (the city), in El Salvador (the country - must keep my geography straight). They left Guatemala City on Wed, riding 40 miles on CA1, the Pan Am Highway, in the mountains, before turning SW on CA8 to easier riding in ranch country (Bladi in the background said "landinos" but I don't know if that means the ranches or the people who work them). Still some long climbs, but not as steep as in previous days. They breezed through a surprisingly mellow border crossing from Guatemala to El Salvador. No escort needed at this border and the officials were friendly. There were, however, the usual guys with wads of money to help change your Guatemalan currency back to US dollars (US $ is used in El Salvador because their own currency, the colon, is so devalued). They rode 10 miles that evening from the border to stay in yet another beautiful hotel, with balconies and a very welcome pool.
Yesterday (Nov 3) they were joined for breakfast by the group from the El Salvador Cycling Federation - 10 riders with 3 coaches/officials. Chip reports that the riders were all teenagers, young racers eager to stretch their fresh legs with the Tour de Paz guys as they escorted them to San Salvador. They were strong riders, but our guys, by now mountain-hardened, managed to hold their own (well, Chip laughed that Bladi and Carlos held their own). Chip says it was heartening to see young talent, with good coaching support, enthusiastically riding fairly old equipment - steel bikes, with electrical tape on their handlebars. This is not a recreational group; they are serious athletes. So the whole group rode to the Olympic complex in San Salvador, which Chip says is an impressive sports training center, with an Olympic-sized pool and a velodrome, and where our team are staying a couple of nights (it's a rest day today). They managed a meal with their young escorts at Kentucky Fried Chicken (I know, but it was the favorite of the kids!) At the velodrome - no, they didn't ride it - the team was welcomed by the President of the El Salvador Cycling Federation, and the El Salvador Sports Director; there in the center of the velodrome they met sponsors of the cycling team and were interviewed, photographed and serenaded by a mariachi band. Chip promises to send me photos to post. Their stay at the Olympic center, and their escort, were arranged by Bladi's contact - Alba Contrera (sorry if I got the name wrong) - the manager of the cycling federation. In return, the team will donate their support van to the cycling federation when they leave it in Panama City to fly to Colombia. So, El Salvador is proving to be a very pleasant experience - roads are great, and the hospitality wonderful. In case you are wondering, Chip says parts of El Salvador were also hit by the storm that devastated Guatemala, but not as badly, and they haven't seen any evidence of mudslides since they left Guatemala City.
Monica: The team left Guatemala City today, heading for the El Salvador border. Chip says they'll ride about 80 miles and stay near the border, ready for crossing tomorrow and meeting up with the El Salvador Cycling Federation riders. I've marked up a new map, as they're moving so fast they ran off the old one.
1 2005 (part 2):
Monica: It's Chip's birthday today (I wished him the happiest from you all). He called me back from Antigua, Guatemala, with more details about recent days. They saw the worst of the mudslides and flood damage Oct 30/31, which forced a combination of riding and driving (sample: 10 miles of climbing, 8 miles descending, come to a washed-out bit of road or one-lane section clogged with traffic, so get in the van for a bit). They are now heading to the border with El Salvador tomorrow to meet with the cycling federation escort. They will stay tonight in Olympic ctr, Guatemala City, courtesy of one of Dario's contacts (er, I think that's "Olympic" in my shorthand notes, but come to think of it I don't remember that the Olympics were ever in Guatemala so that may be wrong).
In case you were wondering, the estimate (see Oct 31 entry) of 35 to 40 bodies a day brought out of the mudslides was given by a Canadian relief worker. But excavation has stopped now because of dangers of disease, and some buried villages are being left as cemeteries. I don't know about you, but I'm appalled and guilty that I just didn't pay attention to the tragedy that swept over this region a couple of weeks ago, and thanked Chip for being our eyes and calling attention to a region that doesn't register much on the North American news. Some of Chip's impressions of this area: desperately poor, beautiful people, women in traditional woven dress carrying bundles on their heads, tropical large-leaf jungle-type vegetation so he didn't see deforestation as causing mudslides but rather the steepness and thin soil of the mountains, rivers cascading down the mountains washed out bridges and roads at either side, leaving dry river beds now (he reports that heavy equipment is now being used to bring in fill to try to link the river banks and what you have to do to get across is drive around both bridge ends and bump your way across the river bed).
Also in case you were wondering about that "real ordeal" of a border crossing from Mexico to Guatemala (and maybe you're contemplating doing just that, in which case you'd better listen up good), here's the deal: Do not ride your bike. First choice border crossing might be no good because the bridge on the Guatemala side is washed out, so tour around finding alternate crossing. Approaching the bridge border see a chaotic mass of cars/trucks with no discernible line(s) or signs. Suddenly many young men surround your vehicle, generating your worst kidnapping fears by jumping on the bumpers and hood. Total chaos now seems to have surrounded you and you are forced to slow down. Trundle to the bridge where it appears there are no rules, noone wears any kind of uniform, but someone flags you down and tells you that you cannot cross the border unless you hire a guide. Oh, a GUIDE! Those guys weren't trying to kidnap you, they were just competing to be hired to fleece you blind as you negotiate the border bureaucracy! You hire one at random; they're all hustlers, with stories, but they know what you must do. First, you must convert US dollars and aren't you lucky, they have a buddy there (with a wad of notes) who will do it. Your guide gets a cut. He checks that you have a passport/visa before taking you through the Mexican border guys, who find that you don't have this or that piece of paper (doesn't matter what) so you absolutely cannot leave Mexico. In steps your guide to nobly negotiate with officialdom so that it only needs you to produce $N and hey presto you get the official stamp you need. And your guide gets a cut. Now you need a photocopy of your vehicle title. You didn't bring a spare? No problem, your guide arranges it for a small fee (and gets a cut). You are perhaps beginning to understand the system? You may proceed now to the Guatemalan border where you now know what is going to happen and yes, the guide gets a cut there, too. But here's the thing - you could never have done it without your helpful guide! Because you can be sure the chain of people in this system will make it difficult for you if you don't follow their unwritten rules. So file this helpful hint from Chip carefully because you never know when you'll need it.
Brief impressions from Chip: Lots of stray dogs in Mexico and Guatemala; but they're not pets. Brightly painted buses (I'll have to get more on that note - and maybe a photo).
1 2005 (part 1):
Monica: I reached Chip this morning (interrupting their breakfast for a brief check) at an old (1549) hotel in Antigua. He has recovered well - he rode yesterday and is feeling strong. And the van is running strong again thanks to yesterday's overhaul, and those all-important brakes are working properly. Which is as well, because they had another day of riding in high mountains yesterday. He talked of more mudslide devastation - washed-out bridges and whole villages that had just disappeared. For more information on the aftermath of hurricane Stan, whose impact in Guatemala was mostly felt by poor Mayan villages, see this BBC page.
Monica: Another telephone update from Chip was on my answer machine tonight. Currently our communication is via their T-Mobile cell phone (seems only fair to give credit where it's due) because internet access is iffy. They're in Guatemala, as planned, after a "real ordeal" crossing the border from Mexico. Tonight they're in Quetzaltenango and they'll be heading for Antigua next, having taken quite a detour to get back to the Inter-American Highway because of recent floods/landslides. In fact, Chip sounded a bit subdued as he tried to describe the overwhelming hurricane damage he is seeing, but that most of the world seems unaware of. He does see some relief work and US aid happening, but some villages are so remote that the only way to reach them and get food and supplies in is by air. 35 to 40 bodies per day are reportedly being taken out and diseases are taking a big toll. Chip reports that the mountains are "extreme -- steeper and harder" than anything they've done so far. The mountains have taken their toll on the support van, which is being overhauled today for essential repairs to brakes, and other stuff (yes, get those brakes fixed, guys). Chip didn't mention his stomach problems so I don't know if that means that he's feeling better, or if in the scale of things it's just faded in importance. I've updated the map to show roughly where they are now, and will need a new map soon.
Monica: Funny, I was just wondering how our guys were faring in the mountains of Mexico when Chip called me today on his cell phone from Oaxaca. The recent news-less days were caused by lack of internet access and, for poor Chip, a bad case of Montezuma's Revenge, a result no doubt of a Norte Americano stomach unaccustomed to jalapenos trying to climb at altitude for relentless days in the sun (uh oh). However, after a couple of days riding in the van, Chip says he's feeling much better and hopes to be back on the bike tomorrow or day after (hmm, if you were sick would you really feel better riding in a van up and down mountains at altitude? Obviously, Chip is made of sterner stuff). He reports that Oaxaca is a fantastically beautiful Spanish colonial city, est. 1529 by Spanish conquistadors in a region of Zapotec culture - I cribbed that last bit from this website. Here, Dario did a live interview on Colombian radio, so their fame is preceding them. They have lingered happily for 2 days in this lively, cosmopolitan city (I hear there was dancing and mariachi bands, but not - of course - for Chip). They will leave tomorrow (Sat), heading once more into the mountains, aiming for Tehuantepec (think I took that down right, although at 251 km from Oaxaca that's going to be a tough haul); they hope to cross into Guatemala on Monday. Chip reports their route to Guatemala has had to take a detour inland (read, longer and more mountains!) from their original route along the Pacific coast, because of the recent floods and landslides. The team is, however, heartened to learn that upon reaching El Salvador they will be escorted by a cycling team from the El Salvador Cycling Federation, from the Guatemalan border to the border with Honduras!
fill you in on the last few days:
Tue Oct 25: Chip spent a miserable day in bed in Mexico City, but Dario used the time to meet with the Guatemalan consul to arrange the border crossing.
Wed Oct 26: Drove through the traffic of Mexico city (prudent) to the outskirts, where Bladimir and Carlos began their 80 mile ride to Tehuacan, including 22 miles climbing at high altitude. Chip says the mountains are beautiful, but extreme - tiny villages clinging to the mountainsides. But they were happy to find a lovely, small and inexpensive hotel at the end of the ride.
Thu Oct 27: Chip still confined to van, but Bladimir and Carlos tackled the mountains again for another 80 mile day, with 40 miles of climbing (one climb alone over 20 miles). Technical note from Chip: Bladimir and Carlos exemplify two different climbing styles: Bladi climbs survival-style, setting his own pace; Carlos climbs in true pro Colombian mode, attack, attack, attack ... at one point drafting behind a double tractor-trailer all the way to the summit! In Dario's opinion, the guys are ready for the mountains of Colombia because these climbs are tougher. They had a busy ride through the rather tough outskirts of Oaxaca, but once in the city were rewarded by finding another lovely - and inexpensive - Spanish colonial-style hotel!
Chip: Today we left Pachuca and drove to Mexico City. We were exhausted from yesterday's climbing on top of a solid week of centuries, plus we had an unnerving drive out of the mountains last night. We didn't check into a hotel in Pachuca untill 11:30 and went to bed without eating dinner. Those mountains took a toll on our tired old Dodge van. We decided to take today off, drive to Mexico City, get a hotel room and take tomorrow off also. While we were negotiating the dense traffic in downtown Mexico City, we got pulled over by a couple of traffic police. One cop told us we were violating a traffic rule that designated certain roads for certain plate numbers. He showed Bladi the traffic law book and threatened to have the van towed and locked up for 24 hours with a major fine. Bladi pleaded his case but the policeman was determined. Bladi stepped out of the van and walked to the front of the van with the cop and asked him "what it is going to take to solve the problem". They ended up settling on 400 pesos which is about $40. Bladi got back in the van and the other cop handed me a leather purse, I passed it over to Bladi and he put 400 pesos in it and handed it to the first cop and we were on our way. Bladi said to me "welcome to Latin America Chip". I guess the Mexican police earned the reputation they have.
Chepe': On Saturday we left Victoria and had picked Valles as our destination. It was cloudy so that was a welcome break from the sun and we are now starting to climb towards the mountains that we will have to cross to reach Mexico City. It is getting cooler as we gain elevation. The scenery is becoming absolutely spectacular! We stayed at a Spanish colonial type Hotel in Valles. On Sunday we left Valles and started riding towards Pachuca. After sixty miles or so we started climbing and never stopped untill we hit ninety miles and we called it a day. We rode by one mountain village after another; tiny little villages clinging to the mountain sides. We were in the heart of these mountains and the road snaked its way around on the mountain sides overlooking the valleys for hundreds of kilometers. Absolutely spectacular scenery and the little towns that we pass through in these mountains are amazing.
Chepe': Hello NBW, Today we crossed the border at Brownsville into Mexico without any problems except for the fact we could hardly fit ourselves in the van with all the food and drink supplies we bought. We drove through the border town and then got out of the van and started heading south. It was hot and sunny again but the road conditions were good so we logged 120 miles. The closest hotel was still 50 miles away in Victoria so we got back in the van and drove into town. We got all kinds of support on our ride. We must have looked very professional (with our matching clothes and support vehicle) to all the farmers, goat herders, junkyard workers, children .... even the tractor trailer drivers were cheering us on. Looks like we dodged Wilma down here but is it going to bring more rain your way?
Chip: Hello fellow NBW riders, we miss you and those winding New England roads! Today we loaded up on supplies we need before crossing the border with Mexico. I want to take the time to clarify some things. There are three of us cycling and two in the support vehicle. Our third rider is Carlos Giraldo of Queens, NY. He owns two bike shops in NY called CiGi's. We would not have made as much progress without him. He is the youngest at 45 and the strongest. He grew up in Colombia and was national champion in pursuit track racing. Carlos had to take it down a couple notches and Bladi and I had to pick it up for us to meet in the middle and now we are working very well together. Our driver is Reinaldo Perez from Central Falls, RI. He gets our fullest respect for the job he does. He complains about us a lot but it is all part of our humor because we give it right back. The passenger in the van is Dario Meneses. He is from Colombia and flew up here to join our group. He is a UCI official and a comissioner of cycling in Colombia. He is documenting the Tour and can help with security arrangements in Central America.
Chip: Hi, Today we left Corpus Christi at the break of dawn because we knew it was going to be hot and needed to get to Los Fresnos,Texas. By 8:00 AM it was already in the 80's. This was probably one of our most challenging days. We rode on Route 77 south for 105 miles. This part of Texas is very flat, mostly range land with few trees. The combination of straight flat road, rough surface, headwind, relentless sun and nagging driver in our support vehicle made things tough. Tomorrow is a recovery day and Friday we plan to cross the border into Mexico.
Monica: Chip Kent called me tonight from Corpus Christi, Texas. They have ridden 2,151 miles since they left Central Falls, RI, on Sep 24, with no accidents, and are feeling good. Chip asked if I could help get their reports posted on the web as they are having problems with their own website. I promised to post on this page anything he emails to me for as long as they need it, but for early stuff since the Sep 24 start until now you should check their Tour de Paz website [update 2008: the website is no longer active].
Chip says there might be a "Lance effect" in Texas, as they've met with a very friendly reception there (I guess they were regarded as pretty weird by residents of Alabama and Mississippi, although Chip says noone was unfriendly). Their delighted breakfast waitress this morning said they were the biggest thing to happen in that town (sorry, didn't take down the name) and called a local reporter to interview them. Soon they'll be at the Mexican border and Chip is getting a bit worried that he doesn't speak Spanish. Nevertheless, he says this is one of the biggest things he's ever done, so I guess he's feeling pretty good about the ride so far. I told him that his NBW friends were wondering how they were and wished them a safe journey, and Bladi and Chip sent their regards to you all.
Page maintained by Monica Foulkes, firstname.lastname@example.org. Updated Apr 14 2008.