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Stage 5: Central America



Crossing a Bridge to Home, you look back, and realize that you had actually never left…


Lands to the north of the Caribbean coast of modern South America were never part of Gondwanaland, at least not officially.  In the strictest of terms, therefore, The Tour of Gondwana should be considered complete at the end of Stage Four.  However, the choice of whether to secure transport north from Ecuador, or continue the tour along the narrow strip of land that leads to home did not require much thought on my part.  So, Stage Five will find me returning to Laurasia and winding through the Central American isthmus and Mexico, seeing their many amazing sights and peoples.  Adequate remaining funds, my personal physical and mental state, and the onset of winter permitting, a relatively brief circuit to visit many of the impressive natural and cultural sites of the American Southwest will complete the entire tour.

With the possible exception of the weather, this stage will not present any particular challenges that would equal those encountered on the previous four stages.  The overall distance, at least as of now, is essentially tied with Stage Three for the shortest of the tour, and the continuously decreasing distance from home should make any logistical support a bit easier.  Culturally, though there is a certain tense history between the region and its large northern neighbor, at least there will be only one unfamiliar (for me) language to deal with.  Additionally, the more relaxed terrain, relative to Stages Two and Four, should be a little less physically demanding. 

The weather, however, is one aspect that may be less than ideal during this Stage.  At that time of year, Central America will be hot and humid, with afternoon thunderstorms and a slight, but nevertheless important, risk of hurricanes.  This was a compromise in scheduling that could not really be avoided, but I will deal with it as best as possible.  I generally don't mind cycling in the heat and humidity, but if the area is constantly wet, that will be a little more unpleasant.  I shall just have to take a chance and hope for good luck.  In spite of that possibility, there are so many interesting places to visit during this Stage, that I will have a great time, no matter what rain may fall.

The Darrian Gap prevents any overland travel from South to Central America, though that may not be such an unfortunate fact, since I probably would not be very interested in touring through Colombia at the present time even if it were possible.  So Stage Five will begin in Panama City, after a short transfer from Ecuador.  At that point, there is really only one direction to go–north.  I will take a fairly direct route through Panama, and into Costa Rica.  There, the course follows the Pacific coast of that nation taking in some of the exceptional forest parks of that region. 

Contining on, I will next visit, in order, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.  Though small, I expect that these countries will be a lot of fun.  Some of the high points will be the unique, and distinct history of each nation, and the beautiful natural surroundings.  Even more inspiring will be Copan, in Honduras, and Tikal, in Guatemala, the first of many Mayan sites to be visited in Stage Five.  Another fun excursion will be the beautiful barrier reef of Belize.  By that time, I expect that a bit of rest on a sandy atoll will be much appreciated.

Next will be the final country to be visited before returning home, Mexico.  I will enter from Belize at the crossing leading to the eastern Yucatan, and spend some time touring the ruins and other amazing sites of that fascinating region.  This will be one of those cases where the great number of sites will make seeing them all in a practical way a very formidable task and I will try my best to give each place the consideration that it desrves.  After all, many of them had been waiting hundreds of years to make their presence know to the wider world. 

The rest of the route through Mexico will continue to follow a winding course.  The next destination will be Chiapas, which is also filled with numerous inspiring places to see.  I will travel through that state heading to the southwest for a while, eventually reaching the Pacific coast for one last view of that great ocean.  From there, I will turn north once again and climb back into the highlands to Oaxaca.  At that point, there is a choice of routes, either along the Pacific coast, up the center of the country, or along the Gulf coast.  I have chosen to ride towards the Gulf coast to the Veracruz region and then north for a while.  Eventually, I will turn inland again, and head to the northwest, through Zacatecas.  I'd like to visit that historic city, and the beautiful Copper Canyon region, to the north in Durango state.  The remainder of the route through Mexico will take me across the sweltering Sonoran desert, which, hopefully, will not be too hot at that time of the year.  My final border crossing, assuming a vagabond like me will be allowed to cross, will then be made back into the United States, in Arizona.

My route through the Southwest will be probably be very flexible, since there will only be a very short time left in the entire tour.  Perhaps I won't want to stop and will just keep going to someplace new, or perhaps I will have had enough as soon as I cross the border and will end the tour right there.  More than likely, reality lies somewhere in between those extremes.  I would very much like to include Mesa Verde, in Colorado, and several of the great national parks in Utah, though the chill of approaching winter may have something to say about that.  As for a final place to end the whole tour, I think that the Grand Canyon would be nicely appropriate.  There will undoubtedly be a thousand things that may occur between the start and that point which could end the tour prematurely.  However, if my will is strong, and luck is on my side, the Canyon will mark the end of the Tour of Gondwana.  I can't even imagine how I will feel when I first look out over the rim.

Stage statistics are below the map, and highlights are in the sidebar.


 

Dates and Distances


Approximate Start: July 4, 02007
The Big Finish: around October 24, 02007
 
Estimated Distance: 11,100 km
 
Ride days: 80
Rest days: 32

Highest Point


Probably at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, at about 2,300 meters
 

Countries to be visited


Panama
Costa Rica
Nicaragua
Honduras
Guatemala
Belize
Mexico; Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tampico, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua, Sonora
U.S.A.; Arizona, Colorado, Utah



Stage List



Highlights


Places marked with are UNESCO World Heritage Sites

 
~ The Panama Canal
Whether I see it from a ship, or from the shore, it should be interesting.

~  Caribbean Forts of Panama
Protecting the canal, or just history?

~  Panama Viejo
The oldest colonial city on the west coast of the Americas.

~ Monteverde Cloud Forest
One of Costa Rica's famously-preserved forests.

~  Guanacaste Conservation Area
More beautiful forests in Costa Rica.

~  Copan
An impressive Mayan site in Honduras.

~  Quirigua
An impressive Mayan site in Guatemala.

~  Tikal
Another impressive Mayan site in Guatemala.

~  Belize Barrier Reefs  
A nice place for a relaxing swim.

~  Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve  
An area with amazing biodiversity.

~ Tulum
~ Coba
~  Chitzen Itza
~ Dzibilchalt˙n
~  Uxmal
~ Kabah
~ Sayil
~ Dzibilnocac
~ Edzna
So many Mayan sites in the Yucatan, so little time.

~ Chicxulub
I doubt there is much to see here, but just saying I was there will be fun.

~  City of Campeche
A classic colonial port town

~  Palenque
A spectaular Mayan site in Chiapas.

~ Tonina
The Mayan cities continue.

~ Mitla Grecas
Ancient history in the Mexican highlands.

~  Oaxaca & Monte Alban One of Mexico's special places.

~  El Tajin
A fascinting pre-colonial city on the Gulf Coast.

~  Monuments of Tlacotalpan
A splenid example of a fusion of architectural styles.

~  Zacatecas
A classic traditional city center.

~ Copper Canyon
Actually larger than the Grand Canyon.  Perhaps I should end the tour here, instead.

~ Organ Pipe Cactus N.M.
The picturesque cacti abound.

~ Petrified Forest N.P.
Always a fascinating stight.

~ Land of the Hopi People.
I will really enjoy this visit.

~ Canyon de Chelly N.M.
A little-know jewel on Navajo land.

~ Monument Valley
A classic southwestern setting.

~  Mesa Verde N.P. 
Ancient history of the Southwest.

~ Arches N.P.
~ Canyonlands N.P.
~ Capitol Reef N.P.
~ Bryce Canyon N.P.
~ Zion N.P.
The Majestic Parks of Utah.

~  The Grand Canyon
The end of the line for the Tour of Gondwana!