Cycle of Ancestry: The Incredible Journey of Mario
“I never thought the bike would become such a family symbol. But as I ride 1500 miles through the heart of Mexico in hopes of exploring my Mayan ancestral roots, I feel a stronger connection to this cycle of ancestry.”
When people think of a bicycle, most of us see a simple mode of transportation that gets us from one point to another. We rarely stop and wonder how something so simple can transform a life or become a tool of connection, weaving families together across generations and centuries. But a bicycle can also create the means for a self-propelled trip – a way to live simply while using your body, mind, and spirit to will you forward across familiar or unfamiliar landscapes. For Mario, his bicycle and the journey it took him on became much more than just a tool for getting around – it created a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
When Mario Ordoñez-Calderón, a first-generation Mayan-American, decided to set out on his adventure, he was hoping to explore his Mayan ancestral roots. He felt called to embark on this modern-day pilgrimage to Muna, Mexico, to connect to his past and preserve his family’s history while shaping his own identity.
Before setting out, Mario wanted to ensure that he could give back to the world as people had given to him. He set a goal of $1500, one dollar for every mile he rode, to help rebuild schools in Nepal that had fallen during an earthquake. Even ahead of such a mentally and physically challenging journey, his mind was on helping others and planting seeds of goodness in the world. His humility and generosity have earned him a name in the outdoor community, just as his talent and strength have. But for Mario, it only made sense -- give back to families while he sought closer connection and understanding of his own.
The 1500-Mile Ride Home
Mario set out from his home in San Diego with his best friend, Ryder. The 1500-mile bike ride took them through the Yucatan Peninsula to their destination of Muna, the place of Mario’s ancestral origin, where he would soon be reunited with his loved ones. Mario could feel the land below him with each rotation of his wheels, and soon the bike became even more symbolic of his journey and his family. It connected him to his abuelo Juan, who still rode his own bicycle at the age of 96, and his abuelo Heberto, who fixes bikes for a living. And while Mario was making this long pilgrimage to one family, he says having Ryder along on the journey helped him have a sense of home along the way.
The most treacherous part of their journey came during the climb up a mountain from 8000 feet to 1200 feet elevation. Mario and Ryder were exhausted, and the pedals and chains of their bikes were not covering the distance as quickly as they had hoped. At one point, Mario needed to rest and desperately wanted to stop to enjoy the moment despite his determination to reach his family. As he sat and breathed in the thin mountain air, he felt his strength being restored as his connection to the beautiful landscape ahead of him grew. At several points during the long trek, people pulled over to make sure the two men were alright. These strangers took it upon themselves to give any guidance they could, and one man even helped fix a broken pedal.
As their journey came to an end, Mario realized that this trip, propelled by his body and the bicycle that carried him, had become a reminder of his own strength and connection to the world around him. Just as his Mayan ancestors had a deep bond to nature, this new-yet-familiar landscape became the threshold between his American upbringing and his Mayan roots, which had called him forward toward his destination.
As they reached the walls of Muna, Mario’s family came running out to welcome the two men with open arms. Forms of an older way of life were everywhere, from his abuela’s cooking to the slow pace of living that embraces each moment. A reverence for a simpler way of life was palpable. Mario says, “The Mayans were the first to record the passing of time. But time moves slowly here, and it is measured by seasons and our relationship to them.” He saw that vibrance and quality of life were the most significant riches here.
Mario’s family embraced Ryder as their own, and Mario felt an even deeper appreciation for their kindness. Even though Ryder was not related to any of them by blood, the bonds of love connected them all. He felt himself being shaped by two separate yet equally important worlds – that of his home in the United States, where he had spent the majority of his life, and that of his familial roots in Muna, which he was growing more understanding and appreciative of by the moment.
Reflecting On Roots
There are many ways to connect to one’s own ancestry. When asked what he would tell others who want to connect to their own roots, Mario suggested taking a pilgrimage of their own. “Go with the intention of learning about your ancestors, see yourself through their eyes to learn about yourself, and explore what made them who they are.” He believes that learning our role in the grand scheme of things has a strong connection to the past and history of our families. “By taking the first step to learn about our families and doing it in a way that feels unique to each person, you open yourself to new knowledge and experiences. Do what feels right to you.”
While not everyone can make a 1500-mile journey on a bicycle, the effort to connect to one’s roots through other means can create the same deeper bond to our pasts and ancestors. Understanding where we come from and doing our best to connect to the knowledge and lives of those who came before us can create a deeper sense of identity in ourselves, just as it did for Mario.
The Journey Continues
Mario created a nonprofit called Un Mar De Colores to bridge the socioeconomic gaps in surfing in his community while cultivating inclusivity and ocean stewardship in youth. They offer free surfing lessons to children of color and underserved kids, allowing them to enjoy the ocean and take part in something fun. “I’d like our program to be the ripple effect of positivity in our kids’ lives,” says Mario. “They may not become a surfer, but hopefully after our program, they understand that they can do anything they set their mind to. Naturally, the ocean will become one of their greatest teachers and hopefully they will step into a role of passion for stewardship to protect the very thing that gave them this newfound joy and courage.”