December 2021: A short bicycle trip, largely along the pacific coast of Mexico

I had to make a last minute plan since my trip to England over Christmas holidays had to be cancelled at the last minute due to the Omicron variant. The easier thing to do was to take the bicycle on a bus to Acapulco and ride along the pacific coast. It was a bit too warm and also the coastal ride was not like what I had expected. The road, for most part was away from the coast, and so I didn’t have much of the expected sea view. The occasional glimpses of the sea was not bad though. I quite liked the town of Zihuatenejo. After Colima, I turned towards the mountains and it was lot more pleasant. Even though it was some hard work, the views were rewarding and also the sun was a bit kind on my skin. Some pictures of the trip below.

Electrolyte recharge
View through my window in a hotel that I stayed on the Christmas Eve
The volcano near Colima
Away from the coast
Mazamita -a pueblo magico, for the New Years Eve
Zamora – the end of this trip

Acapulco – Tecpan (102km) – Petatlan (101) – Zihuatenego (36) – Lazaro Cardenas (102) – Caleta (70) – Maruata (100) – Coahuayana de Hidalgo (77) – Colima (81) – Tuxpan (70) – Mazamitla (72) – Jiquilpan (46) – Zamora (60).

A Tour of the North of Mexico

It was the summer of 2021 and yet another staycation, and this time I went towards the north east of Mexico. The highlands of Mexico offered some perfect weather for cycling.

I started off at Queretaro and took the main highway towards San Luis Potosi and Saltillo. After Saltillo, I traversed and rode west, crossing the desert. Whilst I generally stayed on the main roads that connected different cities I took some remote roads in the Coahuila desert which was one of the highlights of the trip. In spite of the desert landscape the weather remained cooler in the morning due to its altitude, and the traffic free roads was a bonus. 

San Luis Potosi to Saltillo Highway
That imaginary line…
Some typical landscape in the North east of Mexic

After arriving at Torreon, I continued on towards Durango and the more I moved away from the desert the more undulating the roads were. From Durango, I turned south and after a four-day ride arrived at Zacatecas. This historic city centre was magnificient with its majestic cathedrals, cobblestone paved streets and buildings that were several centuries old. 

Traffic free roads of Coahuila
A desert without the sand dunes

After Zacatecas, I went to Aguascalientes, Lago de Moreno, Leon, Irupuato and ended my trip at Celaya. The pattern with all these cities soon became obvious, a plaza at the centre of the city with cathedrals and old buildings, yet it was worth visiting and seeing each one of them. I spent a total of 37 days on the road and pedalled about 1910km. Generally, everything went well except for the several punctures!

Catedral Basilica de Zacatecas
Historic city centre in Zacatecas
A typical city centre – in the cities of Guanajuato

Route: Queretaro – San Luis de La Paz (85km) – San Luis Potosi (121) – Entronque de Matehuala (109)- Matehuala (83)-San Pedro Express Hotel in the Highway (106) – San Rafael (70) – Saltillo (90) – General Capeda (56) – Parras de la Fuente (82) – Viesca (76) – Torreon (78) – Los Cuatillos (80) – Francisco Madero (110) – Durango (60) – Vicente Guerrero (82) – Sain Alto (85) – Fresnillo (65) – Zacatecas (60) – Rincon de Ramos (85) – Aguascalientes (40) – Lagos de Moreno (85) – Leon (40) – Irapuato (68) – Celaya (66).

A short trip to Kolli hills and Yercaud

Some good has come out of Covid-19. Last December, I came to India to see my mother and I continued to stay here to take advantage of the ‘work from home’ situation – Thanks to Edron Academy who were kind to agree to this.

The temperature here crossed the 30 degrees C mark and this won’t come down anytime soon. So, I wanted to escape the heat for a few days and was also itching to use my touring bike that I had shipped to India several years ago. Now was the best time to put it to a test.

I had abandoned my original plans to cycle all the way to the mountains, about 300 km or so. After a day of cycling, I turned back because the heat was unbearable – I hatched an alternative plan.  I took the bike in a bus to Namakkal, a city at the bottom of the Kolli hills. These mountains were well known for some medicinal plants. 

Only recently, I had discovered that the climb to the top of the Kolli hills involved 70 hairpin bends – I was curious and eager. I left Namakkal at 5.30am and reached the bottom of the mountain at 6.30am. A steady 30 km climb including the infamous, numbered, hairpin bends. The arithmetic was quite right, there were 70 of them! Some of these bends required pedalling standing up and some careful manoeuvring.  The sign posts along the road warned people to honk since the corners were too small for large vehicles. Motor vehicles doesn’t really need such instructions – honking is a favourite sport in this part of the world. 

Some of the 70 hairpin bends
63rd hairpin bend
On top of Kolli hills
A nice waterfall which I discovered on my way down

I stayed on top of the hill for 2 nights where the temperature was a bit more pleasant. Next up was Yercaud hills. I made a mistake of tackling the 83 km ride from Kolli hills to Salem, the city at the bottom of Yercaud, in one go. I was cycling in 37 degrees C heat and had never felt so exhausted, even though I stopped every 10 km for a drink. It was a mistake to underestimate the heat. 

Coming down Kolli hills
Navigating the hairpin bends of Kolli hills

Yercaud was only 30 km from Salem, 10 of which were on flat roads and the last 20 km was the climb up. This climb involved 20 hairpin bends and the climb itself took just over 3 hours. On route, there were plenty of monkeys in these mountains and people feed tomatoes to these monkeys. But these animals got used to this and demand the visitors for more tasty alternatives. I stopped at one of the viewpoints to have a snack and it was a mistake. A monkey came close to me and started grunting at me with its mouth wide open. It was not wise to pick a fight with a monkey, especially when there was an army of them. I threw the food in its direction and quickly pedalled away. People should stop feeding wild animals, perhaps not all monkeys are gods. 

The 20 odd hairpin bends of Yercaud, from a distance
The small lake on top of Yercaud that was always busy except for the early mornings

The weather at Yercaud (altitude 1350m) was a lot more pleasant and I had planned to stay 4 nights. One of these days, I did a 33 km loop on top of the hills which was the highlight of this trip. The route was through some quiet roads, heavily wooded area and tree lined. Most notably, the aroma of the eucalyptus tree was noteworthy. I had a lovely coffee at one of coffee plantations along the way – It was worth the effort. 

The wonderful loop road on top of Yercaud hills
The coffee shop at Cauvery Peak – well worth a stop
The loop road on top of the Yercaud hills

Staycation: In the states of Michoacán, Guerrero and Oaxaca

For the summer holidays, with travel disruption everywhere, I did the one thing that I know best – off I went on my bike without a tent, as they say, just credit card touring.

Morelia City centre

The first trip was to the state of Michoacan, the capital of which was Morelia. I left Mexico city pedalling and after 3 days arrived at this historical city, the colonial architecture of this city was impressive. The best was the high mountains all around. To get in to this city or to get out one has to go over some high mountains. The route out from Morelia to Ciudad Hidalgo was the highlight of this short trip. The road numbered fifteen goes over a big pass at approximately 2900m and the route was aptly called ‘ruta de mil cumbres’, translated word-by-word ‘route of thousand peaks’. The 30 km ascent, starting from 1800 to 2900 was not as difficult as I anticipated, the gradient was not steep – more or less a relaxed climb. The stunning views kept the legs moving. 

On the top of the pass between Morelia and Ciudad Hidalgo – ‘ruta de mil cumbres’
Valle de Bravo


The second trip was to the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. I left my house pedalling towards the coast. Given the altitude of Mexico City one would expect downhill ride, but there was a mountain pass every day. After 5 days I arrived at this party town called Acapulco in the state of Guerrero after pedalling 419 kilometres. The coastal breeze was no match to the sweltering heat at this time of the year. So, I abandoned my plan to cycle along the coast. Instead, I took a bus from Acapulco to another popular beach town, Puerto Escondido which was a lot smaller and also more pleasant.

Acapulco Bay

From the start of this trip I had my eyes set on the mountain pass, the road numbered 175, between Puerto Angel (near Puerto Escondido) and Oaxaca. A curvy road that goes all way from sea level to 2740m before descending to the city of Oaxaca. Google maps showed no towns or villages for about 70 km and also ascent all the way which meant I had to do all this ascent in just a single day. I was a bit anxious, but had planned well. I had studied the elevation profile just to prepare mentally. An overall ascent of 3000m on a single day was a challenge with no precedence. The last place, before this ascent, where I could find a hotel was at Candelaria Loxicha where I had plenty of rest the day before. I left here at 6.45am the next day with some anxiety. The ascent was relentless, just up and up for about 50 km and I was at an altitude of approximately 2400m having started at 450m and the whole time the road was quite empty, with occasional eateries along with side of the road. After 5 hours of cycling I was relieved to have arrived at this altitude and I assumed the rest would be relatively easy. The undulations made the next 24 km more painful, but after 7 hours of cycling I arrived at my destination, San Jose del Pacifico. 

Candelaria to San Jose del Pacifico – elevation profile

This town was interesting, not just for the magical location, nested on a mountain top with views over the rolling mountains, but also for the locally cultivated ‘magic mushrooms’ which apparently was a tradition of the indigenous in that area. Although, modern times attracts a certain type of foreigners and the story goes even Beatles went to this place for the organic produce. However, one can get high pedalling which had more long-lasting effect than the herbs. The sunset here was a fabulous experience, quite magical. I spent an hour at least watching the clouds rise up the valley. The tranquillity was overwhelming and strangely no body speaks louder. Nature has its ways to induce a state of meditation and with zero effort.

Hotel Puesta del Sol at San Jose del Pacifico
Sunset at San Jose del Pacifico

From San Jose del Pacifico, it was a two-day ride to Oaxaca city from where I took a bus back to Mexico City. The beaches of Mexico are well known but Mexico has plenty of beautiful mountains too, which I keep discovering. 

First trip (489 km): Mexico City – Villa del Carbon (50km) – Maravatio (124) – Morelia (94) – Ciudad Hidalgo (104) – Zitacuaro (47) – Valle del bravo (70). 

Second trip (731 km): Mexico City – Cuernavaca  (82km)– Iguala (99) – Chilpancingo (109) – Tierra Colarada (58) – Acapulco (71) – Puerto Escondido (by bus) – San Pedro Pachutla (74) – Candelaria Loxicha (30) – San Jose del Pacifico (74) – Ejutla (72) – Oaxaca (62).

Exploring the south of Mexico – Riding with a broken back

Here is the reason why this blog was dormant for a while – a back breaking accident, literally. 

On the fine summer morning of 8th June 2018, on my regular commute to work on my trusty steed, I was hit by a car from behind. I flew in the air and landed on my back. The traffic stopped on all three lanes on Marylebone road and in no time, a policeman arrived on the spot. I was rolling on the road, screaming in pain, and was not able to sit-down or get on my feet. Within few minutes, I was losing sensation on my legs and I thought that was the end of my legs.

The morning after the night!

Long story short, I was taken to St Mary’s hospital and had a surgery the same night.  The surgery had to be the same night because my spinal cord was getting compressed by the fractured bones. Four screws and two plates were put on my thoracic and lumbar bones, each side, in order to stabilise my vertebrae and I was in hospital for a week and was off work for the next two months – little I knew the consequences of this accident at that time. 

I later learnt about Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) that results from spinal cord compression, which I am recovering from still. The nerves that runs off the Lumbar and Sacral bones were damaged and I was walking on my heels due to lack of sensation on my feet, I was very unstable and walking long distances (more than a km) was impossible. In addition, bowel, bladder and sexual functions were also affected but I have largely recovered from these. 

The plates and screws that will remain with me, probably forever

Meanwhile,  I had made plans to move to Mexico before the accident and I was not going to let the accident stop me. Whilst I had been looking forward for lots of outdoor activities in Mexico all those plans had to be put on hold. After about 6 months, my walking had improved, although I was limping badly and back pain at the end of a typical work day left me with no energy. I have been on physio ever since and this had helped me recover, greatly. I continue to do these exercise to this day.

Repair and regrowth of nerves take long time, in fact several years. During this time, the symptoms can be quite demoralising – pain, lack of sensation, lack of muscular strength, depression etc. However, being in a new place helped me and my school was very supportive. After about 6 months, I bought a folding bike with suspensions on both, front and back. I tried to ride about 7-8 km per week to get back into cycling although with lots of precautions, because I had three discs in my spine that were bulging. I was advised not to do any impact sports because of this but cycling was fine – I was relieved to know this. 

After about a year I started riding my road bike – the same specialized road bike which fortunately survived the accident. Once again, I could only ride shorter distances, back pain would kick in otherwise. Gradually, I was able to cycle long distances. The sense of freedom I felt, on the day when I cycled about 80 km, cannot be described in words. 

Picnic spots and beach huts

I was desperate to resume my bicyle touring and luckily there were plenty of good places in Mexico do this. So, I attempted my first tour, since the accident, during the half-term in Oct/Nov 2019 and to my surprise, I did very well. I cycled about 625 km, from Veracruz to Ciudad del Carmen, over 5 days. I resumed this tour during 2019 Christmas holidays when I cycled from Ciudad del Carmen to Bacalar to Merida to Chompoton (a total of 1010 km over 11 days). Considering what had happened – having come close to losing my legs – I felt grateful for having been able to ride long distances once again. Although, in addition to the usual tiredness after cycling, these days I also get lots of back pain and feet-burning sensation (because of irritation of nerves). But this is a small price to pay. Whilst, I am able to ride flat roads, alpine style road cycling is not possible yet. The sensations on my legs below calf-muscles need to improve before I can attempt some gradients on the mountains. 

Bacalar – a good place to unwind
Sunset in the jungle
Sunset on the beach in Campeche
The end of the trip in Chompoton – some chill out time

Throughout this period, over the past 18 months, my students at Edron Academy were a great source of inspiration. They had motivated me directly and indirectly and it is a pleasure to teach them. I would like to thank the staff at my school and my students for their support without which I won’t be where I am today. Also, I would like to thank my friends who had supported me during this time – you know who you are!

Oct/Nov 2019: Veracruz – Santiago Tuxla (139km) – Minatitlan (130) – Sanchez Magallanes (109) – Ignacio Allende (119) – Ciudad del Carmen (127)

Dec 2019/Jan 2020: Ciudad del carmen – Sebancuy (82km) – Escarcega (82) – Conhuas (99) – Xpujil (55) – Bacalar (120) – Kichpam kaax ecotourist centre (110) – Peto (87) – Merida (140) – Calkini (90) – Campeche (89) – Chompoton (67).

Three Country, Tour of the Ruins

This trip was planned well before Covid but  only managed to do it over the Christmas break of 2022. I started off in San Cristobal de Las Casas and was hoping for a nice downhill ride on the first day. It wasn’t as straightforward as I thought. I had an overall ascent of 1550m and a descent of 2770m. The riding was further complicated by the unbelievable number of speed bumps on this route. Oh well, I prevailed.

Early morning fog on the Chiapas mountains

On leaving Ocosingo the route was blocked for traffic by protesters but I was let through without any questions. I just quickly disappeared from them and continued on to Agua Azul. The accommodation next to the waterfall was thoroughly enjoyable. This place was controlled by the locals and visitors got charged several times by individual groups. It is hard to challenge anyone as there were no signs of government controls here. This helpless situation put me in a bad mood but once I was at the waterfalls I forgot all about it.

Agua Azul – Perhaps not quite Azul
Agua Azul

The next day was an easy downhill ride to Palenque where I stayed one day to visit the ruins. The route from Palenque to Tenosique, the border town, was just fabulous – lush green canopy most of the way and the good quality road surface combined with flat roads made for an enjoyable ride.

Palenque to Tenosique – some fine road cycling

From Tenosique to the border of Guatemala was through some really remote area and hence hardly any traffic. The border crossing was just mere stamping of passports. I spent Christmas eve over the Guatemalan side of the border.

On a rainy day through the jungle in Guatemala
Second rainy day in Guatemala

From the Mexican-Guatemalan border it was a two day ride to Flores where I took a break to visit the Tikal ruins. The entry ticket had to be purchased at a bank at the gates where the wait time was about 2 hours. I almost gave up, but I was glad I didn’t. The vastness of this site, the towering pyramids were quite a sight.  This was only 20% of the ruins since about 80% of the ruins had to be excavated still. I am sure the picture and videos here will speak for itself.

A 360 degree from the Central Plaza at the Tikal ruins
Jungle canopy from the top of a pyramid – Tikal

Flores to Belize was another three day ride. The traffic roundabouts, the picture of the late Queen on the currency and the signs in English language was quite refreshing – some familiarity I guess. I found an Indian restaurant in Belmopan, on my first day in Belize. It happened to be run by Sekhar who was also born in the same region as myself. He made some lovely homemade food and we had an instant brotherly connection. Later, I found out that there are Indian restaurants in every city in Belize. With some good food that could be ordered in English, what not to like about Belize? 

Belize City

San Cristobal de Las Casas – Ocosingo (89 km) – Agua Azul (64) – Palenque (63) – Tenosique (79) – El Caibo (Guatemala; 60) – Guatelinda (88) – Flores (87)   – Melchor de Mencos (92) – Belmopan (56) – Belize City (79) – Orange Walk (87) – Chetumal (Mexico: 70)

Mayan Meanders

Sunrise at Cancun

What’s life without at least one bicycle touring per year? With the ‘beast from the east’ making frequent visits to the British Isles the east coast of North America was the safe bet for some stable and warm weather over Easter holidays.  Florida lost out due to the flight cost and Cancun won. The connecting flight from Chicago to Cancun was full of teenage spring break travellers – all very happy (read loud and noisy).

Playa del Carmen

I had to ditch the idea of taking my bicycle due to some practical reasons and instead decided to hire a bicycle from Cancun. Given that the average temperature was 25 plus (degree Celcius) through out my time warm gear was unnecessary and even the rain gear was redundant – a light weight luxurious bike touring with no tent, nor sleeping bag.


Tulum town centre

One of the pristine beaches at Tulum


I had originally planned to cycle to Palenque ( 1200km) over 10 days. This would have been a hectic ride in the scorching sun instead a more chilled Mayan Meanders ensued.

I had done no research on this area prior to my arrival and assumed Cancun was just a beach destination. I was quite wrong. This peninsula had lot more to offer. If anything, the signposts on the highway was a clear indication of the diverse attractions on offer: jungle resorts, beaches, theme parks, Cenotes and of course the numerous  Mayan ruins. Cenote is the name given for a natural hole in the ground, like a sinkhole. This region had numerous Cenotes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock. The water in the Cenotes offer an excellent place to cool down and some fabulous chilling out.

The view from Tulum ruins

On the first day I left at 6am when it was still dark and took a detour to visit the Zona Hoteleria just outside Cancun – a narrow strip of land in the sea full of hotels. It was a coincidence that I arrived at one of the famous beaches for sun rise! With just one coffee and a yoghurt from Starbucks I made it to playa del Carmen in just under 4 hours arriving at 10am. This place was heaving with tourists after all the beach was just 2 mins walk from the town centre.

The pyramid at Coba ruins

Some ‘trad’ climbing at Coba Ruins

The second day of ride was to Tulum, just 61 kilometres away – an early morning two hours ride. At Tulum I went to see the ruins and decided to do some snorkelling which was on the list of things to do but I never had the courage. It was an adventure worth it. The water was warm the various shades of bluish green water was fabulous. Nevertheless, I lost the breathing tube within the first five minutes and panic set in. My guide and his assistant couldn’t hide their amusement but was kind enough to throw a rubber tube into the water which I held on to for the next 30 minutes. I dipped my head in every time my guide pointed out a turtle or some lovely coral reef. Next time when some one mentions snorkelling I know what it means.

From Tulum I went inland, another two hours early morning ride to Coba just 47 kilometres away. Tourists get bussed in to this ruins and early mornings are the best to beat the crowd. Cyclists think alike. I met a german cyclist at the entrance of this park who had cycled in from opposite direction. This site was quite big and a private company rented out bicycles for use within the park. Outside bicycles were not allowed. I tried my best but they wouldn’t budge. So we both decided to take a walk. This site had a massive and steep pyramid where people were allowed to climb up. The view of the jungle from the top of the pyramid was excellent. This pyramid must have been quite a task to build without cranes. The site of ruins was in a wooded area making the walk a pleasant one. We met a family of four from Utah who decided to climb one of the banyan trees. The kids were astonished to see the aerial roots. It was fun to scale this tree in the ‘traditional’ manner. It turned out the parents were also Chemistry teachers. 

Testing arboreal life

The out of bounds pyramid at Chichen Itza

Cenote Yodzkonot

Next stop was Valladolid which was the nearest city to the famous Chichen Itza ruins. I was at the ruins at 8am the next day to avoid both tourists and the heat. There were plenty of structures standing intact from the Mayan time but unfortunately the pyramid was off limits for climbing. These structures were grand. After visiting the ruins, as planned, I arrived at the Cenote Yokdzonot which was recommended to me by the guys at the bicycle shop. I went into the water without much fear this time since life jackets were compulsory and also this felt safer than an open ocean. The water was crystal clear and cooler with some beautiful limestone rock formations. Because I stayed there overnight I had the privilege of going into the water once again after lunch. Life felt good in the water there. From the Cenote another early morning long ride took me to Merida, about 102 km – the longest ride of this trip. From Merida I took the bus back to Cancun where this trip ended.

life is safe with a life jacket!

Route: Cancun – Playa del Carmen (90 kms) – Tulum (61) – Coba (47) – Valladolid (63) – Yodzkonot (68) – Merida (102). 

For those who wish to rent a bicycle I highly recommend the bicycle shop ‘Elite Cyclery’ at Cancun who had a wide range of bikes of all sizes and types available for rent (Disclaimer –  I was not paid to write this!). 

A short bicycle ride in Cuba

After a brief period of lull it was time to revive the cycle touring spirit albeit with a short tour, a very short one, compared to the previous journey.

The criteria to select the place was warm weather and a place where I have never been. Cuba met this criteria and more – this country is well known among cycle tourists for its traffic free roads. Off I went packing my bicycle; this time a trailer was not needed just a small daypack that sat on my shoulders was sufficient.

Close to Trinidad

Some brief respite from the Sun

One of the thousands of crabs that got killed on the highway

Some typical colonial town centres

One of the caves near Vinales which the revolutionaries used, to hide away

The coast line of Havana

Vinales – some greenery

Malecon, Havana

Cienfuegos town centre

Colonial remnants?

My original plan was to ride for about 10 days in total plus two days on either side to just chill. On arrival in Varadero airport I got picked up by the taxi to Matanzas where I assembled my bike and left the bicycle bag in the casa where I stayed at.

The roads were traffic free and wide and the terrain I rode was generally flat, no major hills or mountains, for most part of the route, except near Trinidad. The first day I covered 80 kms to Colon and then second day was 120 kms to Santa Clara from where I headed to the coastal town, Trinidad which was very popular among tourists for its colonial architecture. From here I rode to Cienfuegos along the coast. After about 20 kms the highway was covered with thousands of dead crabs. I had no idea why these pitiful creatures would crawl to the tarmac from the beach sand only to be get killed by the traffic. To ride over these dead crabs for several kilometres was sick. But I had no choice but to just pedal as fast as I could to get away from this crab-disaster zone. After four days of cycling, on arrival in Cienfuegos, I decided to cut short the cycling for it was unbearable to cycle at 30 plus degrees centigrade. From here, I took a bus to Havana where I dropped most of my stuff and left for another 3 days of riding towards Vinales. With no bag on my shoulders, but just the small bag on the seat post rack, the ride was more enjoyable and I took the route which was not frequented by tourists. These three days brought back some pleasant memories from my previous cycling trip and how much I missed it. Vinales was a region that was very popular among tourists because of the hills. It was much better than other parts of Cuba in terms of the vegetation, lot more trees and a bit hilly terrain.  However, I was not terribly impressed perhaps because I was comparing it to the Andes mountains.

In my infinite wisdom I had forgot to restock my puncture repair kit which was missing the puncture repair solution.  I was hoping to get a new one in Cuba. First lesson learnt was that it is hard to find things in Cuba, yes, even a decent bicycle puncture repair solution. Perhaps, the numerous horse drawn carts and bicycles in Cuba never gets punctured. The high street in towns and cities were not typical – the absence of marketing bill boards, sale, offers, discounts was conspicuous. A bottle of cold drink was often hard to find, either they did not have the right size or it was not cold. When available the cost was almost the same as in a corner shop in London. The trick was to rely on things that were local. Freshly squeezed sugar cane, mango or guava juice was just dirt cheap. Although, the quality of the water used to make them could be dubious. A thirsty cyclist may not give a damn about this but only later to run to a pharmacy to get some ciprofloxacin. Alas, that’s when he might discover that foreigners were not allowed to use the same pharmacy shops, or at least the same counters. They may need the same medicine but the administrators believe in extracting a high price from the tourists. I was offered ciprofloxacin for 15.5 USD. Fortunately, I knew a trick or two. I cycled away from the tourist town to a smaller village where, my skin colour and Spanish skills got me a whopping discount of 99%. I paid just 16 cents, (4 pesos in local currency). In tourists towns, foreigners were kept separate, almost. Foreigners were only allowed to use a designated bus company to get around which locals were not allowed to board. It was illegal to host foreigners which meant no couchsurfing or warmshowers. And worse, Cubans were required to obtain a special license even if they wished to host their best friends or families from overseas in their houses.

The hospitality industry was heavily restricted. Hotels were rare however there were plenty of ‘casas’ – bed and breakfast equivalent. The owners of these were required to get a special permit for which the government extracted a heavy price (in USD) from them in the name of license and the price for accommodation was 20-25 USD per night per person. Throughout the island, except in the capital where it was 35, the cost was standard. The cost of internet was the next shock. People don’t have internet access at homes, let alone mobile internet. Tourists, and even the locals, had to buy a special card in the designed offices in town centres at certain times. It was USD 1.50 per hour. The internet access was through wifi at designated parks and plazas. It was quite a sight to see all those internet obsessed people in one location – the plazas and the parks which would have been places for socialising! The lack of internet at homes meant booking accommodation in advance were almost impossible.  Often, it was done by word of mouth and phone calls. Whenever I arrived in a city/town I would see the sign for a ‘casa’ and even if they were full they  would always take me to their relative or friend who had a place to stay. Finding accommodation was not that hard but the standard price was quite annoying. Even in remote villages it costed the same and these casas were eager to make dinner and breakfast for an additional cost, charged in USD. Meanwhile, food at the high street was dirt cheap even though it was just very basic, meat and rice plus onions and tomatoes that constituted salad in the local dictionary.

Havana was a lot different to most of the island and even here there was not much traffic. It was a joy to ride the wide streets with little or no stress. However, the administrators central planning was conspicuous. The road next to the sea, malecon, had six lanes and fast moving cars but bicylces and motor cars were not allowed – pity it would have been such a nice ride. The administrators grand design is also notable by the dilapidated high tower blocks next to the sea. Elsewhere, this part of the city would be buzzing with lot more life. However, the sea breeze and the warmth made it a beautiful combination to walk along this promenade at night times.

Cuba was lot different to most places, perhaps one of the key attractions for most tourists and the traffic free roads were fantastic for some non-stop, traffic-lights free, road cycling. Che’s catchy phrase ‘hasta la victoria siempre’ is omnipresent along the highways although I was a bit unsure if the victory had arrived for the ordinary Cubans!

Back to London

Buenos Aires was hot all day and every day and it was a perfect place for a bit of chilling, reminiscing and future planning. This time was also used to catch up with some of my friends and also to organise a job and a place to live in London on my return.

Access to devils's throat

Access to devils’s throat

Devil's throat

Devil’s throat

There was one more thing to do before my return: Iguazu falls. The bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu was about 17 hours but was comfortable enough. I spent a full day each on the Argentinian and Brazilian side. This falls was beyond anything I have seen in the past. The river looked calm and tranquil. However, when it dropped over the 80 metres cliff, the roar and thunder was majestic. The river spreads itself out over 1.2 kms before dropping over the cliff. The wall of water was a spectacular site. Visitors were taken closer to the falls by the walk ways that were constructed over some parts of the river and also some sections went right on top of the falls. It was an amazing experience to watch some of the water falls from standing on top of it. Also a short boat ride at touristy price was worth it since it gave the view of the falls from the front and on top of it the boat drivers went right up close to the falls to make it worth. With the weather at 30 plus degree C no one complained about getting wet here.

The river before the drop

The river before the drop

A long wall of water!

A long wall of water!

On the upper trail

On the upper trail

Called Koatis these look cute but aggressive one almost ate my banana

Called Koatis these look cute but aggressive one almost ate my banana

To transport both bike and the trailer back to London would be complicated. Luckily an eager Argentinian guy bought the trailer off from me.

Specialized road bike was a reliable partner for the whole trip in spite of being 7 years old so I was not willing to sell it. However, to transport it back the airline wanted about 200 Euros about half the price of the ticket itself. I hatched a plan to beat the airlines by its own rules. The bicycle was broken into its barebones and the frame fitted the size of the bag that was permitted by the airline as regular luggage. Fantastic. Although, the wheels had to be bagged separately I was allowed to carry two bags and yet i was well within my weight limit. Overall I managed to fly the bicycle back to London from Rio de Janeiro at no extra cost although it took a lot of planning and shopping around for decent bags. The ones I found were not the typical ones seen on baggage carousels in the airports. In addition it did not have wheels, the awkward size bag was best carried on top of my head like a coolie in India during ancient times. This caught the attention of several people  during transfers in Iguazu and in the city of London, but it is for them to judge and for me to ignore. Me and my bicycle returned to London safely.


Brazilian side

Brazilian side

At Heathrow airport

At Heathrow airport

Coolie style luggage transport

Coolie style luggage transport

It is hard to believe what had happened in the last 21 months, feels like a blink of an eye and I am still struggling to get over the fact that it’s over. Time is the best healer. Adventure spirit never goes away though perhaps some microadventures over school holidays are most likely for the time being. With regards to dreams I really want to get my book written-up!

Anchorage (Alaska, USA) to Ushuaia (Argentina): The finale, El fin, Le final

The end was in sight and the countdown began.

After El Calafate the next bigger place was Puerto Natales in Chile and there was a 70 km ripio (Spanish for gravel roads) section in between. I took the 75 km detour to avoid this even though it meant some potential headwinds when heading west from Esperanza. Early mornings were generally better for winds and also on that particular day it was calm. I timed it well to avoid the headwinds. On the fourth day, after leaving El Calafate, the road towards Puerto Natales had some beautiful views of Torres del Paine, some stunning granite rocks standing tall. I was quite close but did not go into this park because I did not have the time nor the gear to do some proper mountaineering; perhaps another trip sometime in the future.

A lonely gas stat

A lonely gas station

Torres del Paine at a distance

Torres del Paine at a distance

Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas was 240 kms away and I pedalled it over two long days. Technically, Punta Arenas, as most Chileans pointed out to me, was the last big city at the southern end of this continent. Ushuaia which boasted the title of ‘End of the World’ was located on an island, called Tierra del Fuego shared by both, Argentina and Chile. It was a two hour ferry ride to get to this island from Punta Arenas. On arrival at Porvenir, the first small town in this island, a long stretch of approximately 156 kilometres of gravel roads waited for me. I had to ride this section in order to cross another milestone in this trip, twenty five thousand kilometres. It was just for statistical purposes but why not.

Apart from the small estancias (sort of farm houses) there was nothing along this road, just a dry land mass with tons of wind. The more south I got the winds got stronger and stronger. Luckily on this stretch the winds were tailwinds and on the day I chose the gusts were 78 kmph. If it wasn’t for the gravel roads this would have been a piece of cake. The winds threw me around all over the road but generally kept me moving forward. The road surface was not too bad though; a well compacted gravel road except for the last 20 kms closer to the border. I was riding with full warm gear, full pants, beanie underneath my helmet, full gloves, thick socks and a jacket. This was not quite how I imagined this would be. The blustery winds generally did not let the temperature rise during the day. A lonely wind battered tree along the route described who was the boss on this island.


You know who is the boss here

Pampa landscape at its finest

Pampa landscape at its finest

Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguins

A ‘bunch’ of emperor penguins have migrated to this island some years ago helping to put this place on the tourist map. It was a 12kms detour, one way, and that too on gravel roads. I stored my bicycle in the bus shelter at the junction and hitchhiked to see them. It was not as impressive as I expected though perhaps because of vthe David Attenborough’s documentaries featured these birds on some stunning islands in Antarctica and so this visit was just a tick in the box for me.

After crossing the border at San Sebastián the roads were asphalt once again. I covered the distance of 78 kms to the city called Rio Grande in just under three hours. I felt invincible but once arriving in the city the road direction changed putting me directly in front of the winds which battered me and put me in my place.

After about 50 km from Rio Grande the pampa landscape gave way to some rolling hills and closer towards Tolhuin the landscape took a big change, it was more alpine. However the temperature here stayed in single digit (degrees Celcius) throughout the day. Combine this with the windchill it was barely above freezing temperature and not quite pleasant for someone who prefers tropical climates. The British summer looked a lot more tropical compared to the summer in Tierra del Fuego.

From Tolhuin it was 104 km to Ushuaia but I dragged the end a bit and rode this over two days since accommodation in Ushuaia was way outside my budget.

Lago Escondido

Lago Escondido

One last pass

One last pass

Another milestone, 25000 kms

Another milestone, 25000 km

During the last two weeks I was asked by several people whom I met along the route including some cyclists who asked about how I felt about the end that was coming. It only hit me on the penultimate day when I emptied the fuel bottle. There were no more roads to continue south and I started feeling the void; something that kept me busy was gone. It was a bit sad to see the bicycle boxed and being loaded on to the plane in Ushuaia. When the escalator moved the bike box from the luggage trolley and on to the plane’s belly I felt a beast was caged the one that rolled 25,090 km over two continents (After thought: this sentence might sound dramatic but it was exactly how I felt at the time). At the Ushuaia airport waiting room while I was watching this scene unfold, scenes of my life over the last 20 months were playing in my head, a bit of a smile with puffed eyelids at the same time; the sense of success with a tinge of sadness was a bit overwhelming.

The little boy, who grew up in one of the slums of Chennai, only dreamt of a better life at his younger age. Little he knew that Alaska and Ushuaia would beckon him later in his life and that too on a bicycle. The last 20 months and two weeks could not be described simple as bicycle touring, it was something bigger. It was a dream one that was conceived about three years before the start of this journey. The motivations to embark on this journey were several. I wish to write this up and the events that led to this decision in the form of a book since I believe this story will be of interest to some. The enthusiasm from the pupils in the schools and the students at several universities that I spoke to during this trip confirm this.

I am very grateful for life and the opportunities it presented to experience and realise some of my dreams. The dreams that I had when I was young were radically different to the ones that I conceived later in my life. I chose to free myself from the illusion of stability in life, a career, a place to own etc., and seized the freedom to purse some of my dreams that would make me happy. A happiness born from the self without depending on the recognition of others. This unashamedly self indulgent journey was worth taking the risk. Apart from the obvious effects, this trip has freed my mind and has left me with ideas for more adventures in life and I have no doubt that some of the effects of this trip will be latent. When the mind was free life seemed beautiful and the happiness was permanent.

It only took 19 months and two weeks to get here

It only took 20 months and two weeks to get here

The trophy

The trophy

Everything about freedom has been said and there are plenty to quote from. I will chose one that might be a bit obscure but quite pertinent. I watched a documentary once, during my time in South Africa, whose title I forgot (shame on me) but left a strong impact on me. A lesbian woman of colour who was imprisoned during apartheid for some offence and later was working for a NGO at the time of making of the documentary said ‘freedom is in your head’. She felt a lot more ‘free’ inside the prison cell than outside it.

El Calafate to Ushuaia (1065 km; the route): El Calafate – El Cerrito (96) – Esperanza (70) – Tapi Aike (81) – Puerto Natales (112) – Villa Tehuelches (147) – Punta Arenas (100) – an Estancia via Porvenir (75) – San Sebastián (91) – Rio Grande (78) – Tolhuin (107) – Lago Escondido (53) – Ushuaia (55).