Hidden Gems

Travel bloggers around the world are uniting to create one big ol’ list jam-packed with information about the world’s best hidden secrets. I am honored to add these three gems of my own.

The Arctic tundra

I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly what I liked so much about the tundra, but that’s hard to do. Was it the herds of caribou grazing in the swampy fields filled with arctic grasses swaying in the wind? Or the mile upon mile of unbroken tundra stretching as far as the eye can see? Or the sun shining relentlessly upon our tent at 2:00 in the morning? Or the musk ox wandering slowly? Or the spectacular Brooks Range rising dramatically before us?

Caribou in the tundra

arctic flowers

I think what impressed me so much about the Arctic tundra was the very fact that it challenged so many facts I’ve always revolved my life around. Every single day of my life I knew the sun would come up in the morning – and set at night. But in the arctic, that’s not necessarily true. In the summer (when we were there) the sun never leaves the sky. In the winter, the sun never rises. That’s a whole new set of facts thrown at me – and one that left my brain all topsy-turvy and spun around.

Camp by frozen lake

In the tundra trees never grow. The four of us have grown so accustomed to camping hidden amongst a grove of trees that the tundra took us by surprise. There was not a one – seriously! Not even one tree! When we were tired and ready to set up our tent, we simply pulled off the side of the road and camped. We made no effort to hide – we couldn’t have even if we had wanted to.

cycling the tundra

in the tundra

And then of course there were the caribou. Or reindeer as I preferred to call them. This is Santa’s playground, and I kept an eye out for Rudolf. Unfortunately, I never saw him. I think Santa may have had him hidden away.

On top Atigun Pass in Brooks Range

The Sonora River Valley in Mexico

“Why don’t you ride through the Sonora River valley?” a cyclist we met on the side of the road in Mexico asked. “I just came through there and it was great!”

The Sonora River valley? Where is that?

The tiny road snaking alongside the Sonora River between Douglas, Arizona and Hermosillo, Mexico in the Mexican state of Sonora wasn’t even on our map. In Google Maps online, you have to zoom in nearly full-on before you even see the towns – but the road still doesn’t show up. Even so, it was a delight to cycle like we had never found before.

Sonora River

Sonora River Valley

All along the valley, we cycled through small, historic towns every 15 or 20 kilometers. The people had smiles ready and beers in their hands. They invited us to lunch and to spend an afternoon in a hot spring. We were welcomed by hundreds of cattle ranchers at their annual meeting, party, and rodeo. We spent a night with one of those backcountry Mexican hicks like you see in the movies – but this one was real. In the morning, he caught a raccoon for his lunch.


Small town life

With exotic names like Aconchi, Banamichi, and Bacoachi, the towns were nothing but a sheer delight. Each pueblo revolved around a central plaza with an old church dating back to the 1500′s. The villages were clean and cheery places filled with friendly people just waiting for a family of cyclists to come passing through.

Sonora River Valley

Sonora River Valley

Tolu, Colombia

It was one of those days. Hot. Sticky, The humidity level was about as high as the space shuttle. We were traveling through the northern plains of Colombia dreaming of the Andes – beautiful mountain views, cooler temperatures, and interesting scenery. Not this drab, boring, grassy plain by the ocean.

We pulled in to Tolu looking for a bed and a shower. A bit of food would be nice too. We didn’t expect the full blown Colombian beach resort or sloths in the trees or delicious street food or bicycles built for 15. We quickly fell in love with the town and stayed five days.

Our first stop in town was the central park. John and the boys stayed with the bikes while I went out in search of a hotel. When I returned a few minutes later, I found them all standing under a massive tree in the middle of the park, craning their necks gazing into the tree. “A sloth, Mom!” Daryl cried. “Come look!”

Looking for sloths


In Costa Rica we had wanted to see sloths – I had never seen one in the wild before – so we paid a visit to the much touristed Manuel Antonio National Park where sloths abound. We saw them – way up high in the trees looking like a dark lump. And now, here they were – four of them – just above our heads. I decided I liked Tolu.

We spent five days in the resort – just couldn’t seem to pull ourselves away. Every night we tried different varieties of street food and watched all the bicycles ply the streets. Bicycles built for one, two, three, six, and twelve. Huge caravans of bikes of every size and variety parading around town each night – riders laughing and shouting and having the time of their lives.

street food

bicycle built for 6

During the day, we hung out in the water, relaxing and talking with Colombians who had come for the weekend. We ate ice cream. And we sat under the tree and watched sloths. Tolu was nothing more than heaven on earth.

tolu, colombia

Many thanks to both TravellingTwo and TravelMamas for nominating me for the project!

In order to continue the chain of discovering wonderful, hidden gems, I get to nominate others to participate. Here they are!

The Path Less Pedaled – A couple who sold all their belongings and took off on their bikes to discover the world

Al Humphreys – Al spent four years biking around the world with very little money, but he had great adventures!

The McFerrin Family – This family of five is now out cycling Latin America

The Miller Family – A family with four kids who aren’t afraid to jump on their bikes and take off to Europe or Africa or…

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

A summary of our journey

I’ve been working on getting all my old newsletters online along with slide shows for each one – it’s been a massive task!  I am now almost completely done – only the very most recent one is left.  So – for those of you who haven’t been with us from the beginning, I hope this can give you an idea of what we’ve been up to these past 17 months!

Ready for takeoff:  June 6, 2008

Dalton Highway in Alaska: June 28, 2008

Alaska Highway: August 3, 2008

Crossing into mainland USA: September 10, 2008

In Montana, Wyoming, and Utah: October 17, 2008

Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico: November 19, 2008

Texas:  December 24, 2008

Northern Mexico: January 25, 2009

Mexico: February 21, 2009

Yucatan Peninsula: March 14, 2009

Belize, Guatemala, & Honduras: April 15, 2009

Honduras: May 13, 2009

Nicaragua & Costa Rica: June 25, 2009

Costa Rica & Panama: July 21, 2009

Made it to South America: August 16, 2009

In the Colombian Andes: September 18, 2009

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Armed and Dangerous? (Orange Walk, Belize)

“We need to get to bed, kids,” I announced last night.  “We’ll be getting up early to hit the road again.”


The kids and I climbed into bed, while John went out to the bar to hang out with Jack for a while.


A few minutes later, he came barging back into the room.  “Nancy!” he called.  “I need to talk with you!  It’s important!”


I crawled out of bed and headed out onto the veranda.


“I was just out there talking with a local policeman,” John told me.  “He said we shouldn’t be on the road going to Belize City tomorrow.  Apparently there are three fugitives on the loose – they were in a gun battle with the police a couple days ago.  Nobody knows where they are, but they think they are hanging out along the road going to Belize City.  They are armed and dangerous – and they’re desperate.  We would be easy prey on the road.”


We made the decision to hang out for another day and make a visit to the police station to find out what the situation was.  If it really is a real threat, we’ll arrange some kind of escort.


So, this morning we headed down to the police station to see what we could learn.  We explained the situation to the sergeant in charge.


“So why are you here?” he asked.  “Do you want an escort?”


“We don’t want an escort unless you think we need one,” we replied.


He started laughing.


“That road is perfectly safe!” he exclaimed.  “Sure, it is true that the fugitives are out there somewhere, but they certainly wouldn’t go near the road during the day.  I would advise that you are off the road by evening, but during the day you will have absolutely no problems.”


So – we’re on for tomorrow.  First thing tomorrow morning we’ll take off and explore more of Belize.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Please Mom! (Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico)

“Please Mom!” Davy pleaded.  “Can we stay here today?”

John and I had gotten up bright and early and had our gear nearly packed and ready to go before we got the kids up.

The first words out of Davy’s mouth were, “Can we stay?”

I suppose we needed a day like today – a day spent doing absolutely blissfully nothing.  The beach here in Chetumal is dismal, the heat oppressive, the market shut down on Sunday… In short, we had nothing to entice us to go out and explore.

So all four of us hung around the hotel all day reading, playing computer games, surfing the internet, and napping.

In short – it was EXACTLY what we needed!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Newsletter – Cycling in the Yucatan Peninsula

March 14, 2009

This is it – our last day in Mexico. We arrived into the border town of Chetumal yesterday after a grueling 400-km jaunt across the southern part of the Yucatan peninsula. The headwinds were howling, heat was extreme, and we faced the first hills we’ve seen in I-don’t-remember-how-long. But we’re here – and ready to face new adventures in Belize.

cycling in Villahermosa

Family on Bikes meets the Lazo cycling team. The Lazo family graciously invited us to stay with them – it was great to meet another family who enjoys cycling!

I last wrote to you from the city of Minatitlan, where we holed up for a few days to escape the heat. If only we had known what was to come, we might never have left!

As we continued to make our way southward, our first stop was Villahermosa, where Jorge and his family welcomed us with open arms to their home. His two boys – Fer (13) and Ricky (9) – immediately befriended Davy and Daryl and the four of them enjoyed a lovely few days playing in the neighborhood pool, playing PlayStation, and otherwise doing what boys tend to do.

And then – the entire family escorted us out of town. Jorge pulled 7-year-old Ale on her trail-a-bike, while Mom Alejandra hauled Gigi the dog in a basket on her handlebars. Ricky and Fer pedaled their own bikes. What a sight we were! Nine people, one dog, and seven bikes – a caravan all our own!

The next to continue the unbroken chain of Mexican hospitality we’ve been shown, Magregor welcomed us to his home in Cuidad del Carmen. It took all of about 15 minutes for Davy and Magregor’s son, Kevin, to become fast friends – even though they could barely speak to one another. It’s fun to watch how easily kids figure out ways to communicate – I think we adults can certainly learn from them.

And from there, we made our way to Sabancuy where Fecundo greeted us with open arms and led us to his father’s hotel. We spent a lovely day there, playing in both the ocean waves and the pool.

And so it was that we arrived at the gateway to the Yucatan. A simple 400 kilometers separated us from Belize – or so we thought. Yes, it was a mere 400 km. But simple? Not by any stretch of the imagination!


After a full day playing at the beach, we headed back to the picturesque town of Sabancuy.

Our first day cycling in the Yucatan peninsula gave us just a hint of the heat and winds to come, and we arrived into Escarcega just as the sun was about to set, exhausted. The next day was even worse – the hills had begun in earnest. Each day we battled ferocious winds – becoming stronger by the day – until we collapsed into our tent utterly wiped out.

But we knew that each pedal stroke, each gasp of air, each drop of sweat, brought us closer to Belize – and that thought kept us going. And now we are here in the border town of Chetumal, poised to enter Belize tomorrow.

We’ve now crossed our first continent, with only Central and South America to go. The boys have accomplished something few, if any, 11-year-old kids have done – cross the great North American continent under their own power. I’m certainly proud of them.

And yet I was talking with Davy about that last night. “What do you think sweetie?” I asked. “You’ve now crossed all of North America!”

“Eh,” he responded. “It’s not that big of a deal.”

I guess the kids’ perceptions of our travels will never be the same as ours.

Thanks for being part of our adventure!
Nancy, John, Davy, Daryl

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Goodbye North America! (Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico)

It’s funny how those major milestones can get lost when you are smack dab in the middle of them…

Yesterday I was simply so plum thrilled to get off my bike for a day that I failed to recognize the significance of getting here – to Chetumal, to the border with Belize.  As I lay in bed last night trying to fall asleep, I realized it -


It’s strange to think we’ve pedaled the entire length of North America from the tippy top to the blazing bottom.  We’ve pedaled all 12,000 km of the continent, we’ve spent about 200 nights sleeping in our tent by the side of the road, and have consumed more granola bars than I can count.  But we did it!  We made it to Chetumal!!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

On the Border (Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico)

A city!  A real, live city!

After cycling across the Yucatan, through remote jungle for four days, it was great to pull into a city and indulge in all the luxuries a city affords.  We’ve got an air-conditioned hotel room (ahhhhh….), a warm shower, junk food from a supermarket…  What more could we ask for?

But we’re here.  Chetumal.  The border city.  We’ll hang out here doing laundry and other assorted chores tomorrow and head into Belize the next day.

Kilometers today:  53
Kilometers to date:  11952

Almost to Belize!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

An Easy Day? (Nachicocom, Quintana Roo, Mexico)

“I say we sleep in tomorrow, then have an easy day,” John suggested last night.

I couldn’t agree more.  After two of the most difficult days of the trip, I was more than ready for an easy day.  Besides, we only had 120 km to Chetumal, so we could afford a 50 km day and still make it in the next day.  I fell asleep dreaming of a lazy morning.

“Nancy!” John shook me awake at 5:00.  “What do you want to do?  It’s nice and cool out right now – we could get some good miles in.”

Why, oh why, can’t that man sleep in?  Every single day John gets up at some ungodly hour – and expects the rest of us to do the same.  The other three of us, on the other hand, greatly prefer to have a relaxing, leisurely morning even if it means we miss the sunrise.

So we took off much earlier than I wanted, but at least I still had a short 50 km ride to look forward to.

But somehow John couldn’t do that either.  At 52 km, we stopped for lunch – then kept going.  Granted, the wind had nearly completely died down and rain clouds overhead kept things relatively cool, but still – I had been looking forward to a short day!

At 72 km, I revolted.  I was ready to stop.  In fact, I had been ready to stop for 20 km.

I swear I’m going to find some of the biggest, heaviest rocks I can find to fill John’s panniers.  Maybe, just maybe, that’ll slow him down a bit!

Kilometers today:  72
Kilometers to date:  11899

The Yucatan goes on and on and on and...

The Yucatan goes on and on and on and…

 The neighborhood kids were fascinated by our tent.

The neighborhood kids were fascinated by our tent.

They were also fascinated by the fact that I write in my journal every night.

They were also fascinated by the fact that I write in my journal every night.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Heat + Hills + Headwind = Excruciating (Xpujil, Campeche, Mexico)

Old Zofuenizer just won’t let up.  Yesterday I was sure he was blowing with the full force of his mighty lungs, but today proved me wrong.

We battled the fierce headwind all day long with no relief whatsoever.  By early afternoon the wind, heat, and hills had beaten me down – I was fried.  Toast  Done in.

No matter how slight the incline, I began walking my bike – I just didn’t have anything left.  We began to wonder if I could made it the remaining 23 km to the village.

I dug a package of coconut cookies out my pannier and starting munching – hoping beyond hope that the sugar would somehow give me the boost I needed.  It didn’t.

The hills, however, let up a bit at the end.  Battling only the wind and heat I could forge ahead – and we finally made it.

All four of us are wiped out.  This jaunt across the Yucatan peninsula has been one of the most difficult stretches yet.  We never would have dreamed the Yucatan would be this tough.

For anyone considering cycling the Yucatan – do yourself a favor and cycle this road east to west!

Kilometers today:  72
Kilometers to date:  11827

Going down one of our thousand hills

Going down one of our thousand hills

Too bad I couldn't capture the headwind in this picture.  It wasn't nearly as ideal as it looks.

Too bad I couldn’t capture the headwind in this picture.  It wasn’t nearly as ideal as it looks.

In addition to the heat, hills, and headwinds, they were widening the road.  It wasn't a problem except for the copious amounts of dust that blew our way...

In addition to the heat, hills, and headwinds, they were widening the road.  It wasn’t a problem except for the copious amounts of dust that blew our way..

We could see these Mayan ruins at Xpujil rising above the trees way before we got there.

We could see these Mayan ruins at Xpujil rising above the trees way before we got there.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Hot Dragon’s Breath (Conhuis, Campeche, Mexico)

There’s a dragon up there – I can see him in my mind’s eye.  I sneak around a corner and spy him – his ample girth covers the entire road and his scales glisten in the sunlight.  I’ve named him Zofuenizer – Neez for short.

Neez appears to be sleeping, but as I approach, the crotchety old geezer opens one eye to look at me.  Then his mouth gapes open, he lets out a mighty roar, and flames come hurling toward me.

All day today ol’ Neez stayed just out of sight around the next bend, sending clouds of hot dragon breath billowing back toward us.  We fought against his breath, struggling up the hills and fighting to get back down them.

We’re now cutting across the Yucatan – straight across the southern part to get to Belize.  The road is very sparsely populated, jungle encroaches wildly from both sides, and it’s hotter than blazes.  It wouldn’t be so bad if old Zofuenizer would just take a break from spewing out his hot breath.

I wonder if Bilbo might have some suggestions for us….

Kilometers today:  85
Kilometers to date:  11755

At least the birds were pretty...

At least the birds were pretty…


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

The Flames of Hell (Escarcega, Campeche, Mexico)

It’s hot.  The flames of hell sounded quite appealing today.  This heat makes a bike ride on the surface of the sun seem like a cakewalk.  It was so hot today I started dreaming of cooling off by jumping into the wicked witch’s cauldron.  In other words – it’s hot.

I drank water by the bucketload all day.  Honestly, I’m not sure how much water I ingested in the end, but I know I drank at least 1.5 gallons.  Yep – that’s gallons.  As in – four quarts to a gallon….  Which means I drank at least six quarts of water.  And yet, I didn’t pee all day.

And Daryl?  He drank a grand total of one cup of water.  Yes – one cup.  Therein lies our problem.

We’ve tried everything to get Daryl to drink more.  We’ve asked him; we’ve begged him; we’ve threatened him; we’ve reasoned with him.  We’ve put flavoring in his water, but it just turns hot yucky water into hot yucky flavored water.  Daryl is convinced he’s drinking enough, but we know he’s not.

Our only saving grace is Daryl’s fierce sense of justice and fairness.  Every once in a while we get a 2- or 3-liter bottle of soda, and Daryl is bound and determined to get his fair share.  Which means, of course, that he forces himself to drink a whole bunch.

But still, our problem remains.  And so I thought I would put this out here in the hopes that you, dear reader, will have the magic bullet we need to encourage our son to drink more.  Do you have any words of wisdom you can pass on?  And suggestions we can try?  I thank you in advance for your help!

Kilometers today:  85

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande

I just finished reading Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande and highly recommend it as required reading for anyone remotely interested in learning what life is like in Mexico.

The story follows a young woman named Juana as she struggles to deal with extreme poverty and events that occur because of it. Along the way, Juana meets Adeline, whose life forever changes the way Juana sees the world.

 After have pedaled the length of Mexico, this book opened my eyes to the hopes and dreams of the people I’ve see and gotten to know. Reyna’s vivid descriptions of the lives and dwellings of those living in extreme poverty have helped me see more than I did previously. As a child, the auther of Across a Hundred Mountains lived barefoot and penniless in a shack in southern Mexico. At the age of ten, she crossed into the USA illegally and took advantage of all the US has to offer. But even so, her experiences as a young child gave life to Juana in a way few writes could ever manage to do.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

A Day in the Water (Sabancuy, Campeche, Mexico)

The kids can never get enough. I swear those two are part fish (and the other part monkey!).They rolled out of bed this morning and fell right into the pool at the hotel. A few hours later we jumped in a ¨taxi¨and headed over to the beach, where they spent the whole afternoon in the water. And when we got back to the hotel, guess where they headed?

The bad news is that I must not have put enough sunscreen on them and they got a bit burnt. Hopefully it won’t be too painful tomorrow!

The boys enjoyed jumping off the swing into the pool.

The boys enjoyed jumping off the swing into the pool.

We took a

We took a “taxi” down to the beach.

Our taxi

Our taxi

Playing in the waves

Playing in the waves

Heading back to the hotel

Heading back to the hotel

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel