Mexico etc - CycleBlaze

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Mexico etc

Jean-Marc Strydom

Leigh has her second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 jab tomorrow so we are going to start traveling again two weeks after that.  The area we are heading to is Mexico and the countries south of it, the reason being that Mexico is the one country on our wish list that will allow us in during the pandemic.  The kicker was that the folk at the Mexican embassy in Pretoria have been the friendliest and most helpful consular staff with whom I have ever dealt.

The vague route we currently plan to take is from Mexico City looping upwards through Teotihuacan then down to Puebla, Oaxaca, Guatemala, Belize and ending up in Cancun from where we plan to fly back to SA in January next year (it's my Mom's 90th birthday so I have to be back).

There aren't many journals on CycleBlaze that relate to Mexico and Central America but I am sure someone out there has some useful feedback.  Steve Miller's "Grampies' Road to Ruins" and Sue & Jim Price's "We'll Follow the Sun" have been most helpful but they relate mostly to the Yucatan and we hope to cover a bit more ground.

The main questions we have been tossing around have to do with camping, what stove to take along (Screw-in Canister gas vs white gas), what weather we need to cater for (from the heights of Mexico City to the tropical areas further south) and if we should be concerned about malaria or not.  We have carried less gear while cycling around South Africa during our pandemic-enforced stay in our home country so we are keen to take as little with us as is practical. 

Any suggestions will be gratefully accepted !

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1 month ago
Graham SmithTo Jean-Marc Strydom

“what stove to take along (Screw-in Canister gas vs white gas), what weather we need to cater for (from the heights of Mexico City to the tropical areas further south) and if we should be concerned about malaria or not. “

Hi Jean I can’t help you with Mexico-specific advice but the stove type question is of perennial interest to me. You’d think after 40 years of touring I’d have it worked out by now. But I don’t. I’m still experimenting.

My most recent tour was a testing one for camping equipment decisions, because of distance and unknowns about supplies of ethanol in regional and remote areas with low populations and long distances between services/supplies, so I set off on tour with three types of stove because it was possible to do so without adding much weight. My usual cooking set up is the 27 series Trangia.. (the small one but not the mini) so I packed it as I always do. It never fails.

But for my last tour I also packed a 70g gas burner (Optimus), and a 120g twig stove (Google ‘Solo Stove’, or ‘Bush Buddy’ twig stove). It eventuated that I didn’t need either of these extra stoves as I was able to buy enough ethanol fuel en-route. However, less than 200g  wasn’t much extra weight for the ‘insurance’ if I needed to use other fuels.

My two co-riders used different stoves. One had an MSR multi fuel stove. It worked ok but did have clogging problems and needed constant maintenance. The other rider had a JetBoil gas stove and matching pot. This set up worked brilliantly, but gas cyclinders were hard to get in the more remote areas. 

If I was planning a Mexico cycle tour, I’d probably take a similar set of equipment to what I do here in rural and regional Australia. The aim is to cater for a broad range of conditions, but not carry too much stuff. It’s a juggling act of decision making when packing.

Pre-covid I travelled a lot in Indonesia for work, not cycle touring. Dengue Fever and Malaria are endemic problems there. The solutions are clothing (keep covered), timing (extra alertness at twilight) and insect repellent. But no pharmaceuticals. Anti malarials are very unpleasant. There are no anti dengue pills. 

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1 month ago
Jean-Marc StrydomTo Graham Smith

Hi Graham.  Thanks for the feedback.

I have got into the habit of carrying two stoves.  Apart from one being a backup in case the other is unusable for whatever reason (broken, fuel not available), it allows us to cook rice/pasta on the one with a a one-pot mix of meat and veg on the other.  One of these is a tiny iso-butane stove but the other is an MSR WhisperLite Universal that can use iso-butane as well as white gas (what we call benzine in South Africa), paraffin or unleaded petrol (gasoline to the Americans).  I also have a little adapter that allows one to connect a propane bottle to an iso-butane stove that I bought in Singapore which is useful because some countries don't sell iso-butane cylinders but propane cylinders are available.  The tiny stove adds hardly any weight but the gas cylinders take up space in a pannier.  On the other hand, the fuel bottle for the MSR hogs a bottle cage and I always worry about carrying it on an aeroplane.  I'm probably going to end up carrying both stoves and the propane/iso-butane adapter .

I now get the impression that Dengue Fever might be a bigger threat to our health than Malaria.  For many years we dosed ourselves on Doxycycline when traveling malaria risk areas in southern Africa and we are alert to the symptoms but while it is OK to take Doxy for a 3 week trip in the Landy to Mozambique it isn't going to work for a four month bicycle tour in Central America.  Over the past ten years in our travels here in Africa and over in south and SE Asia we have foregone prophylactics and just tried our best to avoid being bitten.  

On the clothing front we have just accepted that we can't get it right and that for a lot of the time we will be carrying excess warm clothing.  We are going to get there halfway through the wet season but it seems that as in most tropical areas the rain falls mainly in the afternoon and evening and so even though we should be able to avoid the worst of it we will still need to carry basic rain gear.

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1 month ago
Graham SmithTo Jean-Marc Strydom

Jean-Marc it sounds as if you have the stove options well covered. I’m way out of date as I didn’t even know the latest MSR Whisperlite could use both liquid and gas fuels.

Your post prompted me to also look online at the Optimus multi fuel stove, and I discovered it is compatible (with the use of a $25 adapter kit) with the Trangia cook set which I love using because of its wind resistance and stability. There is also a gas burner available nowadays for Trangia cook sets. So if I ever do get to do international cycle tours again, (theoretically) I could end up with a Trangia pot set with ethanol, gas, wood and multi-liquid fuel options. That’d be enough to start a travelling cooking school, and make sure I was never without freshly pressed coffee and camp-cooked meals. :). In reality, if I was cycle touring in Mexico, it’s likely I’d be eating out as much as possible. On the short trips I have had to the USA, I discovered that Mexican food is fantastic and very affordable.

I’ve only been on one flight (with my cycle touring gear) in the past 18 months, and I was also concerned about confiscation of my fuel bottle and ethanol burner. To reduce the risk of raising the ire of airport security, I used the clean, dissemble and separate tactic.

After thoroughly washing and drying all my cooking gear, I removed the stop-valve from the fuel bottle and packed it with my toiletries. The empty, capless, clean fuel bottle itself I packed with my drink bottles which were with the bike in a bike box.  I packed the brass stove burner with my bike tools, and the pots (sans burner) I packed separately in my other check-in my luggage. I did have to unseal the bike box to show airport security that it really was a bike, but I had no problem with the disassembled, dispersed, clean fuel bottle and stove.

And yes dengue is definitely worth avoiding. Two friends of mine have had it, and it was very nasty. My understanding is that it is a seasonal disease, and like malaria, spread by a specific type of mosquito. Hence as you said, the best risk management is to not get bitten by mosquitoes. You’d probably find that there are local warning signs and high level of local awareness and better information once you are in-country. 

Anyway I look forward to vicariously following your Mexican cycle tour online here on CycleBlaze. We are currently in full covid lockdown here in much of S.E. Australia. The Delta strain has us besieged, so watching others travel from afar via their journals is a good tonic. 

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1 month ago