Olivier burns his hands and starts a discussion, but he loses. He can't compete with an angry civil servant with power. "All right, can I pay in Guatemalan money?" he gives in. To which the man in power replies "Nope, and we cannot receive money at this border so you have to go to another border" "To another border?!" Olivier almost shouts while his body radiates completely in peace. We look at the man in disbelief, "why doesn't he just tell you that right away?" The next imagration border is two days of cycling from here! Olivier decides to be a step forward and beat the customs officer. "Look," he says to Zoë, pointing to the paper on the window, "the fine print says that if we stay in the country for more than 7 days (after receiving the 7 days visa) you should pay a fine of 25 euros at the exit." That is exactly the same amount as buying the officer out, right now. A bit awkward, but still satisfied, we take the seven-day visa and, to be sure, a photo of the document with the message. Who is not strong must be smart. We are going to trust on the small letters of the law. We will only know in a month, when we leave Mexico, if we where really smart.
We soon forgot about it and don't think about the border anymore. We get a visit from Paul, he will come and cycle with us for the coming week. Paul is a friend from Zoë’s rugby club in delft. He lives in Mexico for his work and took a week of for a new kind of Holliday’s. To top it all off, Paul arrives right on Zoë’s birthday in Comitán. We receive Paul in the house of Julia, a warmshower host. She is already away for several months. Apperantly she fell in love with an Australian cyclist and left. But incredible as it is, she leaves her house open for any cyclist who wants to. Her bed, her kitchen, everything open to the guest. Paul has never done a bicycle trip before, so of course we would like to show the wonderful world we have ended up. If this is not already a special welcome in the cycling world? This afternoon we toast with a cold beer and tonight Paul is sleeping in a soft bed, in Julia's, before the colors and smells of cycling begin. Up to the next cold beer, Paul probably thinks.
The first day is a gift for all of us. A great start. We descend more than a thousand meters and have two great stops along the way. A clear blue underwater cave and perhaps the most beautiful waterfalls that we have see this trip. The water is ice blue and finds its way over clay beds, five large waterfalls and beautiful forest. We have to climb a lot of stairs for it, but we get a beautiful overnight location in return. Paul in our hammock and we in the tent. Fortunately we all slept well before the big day’s start. First we go up and down all the stairs one more time to photograph the waterfall at its best before we are allowed to cycle up the same 1,300 meters that we did down yesterday. Not an easy day. Not for us and certainly not for a newcomer. "Paul likes a challenge, it will be a tough day for him, but he can do this" says Zoë when we plan the route a few days earlier. It is difficult to know beforehand what someone can do, what he want and wishes. We take the chance and even plan a host for that evening. In short, the training is fixed, but with a well-deserved arrival after a hard day climbing.
We climb and climb and climb. We’ve got a nice pace. Of course there will come a moment when it gets pretty tough for an untrained cyclist. But if we all go at our own pace, we will all arrive. Paul follows us like a rocket. So Zoë, the mountain goat, maintains a decent climbing pace, and Paul keeps up. Soon Olivier comes to Zoë to keep her down. “Hay, it is not a competition, it is still a long day, he will not keep it that way". "We are going well anyway" she responds, but not much later the the machine starts to mutter behind us. Sounds we never heard before. The knee starts to crack, the bike starts to squeak and Paul starts to puff. When we stop for a short break, Zoë suddenly feels guilty. Paul looks like he has been on the rugby field all day. "Oops, I overestimated it, this is too heavy" Zoë tells Olivier when Paul keeps his pace behind us. "No, hey, he will be there", says Olivier confidently but convinced. Occasionally we look back to see how he is doing. He almost hangs with his head between his knees, his arms pull on the handlebars and his head almost explodes.
While we are cycling ahead, a giggle occasionally escapes. “Pfoeff, pfoeff, pfoeff" sounds the crackling machine. We really can't help it, but with every sound of Paul struggling, a giggle escapes. "how bad of us!" Says Zoë. Paul's sweat is in contrast to our well-oiled machine. We move forward calmly and at ease. We suddenly realize that we have not overestimated Paul, we have overestimated the mountain." We presented the poor boy a course for well trained athletes. Suddenly the penny has dropped. Thirteen hundred meters of altitude and a hundred steps in the morning. That's with 1,600 meters of height comparable to the ascent of Mont Ventoux. Where people train for days, months or even years. We do not realize that we (nowadays) climb so much distance and so many meters so easily. We have also not realized what the impact could be on an untrained cyclist. But Paul doesn't give up. Every time we look around, his face is redder and his knees are curved, but when we ask him if he is okay, a huge smile appears on his face and the thumb goes up. "I haven't suffered this much in two years, but it is great!” he shouts as if there is still a hidden breath hidden. He cycles every meter himself, with a lot of perseverance and power. After seven o'clock we summit and Paul can give himself a good pat on the back. Along the way a tri-athlete tells him with open mouth "I will not imitate you". Paul himself is so impressed that he even turns off his well earned beer.
Unfortunately the host at the top of the mountain can no longer receive us, but a new angel comes around. The owner of the restaurant where we are waiting for our warmshower host offers us his land. We can pitch our tent there, use the kitchen and bathroom. In the morning we are even served for breakfast. It is one of the small sparks that arise in the magic of cycling. People want to help us. Scheduled, like warmshowerhosts or unscheduled as with this owner. Other sparks are those of the hidden places along the way. The secrets of the local environments. On our last day with Paul we can spend the night at such a miracle. It is a waterfall in a canyon. Hidden in such a way that the rustic splatters. We hope that some of these sparks were allowed to skip on Paul shoulders and take him on another bike adventure one day. What we once learned in this journey is that you quickly forget the pain and remember the beauty. We know for sure that Paul only looks back proudly to his climb on the Mont Vertoux and has difficulties remembering the pain. Paul, you were a nice company. We have laughed a lot. See you at the next mountain!