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Old 23 Jul 2010
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The Palomar Observatory housing the Hale Telescope, built in the 1940s was the largest telescope at the time and is the reason the twisty road was built up and over this little mountain for us to enjoy today. Edwin Hubble was given the honor of being the first astronomer to use the telescope and subsequently discoveries were made of quasars, stars in distant galaxies and asteroids close to home.

A scale model of the primary mirror, a single glass cast of 200" in diameter.

A scale model of the telescope. The pieces were built in New York and the large tube had be transported through the Panama Canal.

Getting a glimpse of the actual telescope. The mirror is in the bottom kitted out with adaptive optics to produce even sharper images of space.

We were at 5,500 ft of elevation and it was quite chilly. Since astronomers primarily do their telescope work at night (dark skies), it can get quite cold and in the early days they used to wear this rudimentary heated suit that military pilots used to wear. Now they have heated rooms.

A beautiful cloud-less day to be out riding.

A view of the south grade of Palomar Mountain Road.

The classics zipping by.

What a joy to ride this wonderful motorcycle on just the kind of roads it was designed for. It was a torture rack on the straight sections but felt just right hanging off in the corners.

And contrasted with these two little run-abouts - racers in their hey days.

I thoroughly enjoyed Palomar Mountain and happy to finally have ridden it. Thanks Silvano for letting me ride the wonderful Ducati 996.

Heading back to San Diego.

Making it back to the city. Ruben was happy both bikes rode well all day as this was their first long day. The CB160 is having a resurgence as a great vintage racer with a race series in Los Angeles. It might only have 16 hp, but once it gets going, it actually feels pretty good and handles well too.

The CB160 in comparison to my DR650.

The roof top at Ruben's place.

Enjoying a Dunkelweizen under the full moon.

Ruben and Barbara grilling out on the roof. Thanks for being such gracious hosts. You made my last few nights in the US really special.

Mmmm, steak and asparagus.

Now that's a meal after a good day's ride. Looking forward to the steaks in Argentina...

Playing with D one last time. Thanks for the wonderful stay Ruben and Barbara. Hope you guys find a nice place with a garage and a companion for D

Leaving San Diego, heading east into Arizona to cross into mainland Mexico.
J A Y | Riding a 98 Suzuki DR650
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Old 23 Jul 2010
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Small Town Charm of Ajo, Arizona

From San Diego, I headed east into Arizona so that I could cross at a small border crossing heading into mainland Mexico. The ride was pleasant, going up and over some mountains and getting to the Sonoran Desert as I neared the small town of Ajo, Arizona. It was 40 miles to the border from here and I would be staying with Gayle from CouchSurfing. I was thinking this would just be an overnight stop and then head to the border but when Gayle found out I was studying sustainable development, she invited me to stay an extra day to see some sustainability initiatives in Ajo, plus she really wanted to show off her town. I was all game for it.

Gayle and her husband, Don showing me how to play the game of Bananagram, a variant of Scrabble. She's quite the scrabble champ and competes successfully.

Each player gets 21 letters...

...and then it's a race to make a crossword puzzle out of all the letters. "Oxo" is a legal scrabble word, meaning something's that oxygenated. You learn something new everyday.

The next day Gayle took me around the sites of Ajo. This is at the local museum, where her and Don have volunteered most of their time. They're originally from Superior, Wisconsin but after spending a few years teaching in Abu Dhabi, UAE and being entranced by the desert, they decided to move down to the southwest.

Artifacts from the local Tohono O'odham Native American nation.

And since she's a board member of the museum, she gets to ring the old steam train bell. She was just bubbling with so much energy.

A rudimentary TV broadcast system, I think it worked similar to an overhead projector but sending the images over the air.

Hand-written advertisements that were broadcast. Gayle said it was the third such unit in the US at the time (not sure which year exactly, maybe early 1900's).

Ajo came about due to copper mining and was a prosperous town in the 20th century, but since the mine closed in the 1990's, things have slowed down. This is a model of the living quarters of the mine workers.

Gayle was quite proud of this display she put together from old telephone wire spools.

Displaying rocks and ore from the area.

The Ajo Mine.

The Curley School built by the mine in 1919. It's now been converted to living quarters for artists and teachers.

The main plaza in Ajo.

Gayle drove her golf cart all around town, on side walks and anywhere she could squeeze through. She had quite the lead foot, as well She really wanted a scooter but Don settled on letting her have this golf cart. Fun way to get around town.

Next stop was ISDA - the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, an organization aiming to foster stronger ties among all the various groups of people living in the Sonoran Desert in the US and over in Mexico, as it's considered one eco-region. They're also trying to get people to better understand the desert and learn how to thrive here.

The local ISDA office is supporting a GED program, where kids who've dropped out of school can try and get their high school diploma so that they can carry on with their lives. One of Gayle's friends, Nina started this gardening project to encourage the kids to connect with nature and learn some responsibility by growing plants and taking care of them as they produced vegetables.

The kids who showed me around their garden and pointed out what was growing on their little plots. They had tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and various flowering plants.

Nina instructing some of the other kids. She's worked hard to make vegetables grow in this dry, nutrient-lacking soil. She's trying different techniques, such as sunken-bed plots lined with stone to better retain water and emphasized that they're using only organic materials such as manure for fertilizer.

These are some raised-bed plots with I guess drip-irrigation.

Another form of raised-bed plots.

Rain water harvesting, which is used to water the garden. Water is already a scarce resource in the south-west and looks set to be a bigger and bigger issue in coming years.

A carrot that one of the boys pulled from his plot. They looked really proud of the plots they were managing and rightly so.

With all the vegetables from the garden, today Nina was showing them how to make their own salsa.

They all looked like good kids at heart and happy to see them getting a second chance.

Speaking with their teacher, Morgana after I gave a little spiel to the class about where I'm from and what kind of foods we eat in India. I was probably their first Indian from India that they saw. Morgana here was in the Peace Corps and spent about 2 years in Namibia and is planning on having a traditional Namibian wedding in the Summer of 2011 (in addition to her US wedding shortly) and that's about when I plan to be in southern Africa, so I was invited. I love unexpected connections.

A textbook for the class.
J A Y | Riding a 98 Suzuki DR650
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Old 23 Jul 2010
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A interesting project that Morgana recently finished is this Border Project, where she encouraged students in schools separated by present-day political and cultural borders to express their views through mixed media on border issues.

The schools where in Ajo, Arizona, Tohono O'odham Native American Nation and across the border in Sonoyta, Mexico.

Some of the views of the kids. The lines drawn on their faces represent the border.

The artwork of the kids, which was picked up by the Smithsonian Institute as part of a mobile traveling gallery.

Interesting sculpture in the art gallery. A centipede made of mud and rebar.

A donkey fashioned from an ironing board.

That evening Gayle invited Nina and her husband Peter over so that we could cook a meal. Nina is from Slovenia and is finishing up a PhD from a university there and Peter runs a Slovenian translation business over the net. I was the director for the meal and Peter was cutting up the veggies.

Nina brought over all her spices and the meal that evening was going to be Red Lentil Curry (dahl) with a veggie stir fry of mixed greens plucked fresh from the garden (chard, leeks, etc) along with carrots and sweet potato (one of my favorite veggies) with rice and some steaks. Check out the cute doggie cutting board.

The lentils and rice cooking.

And here's the food we prepared. Glad to take the "Jammin Cooking Show" on the road

The spread: steaks prepared by Don, the veggie stir fry, rice and dahl.

Came out quite good and glad I could get my cooking fix.

Gayle and Don's house in Ajo.

The side attachment where I stayed.

Gayle's golf cart with teddy bears strapped on.

Their front yard with a bird feeding post.
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Old 23 Jul 2010
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Mexico, Part 1: Border to Michoacan

Feeling good about the bike and the trip, I casually crossed the border line and said good bye to America. I was now in the South heading one-way. I'll return some day as a big part of my life happened there with many happy experiences.

Being the third time crossing into Mexico, I knew the border process quite well. First to migracion (immigration) to get my passport stamped in, get a tourist travelers permit and then head about 20 kms south to the customs office to temporarily import the bike. Then on, it was riding through the dry and dusty Sonoran desert heading to the Pacific coast. I worked my way down the coast, staying with CouchSurfers along the way. Some of them didn't speak much English and it helped me get immersed in speaking Spanish.

Swinging through one last US National Monument on my way to the Mexican border. I saw quite a few of the US National Parks during my time in the States and they are a treasure to the whole world.

Cactus resembling organ pipes; all the branches stemming from one main trunk.

Last few miles of America. The Mexican border is by those mountains.

Welcome to Mehico! I crossed at the small border town of Sonoyta. I got my tourist permit and passport stamped and was heading inland to the customs office since 20 kms from the border is a free trade zone to encourage trade with America, where import permits are not needed for vehicles.

Processing the temporary importation of my bike into Mexico. When I leave the country, I need to check my bike out of the country and then check myself out of the country.

Changing money into Mexican Pesos ($1 = 12 Pesos)

Riding through the Sonoran Desert of northwest Mexico. There were lots of straight flat roads and a few corners. I was listening to my Spanish audio book and preparing to use it for my first night in Mexico.

Staying in a small hotel in Guyamas on the Pacific Coast.

Dinner from a road side burrito shack. Locals were driving up specifically to eat at this stand - always a good sign that the food is good.

If you can see it being prepared, that helps to ensure the food is safe. She spread avocado first, some tomatoes and then fried beef.

Putting my feet up and enjoying dinner by the road side.

Mmm, it was good after a long day in the saddle. And it came with a variety of salsas in varying spiciness.

The hotel I was staying at for P180 for which I got the info from my Lonely Planet guide book.

Getting secure parking for the bike at the hotel. As long as it's away from prying eyes on the street, it should be safe.

The only way to get down the coast in some places is to take the toll freeways, which are usually in good condition with adequate signs. Slower traffic stays to the right and I would say most drivers were respectful. Lots of double trailers in Mexico.

In some places on the libre road, it was marked as only 2 lanes (1 each way) with a nice wide shoulder on each side, which became a de facto slow lane. Vehicle speeds vary greatly with slow old vehicles and brand new SUVs whizzing by. I was limiting my top speed to 90 kmh (55 mph) and thus was in the slow lane most of the time.

Inscription on the hill: "Jesus Christ is the way". Mexicans in general are a deeply religious people.

A few hills were crossed along the coast, but otherwise the ride wasn't that exciting up north.

I pulled into Los Mochis and saw a RV trailer park that was mostly occupied with Canadian Snow Birds heading back home from Mazatlan for the summer. I got to pitch my tent for P100.

The compound was guarded at night and the setting was quite nice under this beautiful tree.

Having dinner in downtown (centro) Los Mochis.

A beef Sope, which is a hard tortilla with a brown paste and then beef and some veggies with cheese on it. Was quite good.

The next morning having Birria for breakfast, goat meat stew at a road side restaurant on the highway. This is one of my favorite dishes and I tried to have it as much as I could as it's only available in this region.

On the road to Mazatlan.

Seeing a nice sunset in Mazatlan. The beach was crowded as the next two weekends were national holidays for Easter (Semana Santa).

I stayed with CouchSurfer Bryan, an expat from the US who retired to Mazatlan.

In Mexico, when they have a toll road (cuota), they usually provide a free road (libre) heading to the same city. The libre is usually the older way and generally is more fun as it might have more twists in it and go up and over hills. Whilst the cuota is a high-speed 4 lane freeway blasting through the terrain for a hefty price.

But still the libre road is in good condition and well signed with distances to the next petrol station and services.

A typical Mexican gas station. The petroleum industry is nationalized in Mexico and there is only one type of petrol station, Pemex, the national oil company. The price of petrol is also the same throughout the whole country (varying by a few cents between some regions) and it's P8 for a litre, which is about $2.50/gallon. The stations are full service with attendants and have free air for tires and water for radiators and there are plenty of them everywhere.

On the way to Puerto Vallarta on Hwy 200, which I would be taking for the next few days down the coast. The roads through here were real fun to ride but traffic was very heavy with inland city dwellers rushing to the coast for the holiday weekend. These were also familiar roads as I came this way during my first trip around Mexico in 2007.
J A Y | Riding a 98 Suzuki DR650
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Old 23 Jul 2010
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The foliage was quite dense with no space for shoulders on the road, but it makes for an enjoyable ride, being so close to the trees.

Visiting Sayulita, a surf town near Puerto Vallarta. I stayed here for 2 days on my previous trip and really enjoyed it.

Staying with CouchSurfer Su in Bucerias, near Puerto Vallarta. Using a bike cover when I can't park the bike in a secure place.

We slept on the roof as she had other family friends staying downstairs in the house. They were here for the holiday weekend. It was a good sleep and the mosquito mesh on my tent worked well and I put the tarp on as the humid air produced dew in the morning.

Steps leading to the roof.

Su's backyard, which she's slowly transforming into a garden, hopefully to grow some vegetables. Drying my base layers on the clothes line. I've been rinsing them every night in the shower and since they're synthetic and silk, they dry fast.

Su preparing breakfast. She's a singer and mostly does reggae, ska, punk, etc.

Yummy French Toast.

A life quote on her fridge.

A nice view from the stove, pondering which countries to travel to.

The house was beautifully constructed with brick and the ceiling had curves in it, which Su said helped to keep the house cool. It's a traditional way to build houses in this area.

No A/C needed here. Wonderful coastal winds, natural ventilation.

The road south of Puerto Vallarta turned inland and went through some forests.

Agave plants, that are used in making tequila and mezcal.

Staying in a seaside hotel on the Michoacan coast, in San Juan de Alima. I managed to negotiate the price down from P400 to P300. It was getting late and there were no other towns in the area.

Sleepy town during the day but it was hopping in the evening with holiday traffic. Had to sleep with ear plugs in.

I was getting "meated-out" by having meat with every meal and needed to get some fiber.

Mangoes! Even though they were green on the outside, this variety was very sweet on the inside.

Breakfast by the ocean of two avocados, a mango and a banana.

The remote Michoacan coastline. There are very few resorts and developments along the coast in this state and there are still many pristine beaches.

On Hwy 200 heading down the Michoacan coast.

Enjoying the twisty sections.

The roads are well designed with regards to banking, camber and the pavement is mostly in good condition.

A natural rock arch, carved either by water or uplift.
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Mexico, Part 2: Beaches and Oaxaca

Camping on the beach in the small surfer's enclave of Barra de Nexpa.

Camping for P35.

Beach cabanas. I was invited over by a Canadian who was staying here for a few months and spent the evening on his porch, meeting some locals.

The beach front.

The beach on one side and mountains right on the coast.

Wonderful setting sun rays reflecting of the clouds.

Heading down the coast the next day. A restaurant with a great view.

The coastal highway, heading towards Acapulco.

In Acapulco where the classic VW Beetle is still used as a taxi. It was fun seeing a whole bunch of them buzzing around the city. Most other cities have banned them as they only have 2 doors. Note the zip-ties on the wheel rim. Maybe it's holding the brake rotor on

The Acapulco skyline. My couchsurfing host, Eduardo took me for a driving tour around the city.

I stayed the night with couchsurfer, Eduardo.

Trying to find the free road to Puerto Escondido and I got turned onto the toll road. Arrgh, one last cuota of P25. But the cuota are very nice roads and usually with little traffic, since they are quite expensive for the average person.

Entering the state of Oaxaca (wah-ha-ka), which I was looking forward to as it is less developed than the rest of Mexico and has less traffic.

All throughout Mexico I saw fires going off and most didn't look like they were controlled. Lots of fires just on the road side, mostly garbage being burnt and also brush clearing. I had to hold my breath through some areas, thick black smoke wafting across the highway. This was the end of the dry season, as the rains will be starting shortly and that's probably helping the easy starting of fires.

Even though there are cuota roads that are meant for commercial traffic, some trucks still take the libre roads and ruin the twisties.

And of course, a fine example of impatient drivers overtaking over a blind hill. I just stay well behind until it's clear to pass.

Arriving at Zipolite, a beach community on the Oaxacan coast.

Staying at the beach-side hostel, Shambhala. I took a dorm bed for P100.

The view from my hostel room of Zipolite Beach. The west end of the beach, from the small rock outcrop toward my hostel is the only sanctioned clothing optional beach in Mexico. I wanted to come down here on my previous trip, but it was too far south.

Shambhala with the dorm beds on the upper level.

A small private area on the beach.

Waves crashing through the hole in the rocks.

The view from the beach towards Shambhala and these photos were taken au naturel, after a dip in the ocean, being totally free. It's a wonderful feeling. When I interned in Ft. Lauderdale, I frequented Haulover Beach and loved being free. Clothes definitely have their uses and since getting into motorcycling and skiing, I've seen them more and more as just gear for different settings to protect the body, since the skin is fragile. Besides being stylistic and traditional, I wish we didn't have to wear clothes all the time

The walk back up to Shambhala.

Live guitar music for dinner on the beach.

Dinner on the beach under a starry night sky.
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Old 23 Jul 2010
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Breakfast the next morning of curried eggs with veggies and rice and beans for P40. I was craving for some curry.

Fresh papaya juice with a covering to keep the flies out.

The view from the restaurant. I spent the morning reading before hitting the road.

Heading inland from the coast to the small town of Juchitan de Zaragoza.

The central market of Juchitan at night.

Staying with Couchsurfer Nizbeth, who didn't speak much English but we still had good conversations the whole evening in my borken Spanish and I could understand most of what she said if she spoke slowly. Total immersion is the best way to learn. Here, we're getting a local drink made from cocoa and vanilla.

It was very frothy and warm.

Quite tasty cocoa drink.

Dried fish stands.

Fresh cheese. And I had samples from each stand.

Dolls with the traditional costume of the region.

With Nizbeth, who took me around her town and was proud to show it off. She's a pyschologist and works for the state.

A poster in Nizbeth's room with English phrases that she's practicing. We also talked in English as she wanted to practice.

At Nizbeth's house.

Inside Nizbeth's house, which is very similar to many Indian homes.

A huge wind energy farm east of Juchitan. This region is known for really strong winds during certain times of the year. Tall buses are known to be blown over. However, right now, there were no winds and very few turbines were spinning.

Entering the southernmost state of Chiapas, considered the poorest in Mexico with a large indigenous population of Maya, who've been marginalized. The state is also known for a rebel uprising in the 1990s of the Zapatista, who were representing the indigenous. Things have quieted down now.

Heading up from the hot and humid plains into the highlands.

Heading into San Cristobal de las Casas, where I will be spending a week to rest and learn some Spanish before crossing into Guatemala.
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Mexico, Part 3: San Cristobal

I was only going to spend two days in San Cristobal, but one thing lead to another and it became longer than a week. I stayed at CouchSurfer Jose Luis' place and there was a good vibe there. I had planned on taking Spanish lessons in Guatemala for a week but I met two Argentinian travelers who were also staying at Luis' place and they offered to teach me Spanish in exchange for improving their English. One of them, Lucas was a Spanish literature teacher and journalist. I also needed to wind down a bit as I was on the road constantly for the previous two weeks working my way down Mexico. The pleasant highland climate up at 7,500 ft was also much appreciated.

The main house on the ranch where Luis was staying. This is Olivier's house and that's one of his horses, who's pregnant.

The side house where Luis and the rest of us were staying.

Olivier's second horse coming for a drink of water. It was real nice to be living so close to such big, beautiful animals. They came and went as they pleased as it was also their home.

Lucas, one of the Argentinians, besides being a Spanish teacher and journalist is also a marvelous singer and guitar player. He put together a CD album and is trying to go professional. He would just grab his guitar and belt out beautiful songs with a very strong voice. It was so impressive that Luis is holding the phone out and probably said to the person on the other end, "you gotta hear this."

We went into town to check out some local music. This is a group from Veracruz (known for great musicians in Mexico), where everyone had a guitar of all different sizes and people took turns singing. It was lively music with strong messages (I had some translations).

They had a small wooden platform and people took turns stomping to the music. The stomps would be mellow during the verse and get loud and energetic during the chorus.

Once it got too cold outside, the party moved inside. Check out the rhythm instrument, which was a jaw of some animal, probably a cow, filled with beads and a stick was grated against the teeth to create a maracas kind of sound.

The next morning I went to Comitan, about 90 kms towards the Guatemalan border to the consulate there to get a visa for the next few Central American countries. However, to my surprise they said India was now on the visa exempt list, so no visa needed. Yeah, tourist visa reform is slowing happening. On the way back to San Cristobal I saw these horses dragging lumber. Human and animal sharing the load.

And I finally found tacos cheaper than 10 Pesos (the dollar sign is used to signify pesos in Mexico). All through northern Mexico, the cheapest tacos were P10 and above. P5 is around $0.40.

Mmmm, greasy meat from somewhere on a pig.

In complete contrast to road-side food are all the huge supermarkets now everywhere in Mexico. It might be classified as a developing country, but Mexico has some faces that look very similar to developed countries. Buying provisions for the week ahead.

Automatic tortilla oven. Billions and billions of tortillas are made and consumed every day in Mexico.

Luis preparing some dinner for us.

Ham sandwiches with avocado and tomato. Simple and tasty.

He taught us this board game that night called La Polina. It's kind of like Monopoly where you have to get your pieces around the board and there are various rules on who can kill whom and where the safety zones are. It doesn't reward kindness and I think it teaches you how to be an effective mob boss, haha. Interesting game.

The beautiful cathedral in the central plaza of San Cristobal.

Old Spanish colonial city with cobble stone streets and lots of cafes with outdoor seating. The mood was very jovial.

If you're a CouchSurfer or staying with one in San Cristobal, you have to take part in the Abrazos Gratis (Free Hugs) event on Saturday afternoons.

No one knows who started it or where, but you basically just give out free hugs to passerbyers. Of course, you ask first and most people respond with a smile and open arms and walk away with an even bigger smile.

Selva, a CouchSurfing host from Germany who was doing some Yoga training on the Oaxacan coast, sticking an Abrazos Gratis sign on Lucas.

Having a few drinks after the event with new friends. I offered to cook a chicken curry for about five of us that evening and Mauricio, here on the left, who also lives in Olivier's house, spread the word that an Indian guy was making a chicken curry and what do you know, soon it became a dinner party for 30! More chicken!

I enjoyed being a chef again and put everyone to work chopping vegetables: Joelle (from Quebec), Luis, Aurelie (from Reunion), Maria (San Cris local), Olivier and Ikura (Japanese traveler that we met in the plaza).

Cutting green peppers and onions: Carlos (from France) and Monika (from Poland).

Kal (from Korea) preparing a Korean rice dish with all the vegetables. If you think riding a motorcycle through South America is crazy, Kal here plans to Walk around South America. He's walked around South Korea and is preparing for his multi-year journey in San Cristobal. We had some nice discussions about Zen Buddhism and the energy in the Universe, which was currently being channelled into the food

Once it was prepared, the chicken curry disappeared real fast. I couldn't even get a picture of the finished dish, haha. It didn't come out as I expected as I've never cooked for so many people, but with the right spices and adequate salt, no one would complain.

Finally getting a chance to sit down and enjoy some of the food.

Happy feasters.

Selva and Melady (from Madison, Wisconsin) preparing a mango lassi (Indian yogurt drink) for dessert.

A campfire was started outside and everyone gathered to listen to Lucas play the guitar, under a beautiful clear night sky.
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Always enjoyable to be around a campfire.

There was some dancing by Mario (the other Argentinian)...

...and story-telling by Lucas who was quite dramatic. I couldn't follow much of it, but the presentation itself was interesting.

A beautiful evening, put together as it happened.

The next day I went with Olivier to see some quarter-mile horse drag racing. This is typical of this region and happens quite regularly.

Everyone stands real close to the raceway to see their horse get ahead and then get smothered in the dust cloud as they pass.

The timing system for the races with some camcorders for video playback.

There was lots of waiting around for each race, about an hour in between. Chicken on the grill and locals mingling about.

This guy was interesting - he was selling small concessions and collecting the cans thrown on the ground by everyone else. Maybe he gets some cash for recycling them, but it's funny to see how people care less about garbage down here and just throw things down as soon as it's of no value to them.

The next race started...

...and the excitement was over in less than ten seconds. I like this picture for how the dust trails mimic the horse's tail.

Typical evenings at Luis' with dinner on the porch. Everyone took turns preparing dinner. Soon, more people were staying at Olivier's, Mauricio's and Luis' place as they too enjoyed the vibe here.

Besides the good food and the company, everyone enjoyed being so close to the horses. Some of them even went on horse rides (on the black male as the mare here was expected any day soon).

There was lots of dancing. Here, Lucas and Joelle are swinging away.

Carlos and Aurelie spinning into smiles.

Good times. Nice to mix with travelers from all different parts of the world and see how similar and diverse we all are.

Busting a few moves myself.

Mauricio works for an outfitter company, organizing tours and treks and he got us a deal on a river cruise though the Sumidero Canyon, near Tuxtla Gutierrez.

The steep canyon walls from the river. It was a two hour motor boat cruise with a Spanish guide.

A limestone cave with a shrine to the Virgin Mary deep inside.

And nice big crocodiles basking in the sun. We saw three huge ones and the boat got real close to the shore.

Some more pictures of San Cristobal's interesting buildings.

Shaded tree avenue near the central plaza.

Doing an oil change for sanDRina. It had been 3,500 miles since San Francisco and the oil was well used.

I asked the store where I bought the oil if I could borrow an oil pan as I had all the tools needed for a simple oil change and felt better about doing it myself.

Cooking one last meal in San Cristobal. This time it would be all vegetarian. Preparing a broccoli pasta sauce.

Carlos making mashed potatoes with garlic and chillies.

Presenting the food: a cucumber/tomato salad, mashed potatoes and the pasta sauce.

Good to get some greens after lots of fried meat dishes the previous days. Garlic mashed potatoes with a cucumber/tomato salad with avocado and pasta with a broccoli tomato sauce.

And good food always goes well with good company. It would be easy to spend a lot of time wherever the vibes are good, however the road is calling.

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Mexico, Part 4: Naha, Mayan Village Stay

While in San Cristobal, I became friends with Selva and she found out about a rural Mayan village deep in the jungle near Palenque, that outsiders could visit and stay with a local family. Mauricio had been there before and knew a family we could stay with. It sounded like a good plan, so I decided to tag along and push back crossing into Guatemala. Melady, a traveler from Wisconsin, would also be joining us. Since Naha wasn't on any map, I would just be following the transportation that the girls were taking. They of course wanted to come on the bike, but it's not setup to carry passengers.

I first followed the girls in this collectivo, a shared minibus offering services to smaller towns, to Ocosingo, about 100 kms southeast and down the mountain from San Cristobal towards Palenque.

The local market in Ocosingo. It's not much of a tourist attraction but it works for the locals.

The big red bananas are not a common variety and are super tasty. Can also find them in India.

Selva and Melady stocking up on supplies for the rough trip ahead to Naha and buying sweet bread as a gift to the host family.

The girls would be riding in the back of this camionetta, a pickup truck used for even more rural routes. It's also used partly for cargo as some of these villages don't have much else contact with the outside world.

Waiting at the camionetta station after having discussed with the driver that I would be following him and told him not to lose me. I told the girls, if I got lost, I was heading for Guatemala.

We were descending further down the mountain to about 2,000 ft and the humidity was picking up.

Stopping for a break once the route went gravel. It was about 30 kms of nice pavement from Ocosingo and then 50 kms of dirt road into the jungle to Naha, making it a 3 1/2 hour journey. I was adjusting tire pressures here for better feel on the loose surface.

And of course, whenever we stopped, the men who were traveling in the truck gathered around and asked all sort of questions about the bike and my trip. It was nice how we were all traveling together in a small convoy.

Zapatista wannabes. Once the route hit the gravel road, the girls tried to reduce the amount of dust that they were covered in.

Nice exposé of the other passengers in the truck.

Enjoying some off-road riding. The road was pretty mild with only a few hairy rocky-boulder sections. That's my Vision-X Solstice LED headlight. I have two of them and used them instead of the main headlight during the day as they're brighter and provide a bigger light footprint to oncoming traffic. They're skewed a bit off-center.

Ewww smelly biker, but they looked worse than me being covered in a fine layer of dust.

It was good riding and sanDRina was handling it well.

We had to dodge some rain here and there and it helped to reduce the amount of dust being kicked up.

3 hours in the back of a pickup truck and you become friendly with your fellow passengers.

The simple village of Naha. It was this one street that passed through the village and had a population of about 200. Most of the villagers just got by on subsistence living, growing what they could from the land and leading simple lives.

One of the local Mayan Lacondon boys taking me to the home where we would be staying. The Lacandon males characteristically have long black hair and wear white gowns as theirmain clothing.

Going for a hike through the jungle to get to a lake that Naha is known for.

Furry peapod.

Getting to the remote lake.

Selva taking it in.

It was serene and felt untouched.

Making beautiful music from a wooden flute.

Soaking our feet in the cool water.

This is Bor, he's a deaf Mayan man, part of the family we were staying with. He was very energetic and tagged along with us on our treks. He borrowed this dug-out canoe and offered to take us across the lake.

Melady went along with Bor as Selva and I wanted to head to the next village to buy some fresh produce as there was only canned food in the small stores in Naha. Selva is a vegetarian and doesn't enjoy canned food. It also rained regularly in the afternoon around 3 pm, so we wanted to get back before that.

Pictures from Melady on the canoe. Lotus flowers.

Lotus in the feet.

Melady enjoying her Mayan gondola experience.
J A Y | Riding a 98 Suzuki DR650
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A Lancondan man across the waters in his traditional clothes.

Walking back to the village.

Selva and I went two-up on the DR to the next town over to buy fresh produce. It was a tight squeeze but for a short distance, it was no problem.

We came across a coffee warehouse on the way back.

It's the local Naha coffee that they're exporting to Europe and the US.

While waiting for a freshly brewed sample, Selva found out more from the manager. They're using only sustainable practices and of course, employ the local Mayans to support the community.

The dirt road leading back to Naha.

Steep dirt switch-backs two-up on a fully loaded DR. No sweat.

Preparing dinner that night in the host family's kitchen. Melady stir-frying some onions. They were using just simple open-fire stoves with a grill on top. Besides having no chimney to direct the smoke outside, I thought about telling them how inefficient this was for cooking as lots of heat was going to waste on the sides, using up more of their precious firewood. However, Selva told me there were plans by NGOs to distribute better stoves to rural communities such as here.

Selva chopping up some cabbage.

Dinner of rice with lentils, tomatoes and cabbage with garlic and chillies. It was all we could find in the nearby stores and was quite tasty.

Trying to capture how much smoke was present in the kitchen area from the open fires. It got unbearable at times and we had to come outside for some fresh air.

They made tortillas everyday and stored them in gourds up on these baskets to keep it away from the animals. Lots of dogs, cats and chickens were wandering about.

Bor holding up one of his drawings. He's known a bit for his drawings and has sold a few to visitors and other interested people.

He was intrigued by the motorcycle and wanted to go for a ride!

He would sign and try to communicate with us a lot. He was telling all sorts of stories and we tried out best to figure out what they were. It was about going up on the ridge, going into a cave, seeing a jaguar and other things that we made up to go with his signs.

Relaxing in the hammocks after dinner.

Grinding up corn into flour to be made into tortillas.

One of the Mayan mothers making her family's tortillas in the morning. A few families were living together and each of them made their own tortillas. If they ran out, they could borrow from another family, but had to pay back. This was the essence of their diet. They said if they didn't eat tortillas with every meal, their stomachs would feel funny.

Heating up the tortilla on a big pan.

One of the little Mayan girls running around the kitchen. She was just smiling a moment ago.

The bathroom.

The shower. Nice refreshing cold jungle water.

They had a toilet that flushed but you had to use water or bring your own toilet paper. Water's cleaner

Running into Bor on his way back from clearing a boundary in the jungle. The neighboring village was encroaching on their land and clearing forest for growing corn, called milpas. So everyone in the community had to volunteer to go up and clearly mark a boundary and maintain it.

There was a hut in the village used for teaching art to the kids. That's an albino Lancondon boy working on part of a wall hanging. There were about three albinos in this small community.

Walking back to the lake and carrying the leftovers from last night for lunch.

Huge Elephant Ear plants in the jungle. Melady said people would pay huge sums of money for these leaves back in the States.

Nature's art show on the back of a butterfly wing.
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Eating mangoes and relaxing in a thatched hut by the lake. It was a lazy afternoon of reading and napping.

The mom of another family making her share of tortillas. They were using a press, which is similar to ones in India, to make smaller tortillas.

Rising up like pita breads.

The kitchen sink with light pouring in after the usual afternoon rains.

Selva conversing with one of the ladies. She's fluent in Spanish as her mother is Peruvian. The Maya speak their own language and we tired to learn a few words. Some of the older women only spoke Mayan.

Nena, the bossiest of the little children around. She was missing all her front teeth and most of them had bad dental health. We saw lots of soda drinks being consumed and junk food being eaten by the kids. In the stores, bottled water was quite rare.

Clutching a tasty bag of chips.

Entrance to the kitchen.

The hut we stayed in.

Parking for the bike in the firewood shed.

Lots of chickens walking about freely, producing heaps of eggs for daily consumption.

Melady teaching one of the little girls how to write. She also wanted to try on her glasses.
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One of the elder ladies washing clothes. Melady gave her camera to the kids and asked them to take photos and this one and the next two are from the kids' perspective.

Angelica, the smartest of the little kids.

Nena with a funny expression.

Dinner that night of lentils with rice and this time, potatoes.

Heading back to San Cristobal. Selva and Melady were taking a camionetta to Palenque and then returning home; Selva to Germany and Melady to Wisconsin. It was a good three days spent getting a glimpse of rural Mayan life and enjoying the jungle.

This was Zapatista country but we didn't see any more than this (it's a movement to increase indigenous rights and was strong in the 90s but has died down now).

Riding back up into the mountains.

The dirt road winding its way ahead.

Mini rapids on a passing river.

The bridges used pipes as their bed and it caused the front tire to wander a bit as I crossed.

Taking a lunch break.

Looking back at the valley where Naha is.

Pine trees as the elevation rose.

Hitting the new pavement after 50 kms of dirt. This road was quite remote and had very little traffic. Fun riding.

Climbing higher to 7,500 ft as I neared San Cristobal.

Washed out road. This is why you can't come flying around corners down here. This danger was signed, but not all of them are.

Cleaning my chain after that dirt riding with diesel and a tooth brush. The Pemex guys were nice and didn't even charge me for the 1 Peso of diesel.

Is that a clean chain or what? All ready to leave Mexico and head into Guatemala tomorrow.

Topes, speed bumps in Mexico and yes, some of them are thaaat big! There are just way too many of these all over Mexico. My left toe was starting to hurt after a few days of constantly having to brake and up shift - my bulky motocross boots put more torque on my foot when I shift. I was looking forward to having to deal with much less speed bumps south of Mexico. I know they're needed otherwise everyone would speed way too much through towns but some of them are in the middle of nowhere and not even marked, so you have to keep constantly scanning the road ahead for slight bumps. They are helpful though in overtaking other trucks and cars as they have to slow down much more.

The Mexican Peso. I'm going to try and get a picture of the different currencies I come across. P100 = $8.20.
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Guatemala, Part 1: Highlands

I was looking forward to crossing into Guatemala as this would be my first country in Central America. After spending more time in Mexico, I now had about three weeks to get to Panama. I originally wanted to spend about a week in each of the CA countries, but now it was going to be just a few days. I made a loop around Guatemala, hitting most of the interesting sites from Lake Atitlan set among volcanoes, to riding in the remote highlands, seeing the magnificent ruins at Tikal, dipping down to the yachtie Rio Dulce before crossing over into Honduras.

At the Guatemala Consulate in Comitan, Mexico, making sure that I don't need a visa to enter. The small blue and white flag denotes the consulate. The nice guys at the office there even made sure to call the consulates of all the other Central American countries to make sure I didn't need a visa through Panama. Yeah!

Nomansland between the Mexican and Guatemalan border. The land was flat on the Mexican side and looming mountains were ahead in Guatemala.

Welcome to Guatemala. La Mesilla border crossing.

Getting the bike fumigated - sprayed with a disinfectant to not transport bugs across the border for Q12. $1 = 8 Quetzals (the Guatemalan currency). No cost for immigration stamp and Q40 for importing the bike.

Grand mountains ahead and lots of garbage on the road side.

Nice to see lots more bikes around and a good use of helmets.

Lunch at Huehuetenango of grilled chicken with rice, beans and tortillas for Q15. The tortillas were smaller and thicker.

Riding high into the mountains of the Cordillera de los Cuchumatanes.

Brand new four lane twisty mountainous freeway heading south to Guatemala City.

The road was cut right through steep parts of the mountain and you wonder why landslides happen...

The road climbed higher and higher, riding into the clouds.

In the clouds at 10,000 ft. Visibility was reduced to around 100 ft.

Dropping quickly in elevation as I descended to Lago de Atitlan, a beautiful lake surrounded by numerous volcanoes.

The tight switch-backs heading down to the lake. The village of San Marcos up ahead.

The gnarly road heading to the town of San Pedro. Good reason to have a dual-sport bike down here.

The beautiful expansive Lago de Atitlan, which fills the mouth of a huge volcanic caldera that erupted about 84,000 years ago. It's the deepest lake in Central America at around 340 meters (1130 ft) deep.

The touristic town of San Pedro la Laguna. It's a backpackers hub with lots of services catering to travelers.

Dock side lined with boats as they ply the waters to the various towns around the lake

View from the restaurant I had dinner at across the lake at sunset.

Sunrise views across the lake. I wish I could've stayed longer as I know the photo opportunities would've been better.

Hospedaje Xocomil where I spent the night for Q40 ($5).

Nice to park the bike right outside my room and away from the evening rains.

The Guatemalan Quetzal. $1 = Q8.

The infamous dodgy hot water element in the shower head. Not having the capacity for a water heater, this is the next best thing for hot water, where a heating element heats up the water right before it exits the shower head. You wont get a shock as long as you don't touch the shower head when it's running and you're wet.

Clear view across the lake from the village of San Juan to the mountain the road climbs to get back on the main road.

The trusty Bajaj Autorickshaw from India, called tuk-tuks here, being used all over Central America as cheap taxis.

Clear day for riding back up to the top. The lake is at around 5,500 ft and the main road on top is at around 8,500 ft, climbing real steep up the mountain in about 25 kms.

The steep, narrow, beautiful road back up to the top of the ridge.

View of Volcan San Pedro and the town at the base of the volcano from the top.

Typical sight of firewood being collected from the forest for daily cooking and heating use.
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Riding nice mountainous twisty roads past Chichicastenango, heading to Coban.

Taking a lunch break past Uspatan. Lots of rural schools were abound all across the country. Good to see education reaching far into the countryside.

Lunch of a corn meal soup that was flavored with a few beans, hot sauce, salt and lemon. Tasted pretty good and was very filling for Q2.

Riding remote twisties along the scenic Huehue to Coban road.

A collectivo assistant hanging on to the ladder while talking to someone inside. He climbed down from the roof as the van was swaying around the corners. And note the passengers on the roof, drinking s.

The road turned to gravel about 25 kms shy of Coban.

The road was pretty smooth but I knew something was coming up...

A huge land slide took out the road recently, (peligro = danger, no hay paso = do not enter). I knew about this from another motorcycle rider who passed through here a few months before me.

Looks like the whole side of mountain came sliding down.

The original route is on top and the detour heads down and around the land slide.

The detour was quite gnarly and steep with lots of tight switch-backs.

Looks like more rocks fell across the detour.

I made it out and had some lunch past Coban of Chicharron, fried pork skin with some meat and a radish salad for Q16. It was the only thing offered at the place.

Riding some relaxing sweeping corners heading north to Lanquin.

The 20 kms of dirt road heading to the town of Lanquin and further to the scenic limestone pools of Semuc Champey.

I stayed the night at this jungle resort near the pools, where I met a traveler from the States who worked a whole year at the South Pole, Antarctica. She was a safety inspector and also worked in the oil/gas industry in Nigeria. She was winding down in Guatemala and said how amazing it was to see precipitation fall from the sky as the snow/ice blows horizontally almost constantly at the pole. She was the 1231st person to ever spend a winter at the south pole where it's a constant -80F and 9 months of darkness.

I stayed in the dorm in the attic of this cabin.

Q25 for a dorm bed as Casa de Zipolite.

Heading to Semuc Champey with the early morning jungle mist in the valley.

Hiking over to the pools. It cost Q50 to enter and Q10 for parking.

The clear water at Semuc Champey.

A very idyllic place with water flowing around limestone features, collecting in various pools.

The turquoise water color was a sight to behold.

Some early morning swimmers taking a dip in cool pools in the jungle.

The greener lower pool at Semuc Champey. Interesting site, but not sure it was worth the entrance fee if you weren't going to swim.

Heading back up across this bridge. Doggie taking a nap.

The road was quite steep in places and they're put in concrete tracks in really steep sections for grip when it's wet.

Climbing back up to the main road from Lanquin.
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