What's it like to travel through Central America with nothing but a bicycle, a laptop computer, a satellite dish, a few supplies, and a few hundred thousand friends?

Maya Bike Trek
How can technology help you take a bike trip through Central America?

Peggy travels through Belize with a high-tech tour guide-the Internet.
Segment length: 8:30


What if you had the chance to go on a three-month trip to Central America to explore la ruta Maya? What if you planned to cover over 2,000 miles but had only your bike for trans-portation? What if you brought the maps you needed, but wouldn't know exactly where to go until students from over 40,000 schools sent you e-mail to vote on your route? What if you had to go on this trip with your brother?

Explorers (and brothers) Dan and Steve Buettner did all this and more on their MayaQuest expedition. But this wasn't their first bike trip. They rode 15,536 miles from Alaska to Argentina, covered 12,888 miles in the former Soviet Union, and biked 12,107 miles from Tunisia to South Africa. During the MayaQuest trek, each team member rode over 1,200 miles.

Dan, team leader, and Steve, team journalist and videographer, were joined by Julie Acuff, who served as the epigrapher, and photographer Doug Mason. To prepare for the trek, they consulted with Maya researchers, including archaeologists and ethnobotanists. They studied Maya history for clues to the collapse of this advanced civilization during the ninth century.

The team limited the supplies they brought-clothing, passports, money, bicycle repair supplies, maps, medical supplies, sleeping bags, tents, pots and pans, food, and toiletries. Water bottle purifiers allowed them to drink whatever water they could find.

A unique aspect of the trek was the technology that encouraged anyone with access to the Internet to interact with the team. Using a laptop computer powered by solar panels, team members recorded daily journal entries, calculated distances, and communicated via
e-mail with students and others who followed the trek. With a portable satellite telephone, the team sent faxes, photos, and data and voice transmissions. Using two 8mm video cameras, they recorded sights and discoveries and transmitted the images via satellite.

Team members entered information onto a computer, connected to a suitcase-sized satellite transmitter. The information was sent as a radio signal to a satellite orbiting 22,400 miles above the equator. The satellite relayed the signal to a station in Southbury, Connecticut, which transmitted it over 800 miles of phone lines to Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. There the message was placed on the Maya-Quest home page on the Internet. In just three months, it received over 1.1 million visits.


1. What effect might the MayaQuest trek have on the lives of modern Maya?
2. Why do we study other civilizations?

Key Words

archaeologist a scientist who studies the life and culture of ancient people
e-mail electronic mail sent from one computer to another by means of special software and a modem connected to a telephone line, or between computers connected to a network
epigrapher someone who deciphers hieroglyphs
ethnobotanist scientist who studies how humans use and relate to plants
la ruta Maya Spanish for "Maya route." The term refers to the regions of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras where the Maya lived.
videographer person who records events with a video camera


  1. Brosnahan, T. (1994) Guatemala, Belize & Yucatan-La ruta Maya. A travel survival kit. Berkeley, CA: Lonely Planet.
  2. Dreher, D. (1992) Explorers who got lost. New York: Tom Doherty Associates.
  3. Maynard, C. (1995) Questions and answers about explorers. New York: Kingfisher Books.
  4. Taylor, B. (1993) Maps and mapping. New York: Kingfisher Books.
  5. Trout, L. (1991) The Maya. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.
  6. Volkmer, J. (1994) Song of the chirimia: A Guatemalan folktale. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.

Additional resources

  1. MayaQuest home page:
    On Prodigy: mayaquest
  2. MayaQuest theme-based projects:
  3. MECC: MayaQuest, Africa Trail, and Oregon Trail. Software/CD-ROM for Macintosh or Windows. (800) 685-6322.

Additional sources of information

  1. Earthwatch Expeditions, Inc.
    680 Mount Auburn St.
    PO Box 403
    Watertown, MA 02272
    (800) 776-0188
    E-mail: info@earthwatch.org
    World Wide Web: http://gaia.earthwatch.org

Main Activity

Hit the Trail
Choose a location and prepare for a bike trek.

Want to design your own bicycle trek? A lot of careful planning is required to make sure everything's ready before you get started.


  • paper
  • markers
  • area maps
    1. Work with a group to decide what area you'd like to explore.
    2. Create a list of questions, then come up with some answers. You might want to consider these issues:
      . Who will be involved? How long will the trek last? What route will you take? What modes of transportation will you use?
      . What physical training do you need to get in shape for the trip?
      . What should you research about the terrain, the sites on the way, and the history of the region? What information do you want to collect about the sites you'll see? How will you collect the information? Will you share it with anyone?
      . Is someone in the group an expert photographer or videographer? Do you need to learn more about photography before the trip?
      . Do you need to obtain special permits?
      . Are there any special questions that you want to explore?
    3. Create a list of basic supplies you'll need. You may want to get suggestions from a company that outfits wilderness trips.
    4. Calculate how much food you'll need to take per person and make a shopping list. Who will prepare it? What cooking utensils will you need?
    5. Discuss the roles assigned to the team members. Will you need to rotate duties so that everyone can try every role?

    Students around the world will be helping direct the MayaQuest II bike trek, scheduled to depart for Central America in 1996. Find out how you can be a part of this adventure by contacting MayaQuest by e-mail: mayaquest@mecc.com
    You can also find them on the World Wide Web: http://mayaquest.mecc.com
    Or write to MayaQuest,
    529 S. 7th St., Suite 320, Minneapolis, MN 55415.

    Much of what we know about a culture, including our own, is found in folk stories. Many folktales explain why something happened, or how something got its name. Write your own folktale to explain something about your culture. You could even be the main character!

    In the math you do daily, you use a base 10 system. Computers use a binary system (zero and one are the only numbers). The system developed by the Maya was base 20. It used a dot for one, a bar for five, and a shell for zero. How would you create your own math system using another base? What symbols would you use to represent each group of numbers?

    The MayaQuest team traveled over 1,200 miles on their bicycle trek through the Maya region. Set up a stationary exercise bicycle (someone's parent probably has one you can borrow) in your classroom. Attach an odometer if it doesn't already have one. Take turns riding it daily, and keep a journal of how "far" you travel, how long it takes, and how you feel when you're done. What is the ratio between how far you ride each day and how far the trekkers went daily? How long would it take you to match the miles ridden by the MayaQuest team?

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