Saved up enough money in New Hampshire over the summer to finance the trip. I’d read everything I could find on the Yucatan. I had maps and a passport. Time for action.
I shipped the 50Kg crate to Miami International from Manchester. Delta would hold it at their depot for up to two weeks. My backpack was stuffed with more tools, gear and books. I was well-prepared.
October 1976: Tubes and Tools: Packing for Adventure
On the morning of Friday, 8 October my dad dropped me off at the Southbound ramp on Interstate 93. “Good luck and stay safe.” Stuck out my thumb and copped that all important first ride. I was on my way.
October 12, Tuesday: ‘Drop kick me Jesus through the goalposts of life’. The strains of Buddy Bare on the radio filled the car as I drove through downtown Spartanburg. You just can’t beat these C&W artists for putting words together.
I’m staying for a few days with my friend Suzanne who goes to the Sherman School of Chiropractic here in Spartanburg. I left New Hampshire Friday and thumbed down. It took me about 32 hours. A pretty uneventful trip. I’m getting pretty bored with everything. I gotta have bigger thrills. Anyway, this journal will be a chronicle of my search for big adventure.
October 13, Wednesday: First light. The pastel blues that anticipate sunrise glow in the sky. It finds me outside of Greenville, 20 miles from Spartanburg. I’ve said good-bye to Suzanne and before me stretches 800 miles to my next stop. Two rides to Atlanta, four to Macon and then Macon to Miami.
October 14, Thursday: Florida. I have so many images of Florida. Some of my happiest moments occurred here. Shrimping off the coast of Jacksonville, lying naked with Chris on the beach at Lover’s Key, diving off the Tortugas, the ‘Glades at sunset. Florida means a lot to me. I slept under an overpass on the Turnpike.
Hey, those little ledges up under the overpass are dry and comfortable. It rained like crazy last night but I was cozy up there. I slept until 9.30am.
Took me a while to get to Key West. Sure is nice in the Keys. Stopped off at Mac’s for some of the best Key Lime pie anywhere. Pulled into Key West around sunset, a friendly town. Just kinda walked around, had a few beers at the Bull. Found out my buddy Mark was playing there tomorrow night.
It started to pour as I left the Bull. I walked up Caroline. There’s something about the air in Key West, a certain fragrance that permeates the tropical air. Key West isn’t Florida, it’s Key West. I turned down Simonton and splashed over to Fleming. I used to live on Fleming. Chris and I slept on the porch on the second floor. She loved it when it rained.
I sloshed over to Eaton and then buzzed up towards Steadman’s, over Garrison Bight, then left on Hwy 1 towards Hilton Haven Motel where Mark works.
15 October, Friday. Key West, Florida: More rain. If it’s like this in KW, it’s gonna be damn soggy in Yucatan. Lucky for me I’m waterproof. I slept til noon, then hung out at Mark’s. Rained all afternoon. Started to clear up around five so I walked down to Mallory Square for sunset.
Now sunset at Mallory Square is a Key West institution. About an hour before sunset people start gathering. Conga drummers, dancers, guitar players, peanut vendors, necklace hawkers, dogs, dealers and tourists. Your senses are bombarded from all sides. Colors swirl, the salt air tingles and the seagulls add to the cacophony. Then the sun starts to set. Vivid hues of red, purple and blue, all in motion.
The show lasts until darkness descends, til the last guitarist scoops out the pennies from his case and walks over to Duval. Then only a few fishermen are left, casting for snapper off the dock.
So I left Mallory to the casters and kinda wandered around. Ran into some guys with some Kona. Right nice that stuff. By then it was time to catch Mark and his band, The Solaris Hill String Band, at the Bull. Bluegrass until 2am. Ah, Key West.
Key West was dope central in 1975. Smugglers abounded and bales washed up on the beach. Click on the High Road icon for the inside story.
October 16, Saturday: Well, by jesum, the sun came out today. A nice, hot, humid day. One thing about Key West, you can’t accomplish a whole lot. It’s just too kick back. A laid back afternoon. Helped Mark on his boat that he’s building, a Cross 33 Trimaran, watched the Yanks get beat in the World Series. Then a nice bar-b-que with outasite chicken for an early supper.
There was going to be a free concert down on Mallory Square after sunset. Mark and I thumbed down as his 1966 VW bus blew up in September. The free concert was just that – free. People and kids and dogs dancing and enjoying life. A boogie such as I haven’t seen since the early 70’s in Boulder.
Went over to the Bull and lifted a few cold ones before walking back to Hilton Haven. Key West is made for bicycles. I used to cruise on my bike when I lived here. Flying around the back streets of KW at 3am full tilt is one hell of an exhilarating ride.
October 17, Sunday: Well, it’s back to real life. A very leisurely (not by design, mind you) thumb up the Keys. I kept hearing these odd murmurings of a new anti-hitchhiking law in Monroe County with penalties of six months in the can plus a $500 fine. Sounds kind of far-fetched to me, but I take no chances. I look both ways for the authorities before extending my thumb in a blatant disregard for law and order. In any event I pulled into Lauderdale around 6pm, kinda blasted as my last three rides were friends of Mr Colombo.
I hiked over to River Bend Marina. Chris and I used to keep our boat here before we sold it. Looked up my old buddy John. Alas, he wasn’t home so I stashed my pack under a convenient keel and set to the long stroll up towards Sunrise.
Six miles later I arrived at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog joint. Hmm mum, love those all beef franks. Went over to where Jan and Linda used to live. By golly Linda was still there. Jan’s still in the hospital recovering from a rather nasty bicycle mishap. Five months he’s been there. Anyway, I kicked back and watched the Yanks drop game #2 to the Reds. Tomorrow is a big day. Back down to Miami to take care of some last-minute arrangements.
October 18, Monday: Well, I got up and thumbed to Miami International Airport. Got my Mexican Tourist Card, went to the Airline office and found out that my crate would cost from $35 to $70 extra. No big deal. At least I know they’ll ship it.
Back to Lauderdale. Stopped off to see John. He’s outfitting his boat out now, getting ready to depart to parts unknown. Then over to see Jan in the hospital. He’s doing as good as can be expected.
Walked up to the library and read parts of books on the Yucatan and Central America. Went back to Linda’s and just kinda hung out. Called Ma and Pa, it’s their anniversary today.
October 19, Tuesday: Borrowed Linda’s VW this morning and buzzed around town buying last minute things. Couldn’t get a good poncho. Hope it doesn’t rain too much. Bought film, hose clamps, etc. Also got a Hawaiian Sling spear gun for diving. Hope that little baby supplies me with fish for a while. Just kinda relaxed and kicked back. Last full day in the Yew Ess of Aye.
20 October, Wednesday. Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Mexico: By golly. I’m sitting in the Mexicana Airline terminal. My crate and pack are checked in and I got my ticket right here. Total cost for me and crate is $108.25, not too bad. My financial state right now: $850 in travellers checks and 220 pesos cash (16 pesos to the dollar, about $14). Should last me a while. I’m pretty well equipped. Let’s see what happens.
Linda drove me out to the Interstate this morning. Stuck out my thumb and copped a ride to the MIA exit 95. However I had to walk all the way, about five miles, to Delta Air Freight as thumbing on 112 is too crazy, even for me (besides, I got thrown off by a Trooper who said he’d nail my ass if he saw me again). My crate was waiting for me. Just as I was about to call a cab to take me to Mexicana, a lady in a station wagon asked me where I was going. When I told her she said ‘hop in’. So she took me there, I checked in, bought my ticket, deposited my crate and pack, exchanged my loose change for pesos and here I am.
What a show. Took off from Miami. Flew west right smack dab over Ponce de Leon Bay, Shark River, Cape Sable. By golly, I’ve sailed those same waters. Saw Lake Ingrahm and Flamingo. The Keys should be off to the left. With all the clouds for special effects this is quite the ride.
Whitewater Bay looks just like the charts showed it. I could pick out the bars and channels. I saw Highlands Beach where Chris and I spent a nice day shelling, miles way from civilization. Neat as shit. If my stay in SA is as thrilling as the ride over, I’m in for quite a ride.
HOT DAMN! Flew right smack dab over Cayo Hueso. Saw Hilton Haven even. What a view. Saw Barracouta Key, Man & Woman Key. Boy these reefs look fantastic. Light blue hues against the deep blue. WOW. New Ground shrimp grounds. A-OK.
Already I feel 138.7 times better. I’m smiling. Yucatan. This is going to be a trip. Morely said ‘the Yucatan sticks out in the Caribbean like a thumb’. That’s me all the way. The omens are favorable.
From up here the clouds over the gulf look absolutely unreal. Ultra white puffs against a rippled blue background. Slightly psychedelic. There it is! I see it. Mexico. I made it.
Landed at Cozumel Airport, no hassles at all. Set up my bike in front of the small terminal, loaded up and took off. The customs officers were very nice. I gave my crate to a cab driver, lots of good wood there.
So off I rode, down towards the beach. Ah, nice clear water. Not much of a beach, though. Cozumel is just a low limestone shelf that slightly rises up out of the sea. Outcrops appear everywhere. I rode down through the town and down about five kms. Stashed my gear in a ditch and rode back to town (which kinda reminded me of Ft Myers Beach). Bought some galletas and drinks. Rode back, scarfed down my small repast, lay down in my bag and watched the stars. Some kinda wind here, 30 knots at least. Feels like a hurricane. But here I am. Kilometres 15 Kms
21 October, Thursday: Rolled out of the sack at sunrise. Fooled around with my gear for a while. Rigged it up so my pack sits on the handle bars and front wheel with the rest of my gear lashed onto the frame (built from an old lawn chair) over the back wheel. Seems like a fairly stable arrangement.
So off I rode, after a can of juice and more galletas, south to see what’s there. Not much. After seven kms I turned back towards town, bucking that strong wind. 12 kms later I got to town and found that the ferry for the mainland left in an hour. So I hopped on board and lashed my bike down in the bow. Bought some oranges from a vendor.
Now, with a 30-knot wind , the ride across was a real splash. I got soaked. So did everyone else. But nobody mined. Dolphins played on the bow, flying fish darted around, a nice trip. Disembarked at Playa del Carmen. Nice beach there.
As I was riding out of Playa del Carmen my left pedal started slipping. I had stripped the pin that holds the pedal, the only spare part I didn’t bring. Disaster! I pulled it out and jammed it in again. It held…for 50 metres…then out it fell. So I filed it down a bit and then went out and found a big rock. Beat the shit out of it. Works fine now.
So I’m off, Tulum, 67 kms. That’s a good ride. After the first 20 or so kms I stopped for a cerveza at a small roadside café. Ahhh. The roads are nice – flat, straight and smooth. I keep a steady pace and make good time. 20 kms further down I saw a sign that said ‘Playa (I forget)’ so down I rode.
A beautiful inlet, surrounded on three sides by sparkling white sand beaches backed up by magnificent sweeping palms and on the fourth side by the Caribbean. So I stopped and went snorkelling. Brain, Staghead and brilliant purple Fan Coral. Myriad schools of Jacks and Zebra fish. Nice. Laid on the beach. Nobody else there.
On to Tulum, another 27 kms. Pulled in about 4.30. 10 pesos for admission. I walked through the arch (Mayan corbeled) in the wall and before me were the ruins. Frescos. Temples. Colonnades. Mucho Bueno. I walked up the steps of the highest temple and then I saw it: The sea. Brilliant blue. Tulum is right on some cliffs overlooking the Caribbean.
I could only stay until 5pm. So I kinda walked around . I’ll be back manana. There’s a trailer park down el rodo so I biked down there. Nice spot. Had a fine meal of eggs and veggies, 20 pesos, and two cervezas. Biked out to the beach and fell into a sound slumber. Kms today: 87 To date: 94
October 22, Friday: Arose to watch the sunrise over the Caribbean. Muy Bueno. I also realised that I had only ten pesos in cash. Muy malo. So I repacked my bike (I figure it’ll take me a couple of weeks to get my trip down) and went looking for a place near Tulum to cash Traveller’s Checks. No luck. Then I ran into a guy from Michigan, Garry, who had a van. I was able to talk him into driving to El Banco, 100 kms away. A-OK.
Got back to Tulum around 1.30pm and spent the rest of the day looking over the ruins. Some nice. Ate at the trailer park again, nice place. Then asleep at the playa. Kms today: 8 To date: 102
October 23, Saturday: Woke up and ate breakfast at Garry’s. Supposedly there is a road to Coba from Tulum, then X-Can, which is on the road to Chichen Itza. From Tulum to Coba is 50 kms. So I packed my bike and hit the road to Coba at 8.05.
A very flat, straight road through the jungle. Saw a coral snake, lots of tarantulas, a scorpion, a bunch of wild turkeys, just all sorts of neat stuff.
Hit Coba at 11.30 and toured the ruins. Muy Bueno. Some very large and well-preserved pyramids…spectacular. Saw the Sacbes (roads) and five lakes. Very interesting. Spent about three hours there. It is a very primitive spot, no tourists at all.
Then on towards X-Can. A couple of people had said that the road wasn’t completed. Bah I said. Six kilometres down the road, the road ended. Zap, just like that. Oh well, back to Tulum. However, on the only hill on the road, I got a little carried away and got going real fast. Hit some loose gravel and Wipe-Out. Scrapped my toes, knee, thigh, elbow and both hands. Ouch. I was lucky, though. Coulda been killed. My bike took a beating.
A long, painful 47 kms back to Tulum. These cervezas sure tasted good. A good night’s sleep on El Playa. Kms today: 106 To date: 208
October 24, Sunday: Kind of a kick-back day today. Spent the AM lying on the beach, getting a nice tan. Ate a few coconuts. Spent the afternoon sitting around the local hangout talking and laughing. It rained a lot in the afternoon, nice sunset.
The Trailer Park is real scene. It sits in a Palmetto grove right on the Mar Caribe. An open-air kitchen, excellent. Paraisos is the name. At night people from all around gather and drink and gamble and play their guitars. A place to enjoy life to it’s fullest. Kms today: 14 To date: 222
Tulum was a tropical paradise in 1976. Stunning Beach, beautiful people, dazzling sun and potent dope. What took me so long to get here? Click on the Scene icon for the inside story.
October 25, Monday: It rained hard last night so I spent the morning drying my stuff out. Luckily it was sunny. Worked on El Biko for an hour, greasing, oiling, adjusting the gears and racks. My spill the other day kinda rearranged what really didn’t need rearranging. But now the Silver Dawn is ready to go. Tomorrow I’ve got a ride with Garry down to Carillo Puerto and then I ride towards Uxmal. A long day through the jungle. Should be fun.
Spent the first part of the afternoon lounging about on the beach. Just a fine day, getting a nice tan. Went swimming and body surfing. Yes, there’s nothing in the world like doing nothing. I love it. Biking with no particular schedule is A-OK. Just laid back all day long, slept on the beach.
The dope improved dramatically across the Yucatan Channel. Fresh buds, cheap prices and friendly dealers. Click on the High Road icon for the inside story.
October 26, Tuesday: It’s been two weeks since I started this journal. They have been anything but dull. Glad I came down. Copped a ride down to Chetumal with Garry in his van. Strapped my bike to the roof and packed my packs inside. Garry, Myself, Rock and Natalie, two people from LA, all headed for Chetumal. On the way down we talked over some money-making scams. Hammocks, perhaps?
Stopped off in Felipe Carrillo Puerto at the mercado for some food and cervezas. Some muy bien tacos for two pesos. Even better tamales for four pesos. Then on to Chetumal…pulled in about 4pm.
I liked Chetumal from the first time I saw it. Sleezy and dirty. Kinda rode about and then went out to Caldaritas where there was a trailer park. Slept next to El Caribe under the stars.
October 27, Wednesday: Went into Chetumal and strolled around El Mercado and the shops. Natalie had to cash a check so we went to el banco. Wow! The peso had been devalued from 6 cents to 4 cents making us all richer! So Garry and I sat down and schemed. It was all so clear. We would convert our dollars to pesos, go to Merida, buy hammocks at $4 each, transport them to Texas and sell them for $20. We’d both make mucho buckos. So we shook. A slight interruption in my trip, but the kind of lucrative interruption I enjoy.
Went to the movies, 10 pesos, and saw a lousy spy movie and a lousier horror flick. Again, under the stars.
October 28, Thursday: Again to Chetumal. The mercado is an entity to itself. It lives and breathes, vibrates with life. A million little stalls, hawking tacos and hats, panties and watches, everything imaginable. Senses are attacked and overcome. The wet, gooey (with what I don’t even want to know) floor feels cool against my bare feet. The carnal smells from the meat vendors permeate the entire proceedings. Little kids holler and old men stare. Nothing like it at all in the States…the US’s loss.
Spent the AM just roaming around. Stuffed myself on all sorts of wonderful tasty foods. So cheap and so good. Retired back to Calderitas for siesta. Ahhh. Read and relaxed. Drove back into Chetumal around 6.30. The people were out. Hanging out on beaches, corners, cafes, everywhere. So relaxed and easy-going. Love it.
Went to the flicks again – ‘Tiburones’ – better known as Jaws. 8 pesos. Back to the camp ground. Beautiful Caribbean evening. I like this easy living.
October 29, Friday: Last day in Chetumal. Left the campground around 9 and hung out at the mercado and down at the docks. Lots of shallow-draft fishing boats, gaff-rigged and wide-beamed. Docks are the same all over. Went to Lorenzo’s (a friend of Gary’s) casa for a comida de pesca frio. Muy Bueno.
We left Chetumal for Tulum around 5 pm. Stopped at Carrillo Puerto for some real good tacos, two pesos each. Got back to Tulum at 9.30, camped out on the playa.
October 30, Saturday: Just kinda hung out on the beach all day. Lots of people from all over at Tulum. Ate some real good venison stew for supper…good drink and good conversation.
October 31, Sunday: Woke up on the beach just as the sun was rising in it’s full array of colors. I packed my dive gear and water and tied it to my bike to ride up to Xel Ha, which had been described to me as a saltwater aquarium. So off I pedalled. Only 14 kms up Mexico 307. Made it up in 35 minutes. The roads here are great for pedalling, smooth and flat. Crank the ‘ole Silver Dawn up in third gear and cook.
Anyway, I got to Xel-Ha around 9. It is a series of four coral lagoons filled with a good selection of fish darting around. The Mexican government is trying to push Xel-Ha as a big tourist thing. They’re building a bar and restaurant, cabanas, all sorts of stuff. But when I got there nothing was going on.
So I climbed into my gear and dove into the lagoon. Wow. All the coral was honeycombed with overhangs, tunnels, caves and all sorts of odd places with many fish blinking here and there. Great diving. But I guess there is a spring near-by cause the water is cold on the surface and warm underneath.
For about an hour I explored that and the other lagoons. A diver’s dream. Not very deep anywhere, lots of colors and moving forms. Had a blast. Got out of the water and was standing around when I saw my friends from Tulum. So I dove with them for another hour, really saw everything well. Then sat around and lifted a few cold ones.
By then the tourists had started rolling in, more people than I’d seen in a long time. Bus loads full. Stared at them and drank cerveza. Fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Rode my bike back midway through the afternoon and ate a quick comida of rice and frijoles at Paraisos. Walked down the beach to Pablo’s, a different restaurant and had Pescado frito (fried fish). Excellent. Walked back to Paraiso’s and talked to people who had been everywhere. The kinda talk I like. Adventure stories. Ran into some local green. Not bad. Partied into the night at my campsite.
Click here to find out what happened next.