The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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Hi Rocky and Paula! It's really great that you are posting more stories from your trip. When the accident happened the reports still had you back in the US, which is understandable because it must take a lot of time to write such great reports and wifi is not always available, etc.. I was hoping you guys would regroup and restart your journey and it looks like you are, which is great! And as an added bonus you are putting up the reports on your travels in the days before the accident--fantastic! Let me tell you, they are worth waiting for! Rocky, the photos are wonderful, and Paula, your writing is too! Learning about the people you have met and their culture really adds another dimension that you don't often find in reports. Thanks so much for posting....looking forward to the "new" trip!!
Hi Rocky and Paula! It's really great that you are posting more stories from your trip. When the accident happened the reports still had you back in the US, which is understandable because it must take a lot of time to write such great reports and wifi is not always available, etc.. I was hoping you guys would regroup and restart your journey and it looks like you are, which is great! And as an added bonus you are putting up the reports on your travels in the days before the accident--fantastic! Let me tell you, they are worth waiting for! Rocky, the photos are wonderful, and Paula, your writing is too! Learning about the people you have met and their culture really adds another dimension that you don't often find in reports. Thanks so much for posting....looking forward to the "new" trip!!
It was a lot of work on the road to keep the blog up-to-date. I stopped writing my version, mostly because it was too much work, and I'm not very good at it and don't like writing much. Paula writes well, but I still have to prod her to do it.
We hope to get caught up on the blog before we leave again this spring/summer. I like to think of it as a continuation of the original trip (but maybe it technically isn't). Hope you follow along.
It was difficult leaving Mexico City because the traffic was terrible, I doubt it is possible for anyone to ever get a speeding ticket there. We decided to grab a bite to eat as we drove through, and of all places to stop, Rocky chose Subway. I'm not sure how he isn't sick of eating there.
We were on our way to Valle De Bravo, still in the State of Mexico. It should have taken us two hours to get there but we've come to realize that riding through Mexico takes twice as long as riding through Canada or the USA. After finally escaping the city traffic, we had to deal with the country roads where there was one topes (speed bump) after another. Anticipating when we'd ride over the next one was exhausting. When the topes seemed to finally end we began riding through rolling hills that finally led us to Valle de Bravo. It was a really nice town and seemed like the perfect vacation destination for any nearby cities.
We went on a mission asking people if there were any campgrounds but we weren't having any luck. We kept being given directions that didn't make sense or we were directed to an RV park that didn't rent space for tents. They weren't even busy, I couldn't understand why they'd turn us away. We finally took a wrong turn in the right direction because we ended up at the lakes edge where the police kept their boat docked. I asked the officers if they minded us camping there and their response confused me. They looked at me funny and said in Spanish, 'of course you can, but I don't know why you'd chose to. There are so many better places to sleep'. Silly cops hadn't a clue. We set up our tent on flat land of soft grass just far enough from the waters edge giving us an incredible view. It is probably safe to say that it was the most perfect spot to sleep in this town.
We packed up the next morning but we weren't ready to leave. We stopped at a KTM dealership, enjoyed some coffee next door and then went out riding around the town. It was too bad that we had all of our gear loaded on the bike because we had found a perfect spot for off-roading. Hungry, we stopped and ate delicious pizza that really hit the spot and then went back to camp at the same place as the night before to watch the sunset and spend the night.
We organized our things the following morning and rode along the coast. That ride turned out to be the toughest most annoying ride we had been on yet. The terrain was mountainous taking us into high altitudes through some clouds. The weather kept changing from warm, to fresh, to humid, to chilly, and I began feeling a bit nauseous. I think that the altitude may have affected me because I felt weird. I resorted to humming for the rest of the ride, I'm not sure why but it seemed to help distract me from what I was feeling.
The roads were winding and Rocky had to be very careful to avoid hitting fallen rocks, roosters or donkeys. We actually found a donkey limping up the mountain and stopped to offer it some attention and Gatorade (we didn't have water). There are two things I can think of that really bother me about Mexico. Malnourished, limping, flea infested, skin diseased animals. I wish I knew how to help hurt animals because it is a serious problem in Mexico. The other thing that broke my heart was the litter. Plastic wrappers, bottles and cans are littered in a man made river of trash on the side of the roads. You can be looking at the most beautiful display of nature at its finest, while standing on a mountain of rubbish. It's sad.
The elevation finally dropped and we soon reached a city called Ixtapa. It was very modern and it looked like a foreigners typical vacation spot. Hungry, Rocky stopped for more... Subway, of course. Uhggg!!! How can he do it? I can no longer stomach a bite or stand the smell. It will be a very long time before I am able to go to Subway again. After eating, we stopped at a cafe and enjoyed the first good cup of coffee I had in Mexico. It was nice to relax on the patio as the sun was setting.
One of the locals there recommended a campsite we could stay at, close to the beach. He told us that he goes there all the time and it only costs 50 pesos ($4). So I checked online and found the website to confirm. I was excited, the place sounded great! We rode past a bunch of resorts down a dark road until we finally reached the campsite. I walked up to the fence and asked the guy working there how much it would cost us to camp and he said 90 pesos ($7.50). He opened the gate for Rocky to ride through and then asked me for 180 pesos ($15). I asked why the website advertised a different price and he explained that the cost went up without the website being updated.
Frustrated, we refused to stay. It's hard to justify spending $15 to sleep in our own tent,* just to be able to take a shower and flush after we pee. We got on the road and headed back in the direction from which we came. I was worried because it was already night time and we weren't sure where we would be spending the night. We then turned on what seemed to be a dead end street that surprisingly led us directly to a huge secluded beach. It was our own private area and we were eager to pitch the tent and jump in the water before bed. Morning came and it was awesome to step out of the tent and see the scenery under the warm bright sunshine. It was simply beautiful. We spent all morning and most of the afternoon laying on the sand and swimming in the ocean.
We eventually got hungry and decided to go back to the same cafe as the night before, having WIFI there was a definite bonus. I had received an email from Nancy, we had met her through www.couchsurfing.org at the beginning of our trip and stayed with her in Grand Forks BC in Canada. Nancy has a sister named Carol who lives with John in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Since we were a short distance away, Nancy recommended we stay with Carol. Throughout the day, I tried calling Carol but the payphone kept eating my money, so Nancy recommended we show up because we were expected. The only problem was that the directions we were given, were in typical Mexican style, "look for the wooden house on the beach."
The sun was about to set and we decided to try and find the wooden house on the beach. We rode around, up and down different streets until we finally reached a house with a wooden fence. I didn't see the beach nor did I see a wooden house but I was getting desperate at that point and just wanted to ask somebody. A lady was standing nearby and she handed me a tiny little black kitten. I thought it was random but I took the kitten because I couldn't refuse the furry little creature. She pointed behind me and asked if we were looking for the English people, to my surprise it was a house made of wood behind me. She told me that I must deliver the kitten to Carol, she would know what to do.
This was awkward. With a kitten in my hand, I knocked on the gate and greeted the stranger I was hoping was Carol. I introduced myself, Rocky, along with the kitten. We were immediately welcomed,* and I was relieved. It turns out that the kitten had been found in the dumpster and Carol's neighbor had hoped that Carol would accept the furry creature or find it a new home. Carol and John, being the sweet people they are, couldn't reject and immediately adopted the kitten.
After drinking some wine and sharing some stories Carol suggested that John show us our room. He told us we had to drive to it and that confused us a little but we followed. Just down the road we pulled up to a house with a large Tamarind tree out front. When walked through the gate my jaw just dropped. Carol and John owned a gorgeous bed and breakfast. It is stunning. We had a beautiful room with a king size bed and a private bathroom. There was a common area with hammocks and a hot tub. This place was a wonderful surprise and treat.
After a great night sleep, John came to pick us up to go surfing. I had never surfed before and I believe it was Rocky's first time as well. We picked up John's friend and the four of us headed to the beach. Surfing was fun but also very exhausting, I probably would've been much better at it had I ridden the waves and not ridden against them. After a few hours, bruises and mouthfuls of salt, everyone was out of the water and John said he got stung by a Stingray on the bottom of his foot.* Stingrays have one or more barbed stings on their tail, and its underside has two grooves with venom glands. I'm not sure what it's supposed to feel like to be stung but he handled it very well. Not only did he drive, but he even made a stop on our way back to the house. There is an herb used for the sting and it is called Riñonina in Spanish. Riñon means kidney and the herb is known to be excellent for kidney ailments, but along other things it is also used to ease the pain and inflammation from the sting of a Stingray. When we got back to the bed and breakfast, Carol boiled some water, added the Riñonina and John soaked his foot.
Later that night, Rocky and I walked to the town center to wander around and grab a bite to eat. I think it's hilarious that we can walk down the street drinking a 40 of , super classy. We were catching a good buzz when we met one of the store owners, it turned out that he too had caught a buzz but pee'd his pants because of it. He was a nice guy though, we talked for a while about life and politics. We all spoke the same language of drunk and somehow understood each other.
We were supposed to go surfing again the next morning, Rocky went, but I couldn't function, I was hungover. Later that day, we met Carol, John, and some of their friends by the beach for a bite to eat, and again, some drinks of course. Rocky and I, then joined John on a bar hopping tour of the town,* it was fun. The following day, John invited us to eat a traditional Thursday soup called Pozole, made of hominy (white corn soaked in lime (as in the mineral, not the fruit) and cooked with pork and chicken broth, and served with accompaniments of avocado, crisp pork rinds, radishes, oregano, chile, lime, chopped onion, and sometimes taquitos and pieces fresh Mexican cheese. It is often served with Mezcal,* a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the Maguey plant. So, even though it was only noon, we had to try a shot of it. It's tradition!
I had a serious good time meeting Carol and John. They spoiled us with kindness and treated us like true friends. Staying in La Tamarind was beyond perfect. I hope to visit again sometime and even rent the same room. If you are interested in visiting Zihuatanejo to rent or purchase property, check out John's real estate website at www.mbprealestate.com* (Mexico Beach Property).* And, if you're interested in a healthy lifestyle and delicious recipes, you can find Carol at www.zihrena.net* (Zihrena's Mexican Garden).
Feeling fantastic, rested and refreshed, we had to get back on the road and deal with more topes. Topes should be illegal, I hate them. We weren't really sure where we were headed but we were going to ride through Acapulco. I wasn't to excited about it because, as it's a large city and I heard it was very dangerous. I really didn't like it once we got there because it was dirty, busy and sketchy. I may have liked it more had we ridden by the coast but we didn't bother. We kept going until we were back on the highway and slightly passed the city. It was getting dark and with no idea of where we were staying we decided to camp on a grassy area on the side of the highway.
We woke up the next morning and still weren't sure where we were going. We continued riding the coast and knew we'd eventually find a great place to stop. Mazunte was definitely more than great. It was a backpackers haven, a perfect place for us to venture. We rode down the main strip and stopped to ask a lady at a shop if she knew of a place to camp. She said yes and asked us to follow her up the road. I thought it was nice that she would show us the way, but I didn't realize, at the time, that she wasn't taking us to a campground.
We arrived at a small two-story building that had the name Arrecife written across the top. The woman asked me to follow her inside and led me up a set of stairs into a large open area with a roof top, table with chairs and a couple of hammocks. She told me that we could either rent one of the three rooms down the hall or we could pay 80 pesos ($7) to set up our tent in the large room. We were happy to rent out the large balcony, we even had a bathroom with a shower. And, since nobody else was renting a room, the entire area and bathroom were private.
Mazunte is a small village wedged between a wide, one km long beach. It is, known for many of the eco-friendly cabins and other buildings which consists mostly of palm fronds, adobe, bamboo, shells stones coconut shells and wood, designed to blend in with the landscape, and it is famous for sea turtles, due to the many turtles that go there to lay eggs.
We decided to explore more in the morning because we were tired but we probably should have gone out because we didn't get much sleep anyway. It was a weekend and a beach party thumped the speakers until 4 am playing old school rap and reggae. I didn't mind it so much because it was music I haven't heard in half my life but shortly after it stopped, our morning was filled with the sound of roosters crowing and dogs barking. It wasn't the best night of sleep that we've had, …but the next day was spent laying in a hammock, watching T.V and shows on the laptop.
We went for a walk on the beach in the early evening, and picked up some Coronas and limes on the way home. That night, we drank , ate snacks, and watched a documentary. The woman whom we were renting the space from, came to visit us that*night. I thought it was a sweet surprise. Her and her daughter told us of things to do and see in the area and we showed them pictures of our travels.
Being a Sunday, we slept much better that night. I woke up to the sun and the birds singing and we headed over to a beach-side restaurant for some breakfast and to use the internet. Later that afternoon, we went to beach and laid under the sun. I went in the ocean a few times but the undertow was really strong and I kept seeing large shadows in the water. To be honest,* I think I was paranoid of being stung by a Stingray. I don't want to encourage living in fear but it was a good thing at that moment because I noticed a bunch of jelly fish washed up on the shore. Moments later, I saw that a few people had been stung. As much as I love the ocean,* it really creeps me out.
We woke up the next morning to another sunny day. We went for brunch and had another lazy day lounging at the beach. I could get used to this kind of lifestyle. That evening, we went for a delicious fish dinner, had a few s and watched a movie before bed. We were planning on leaving in the morning to head towards San Cristóbal de las Casas. Life was hard.
After arriving in Valle de Bravo, we found a spot down by the lake to set up our tent. Paula and I watched the sunset and spent the night in this beautiful location.
The sun setting on Lake Avándaro, in Valle de Bravo, Mexico
After searching for a place to camp in the dark the night before, we stumbled across this spot next to the ocean. We had the entire beach ourselves that night.
Paula and I spent a good part of that day cooling off in the ocean.
Ruv, true ruv, will forrow you, forever...
Laying on the sand, a wave came in and took Paula by surprise.
Quite a distance away from the tourist area, we had most of the beach to ourselves (uncensored photos on our pay site HERE).
As we searched for Carol's house, we met her neighbour who handed us this day-old kitten to give to Carol. It was found in a garbage bin, and her neighbour knew that Carol would take it in and care for it.
We headed down to the beach to meet John, Carol and a few of their friends for some drinks.
Playa La Ropa
Paula, John and I continued the night as we bar-hopped around the town of Zihuatanejo.
Mazunte, Mexico - We stumbled upon this little paradise along the southern coast of Mexico.
San Cristóbal de las Casas (November 23 – December 10, 2011)
We left Mazunte and planned on riding in the direction of San Cristobal de las casas, located in the state of Chiapas. After an hour and half of slow, windy roads divided by small towns and villages, the roads finally straightened out and we thought that we were going to be able to make good time. Its not often you can ‘make good time’ on the roads of mexico, and this day turned out to be no exception. It wasn’t long before traffic came to a complete stop and we found ourselves getting deeper into the thick of it. We pulled off to the the side of the road and sat at a table under the shade of a plastic hut above us. The entire area was lined with tables, overhangs, cauldrons and BBQ grills. We ordered some food and asked the lady what the traffic was about. We found out there was a protest but I had a difficult time understanding the dialect and couldn’t seem to figure out what it was about. Regardless, it was nice to see such a huge gathering standing up for what ever they believed in. Even though it took us a lot of effort to get away from the crowed road, we were eventually able to pick up some speed.
It had been a long day and we still weren’t sure where we’d camp for the night. We considered a field, across from a store we had stopped at, but it turned out to be a military base and we weren’t allowed. We continued driving on the highway until we reached a toll booth. Exhausted, we decided to camp behind a small building, by the toll booths, on the side of the highway. Early the next morning, Rocky woke up and left the tent. While I was in there alone, I heard a bunch of women talking and laughing hysterically. What I heard them say was something along these lines (in Spanish), “Where are you going white boy? I was just about to drop my pants. Jajaja!” “Don’t be scared, we are just a group of ladies! Jajaja” “Can you pass us some toilet paper, we all need it to wipe our ass? Jajajajaja.” Shortly after, Rocky came back to the tent and I heard the women giggling. It turns out that they really needed to pee but the building was closed and they had to go behind it. They were surprised to see Rocky there but with good humor, they joked amongst themselves. when I walked out of the tent, their giggle turned into full laughter cause they weren’t expecting to see a women after all the naughty jokes they had made. But the best part, was when I greeted them in Spanish and they realized that I understood everything that they had said.
We continued on the road and stopped in a town named Tuxtla Gutiérrez, for some breakfast, at a corner side patio. Women walked the street balancing large baskets on their head. Some were filled with breads, pastries or flowers. We then continued riding through the beautiful State of Chiapas, making a few stops along the way, until we finally reached San Cristobal De Las Casas. I had contacted a man named José Luis on couchsurfing.org, and after stopping for some tacos we arrived at his house. Most Mexican houses have a tall gate surrounding the perimeter, at the doors of this gate was a large sign reading La Clave de Sol*. Jose Luis came out to greet us with a firm hug and said “Follow me this way my friends!”. We followed him around to the side of the house where he opened a different gate leading us to the backyard. We parked the bike on the lawn and followed him into the house.
*La Clave- A Clef is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes. De Sol- of the Sun*
What happened next was extraordinary. We walked into a large kitchen/dining/living room and we were introduced to many friendly faces. It was Jaana’s birthday and everyone was celebrating. Drinks were poured, dinner was made and about to be served and everyone was doing something towards contributing to the festivities. The energy was high and we were overwhelmed with all the beautiful chaos that surrounded us. Jaana, with her sweet accent and gorgeous long blond dreads was traveling from Finland and is married to Pablo, the creative jewelry maker and empanada king from Argentina. *Empanada is a popular Argentinian meal* There was a French couple visiting from France, named Aurore and Julien. The stylish couple, Miss Charleigh from Scotland and the incredible chef Jimmy, from England. Robin was visiting from BC Canada. The hilarious Chiky from the Canary Islands, her friends, América from Madrid, Mar from Spain, and a girl whose name I have forgotten. Jose Luis then introduced us to the calm, cool and collected artist Jonathan, from New Orleans. Jonathan was renting an apartment on the property but was leaving to visit the beach for the week. We were surprised and very grateful when he invited us to stay in his apartment.
The party continued until late that night, Rocky wasn’t feeling well so he retreated to our apartment. I stayed up drinking cheap liquor called Tiburon, it cost me an entire dollar for the bottle. Charleigh was my new drinking buddy and we stepped out on the porch to join others for a cigarette. I was already catching a buzz and not expecting what came next. As I starred out into the darkness, I felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was trying to focus on the faint outline of a figure when I suddenly recognized what was starring back at me. It was a horse! My goodness, there were more than one. I was shocked and elated, I had no idea this place could have gotten any better. Not only did Jose Luis bring together a great crowd to create the kind of atmosphere that all human beings should be exposed to, but he also chose the perfect location to share with strangers from all around the world. Jose says he was once a politician, but I adored his hippy side. Thinking of him will always remind me to smile. His laugh, his heart, his kind eyes and the way he always said in a high pitched voice, “whoowhaaaat”. I loved his crazy stories, even the one about Lake Atitlan, a few friends, a few ladies and something about avocados.
What an incredible place! It was already dark out when we had arrived and it was difficult to register exactly what the area was like. But, from what I could gather, there was the smaller house that Jose Luis lived in, where the party was taking place, it was called “Two Moons”. To the side of it, was a huge three story house that was actually separated into thirds, creating three different apartments named, Solstice, Eclipse and Equinox . There was a large backyard with a vegetable garden on the side of the large apartment complex, and stables in the back, for the horses. As the night continued, I found myself in a conversation with Oliverio. He was the one who owned the land and built this magical place. Oliverio was the manliest man I had ever met, or as Rocky calls him, the “French-Mexican Marlboro Man”. He was a jack of all trades, tall, dark and handsome. In the morning, I would meet his lovely girlfriend Catherine, an artist from southern France.
I woke up the next day slightly dehydrated, most likely alcohol related. Rocky was already awake and I found him outside in the backyard doing yoga with Jonathan and some others. I laid in the hammock on the balcony under the warm sun until Rocky was done. We took a ride out though the City for a bite to eat and a little site seeing. San Cristobal is located in the Central Highlands region of Chiapas and sits in a small valley surrounded by hills. Its Spanish colonial layout, with narrow cobblestone streets, roofs covered in red clay tile, the facades of the buildings painted in various colors and wrought iron balconies with hanging flowers, is simply beautiful. Much of San Cristobal culture is associated with the city’s large indigenous population, which is mostly made up of Tzotzils and Tzeltals. The traditional culture associated with these indigenous groups is the making of textiles. Gorgeous fabrics are sold and worn by them. Amber is also very popular along with ceramics, wrought iron and filigree jewelry. We returned to La Clave De Sol and relaxed until dinner was made. Jimmy prepared an incredible Indian inspired meal for everyone and we all sat by the fire place for more drinks that night.
A large greasy breakfast was great for my morning hangover. We found a restaurant down the road that served eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, coffee, juice, etc. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten what I consider a traditional breakfast. The only thing missing was Canadian maple syrup. After breakfast, we stopped to pick up some groceries because I planned on making some Coke Chicken for dinner. Coke chicken is chicken cooked in Coca Cola. When heated, the Coke caramelizes and coats the chicken with a sticky delicious glaze. Unfortunately, I figured out later that night after cooking the chicken for 4 hours, that it would not caramelize because the Coke in mexico was made with real sugar cane, unlike the Canadian/American Coke that is made with cheap substitutes. At least the chicken turned out really tender.
We woke up early the following morning despite going to bed late. I made a large pot of soup for everyone and relaxed most of the day. While Rocky napped, I hung out on the back porch with Charleigh and Jimmy and we drank Tequila out of the bottle. It makes me laugh to think back on that, I really enjoyed their company because I’m not much of a drinker, especially hard liquor out of the bottle, at noon time. Jaana and Pablo planned on making pizzas for dinner that night. Most of us joined at Jose Luis’s house and just as dinner was being prepared, the electricity went out. Luckily there was a fire burning in the fire place and we all grabbed whatever flashlights we had. It turned out to be such a fun time that as soon as the lights came back on, we turned them off and continued to use the flashlights. The pizzas were yummy and of course, we drank more liquor and even smoked a few joints.
It was cold and cloudy the following morning. Being located in the mountains, San Cristobal was always chilly, but with the sun hiding behind clouds made it much cooler. Rocky and I went for tacos in the morning and found a great bakery that served good coffee and pastries. Before retuning to La Clave de Sol, we picked up some firewood to heat up the apartment. Regardless of the whether, it was a dark depressing day, I would be saying good bye to my drinking buddies and sidekicks Charleigh and Jimmy. As they cabbed it to the bus station, we followed them on the motorcycle to say our last goodbyes. The next few days weren’t the same but at least the sun was out.
We had been waiting for some motorcycle parts to be delivered in the mail and they had finally arrived. Although we kept the chain on the motorcycle spotless, it was due to be replaced. Being a motorcycle owner as well, Oliverio spent some time with Rocky, looking over the bike. Oliverio asked to test out her power and Rocky allowed him of course. The gate was opened, they exchanged bikes and both rode up and down the street a few times. It was obvious that Oliverio enjoyed the KTM because I tried taking pictures but wasn’t able because he was riding too damn fast. He even rode past one time with both hands in the air! Oliverio invited us to join him and Catherine out that night. Catherine and I went shopping during the day and met up with the guys after the sun went down. We walked through the city center, tasting cheese samples and stopped to buy some coffee beans at a local coffee shop. After bar hopping and doing a few shots of Mezcal, a Mexican alcoholic treat, Rocky realized he had lost his helmet. Luckily we found it at the coffee shop. We had such a fun time hanging out together that Oliverio suggested we go out to a place he knew we would enjoy the following day.
We woke up the next morning and rode the motorcycles to go see a waterfall. After at least an hour and a half on the road, we reached Cascada El Chiflón. We hiked up stream for a long time, admiring the teal colored river. Our visibility was limited to what was directly in front of us and it wasn’t until we were a short distance away that we had seen the falls. It truly blew my mind. It all began with a light mist as we climbed higher up the path. Suddenly we reached an area where we were given view of the largest most powerful falls in Mexico. I was not expecting this at all. I can only describe this moment as the most magical one I have ever shared with nature. I climbed a bit higher and walked onto a platform that extended out in front of the falls. I stood with my arms in the air as the mist soaked me completely and the sun kissed my face, embracing me with a rainbow.
After an awesome day and a delicious bite to eat, we dried up as much as possible and headed back home. The ride back seemed to have taken much longer. The sun went down and it got cold very quick. Being a bit damp still from swimming earlier was not helping at all. I was so cold that I spent the entire ride fantasizing about sitting in front of the fireplace. The moment we returned, we immediately started a fire. Since staying in San Cristobal, Rocky became quite the fire maker. Nothing beats a wood burning fireplace.
To our surprise, Jonathan had finally returned and we were excited to get to know this kind stranger a bit better. We woke up early the next morning and it was great to join him outside for his yoga lesson and then a nice cup of java. Jonathan is a coffee snob as he would call himself and staying with him taught me to appreciate a strong cup of coffee. After a relaxing day, Rocky prepared a huge pasta dinner and invited everyone to join us. Most of the same friendly faces showed up but also new ones like Alex and Mia traveling from Quebec, Canada. Once again, we ate, drank, smoked and laughed lots.
The following day was reserved for fixing the bike. We accomplished most of it until the chain tool broke, repairs had to be put to a stop until the following day. With no other responsibilities, we decided to get stoned and meet the newcomers, Kate from New Zealand and Floris from Belgium. Oliverio took Rocky to a tool maker the next morning and got the chain tool fixed, after we finished working on the chain Oliverio and Catherine invited us to have dinner at their apartment. Oliverio told us how he was from France and his father was a famous Mexican actor. He showed us old pictures and shared many stories of how his father began his artistic career in 1938 until 1947 in Mexico before being contracted as a singer and musician in Libya, Egypt, France and many other European countries until 1978 when he returned to Mexico and worked in Televisa (television) programs until he passed away in 2003 at 80 years of age. It was fascinating to look at all the great, old pictures Oliverio had saved, Rocky even scanned a few pictures for keepsake.
The next two days were spent relaxing, smoking weed, drinking coffee and preparing for Oliverio’s birthday. Rocky planned on digitally restoring the picture of Oliverio’s dad and spent a several hours doing so. On the day of his birthday, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some cake and conveniently found one that was made with tequila. That night, everyone gathered together at Oliverio house for the festivities. What a great party! There was never a dull moment at La Clave De Sol.
We slept in the next morning, I thought everyone would have until I caught Jonathan downstairs with the coffee already brewed, a large pot of soup cooking on the stove and a painting being drawn on the wall. I hung out with Jonathan most of the day while Rocky napped but, once he woke up, I helped him do an oil change on the bike. Later that night we spent watching documentaries on the computer in the living room. As we were sitting in the dark, Rocky asked what was running across the floor. I turned on the light and to my surprise I saw a big, fat spider the size of a large gum ball. I immediately grabbed the broom and gently brushed the spider towards the door. I was seriously petrified doing so but I couldn’t let the spider stay inside. There was a short step to the doorway and I was panicking because I wasn’t sure how to lift the spider up. With another gentle brush I tried maneuvering the broom a certain way but it didn’t work. Instead, the spider rolled against the step and actually made a loud thud. Oh my goodness! I was so scared and Rocky wasn’t about to help me, he just told me to leave the thing alone. How the hell am I supposed to ignore a spider that thuds when it slowly hits a wall? I finally managed to lift it up the step and I continued to brush it safely out the door. For the first time since staying at La Clave De Sol, the night was so silent I could hear the crickets, everyone was asleep. Just as I noticed the silence I almost broke it with screams as I also noticed I was surrounded by at least ten spiders the size of the one I just let out.
The next day, Jonathan told me it was margarita day and I was excited. Rocky and I were still waiting for one more package to arrive in the mail, so we rode to the post office and it had finally arrived. Once we returned to La Clave De Sol, Rocky spent the day napping while Jonathan and I hung out. He wanted to make nachos so we took a walk down a few wrong streets but eventually found a store. We purchased everything we needed and went back to make some salsa, guacamole and Margarita’s. Jonathan is one of the best people I have ever met and it made me sad to know that Rocky and I were leaving the next day. Once morning came, I was really sad because I felt as if I was leaving something incredibly special behind. Today, I know otherwise. La Clave De Sol is forever with me.
Passing through Oaxaca on our way towards Chiapas, we passed through a large wind farm just outside of the town of Iglesia del Nazareno.
La Clave De Sol was always full of travelers from all over the world. From left to right: Paula (Canada), América (Spain), Pablo (Argentina) & his girlfriend, Jaana (Finland), Charleigh (Scotland) & her boyfriend, Jimmy (England), Mar (Spain), Jose Luis (Mexico), Auror (France), Robin (Canada), and Auror’s boyfriend, Julien (France)
Charleigh, Jose Luis & Jimmy “The Brit”
Having arrived in San Cristóbal de las Casas after dark the evening before, we didn’t notice the stables and horses until one appeared out of the darkness.
After over an hour motorcycle ride and an hour of hiking, Oliverio, Catherine, Paula and I finally arrive at Cascada El Chiflón, one of the largest and most powerful waterfalls in Mexico.
The power of the falls sprayed a tiny water droplets everywhere, enveloping us in a cloud of mist.
I saw Catherine taking a close-up of this little critter on our hike up the river.
On our hike back to the motorcycles, we all took a dip in the cold, refreshing waters of the river downstream from Cascada El Chiflón.
Oliverio In Exaltation
Nights in San Cristóbal de las Casas in November/December can get quite cool. During the day I would take the ax and gather firewood (until I realized that there were shops on the other side of town that sold them by the bundle for quite cheap). We enjoyed the warmth of a roaring fire every evening.
Jonathan usually started the morning with a either some form of alcoholic beverage, a marijuana cigarette and some yoga – sometimes all three.
In the middle of changing the chain on my motorcycle, my chain press tool broke (probably my fault). I rode on the back with Oliverio to his friend’s machine shop to have a replacement piece made.
There were always travelers coming and going at La Clave De Sol. Jose Luis’ smile and laughter were infectious.
Flores (Belgium), Jose Luis & Kate (New Zealand)
At one point during our stay in San Cristóbal de las Casas, there were eighteen travellers who, at one time, gathered together at La Clave De Sol.
Cooking With Jonathan
Paula & Catherine at Oliverio’s birthday party
The Three Stooges
Oliverio’s Father (left) was a famous Mexican actor. His began his artistic career in 1938 until 1947 in Mexico before being contracted as a singer and musician in Libya, Egypt, France and many other European countries until 1978 when he returned to Mexico and worked in Televisa (television) programs until he passed away in 2003 at 80 years of age. This is the photo that I restored for Oliverio for his birthday.
In his state of inebriation, I didn’t know if Oliverio realized that the cake wasn’t round. I didn’t have the heart to tell him.
The night was a blur…
When Oliverio wasn’t climbing up trees and chopping them down with a hatchet, he tended to his horses.
Oliverio’s stallion (who prefers his right side)
Paula & Oliverio On Horseback
Oliverio – The Man, The Myth, The Legend
After tending to the horses, we rode in the back of the truck with the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces.
The Dude abides. If there was a refined and artistic version of “The Dude”, Jonathan would be it.
After about two weeks at La Clave De Sol, it was time to move on. We will always remember the moments and the people we shared them with while we were there.
If you are planning on visiting San Cristóbal de las Casas, Oliverio has rooms for rent, rents horses and gives guided tours. He also makes jewelry, rustic furniture and sells organic vegetables.
We rode through lush mountain scenery for approximately five hours until we reached Palenque. Its a good thing that shopping isn’t practical on our trip, because Palenque is a really cute town with many shoe stores. More importantly though, Palenque is an ancient Maya site. Its ruins date back to 226 BC, to its fall around 1123 AD. After its decline, it was absorbed into the jungle but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site. It is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle.
After stopping for some tacos, we rode away from the town until we found a campsite. It was a nice affordable place to camp that offered hot showers and a really nice restaurant that served alcohol and had live music. El Panchan was only a few kilometers short of the Palenque ruins. It was an interesting place with its blend of hippies, people on holidays, backpackers and Rastas. The experience was further enhanced by its jungle setting, with the sound of howler monkeys frequently heard from the high canopy. I thought they sounded much more like a cheetah would, than a monkey.
We woke up early the next morning and hung out at the ruins for most of the day, enjoying the beautiful setting of towering trees that surround the site. There is a peaceful calm that envelops you as you walk around exploring the jungle trails that lead to other smaller plazas and temples, and to the travertine cascades that carry water down the mountain during the rainy season. After spending most of the day at the ruins, we stopped at a museum and then went into town to walk around and grab a bite to eat. We purchased a few s to go and on our way back to the bike we were stopped by a shop owner offering us free samples of liquor. Cappuccino Agave Liquor is delicious but instead of buying a bottle, Rocky purchased some crickets. Yes, crickets. Apparently, they are a popular snack. I’m not sure exactly how they are prepared but they were dead, dry and covered in chili and lime seasoning, of course.
Once we got back to El Panchan, we sat at an outdoor table towards the back of the restaurant. Rocky immediately tried to convince me to eat some crickets, but I’m not the type to like bugs. He then attempted a different approach and tried feeding me . I eventually gave in and decided to eat a bug, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t convince myself to do it. Eww, the thought of chewing little legs repulsed me. Especially when I imagined any of it stuck between my teeth. Uhgg, it’s creepy body crunching in my mouth, there was no way I could bring myself to eat a bug. And then it happened. Maybe it was the or maybe it was because I was ashamed of being such a chicken shit, but I ate a bug. Just one, but I did it.
It was a beautiful night and we decided to take a walk down the farm road. There were a few more campsites and rentals about 400 meters away and we decided to go venture and see if we could find our new friend Jelmar. We met him earlier that afternoon while we were at the ruins. He was visiting from the Netherlands and told us he was staying at a really cool place. We also heard that if we walked down the road at night, a Mexican would jump out of the bush and offer to sell us magic mushrooms. There were trees and bush on either side of the road. It was dark out but the bright moon created a stunning silver effect on the sky above us. Suddenly, a man came out from out of the bush and said, “mushrooms, mushrooms?”. Before we could say “yes please” or “how much?” A car came down the road and the man with the ‘shrooms got paranoid, disappear, and never returned. We continued our walk and stopped to check out the live entertainment up the road. We stayed for a moment, peeked for our friend Jelmar but didn’t see him. We walked our way back to El Panchan and enjoyed a few more Coronas’s before bed.
We left Palenque the next morning and rode through patches of rain. For the second time during this trip, a bird flew into Rocky as we were riding. Is that common to any other riders? We left the state of Chiapas and went on our way to Merida, in the state of Yucatán. It was a really pretty city and the weather was much dryer than it had been in the humid jungle. After eating some tacos, we searched for a place to camp and found a large grassy area by the highway. We thought it was the perfect place and we felt like we were well hidden but the police noticed us and stopped to question what we doing their. They were really polite and didn’t mind us staying, they just asked that we leave with any trash we created.
When we woke up the next morning, we went for breakfast at McDonald’s, more so for the internet than the food. Jimmy and Charleigh from San Cristobal had sent us a message saying they were at a small town nearby but we weren’t able to properly coordinate to meet. Instead, Rocky and I continued on the road to Chichen Itza ruins. It is one of the largest Maya cities, but the entrance fee was out of our budget, so we opted for tacos. Unsure of where to go next, we thought about sleeping at a church yard but drove to Tulum, in the State of Quintana Roo, instead. It was night and we always try to avoid driving at night but we had the highway to ourselves and it was new and freshly paved. I consider it one of my favorite times on the road. It was a long, smooth, relaxing ride. The air was warm, the moon was large and millions of stars were shining through the blackness of the sky.
I had been to Tulum years before, and I was really excited to return. I remembered it having very small eco-hotels, some didn’t even provide electricity or hot water. I remember tents randomly placed throughout the beach and everything was closed after 10pm. I remembered Tulum was was very calm, peaceful and beautiful. We arrived just before 11pm and rode for a very long time before finding a spot to camp. Far past all the resorts, most of the area was secluded and we found a great place. The next morning, we were approached and asked to leave the private property. It didn’t matter, we rarely ever camped at the same location more than once. We packed up our belongings after a quick dip in the ocean, and rode towards the town. Tulum was looking much, much busier than when I had visited, years before.
We were enjoying a cup of coffee while sitting out on the patio of a bakery that offered WiFi. A guy approached us and introduced himself as Sean. Him and his girlfriend Blossom were visiting from Australia and were also traveling two up on a motorcycle. He suggested we camp by them and go for dinner together. It was really exciting to meet another couple sharing a very similar experience. A few hours later, we rode until we found the sign for public beach access and pulled into a long sandy driveway that lead into the beach. To the right of the path was Santa Fe restaurant/campsite, it’s property line was marked by a roped fence. We parked the bike and as we walked around to find Sean and Blossom, we were immediately approached by a Santa Fe employee asking if we were looking to camp. We told them that we were looking for our friends but we would be looking to camp on Federal Land instead. They asked why we wouldn’t camp on their property and we explained that since we wouldn’t be using any of their facilities it would make more sense for us to camp for free somewhere else. After they insisted that it was illegal for us to camp on Federal Land, they told us that by staying on their property we were protected by their 24 hour security. Their aggressive sales pitch was dishonest and annoying to say the least, we said no thank you and walked away.
Outside of the fenced Santa Fe property, we found a place to pitch our tent. It was located on Federal Land and nestled in the shade of a few palm trees. We found Sean and Blossom, their tent was approximately 30 meters away on the opposite side of the roped fence. We placed our gear, boots and a few other belongings into a couple of PAC Safes (aircraft cable mesh), and left them locked up in the tent as we rode out to dinner. It was delicious! After we ate, we rode back to the beach and walked up and down the coast getting to know each other. It was really interesting how much we shared in common with Sean and Blossom. Although they had traveled to many other continents before our trip began, our journey from Western Canada to Tulum had been very similar. I’m surprised that we didn’t meet sooner.
Sean was very intelligent, creative and adventurous, much like Rocky. They shared the same kind of thoughts and even the same camera and video camera. Their birthdays were only a few days apart. Blossom reminded me of myself. She was easy going, low maintenance, passionate about life, and we had even worked in the same profession. Her birthday was a few days before mine. Blossom met Sean when she was really young but began dating him a few years ago. Rocky and I had met at a very young age but we began dating a few years ago. Weird.
After grabbing a few coconuts we walked to their tent and just as we were standing there, one of the employees shone his flashlights in our faces and began swearing at us, demanding that we get off of the property. Apparently, they were very mad that we didn’t camp on their site, but were there visiting our friends. It was already past midnight, we weren’t about to camp somewhere else for the night and I couldn’t justify paying to move all of our things on to their property. Especially after all the attitude. So, we remained where we were and we would camp somewhere else along the shore the following night.
We woke up the next morning and Rocky immediately noticed a gash cut through our tent. There is an obvious chance that it could be anybody but I don’t think I’d be too crazy to assume that the hot headed Santa Fe rent-a-cop had something to do with it. Moments later, we noticed that the PAC Safes that locked much of our belongings, was tampered with. The thief had found one of our tools and tried to cut through the metal mesh. They failed miserably. The tool got stuck to the mesh as they tried cutting it. They weren’t able to steal our things but I then realized that the cut in the tent was how they were able to steal my purse.
The thought of a thief stealing my belongings while watching me sleep creeped me out. Although Rocky and I were keeping our cool, my blood began boiling and I burst into tears. My I.D. (luckily not my passport), my camera with all my pictures, my iPhone with my expense list and journal, all the keepsakes and my birth control was in my purse. I carried all my physical memories in that purse and some creep stole it while watching me sleep. I became a hot mess thinking about it all and, before I could say another word, Rocky jumped up and ran over to the Santa Fe property. I chased after him but I was too late. He picked up a picnic table, slammed it down and left with a few choice words.
Minutes later, the police showed up. They explained to Rocky that, although it was likely we knew who the thief was, we couldn’t prove it. Because of this, Rocky shouldn’t have flipped their table over, and he would be going to jail for the night. I was left alone to pack everything up and wait for a tow truck to take me along with the motorcycle to bail him out. As emotional as I felt, I still couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of Rocky in a Mexican jail.
When I arrived at the station I was given two choices. I could either let Rocky spend the night locked up or I could bail him out for 1701 pesos. Such a random amount. I told the cops that I was just robbed and asking me for money was an insult. I took 400 pesos from my pocket and told them it was all I had. I had more in my pocket but I wasn’t about to tell them that. Besides, they immediately accepted the 400 pesos (under $30) and Rocky was released. I knew I should have offered less.
It was 3pm by the time we left the tiny cop shop. We were exhausted but still able to laugh about it all. I will always feel deeply saddened by the loss of so many memories stolen but every time I remember the incident, I can’t help but giggle at the thought of Rocky spending some hard time in a Mexican jail. OK, OK, it was more like a small celled drunk tank but still funny. Rocky is definitely not the jail type.
After grabbing a bite to eat, we found a place with WiFi and used Skype to cancel the credit card. We then found a real police station and filed a theft report. It was getting late so we decided to find a place to camp near where we had stayed the first night. This time, we rode a bit further and slept closer to the shore. It definitely wasn’t my most comfortable night. I was obviously still a bit shook and had a hard time sleeping. Early the next morning, we swam for a bit but didn’t stay long because the beach was filthy with litter. It was sad to see so much plastic polluting the shore.
We had bumped into Sean and Blossom and they recommended we stay at a Hostel named Mama’s Home. After all we had gone through, we decided it would be nice to treat ourselves to a hot shower and a comfy bed. Mamas home was awesome. It was filled with travelers, and it was nice to find out that mama was a Canadian who once lived not far from us, back home.
Early the next morning, Blossom and Sean showed up and we followed them to a Cenote. A Cenote is a deep water-filled sinkhole in limestone that is created when the roof of an underground cavern collapses. As it gets filled by rain, it creates a natural pool with underground tunnels. Sean and Blossom love snorkeling and they brought their own equipment. The water was so clear that I didn’t mind just swimming but Blossom insisted I try her snorkel and I was glad she did. It was absolutely stunning to stare into the water and see an amazing cave like system. It was another world down there. I was shocked. The day went well but our luck had been testing us. Rocky jumped in the water with our helmet camera but didn’t realize we had the wrong housing on it until it filled with water. The camera broke and the memory card got damaged. We lost all of our previously recorded videos. After leaving the Cenote, we all made plans to meet up for dinner and drinks later. It was a great time. We met a few people, and shared many laughs. I really liked Sean and Blossom, and as we left the bar that night, I knew we were going to miss them, but I imagined we would see them again throughout our travels.
Back at the hostel, we received an email from Orlando, whom we stayed with in Ciudad Victoria. He told us before that he would be visiting Tulum, so he emailed to tell us he had arrive and wanted to see us before we left. We met him for lunch the next day and we were really happy to see our friend again. It was a short visit, we were on our way out of Tulum, and Orlando was spending some vacation time with a very lovely lady friend.
We were back on the road and I was happy to be leaving Tulum. I had contacted a girl named Maria on couchsurfing.org, who lived with her mother, Isidra, and brother, Juan, in the town of Chetumal, also in the state of Quintana Roo. When we arrived in Chetumal, we had a very difficult time finding Maria’s house. The house numbers in Mexico have no particular sequence, they are randomly chosen as each house was built. Luckily, we asked a postal carrier for directions and she offered to help. Unluckily, she couldn’t find it either. She didn’t give up on us though, we followed behind her scooter and she eventually brought us to Maria’s house.
Maria and her family were amazing. They had accepted four other couch-surfers at the same time and provided us all with comfortable accommodations. We met Kim and Siro from Korea, Stav from Israel and the Canadian Robin, whom we had met in San Cristobal. It was Stav’s birthday and Maria and her family had bought him a cake. It was nice to celebrate an intimate occasion with strangers. There was never a dull moment at Maria’s. Even when we woke up in the morning and relaxed for most the day, there were so many great personalities joined together. I decided to make dinner that night and, once we all finished eating, Robin had a piñata filled with goodies. We all went outside, took a few swings and also lit some fire crackers. It was a fantastic night.
We were up the next morning to the sound of the cello. Maria was practicing for her performance at a charity event we were all invited to attend. Isidra was a nurse at the children’s cancer ward and Maria offered to play the cello for all the guests. It was a beautiful moment. There were many kids, lots of food, a few Pinedas, many nurses, doctors and guests. Isidra was recognized for her hard work and dedication. I enjoyed seeing her in her element around many children that adored her. She is a true nurturer, a wonderful lady.
Later that evening, we joined Maria, Stav and Robin for a tour of the town while the Korean’s went grocery shopping and prepared us a meal. We hopped in a bus and began our walk towards the ocean shortly after. I’m not sure if Maria was being serious because she is the funny type but she had us buy a head of lettuce we had to carry for a while. Once we arrived at the water, she told us to feed the Sea Lions. The trouble was, there were no Sea Lions. Also, people were staring at us like we were weird. With the lettuce gone and not one sea lion in sight, we took a walk through a museum and a few other places before returning back for dinner. Kim and Siro had prepared a delicious Korean soup. It was spicy and full of seafood. We all gathered for dinner and were very grateful to be served after a long day.
The next day was dedicated to relaxing, laundry and dealing with the credit card situation. We were having troubles figuring out where to have a new credit card shipped because we were never at an address long enough to receive it. Stav prepared a Jewish dinner and Robin helped him. It was mouthwatering. Latkes are officially one of my favorite foods.
Later that night I mentioned that I needed to get rid of a joint we still had, before crossing the Mexican border. Stav and Rocky knew how we should do that. We decided to take a walk around the block, Maria lived in a very quiet neighborhood. The three of us stepped outside and once we turned the corner, I lit up the joint. We smoked, coughed and smoked some more. As we walked past a park, I took a drag and through my peripheral vision I saw a figure quickly move to their feet. As the ember on the joint glowed bright on my lips, I exhaled, butted the joint, stuck it in a cigarette pack, stuffed it down the front of my pants and sucked in my gut. We were being yelled at and a Federal Police officer was now in my face. He was screaming at me in Spanish, asking where the marijuana was. I stared him straight in the eyes and told him I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. Rocky nor Stav had any clue what had happened to the joint either. They appeared to be just as confused as the officer, as he shun his flashlight across the ground and found nothing there. For at least a minute , I was in a staring contest with the cop. I am a horrible liar but I was so scared for my life that I won the contest by telling the officer that he was wrong and we were walking away. And, so we did. Once we got far enough I told the boys what had happened, how I had to stuff it down my pants. What a buzz kill.
Staying with Maria, Isidra and Juan, meeting Stav, Siro, Kim and seeing Robin again was a great finale to a fantastic voyage through Mexico. When i think of Mexico, I remember the different smells as we rode through. Either the strong scent of laundry detergent filled the air, the smell of wood burning in a pit or of food being cooked on the sidewalk. I will always remember the food! Mostly, I will always remember truly experiencing some of the best times of my life. We met the greatest people, rode through incredible scenery and learned about a beautiful culture I would be proud to call home. I love Mexico!
Nearing Palenque, the land flattened out as we descended the mountainous region of Chiapas.
We met Jelmar at the ruins of Palenque. He is from The Netherlands, and was backpacking across Mexico and Guatemala.
Paula at the ruins of Palenque (another model pose)
Leaving Palenque, we took the back route through the forest and found this waterfall, hidden amongst the trees.
After driving from Merida, Paula and I arrived at the beaches of Tulum after the sun went down. We rode down a long, coastal dirt road and found a spot to camp under the moonlight.
Sean and Blossom, an Australian couple also riding two-up, invited Paula and I to a cenote to do some snorkeling.
Paula In The Cenote
Blossom (she certainly has) & Paula in the cenote.
After taking this photo of Paula cooling off in the cenote, I zoomed in on the picture and noticed…
…a beautiful, blue dragonfly perched on her face. Paula didn’t even notice it.
The cenote was home to thousands of dragonflies.
Siro and Kim, an engaged couple from South Korea, arrived at Maria’s shortly after Paula and I. They had travelled all over Canada, the U.S. and Mexico by car.
Robin (the backpacker from Canada whom we met in San Cristobal) and Stav (a backpacker from Israel) arrived at Maria’s shortly after Siro and Kim. It was Stav’s birthday and, to celebrate, we all strung up a Piñata.
From left to right: Kim (the Korean Samurai), Santa (at the mercy of Maria’s mother), Maria’s mother, Isidra, (having way too much fun), Stav (the fearless Israeli soldier), Robin (the wide-eyed photographer), Paula (…) and Siro (not even a flinch)
We took the bus into downtown Chetumal to feed the illusive sea lions and visit the Mayan Cultural Museum. From left to right: Stav (Israel), Robin (Canada), Maria (Mexico), a random woman on the bus, and Paula
Maria explained some of the history on display at the museum.
This mural was displayed on the ceiling of the museum. I wished I had brought my wide-angle lens so that I could capture the entire thing.
After breaking open the Piñata, we set off some fire crackers in the street.
Firecrackers In The Street
It was a wonderful memory in Chetumal thanks to our host, Maria, her family, and our fellow travelers, whom I am sure we will one day meet again.
Our paperwork was organized and we were ready to cross the border. I wasn’t sure what to expect because entering Mexico had been so easy but entering the motorcycle was a bit more complicated. We were given some documents and a receipt when we had crossed into Mexico, the documents were to allow the motorcycle to gain entry and the receipt was for a $400 deposit that we would get back once we left the country. I felt as though we were well prepared and I hoped that it wouldn’t be a long complicated process.
The first stage of exit was to present our passports to the customs officer. After being cleared, I had to walk to the customs office. A long line of people stood outside under the hot sun waiting for their turn. It was difficult being fully geared, I was sweating a puddle. Once I was finally able to present all of the papers, I was told that I would have to go to a store a few blocks away to get photocopies of a few things. What? Luckily, a kind stranger was listening near by and told me that him and his family needed to do the same and offered to drive me. I would never had made it walking that far in the hot heat. With everything ready, I returned and had to wait in the long line up again. I was happy to finally be told that I had everything needed.
We then rode up to another booth a few hundred meters away so that we could purchase motorcycle insurance, it cost us $12 US for the day. We were warned that Belize cops loved to issue tickets to drivers without insurance. Slightly further up the road, there was another booth we had to stop at were we were told that any vehicles crossing the border needed to be sprayed with bug spray to prevent exposing different bugs into Belize. The guy told us that since we were on a motorcycle, we wouldn’t be sprayed but we would still have to pay $6 US for it. None of it made any sense to us, so we told him that we wouldn’t be paying for something we didn’t need and we rode away. Another couple hundred meters up the road was the immigration office for Belize. I entered into the building and presented them with all the paperwork and paid $30 entrance fee into Belize. We were then to ride to a booth and get cleared to cross by a customs officer. Along with our ID, he told us we needed all the receipts but we were missing the one for bug spray and he asked us why we didn’t have it. We explained to him that we were told we didn’t need the spray and we thought it was odd that the man insisted we pay anyways, so we refused because we sincerely thought he was trying to scam us. The customs officer reacted as though we insulted him and he became really rude to us. I still don’t think that it was wrong of us to assume that we were being scammed. Without choice, we turned around, paid for the receipt, went back to the customs officer and were finally allowed to enter Belize.
Just over a kilometer away from the border, a cop pulled us over to ask for proof of insurance. We were beginning to understand why people complain about traveling through Belize. The area we rode through seemed a bit boring but the people seemed really sweet, everybody waved as we rode past. We probably should have spent at least one night there, but we wanted to get to Petén, Guatemala as soon as possible. Christmas was around the corner and we were invited to share the holidays with a family we found on couchsurfing.org. We would also be sharing the holidays with Jonathan from San Cristóbal. He too had been welcomed to stay with the same family, in Petén.
We continued riding until we finally reached the border out of Belize and into Guatemala. Once again, I had all the paper work ready and Rocky waited outside with the bike as I went in. We then rode up to the Guatemalan immigration office, our passports got stamped and I paid $22 but when I presented all the paperwork I was told that Rocky needed to be present since that motorcycle was under his name. With all the paperwork ready, we were to go down a street to a store that sold photocopies. It was really frustrating that a customs office didn’t provide themselves with photocopies. We always kept the original documents, they needed the photocopy. Why didn’t they at least sell me the photocopies in the customs office?
It was getting late and we were finally into Guatemala. We traveled on a paved road for a while but it suddenly became a dirt road. Every few meters was a large pot hole. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. I was tired and we hadn’t eaten in many hours. It was dark out, there were no street lights and we were surrounded by trees and thick bushes on either side. We continued on this creepy road until we eventually reached Petén. I remember feeling a sense of relief once we approached the city, almost as if the bright lights and traffic kept me safe. I was also excited to see a Pizza Hut. I felt comforted, by the familiarity and also the thought of eating something of substance.
After stuffing our faces with a large pizza, we got back on the road again and finally reached our destination. The family we were visiting lived on the outskirts of the city down a few dirt roads. There was a tall wall built of cinder blocks around the perimeter. We honked the horn a few times and I felt bad for arriving so late as we waited for someone to answer the door. Memo approached the gate and greeted us to come inside. The property was very large. We were asked immediately about our travels and lectured for riding in the dark. Apparently, the dirt road we had ridden on is known for its high crime rate and shady police officers that rob people. We were warned not to ride at night ever again.
The house was built on a beautiful piece of land, it had to have been at least 1/2 acre. A narrow stream ran through the middle of the property, I was told that it was full of eels and native fish that can live for 3 months without water. There was many flowers, hundreds of native jungle plants and trees throughout the property. The house was under construction but walls and ceilings had been built. To the left of the property was an area with walls and greenery that somewhat secluded that space for some hammocks. That is where Jonathan was sleeping. Beside there, was an outdoor sink and cement water tank. They are called Pila, it is common to see these. With the water shortage in these countries, it is important to have a cement tank filled with water. Just as we passed the kitchen, there was an outdoor sitting area and behind it was the children’s bedrooms, along with ours. There was also a shared bathroom and shower, and further down was the parents quarters.
It was nice to meet everyone in the morning, Memo was an American and he was married to Angelica, a Guatemalan Maya. They had 4 beautiful children together, Wilson, Reina, Perali and William. It was also really nice to see Jonathan again. We were given a proper tour under the sunlight and Memo gave us a little history of himself, his family and introduced us to Buenas Cosas. Buenas Cosas is a cooperative of Guatemalan women, an association of family, friends and neighbors who serve their community and nature. Their focus is eco-tourism and voluntourism with an emphasis on conversational Spanish & Q’eqchi’. They are a non profit organization, and every cent that enters Buenas Cosas goes directly to communities, programs and projects that cultivate ‘Good Things’, or as they say in Spanish, Buenas Cosas. We offered to help and volunteer but it was Christmas holidays and they were taking a break from providing for the community and concentrating on hosting their foreign visitors.
It was December 23 and we rode a few minutes through the city to go visit Flores, the capital of Petén. Floris is an island located on Lake Petén Itza, connected to the mainland by a short causeway. Just as we were getting near, I noticed Jonathan drinking his breakfast at a patio. Rocky pulled over and I sat with Jonathan and enjoyed a cold as well. We were going to do some exploring and invited him to come along. Rocky rode and met us across the bridge as Jonathan and I walked. Being the coffee snob he is, Jonathan led us to Cool Beans, a great restaurant/coffee shop that offered free WiFi. We would spend a lot of time at Cool Beans over the next few days.
The following morning was Christmas eve and I was invited to a Guatemalan tradition. Every Christmas eve, tamales are prepared and eaten. Corn was ground, chunks of chicken were marinated and plantain leaves were washed. First, I was to place a plantain leaf flat in front of me and put a spoonful of each, corn and chicken on the center of the leaf. I was then taught to wrap the leaf into a pouch and tie it together with string. A fire pit was lit and a large cauldron had a few rocks lining the bottom of it with some water. The tamales were placed inside and steamed all day long. It was a unique experience to be invited by Angelica’s family, native Maya people, to help prepare for a feast that has been around since as early as the Pre-Classic period.
Once I was done helping, Rocky and I headed to a craft store and bought a few gifts for the kids. Small booths lined the streets of Petén and they were all selling fireworks. When we returned to the house we were told that another Guatemalan tradition was to light firecrackers at midnight to celebrate Christmas. Rocky, Jonathan and I took the kids to go buy some fireworks and after returning with bags full, the celebrations begun. Tamales were eaten and everybody sat around the fire pit and drank some s. It was amazing how many firecrackers we could hear in the distance, but we all waited patiently until midnight to light ours. After a few walks trough the neighbourhood with s in our hand, we visited some of the locals who were related to Angelica and her family. As midnight approached we all met back at the house and the fireworks began. Never in my life have I ever experienced or imagined experiencing such a display. The entire sky filled with explosions, the noise was intense. For at least an entire hour I could safely bet that all of Guatemala was lighting up fireworks. The energy during that long moment was incredible. It was a fantastic experience.
We woke up early Christmas morning and exchanged a few small gifts. Memo and his family were kind enough to give us some authentic Guatemalan hot sauce. It tasted delicious with our breakfast tamales. Jonathan had packed and was prepared to leave that morning, I wondered if we would see him again. Rocky and I rode into the city in search of a post office. We had arranged for a replacement credit card to be sent but we were having no luck receiving it. We kept checking for it every day but we expected the postal service to be no better than Mexico’s had been.
We returned to the house with some groceries and planned to make dinner for the family. We prepared Penne Pasta with meat sauce. It was interesting to watch the children’s reaction as they ate a food they’ve never tried. Memo giggled and said not to tell the kids that they were eating Penne, apparently the word means Penis in Spanish. We all giggled with him.
The next morning, Rocky and I planned on visiting Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Colombian Maya civilization. We rode for almost an hour and suddenly lost the clutch. We had to turn around and head back for some help. We stopped at a couple of places but it is difficult to find somebody who wasn’t intimidated by such a large piece of machinery. The KTM 990 is definitely not a common bike to work on in the area. Just as we began losing hope, a guy from a local mechanic shop helped us. He said that the clutch lever piston was off and he adjusted it back in.
Since it would be too late to visit Tikal, we decided to get the bike washed. It had been a while since she was cleaned. We entered a washing garage and it was cute to see the excitement in the employees eyes to be able to wash her. I was surprised by his enjoyment and the detail that he placed on making her look new. He spoiled her with what i would consider a high end spa experience. We then decided to ride to Flores for a bite to eat and use WiFi to check the status of the credit card that was supposed to have been sent. To our surprise, we bumped into Jonathan and hung out with him until we headed back to the house for our last night in Petén. Early the next morning, we packed all of our belongings and once again said goodbye to our new friends. We were very grateful for the memories they had left us with during our stay in Petén Guatemala but we were ready to continue our journey through the country.
Guatemala City was our next destination and our ride there was one I will never forget. Rocky wasn’t feeling well and the day was a difficult one to get through. Hours into the ride, we had to pull over so that Rocky could nap on a picnic table at a gas station. A few hours after that, we had to stop again for another long rest. The traffic in Guatemala was extremely stressful. The highways were only two lanes. Which means, when there are slow moving vehicles in either lane, which is usually the case, you inevitably get a line up of cars in both lanes, desperate to pass. We had to constantly move onto the shoulder as oncoming traffic including large transport trucks, were always in our lane coming at us head on.
I had contacted a family through couchsurfing.org for us to stay with them in Guatemala City. By the time we were near, it was already night. We could see the city lights in the distance but we were separated by a few mountains. Unfortunately, the highway through those mountains were under construction and the lack of street lights made it almost impossible to ride safely.
The roads were partially paved and the damage on them was barely visible in the dark. There were potholes along the way but more dangerously, there were large chunks of road missing. In Canada, any area of road too dangerous to travel on would have some sort of warning, a flashing sign or at least a few meters of pylons to warn us. In Guatemala, what we saw was, if there is a large hole in the road, a larger rock/boulder is place immediately before it as a warning. There were a few times that I thought we would die trying to avoid the dangers.
When we were finally near the house of the family we were about to visit, we had a difficult time locating the address. We stopped numerous times to ask for directions and every time that I showed anyone the address on Rocky’s iPhone, I was lectured to hide the phone to prevent being robbed. Theft seemed to be a large concern amongst the locals. When we eventually found Stevan’s home, the sense of relief I had felt is indescribable. Stevan’s father answered the door and explained that his son was at a local church for band practice, and he would be returning soon. By the time Stevan had shown up, we were shown to our room. Stevan’s family owned and rented the home next to theirs, and that is where we would be staying. It was late and we were exhausted, we immediately fell asleep the moment our bodies met the bed.
When we woke up the next morning, we were invited next door for breakfast. Tamales were served and they were prepared much differently than we had eaten just days before. They were made with potato, chicken, green olives and dates. A delicious combination. Stevan lived with his father Josue and his mother Zarai. He had a sister named Gioana and a brother Guillermo but we wouldn’t meet the two of them until later. Josue was a soft spoken polite man with kind eyes. Beautiful artwork was hung on the walls, I was impressed to find out that it was Zarai who had created it. Stevan was also an artist, he belonged to a band named Wud Link and played the guitar. I love that we continue to meet amazing people along our journey.
With concerns over the condition of the motorcycle, we located a KTM shop not far from the house and rode to get a new clutch lever piston and seal. We thought it was best to have the mechanic install it, servicing it ourselves wasn’t practical at this time. After spending the afternoon with the kind mechanic at KTM, the motorcycle was fixed and we returned to Stevan’s home. Stevan invited us to go walk around the mall with him his friend Jose. We gladly joined them. Guatemala City was huge and I thought it was a pretty city. The mall was much bigger than the one back in the city I grew up in but the population there was much bigger as well. It was nice to window shop and compare prices to what we would pay in Canada. I was surprised to see that although Canadians economy was better, everything there seemed more expensive. After a few hours of talking, walking and laughing together, the mall was about to close and we headed home.
We prepare for our departure in the morning by packing all of our belongings and sharing goodbyes. It was just a few days before New Years and we planned on spending the celebration at Lake Atitlán. We were back on the crazy roads of Guatemala.
We rode to meet Jonathan, who caught a tuk-tuk into town, and found him drinking his morning .
Paula snapped a shot of this guy down by the lake. I have no idea what he was drinking. Something tells me it’s not water.
Lake Peten Itza – located near the town of Petén in northern Guatemala.
Two Guatemalan dudes on the island of Flores
Lago Petén Itza
Jonathan, Perali & Paula
We spent the afternoon at Buenas Cosas making tamales with Memo’s mother-in-law, Margarita, and enjoyed the native Guatemalan treat for Christmas Eve dinner.
Another Furry Friend
Perale was quite a little character, and a natural in front of the camera.
Jonathan left for Tikal on this rainy Christmas morning. This is the last we though we’d see of Jonathan, but we ended up bumping into him again in the nearby island of Flores the following day.
We said goodbye to Stevan and his father, Josue before leaving Guatemala City and heading for Lake Atitlan.
Paula with Stevan, a tattoo artist, musician and our couchsurfing host in Guatemala City.
We left Guatemala City and we planned on bringing in the new year at Lake Atitlan. Just as we got into the outskirts of the city, we found ourselves in an interesting town with many steep streets. I only realized that we were lost when the road became a big dirt path going uphill. We continued to ride around until we found our way back to the highway. The traffic wasn't too bad and the scenery was worth any stops we needed to make. Guatemala wasn't much different from Mexico, it was an incredibly beautiful country, filled with culture, breathtaking scenery and exotic natives.
We rode throughout many tall rolling hills and a thick sheet of fog greeted us every time we reached the top. Children formed groups on the edge of the highway and they would waive and chase after us as we rode past. We eventually noticed that the cars riding past would throw candies or treats at the children, if they waived. I wish we had known that before, we would have definitely gone prepared. After riding on a beautifully paved road for most of the day, it eventually turned to dirt. It was in such bad shape that I was excited once we were off of it. Rocky told me that Lake Atitlan was close by but since there is no road that circles the lake, we weren't able to catch a peek of it until we reached the top of the mountain.
It was a great introduction! The view was more enchanting than I could have ever imagined it to be. Lake Atitlan is large and recognized to be the deepest lake in Central America. It is ringed by volcanoes and shaped by deep escarpments that surround it. Volcano San Pedro is the oldest of the three, Volcano Tolimán began growing after San Pedro stopped erupting, and Volcano Atitlán remains active, with its most recent eruption having occurred in 1853. Freshly paved switchbacks lead the way down the mountain. They were very steep and the corners were extremely tight. I was kind of scared until large buses filled with passengers, zipped by and seemed to turn corners on two wheels. Traveling by bus seemed much more dangerous than the motorcycle.
We arrived safely in San Pedro, an extraordinary town. Since New Years was around the corner, we had planned on staying at a hostel. The streets were packed with tourists and as I got off the bike to find out some sort of direction, a local offered to help find us a place for cheap. I followed his lead and after a five minute walk he found us a room in one of many small hotels. It was three stories tall with open corridors that overlooked the entire lake. Decorated with a few hammocks, lawn chairs and a beautiful garden, it was more than awesome, especially for $14 per night.
After a nice hot shower, we planned on going for a walk. It's amazing how much a hot shower is appreciated, so much so that I even risked my life for it. Only cold water runs through the pipes, and in order to get hot water, an electrical shower head is used to heat the water. In hindsight, a hot shower was not that important.
San Pedro was a really awesome place to visit. I usually don't like tourist filled places but this was definitely an exception. Lake Atitlan is surrounded by many villages in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz'utujil and Kaqchikel. Often, when people of one culture assimilate to another culture, the traditional style of dressing can quickly become obsolete. This is certainly not the case with the descendants of the Mayans in Guatemala. These proud people boldly wear their traditions on their sleeves.
The native dress of the Mayans, which is called Traje, may vary by village and language group. But the intent of native dressing remains the same, to preserve the rich culture. To Guatemalans, their native costumes are their identity. The women honor their ancestors by wearing a Redcorte (skirt) held up by a woven Faja (belt or sash). The women also wear a Huipil (a traditional square-cut blouse) made with embroidered designs. A shawl drapes over one shoulder, which can be used to carry a baby around. I was very curious to dress this way and the kind ladies in one of the boutiques were also curious to dress me.
The following day was New Year's Eve and we had a few errands to run. We were in desperate need of clean laundry and Rocky's hair needed a cut. Laundry cleaning is a common business throughout Mexico and Central America but aside from a few dry cleaning items, I have always washed my own clothing. I don't know why I felt nervous, my clothing was cleaned so well that it smelled fresher than I've ever know possible. The extra pair of foreign underwear I found washed and folded amongst our belongings wasn't necessary but we got a good laugh from it.
As we walked down a few alleys, we read a sign that said Barber Shop. The barber was a hippy with long dreads and blood shot eyes, but he did own clippers and scissors and Rocky thought that was sufficient. We were invited into a room with a mirror, a chair, a small desk and some crazy paintings on the wall. As Rocky’s hair was being cut, the barber kept stopping to take a moment to run his fingers through Rocky's hair while constantly complimenting, "Wow man, your hair is so soft! I can't believe how silky it feels. Dude, do you know that your hair is like silk." It was obvious to me that the guy was very high on something and my thoughts were proven to be correct when he said, "Just so you know, I can get you anything you like. Do you like acid, man? I've got really good shit!" I have to admit, I was very impressed with the hippies’ ability to cut hair while ridiculously high. He did a great job.
We were ready for the celebrations and considered hitching a boat ride to a town across the lake but Rocky wasn't feeling too well. Instead, we decided to stay in San Pedro to attend a street party. We had grabbed a few of joints from the local who helped find us our hotel room and we stopped at a convenience store to buy a couple 40's of . A large stage was placed in the middle of a main street and huge speakers thumped bass. It was such a fun party that the MC even forgot the countdown and introduced midnight a little bit late. Everyone yelled Happy New Year, kissed, toasted and lit fireworks. Guatemalans love their fireworks!
We spent another two days admiring the culture of the town. We enjoyed the simple pleasures of playing a game of tag with the locals at a park and taking pictures of our memories at San Pedro La Laguna. We drank delicious coffee that was grown locally and ate inexpensive meals. Lake Atitlan was a wonderful place to visit but we were ready to continue our adventure and leave one of the most beautiful, colorful places I have ever seen on this earth.
Traveling from Guatemala City to San Pedro La Laguna, we stopped at the side of the road for a rest and some water.
Walking through the streets of San Pedro, we passed by this Guatemalan girl sitting amongst a pile of rubble with a huge smile on her face.
My little Guatemalan girl: Paula tried on one of the traditional ladies outfits. With nowhere to put it on the motorcycle, we didn't end up purchasing it.
We sat on street corner watching the spectacular scene of the townspeople walking by.
The ladies of San Pedro la Laguna and their traditional attire
These ladies were selling fruit and talking up a storm at the side fo the street.
We spotted this elderly lady on the rooftop of her home hanging her laundry out to dry.
I was in need of a haircut, and decided that this guy's shop looked interesting. Paula and I both soon realized that he was high on something as he switched between trimming my hair and sipping on his .
The sun went down in the town square as the New Year's Eve celebrations drew near.
A street corner at dusk in the town of San Pedro La Laguna
I saw this family sitting on the curb and, as awkward as it is taking photos of strangers, I just had to ask if I could take one.
Tall, medium and short
Night time on the streets of San Pedro
A corner shop in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
We saw this child sitting in a tuk tuk at the side of the road with his older brother. Paula handed him the flower.
Two sisters walk through the town square and turn heads.
Mother & Daughters
A family on the streets of San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
I tried to secretly take of a photo of this guy laying in his hammock. I guess he noticed.
The People of San Pedro la Laguna
A young girl standing with her mother on the street of San Pedro la Laguna. The guy in the doorway was either passed out from being drunk or just taking a nap.
Everywhere we went in this little town on the edge of Lake Atitlan, we saw interesting and friendly people.
The style of art in this region is filled with bright, beautiful colour.
A shop in San Pedro la Laguna - Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
I snuck to the top of The Primera Iglesia Bautista de San Pedro La Laguna, a Baptist church in the centre of town, to snap a few shots from above.
As we left San Pedro La Laguna the same way we had arrived, we stopped to take some photos of the spectacular view that we had seen when we first neared Lake Atitlan several days before.
It was a really damp, cold ride through the mountains. We were on our way to El Salvador, but first, we had two quick stops to make. Antigua was a beautiful city and appeared to be upscale. It is a very popular tourist area because it is possible to take buses from Antigua to many parts of Guatemala, also, because many foreigners like to retire there, and it is one of the most popular and best recognized centers for Spanish language study by students from Europe, Asia and North America. We were going to stop for coffee and some lunch but we decided it was out of our budget. We continued riding until we reached Guatemala City. We were returning there because it was in the direction of El Salvador, but also because we were a bit bummed that we broke our GoPro video camera while we were at the Cenote in Tulum, so we agreed to look for a new one. We had no such luck though. The store was out of stock.
When we finally reached the border of Guatemala and El Salvador, our peaceful ride was interrupted by pure chaos. As we approached the immigration booth, we were bombarded by a handful of men trying desperately for our attention to sell us currency. Rocky stayed outside with the bike and his new friends as I went into the immigration office to present all the paperwork.
After crossing out of Guatemala, we rode a few hundred meters across a bridge until we reached the crossing into El Salvador. We arrived at the booth and the customs officer asked us to park the bike and go back to see him. He passed me a clipboard and asked me to fill in the blanks. I speak Portuguese, although it is very similar to Spanish, I am not experienced enough to prepare government documents. Not one English word was on that form. I pointed to the blank clipboard and handed him all the necessary papers and passports. I tried explaining to him that I didn't understand the language enough to read and write but he barely understood me. He then proceeded to walk away from me and sat at a table inside the booth and started stuffing his face with food. It was bizarre.
I stood their waiting, confused, watching sauce drip down his chin. Just then, his cell phone rag and he held up his finger to his lips before he took the call. He answered his phone and spoke to a person who I can only assume was his wife. "Hi dear, what are you doing today? Nothing. What are you having? I just ate, too...". This conversation continued for longer than necessary and he finally left the booth. As he walked past me, I tried asking him what we were supposed to do but he held up his finger to the air, asking me to wait. He acted annoyed that he had to do some sort of work.
We waited at least an hour for him to return. He handed me a few documents and pointed to an immigration office down the road. While Rocky waited outside with the bike, I stood in a line up for almost an hour. My passport was stamped and so were the papers for the bike. I asked them if it was possible for me to trade spots with Rocky so that he didn't have to wait in line to get his passport stamped as well and after begging for over a minute, they agreed to let me run out and grab his passport. I was obviously confused but didn't hesitate. I returned to the same officer, passed him Rocky's passport and they stamped it without even looking at him. I wasn’t about to say anything. I gathered everything together and I asked them if I needed to do anything else. They reassured me that I was done and everything had been stamped and approved.
After a long day of border crossings, the sun was quickly dropping and I was worried that we would be driving at night. We rushed out the office and eagerly left the area. As we headed down a paved road for a few hundred meters we unexpectedly approached another booth and an officer asked to see our documents. How many booths does one border need? The officer told us that we were missing something and we would have to return to the immigration office, somebody there was expecting us. We were obviously annoyed but I had to re-enter the office. This time, instead of waiting in line, I was approached and told that a photocopy of the new stamped documents was needed and I would have to go down the street and around a corner to buy the copy. Now, I am known for having a lot of patience, but I felt my face burning and my eye twitching. I almost cried with frustration. There was no way that I was going on any mission in search of a store for a copy of anything, especially when there was a photocopy machine right behind the woman speaking to me. I was so confused that my facial expression must have communicated my thoughts because she finally made herself a copy and I gladly left the building.
It was almost completely dark out and we were finally well past the border crossing. Thankfully, we weren't too far from our next destination. I contacted a man on couchsurfing.org and we were welcomed to stay at his home. Attilio lived in a small town, not too far from the border, called Concepcion de Ataco. By the time we had finally arrived, we still had a difficult time locating his house. We rode up and down the cobblestone roads and we asked anybody we saw for help. We were grateful to be approached by an English-speaking woman who brought us to Attilio's house.
Attilio is a tall, built, and handsome older man with kind eyes. He welcomed us into his yard and showed us to our room. Since it was late and we were exhausted, we had an early night. It wasn’t until morning when we were able to get a better idea of our surroundings. Attilio’s house was what I consider simply perfect. It was small but large enough for guests and comfort. I loved how every room was accessible from outside, the kitchen was open to the outdoors and the dining table was out on the patio. A large yard with beautiful flowers, fragrant herbs, fruit trees and coffee bushes embraced us. It was a very peaceful home.
Attilio walked us around and we were immediately charmed. Ataco is a small village in El Salvador's northern highlands surrounded by lush green hills and coffee farms. The streets were narrow and built of cobblestone, warped with age. One of the most interesting aspects of Ataco was its collection of brightly colored murals painted on homes and businesses throughout town. We visited a bunch of shops that sell a wide variety of crafts including sculptures, ornaments, weavings, embroidery, candles, key chains and coffee but the most interesting was a local craft shop were we could see and appreciate gorgeous fabric being made using Leaver Looms.
We visited the local market to get some chicken for dinner. While there, Attilio introduced us to fruit we were unfamiliar with. Jocotes (pronounced ho-coat-es), is a small red fruit with the consistency of a plum and the flavor of a tangerine, but my favorite was green mangoes. Mmm, they are delicious on their own, dipped in vinegar, lime juice or sprinkled with salt. I prepared lemon chicken for dinner that night, using fresh lemons picked from a tree in Attilio’s garden. We sat around relaxing, enjoying the sounds of Jazz music and learning of Attilio's days as a basketball player and Greyhound bus driver in the USA.
The following day, Rosario returned home from her visit in San Salvador and we were finally able to meet Attilio's other half. She was an incredibly sweet lady who smiled and giggled as much as myself. I was completely charmed by her. She brought a large Red Snapper back with her, and treated us to the best ceviche Rocky and I had ever tasted.
On our last night in Ataco, we invited Attilio and Rosario out for dinner. Once we were done eating, Attilio said we were going to pick up bread for breakfast and we followed them down a few roads and through a few alleyways. It was almost 9pm when we arrived at somebody’s doorstep and waited in the entrance. After a few short minutes, a small door was opened at a large bricked area and to our surprise it was a large brick oven full of fresh baked bread. The smell was intoxicating. One dollar later, we were walking home with a bag of bread. Our stomachs were still full from dinner but that didn't stop our mouths from drooling. We couldn't help but stuff our faces. It was the softest, warmest, freshest bread. Half way back to the house, Rocky and I couldn't help but decided to turn around and go back for another bag full so that we had some for breakfast.
Attilio and Rosario are the sweetest couple, living in the cutest village I have ever visited. Ataco showed me all the beauty of a simple life. Attilio and Rosario introduced me to the purest form of living it. I am forever humbled. And with these memories, I will always be reminded of the path my life should follow.
We left Ataco and began our journey through El Salvador. What a beautiful, interesting country! Women walked around wearing colourful clothing with cute lace aprons and I was surprised to see that a lot of people had the most striking blue eyes to compliment their otherwise dark features. Everything was pretty, even the light posts and guard rails had flowers, birds and butterflies painted on them.
It was a warm sunny day and the weather was perfect for a gorgeous ride along the coast. We planned on spending some time at the beach and stopped when we reached El Zonte, a small beach town along the southern cost of El Salvador. The beach was a rock beach. There was no fine sand, just a lot of smooth rocks of many sizes. We walked around searching for a cheap place to stay and settled for a place for $15 per night. It seemed like a steal but the room was dingy. It had two twin beds and each where covered with a thin unfitted sheet. The ground was cement and was covered in more sand than the beach had. At least it had a shower in the bathroom, but unfortunately, somebody forgot to mention that it didn't function. We ended up only paying $10 for the room since the shower didn’t work, which was still a generous amount.
We were a short distance from the beach and we took a walk to peek. It wasn't the greatest place I had been to, and Rocky must've agreed because he wasn't inspired to take any pictures. After a few minutes under the hot sun, we became thirsty and that gave us the perfect excuse for a . Luckily, the bartender told us that we could drink our up on the patio, attached to the second story of a really nice motel/hotel. The view of the ocean was awesome and so were the hammocks and swimming pool.
After an uncomfortable stay, I was looking forward to leaving in the morning. We packed up and planned on crossing into Honduras. The weather was perfect and Rocky was contemplating whether or not he should wear his full riding gear. I don't care how hot it is, jeans aren't sufficient when riding long distances, especially while riding through Central America. The road conditions were brutal. Most highways cut through towns and had only two lanes. If there was any slow moving traffic, large transport trucks would take any opportunity to pass, even if it meant moving into oncoming traffic. I can't count how many times Rocky had to dodge a transport truck that appeared in our lane, directly in front of us coming head-on. I was surprised to see most vehicles had window tint covering all glass including the windshield. The tint was so dark (illegal on any car window in Canada) that a thin strip on the windshield was bare at eye level in order to have some visibility, but I can't imagine that helped much.
It was late in the afternoon and we were getting close to the Honduras border. Having gotten stuck for hours at the border entering into El Salvador, Rocky was anxious to arrive in time so that we weren’t left riding in the dark of night. I could sense the tension on the road. The conditions were unsafe and full of distractions. I felt Rocky's frustration as he turned onto the shoulder of the road in order to go around a slow-moving vehicle. It all happened so quickly...CRASH!!!
We met Attilio on couchsurfing.org. Attilio lived in a small town in El Salvador's northern highlands called Concepcion de Ataco.
Attilio and Paula in front of Attilio's home
Many of Ataco's building were covered in brilliant, colourful murals.
Among the multitude of plants and flowers growing in Attilio's garden were the berries of the coffee plant.
There were many beautiful and exotic plants growing in Attilio's garden.
We visited a local craft shop in town were we could see and appreciate gorgeous fabric being made using Leaver Looms.
After shopping, we walked backed along the cobblestone streets to Attilio's to prepare dinner.
Paula in Ataco
We saw this interesting-looking old man sitting in the streets. He appeared to be homeless.
Attilio told us that he often saw this man and would help him with a few dollars whenever he met hm in the street.
The brightly-coloured murals on the town's buildings told the story of the region and the people who lived there.
We stopped at a local corner shop so that Attilio could buy some cigars. The shop owner was this beautiful little old lady.
Walking through town, we passed this interesting rammed-earth home.
On our way back to Attilio's, we saw this guy sleeping in the streets. He was outside what appeared to be a bar, and was likely drunk and had passed out on the concrete.
Rosario was Attilio's other half. We said so-long to both of them, and we left Ataco having glimpsed the beauty of a simple life.
San Vicente is a stratovolcano in central El Salvador. It is located next to the town of San Vicente and is the second highest volcano in El Salvador. -- Wikipedia
When we left the beach, our first mission was to ride through San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. It is known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world but it didn't feel scarier than any other city I have been to. We continued riding and planned on crossing the border into Honduras. It was really hot out and the stop and go traffic wasn't helping. It seemed that El Salvador had two types of drivers, very fast and aggressive, also, very slow and timid. I was told that obtaining a drivers license simply consisted of paying for it.
It was barely 4pm and we had already ridden through more than half the country. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America but it is the most densely populated. We were riding through a city named Santa Rosa de Lima, and we were approximately 15 minutes from reaching the Honduras border. Rocky was annoyed. He had fought with the traffic all day long and I could tell he was frustrated. We were riding on a two lane highway and everyone was weaving in and out of oncoming traffic to avoid slower vehicles. Reluctant to pass into oncoming traffic, Rocky attempted to pass using the shoulder. It was a mistake he would quickly regret. A truck in front of us failed to look onto the shoulder as it pulled over, and he rammed into the side of us as we were passing.
The bike wobbled when we were hit and Rocky struggled to keep control from falling into a long, 3-foot deep, manmade ditch that ran along the side of the highway. His efforts were in vain. We landed in the ditch, but it was a good thing we did because we avoided hitting a steel pole. Unable to stop in time, we smashed into the 3-foot rock and concrete wall at the end of the ditch. The bike hit head-on and we were thrown off onto the driveway in front of us. It all happened so quickly. We jumped to our feet to assess the damage. Luckily, we were ok. Thanks to Rev-it for creating fantastic riding protection. There wasn't even a scratch or mark on our gear. The truck that hit us was quick to leave the scene and the police that rode past felt they had no business stopping. A small crowd of people circled around us as we began removing our belongings from the motorcycle and from the stream of raw sewage.
The ditch was created to collect rain and sewage. It was filled with leaves and litter, and possibly urine and feces, causing a foul odour and making it really difficult for us to gather our things. I will never forget that smell. We had fire ants all over us and they were eating small chunks of our skin. I have never seen so many ants in my life. We were still in shock as we sadly stared at our broken motorcycle. A man, who I assume was my age but smaller than I, spoke out and asked the crowd to lift the bike from the ditch. It was beautiful to watch as everyone helping us. The man asked us to wait as he went up the road to get his pickup truck. With everyone's effort, we were able to get the motorcycle onto the truck and we rode down the street to a home. We were introduced to Evers, his wife Dilma and son David. Their other son, Enrique, lived next door with beautiful wife Yolii and their son Samuel. We were told that we could keep the bike parked at Evers' house and keep all of our gear at Yolii's house, and we were invited to stay at Yolii's mother’s house.
Isabel is Yolii's mom and she lives a few blocks away with her son Didier and his wife Ximena who had just moved back home from living and working in the USA. We were glad they spoke English. It made things much easier. We arrived at their home and they did their best to accommodate us. We were offered everything from food, a hot shower and their own bed for us to sleep on. It was really kind how well we were treated and taken care of. We were completely exhausted but sleeping was almost impossible. My neck and back were sore and Rocky experienced an allergic reaction to all of the fire ant bites. He was ready to scratch his skin off. But complaints were far from our thoughts. We were happy to be alive and cared for.
Once morning came, our minds were racing. We were afraid to impose on our hosts, we were unsure of how to continue our trip and we wondered if we should ship the bike home or try to find a way to fix it, locally. Luckily, we weren't allowed to think too much about it because we were told that it was Sunday morning, and, when you live in El Salvador, Sunday is spent at the beach with family and friends. The invite placed a huge smile on my face. The beach was a perfect idea for the frame of mind I was in.
We packed up some things and had a family day at Playa Negra. Didier, his wife, Ximena, his mom Isabel and his sister, Yolii, with her son Samuel and Yolii's brother in-law, David, and his girlfriend, Milena, treated us to a day out. The sun was shining we were with good people. The ocean was warm and soothing on my muscles. We ate fresh ceviche, drank a few s, swam in the ocean, relaxed on hammocks and played in the pool. On our drive home, we stopped in a city called La Union. The city center was packed with people. We all sat at a table and ate a variety of Pupusas. Pupusas are a thick, handmade corn or rice flour tortillas stuffed with cheese, refried bean and chicharron (cooked pork). There were also vegetarian options and some stuffed with shrimp or just cheese and salsa. They were very tasty. The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if Rocky wasn't so sad. He was devastated and there was nothing that could have helped his broken heart.
The following day, Evers invited us out for lunch. We joined him and his son at a restaurant named La Mariscada de Pema, where we were able to taste an award-winning soup called Sopa de Pema. It was a seafood chowder that tasted absolutely amazing. Evers told us stories of life in El Salvador. He said that we were very fortunate to have had been helped by the right people. Most neighborhoods in the area are run by gangs and had we crashed in sight of them, we may have been robbed or taken advantage of. He said that gang activity ran rampant and he expressed a lot of concern about extortion. If gang members believe that you have money, they would do anything to take it. Evers said that he would love if his sons could live in a place as safe as Canada and he respectfully mentioned that he would not be opposed to his son marrying a Canadian just for the purpose of citizenship. Sensing that it was a hint, Rocky was quick to say that gay marriage was legal in Canada and he wouldn't be opposed to helping out. That put an quick end to that conversation.
After a lot of thought, we decided it was best if we shipped the bike home by sea and take a flight home. It took days to make all of the arrangements. We had called many shipping companies and encountered many problems. Something as simple as receiving a call back was extremely difficult. But, what really made me frustrated was trying to obtain a police report. We went to the police station but we were told to return at different hours or different days, numerous times. Finally, I just about snapped and began taking names and recording all of the officers badge numbers. I told them I had all of their information and that since they were unwilling to help, I was given no choice but to visit the embassy. That worked quite well. We left that day with a police report and we were told that we would have to bring it to a police station in the city La Union to have the papers certified.
The following day, Rocky and I took a bus to La Union. This bus ride was the most unique experience of our entire trip. I wish we had brought the camera. La union was at least an hour away and the drama on this bus was fascinating. Hah! I don't even know where to start. Vendors kept walking in and out of the bus at each stop. There was a man dressed as a clown trying to collect tips for being dressed as a clown. There were adorable children with straps and belts that held goodie-bags and they were selling the candy. There were women wearing cute lace aprons with hot trays of food and they sang songs of what they were selling. A man, wearing a suit and tie, stood at the front of the bus talking about medical conditions for a very long time. He eventually walked up and down the aisle selling individual pills, that could have been anything, and people were actually buying them. We were so confused watching the craziness everyone else found normal.
Once we finally reached La Union, the police station was easy to find and the officers were helpful. One problem was solved and there were more to be addressed.
We finally came in contact with a company willing to ship the motorcycle. Still, it took a few days to get quotes and answers. It was a very stressful time but, during those days, Isabel, Ximena and a neighbour helped by hand washing all of our belongings so that we could travel home clean. Everything we owned looked better than new. They also helped us with phone calls and translations to make all the arrangements possible. The company that would be shipping our motorcycle was located in the city of San Salvador, and Didier found somebody who would rent us a pickup truck and take the motorcycle, Rocky and I into the city. I'm not sure what we would've done without this amazing family.
It was 4am and we were ready to head out into San Salvador. It took a few hours to finally reach Comca Shipping Company, but that was just the beginning of our day. We said goodbye to Didier, Isabel and Ximena and thanked them for everything. We will forever remember and be grateful of their friendship.
At Comca Shipping Company, Rocky and I spent most of the day taking the bike apart and making it as compact as possible for the crate that was going to be made for the shipment home. The employee we had dealt with told us not to bother removing the fluids from the bike. They offered to drain the bike at no cost if it was necessary. We provided photocopies of all the documents, the police report, permits, and the motorcycle ownership and we were given a receipt with a summary of expenses and told everything was ready and the motorcycle would be shipped within two weeks. Rocky and I had booked a room at the Sheraton and we were given a ride the employee of the shipping company whom we had dealt with. It was a bit past 5pm when we got to our room and as we sat to relax for a moment. I noticed the concern on Rocky's face as he stared at the receipt we had been given. The paper had no real information on it. The price had the word estimation printed beside it and a few things had been scratched off and penciled in. It wasn't very professional and Rocky thought it seemed questionable. We also had no proof of having left the motorcycle in the possession of the shipping company. We called a taxi and rushed back to Comca to get proper documentation. As we ran to the door, the building was closing for the night and we approached an employee on their way out. Luckily, he was the owner. He invited us in and was also surprised of the paper we were given. He expressed that it was odd and he would make sure to give us proper documents and a guaranteed price. This gave us comfort and we were able to leave with some peace of mind.
Our hotel room was beautiful and our bed was especially comfortable. It was a great place to stay but very boring in comparison to the places we had slept, in the past months.
Our flight was booked and we took a taxi to the airport early the next morning. Times were a bit tough at the airport. Our luggage wasn't practical for flying and we were asked to throw out all of our spare bottles of oil, lube, cleaners, and coolant. We gave it away to somebody dropping off their family. They were happy. We were also told to throw out our fuel tanks and camp-stove fuel container because they smelled of gas. I refused. They cost too much money to discard and they were empty anyway. I suggested cleaning them out in the washroom with soapy water instead. The lady told me I could try that, but I would have to run to avoid missing my flight. Rocky waited at the counter as I grabbed the fuel tanks and fuel canister. I ran through the airport ignoring everything but my current mission. As I opened the doors into the secured section before reaching the bathroom, six officers stood in front of me and stopped me from entering. It wasn't until I saw their expressions that I realized how crazy I must have appeared to everyone as I ran through the San Salvador airport hugging a bunch of gas tanks. I just stood there for a moment and I laughed. It was funny and a little awkward because I wasn't even sure of how to explain myself in Spanish. I began to speak but it was my smile, along with a good old fashioned wink that did the trick.
At last, we had everything ready, cleaned, packed, stowed and we were boarded. I was horribly sad how our trip came to an end but I was looking forward to everyone and everything I had missed while we were gone.
Anxious to get to the border before the dark of night, we were run off the road into a sewage ditch after attempting to go around a slow-moving vehicle. Attempting to pass on the shoulder of the road was my first mistake, and my second was assuming that the driver would check his mirrors before pulling off the road. The driver, once he realized that Paula and I were both OK, was quick to drive away and have nothing more to do with the situation.
Seeing the bike in the ditch, the police drove right by with little concern. Several of the townspeople helped us pull the motorcycle out of the ditch. One came with his pickup truck and took us to his friend's place, where we were given a place to stay. Never underestimate the goodwill of strangers.
The next day, we went back to the scene of the accident.
The family who gave us a place to stay took us to the beach the following day. It was Sunday, and Sundays in El Salvador were for lounging at the beach and swimming in the ocean.
Ximena, Didier and Paula enjoyed the coolness of the ocean water. Depressed over the previous day's events and the state of the motorcycle, I remained pensive, relaxed in the hammock and took photos.
Yolli & her son, Samuel, bathed in ocean.
Ximena was originally from Colombia. She had met and married Didier while they were both working in New Jersey.
Isabel was Didier's mother. She offered us her home in our time of need.
Isabel's husband had gone to New Jersey to work. She had not seen him in person for years. Unable to travel to The United States, she would talk to him on the internet every night.
Our extended family in Santa Rosa de Lima
In The Family Room
After peeking between its legs, Paula informed the family that their cat was actually a male, and not a female as they had thought.
After about a week of making arrangements, we found a shipping company that were willing to ship the motorcycle back to Canada. We rented a pick-up truck to take us to the shipping company in San Salvador, where were began disassembling the bike.
Paula, seen here, is pretending to work on the motorcycle.
Since the total shipping cost was based on both weight and volume, we disassembled the motorcycle in order to minimize the cost of shipping it home.
The bike was going to be shipped to New York by sea, and then trucked to Toronto.
The cost for the shipment, from San Salvador to Toronto, was roughly US$1,200.
It was mid January when we had reached Toronto, Canada. We were immediately reminded of the freezing cold winter. We had contacted Rocky's brother Jason and his wife Andrea to pick us up from the airport and we were extremely excited to see them and their sweet daughter, Madelyn. We had asked them to tell nobody of our arrival, I didn't want my mom to worry and I thought it would be a great surprise for everyone.
First, we stopped at Tim Horton’s for a coffee. Not because it has the best coffee, but because it runs through every Hamiltonian's veins. When we finally arrived at Rocky's moms house, she was definitely surprised. We visited with her for a while and I could see in Rocky's eyes how much he had missed her. I was eager to show up at my moms. When we knocked on my mother’s door, her confusion and shock was obvious. My brother wasn't home, but when he arrived, Rocky and I hid and jumped out as he walked past. At first, he was frightened and then he was shocked to see it was us. I had fun surprising everyone!
Maybe it is a little crazy but what I missed most, was my cats. Mama is 17 years old. Belle is 13. I missed them so much that while we were on the road, I actually cried - few times. It broke my heart to abandon them, especially in case their age was to get the best of them. I realize that I risk sounding like a crazy cat lady but I don't care, they really are my best friends. Rocky and I joked a lot about buying them a sidecar, little helmets and leathers to take them with us. I had left them for a few weeks in the past but never for a few months and in a strange house. I was really happy to see them and I am sure that they were happy to see us as well. While we were away, we tried to Skype with them a few times but my mom put an end to that. She said that they **** all over the place immediately after they were online with us. Now that's love.
The comfort of being home with family, friends and pets, felt amazing but I was struggling to adapt. We had experienced a very strange distortion of time. I assume it was from having had lived a lifetime of memories in such a short period of time, while it was as though, time in Hamilton, had stood still to us. It was also difficult living in the 'meantime'. The bike hadn't arrived yet and all we could do was wait. So, we stayed at my moms, and waited.
After a few weeks went by, waiting for a response from Comca Shipping Company became frustrating. After a few phone calls, we eventually received an email requesting we sign over power of attorney so that they could sign for us as the motorcycle crossed the border. They hadn't even shipped the bike yet!? They said that they couldn't ship the bike until we signed a legal contract stating we were liable for any additional charges that may incur. Once they had our signed permission, they would have a KTM mechanic drain all the fluids and the motorcycle would be shipped. But, why should we have to pay that when we were willing to do it ourselves but were told not to because they would take care of it at no charge if it were necessary? I explained to the guy that signing the contract wasn't possible. Not only would we not pay to have any fluids drained but also because we only had a 3-month visa to keep the motorcycle in Central America. If the motorcycle wasn't shipped out of the country in time, we would be responsible for paying a fine of approximately $100 per day. They already had the motorcycle in their possession for almost one month, we did not trust they would send it out on time since they had promised us it would only take two weeks but lied.
I felt as though we were being bullied. We gathered all the documents necessary and took a 45-minute drive into Toronto to visit the Salvadorian Embassy. I explain everything to the Consulate Officer and Rocky insisted on a Contract Clause stating we are not responsible for draining fluids or Expired visa fees. The Consulate Officer completely agreed. I then called Comca and placed them on speakerphone. I explained that the contract would be signed and sent but a Clause had been added. He responded by telling me that the contract would not be accepted. It was at that moment that the Consulate Officer introduced himself to the conversation, and the contract was quickly accepted.
In the meantime, Rocky was working at his previous job. I on the other hand, quit my last job because my boss was a douche-bag. I absolutely loved working there but I had no intentions of returning. Instead, I accepted a job offer at a b**k. And then I realize that I would rather have worked for the douche-bag. But, to avoid being jailed for bad mouthing a large corrupt corporation, I won't get into it. At least it gave me some money to move out of my mom’s house. Rocky and I rented out the basement of a nearby house. It was huge, beautiful and affordable but living in the basement sucked because I felt claustrophobic. Regardless, I enjoyed the privacy and we were renting from an amazing family. I was glad to have met them.
Being in Hamilton was bitter sweet. I wasn't ready to be home, but, being in Hamilton meant that we were able to share or be a part of some important moments. We attended many birthday parties I was glad that I didn't miss. My mother turned 60, my half brother became a teenager at 13 and my half sisters had her sweet 16th birthday. I am also happy to have been home for a few births. And, unfortunately, death exists alongside life, but I was glad that I was able to attend my friends funeral and properly mourn her passing. We were able to spend some time getting to know my little nieces and nephew. My sister, Maryline, and her husband, Denis, have raised the sweetest little human beings.
Within the first two months I must've gained 10 lbs. We craved everything we had missed and we ate everything we had craved. The simple convenience of having a pantry, a fridge and a stove was incredible. Rocky learned how to make the best pie I have ever eaten. That definitely helped shape my figure. There were so many different meals and restaurants we had missed. The only place I avoided eating at, was Subway.
We also attended a few concerts. Twice, we were able to watch Romi Mayes and Jason Nowicki, who we originally met in Medicine Hat Alberta during our first couch-surfing experience. Speaking of couch-surfing, Alex, the Canadian we had met in Mexico and beyond, had surfed our couch on his way home back to Montreal. It was really cool seeing him.
It is easy to get comfortable in any lifestyle that holds such strong relationships. But, it wasn't enough to keep me in my bubble. I fantasized over all of the memories and anticipated being back on the road. Almost every day I would catch myself wishing the day was over. That never happened while we were on the road. Life is meant to be lived. It doesn't feel natural to ignore the beauty of this planet by sitting behind a desk day in and day out while wishing for the weekend to arrive. I need to get back on the road to continue building this newfound relationship I'm having with Earth.
We arrived back in Canada at the Toronto Pearson International Airport on January 14th, 2011. We had only told my brother and sister-in-law what had happened and that we were returning so that we could surprise the rest of our families. They were pretty shocked to see us.
We were greeted with a warm welcome from our families and friends, and the bitter cold of winter. Just a few days before we arrived back in Canada, we read Facebook updates from our friends about how they were experiencing spring weather in January.
Paula's friend, Giovanni, threw a big house party. We spent the following day relaxing and walking in the snow in his back field. Giovanni is a man's man - a sort of suburban cowboy - the Marlboro Man if he smoked marijuana and e-cigarettes. And a super nice guy.
With the realization that we wouldn't be continuing our trip until the following year, Paula, Mama, Belle and I got an apartment together. Belle and Paula are seen here relaxing in our comfortable, new pad.
Mama is the elder of the two cats. She was a farm cat that Paula got from an ad in the paper when she was 17. They have been together for the past 16 years, and are almost inseparable. Leaving Mama and Belle behind to go on this trip was very difficult for Paula. It was amazing to see both Mama and Belle again after returning home. Mama has a very unique personality and temperament. There are very few people that Mama tolerates and she doesn't take any **** from anybody. Paula told me a story about how Mama once had a stare-down with a dog and won. But, if Mama does allow you into her little world, it is a very privileged and special experience.
After a night out at Hess Village, a local group of patio bars, Paula ended up sleeping next to the toilet. She ignores my advice to stay hydrated when she drinks alcohol, and she inevitably ends up paying the price and praying to the porcelain.
In August, we went camping in Six Mile Lake Provincial Park with my brother, Jason, his wife, Andrea, and is daughter, Maddy. Jason is a master carpenter, taking after my father. Also like my father, Jason enjoys a cold or twelve, and that's just before breakfast.
Paula - while camping in Six Mile Lake National Park
My sister-in-law, Andrea, helps my niece, Maddy (not "Mady") wash the camp dishes. Andrea works for the City of Burlington. She is a great mother and wife, who somehow is able to put up with my brother.
We first met Alex in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico. He was back-packing from Canada to South America and ended up staying with us and several other travellers. Coincidentally, we later just missed Alex in Chetumal, Mexico. He had just stayed with our host, Maria, days before we had arrived. While in Guatemala, we received a message from Alex saying that, if we saw him at the side of the road, to stop and say hi. The next day, we were leaving Peten, Guatemala and we saw two pack-packers walking along the road. Amazingly, it was Alex and a friend. After we returned to Canada, Alex came to stay with us at our apartment as he was passing through Canada on his way home to Montreal.
Mama loves any human food she can sink her teeth into, but she especially loves chocolate, despite it being toxic to cats. She loves butter, hot Italian sausage and even pickled jalapeño peppers. Mama must have been down-wind of the chocolate & almond treat we were eating.
Since we were renting a basement apartment, we sometimes took Mama and Belle to the park to get out of the house for some fresh air. They would have a long winter cooped up in the basement. Belle is a very polite and well-bahaved cat. She's also very nervous but is forced by her love for a good tummy rub to make friends with people.
Paula and I went to Niagara Falls to meet Paula's friends, who drove from Rochester, New York, to celebrate Paula's 33rd birthday.
Paula showing off the tattoo that she had modified and retouched a few months earlier.
Paula with her "bestie", Tonia, and her boyfriend (you can barely see the top of his head) Mike, owner of the famous Perri's Pizza franchise.
The Hangover Part II
At the end of August, Paula and I went on a trip to Pennsylvania with Paula's father and his family.
Paula In Pennsylvania
Paula & her half-sister, Bianca
Paula's father, Nelson, & his wife, Carmen
Paula's half-brother, Bruno, reminds me of a younger version of Jim Carry.
Bianca, Paula's half-sister, balances her brother's zaniness with her much more calm, cool and reserved personality.
The Three Stooges - Bianca, Paula and Bruno
We randomly bumped into Paula's friends and former employer, Dan, who lives and works in Pennsylvania.
After returning home, Paula and I both had a new appreciation for our city of Hamilton.
Sun Setting On The City
Paula, Brandon and Giovanni (in the background).
Before we knew it, the summer was over and autumn had rolled around.
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