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  #1  
Old 11 Oct 2009
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Location: Antigua, Guatemala
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Post Remco goes Latin America

Offroad baptism.

The predatory birds hover above the Mexican prairie. It is dry and hard. It almost seems the asphalt is simmering a bit under the sun. The road cuts through the desierto. Not a dessert of which the grains of sand invite to swim in. This dessert is rough, barren, a stretched lowland covered with bushes and cactuses. In the distance, in all directions around me, the shapes of mountains are visible.

I am already driving for a while, when I approach some hilly landscape. I see a small building a the abandoned surroundings. It appears to be the roadhouse I have been looking for: I was told there was a path right there that would cut trough the hills. I was about time to say by to the asphalt for a moment and test my Honda XR650L on its off-road qualities.

Well, I wanted off-road, and I got off-road! On some locations the road was sooo bad, I had to drive around it. Sight….all those alternative routes. And this was not everything yet. Not even close…


The first yards feel wonderful. I drive on soft earth that lies steadily on an underground of flat rock. The wheels mow the red grains loose, and leave a small cloud of dust behind. It becomes more hilly. De main road disappears from sight. More cracks appear in the road, unevenness in the road, lose stones, and holes. Occasionally when I need to adjust, my foot sticks for a second to the ground, which makes my calf hit the pannier. Or my upper body caches a low hanging branch.
I have to concentrate to keep the bike in balance, and to get round any obstacle, taking the next one in consideration. Unfortunately the motorbike is not as flexible as a bicycle. With all the weight it has ( I guess appr 200kg) and the luggage (with panniers appr 30kg) dat drags/pushes behind.
I have to make one choice after the other: Do I go right, left, along the rock, across or trough the water? Do I take the side of the abyss, or the mountainside? Do I go along the riverbed, or should I drive through the dried out river? Choices and anticipating on possible obstacles that follow, or rather hoping that non will follow to quickly!

After approx. 40 kilometers (25 miles) and 1,5 hour later I arrive a little village, Cuatro de Australia. 30 families live here. The village was on 1/3 rd of my cross over route. I ask a few inhabitants for the road. They wave a bit with their arms and call out ‘that way’. Which way? They swish their arms up again. I convince them to make a drawing: one road, one intersection, one detraction. Muy simple.

Hint 1: A closed fence on the road. I thing about returning when I a notice a side-path. Never give up, never surrender!
Hint 2: I don’t get across any approaching traffic, horse or car. Neither do I get passed by any. Hint 3: I am standing in from of a crossroad with 4 paths to choose. Which one to take?
Hint 4: A path uphill suddenly stops to exist any further
Hint 5: A path (1,5 meter wide) downhill I can only take turning the engine off. Braking on the clutch. The loose stones roll down with me.
Hint 6: I am traveling for 2 hours and only did 30 km (19 miles)

Then another cross road. One spur is covered with greenery, the other seemed to been used recently. It is 5 pm. I have lost my orientation. I run some scenario{s trough my head. One is the set up my tent when it gets dark. I have 1,5 liters of extra water with me, and some muesli bars.
I take my gadget compass-temperature measure. The arrow keeps on turning. Should I return? I did try to memorize the way back along the way, choosing some points of recognition. However, I don’t want to head back, as I don’t know yet the best way to get up the hill from hint number 5. Then, in the far distance it starts to thunder. A dark cover of clouds sinisterly approaches me. This is the last thing I need! I decide to return.

Then fate hits.

I am standing at the foot of the feared hill from hint 5. How do I approach this one. Very loose underground, 45 degrees ascending. To take this with high speed may be too uncontrolled. A high spinning wheel creates less grip. So I have to go slow in high speed. Or was it the other way around? I put the bike in 2nd gear. Slowly. It is too heavy for the bike. I go to slow. The engine cuts off. I start it again. In its 1st gear. Some stones jump away from under the wheel. So I should try the 2nd gear again. The engine snores, growls, howls. I am halfway. I go around a big rock, the motorbike bends slightly sideways. Some stones glide away. I lose grip. The bike overturns to the left. I throw my weight to the right, but it is too late:

Boem, Kedeng, Beng! Motorbike on ground. I stand next to it. Engine is snoring. I quickly turn it off with the emergency button. Petrol smell. Leakage around the tank cap. I turn it tight. It stops. I hear something flow. I see a small pool of liquid. Bigger leakage. From where? Tank? Do I have a hole? Time is running out before tank is completely empty. The bike needs to get up. I push and pull. Too heavy. I tug the luggage off the bike. I push and pull again. Almost, come ‘on!
The motor stands straight. Leakage stops.. Pfew….

There I am. In the middle of nowhere. No sight of any living soul, and I don{t expect any the days to come.
Damage: physically some scratches, material a bit dented, ego a bit snapped. And now?

Should I have continued instead? Perhaps yes, or not? Later I found out I took a wrong turn already very early of the journey.

In the end I drive the bike up – slowly without luggage, in steps. I carry the luggage myself up. And with my tail between my legs I ride back to Cuatro de Australia. This is a wise lesson: no more detours, alternative routes, on roads other people don’t take frequently. At least not by myself.

I arrive at Cuatro de Australia. The men explain me ones again how I should drive. Waiving and swishing. They convince me the give it a try again the next day. I stay with the Escareño family, they provide me food and shelter.
The next day I do decide to leave this battle of the desierto for what it is, and keep to my newly learned lesson. Detours: they bring you in tough situations. If it is worth it? In hine-side, with a Sol in my hand, looking in back, for sure..

Later day afternoon I did leave my lesson for what is was worth and I drove 80 km trough the Desierto de Parras. FANTASTIC!

Hasta luego!
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Remco goes Latin America-san-pedro-parras2.jpg  

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  #2  
Old 12 Oct 2009
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Location: Norwich,Ontario,Canada
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Marco, mas detallas ,por favor.
You are leaving me (us) wondering exacltly where in Mexico you are gaining such valuable experience about travel alone in the wilds. My guess, from your Parras reference is that you tried the dirt road from Viesca to get to Parras de la Fuente , in Coahuila , am I close?
I tried that too in early September this year and gave up much earlier,after discovering that the "dirt"road on the map was actually the roadbed of the old removed railway , first across a dry lakebed which was not very dry after the rains of hurricane Jimena' system and then into the mountains where I could see it raining. Turned the KLR around after 15km, took the paved way around.
Buen viaje
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  #3  
Old 12 Oct 2009
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Hola Sjoerd! Nice you read my story.

The picture is taken on the track Viesca-Parras dirt track, the one you mentioned. However, when I was there (around the 10th of September) it was very dry!

The dessierto-accident happened some 100 km more North. I tried the short cut from Quatro Cienegas to Parras via Quatro de Australia and Estanque del Leon. This one I failed.

I have done another nice mountain road Just recently, near San Andreas de Tuxtla. Got caught by rain and mud though. Wonderfull scenery did make up for it. I will post another story later.

Hasta luego!
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  #4  
Old 12 Oct 2009
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Location: Mexico City
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Saltillo

Is excellent hear your trip.

I am from Mexico City and am planning a RWT for the next year. For our training, we are pretending to visit Viesca (because the Dunas de Bilbao. Is a little like the Sahara. I suppose you have been there) and Parras de la Fuente. I have a Ranch near to Saltillo. Some friends and I are going to be there in the next November 30. If you want to be there, we will like a lot if you stay.

Have you consider to be in Chihuahua? It is another demanding place.
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  #5  
Old 15 Oct 2009
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Remco goes Mexico - Mountains

Hola amigos!

Saludos from the beach of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. My sister and I are recovering from a week of culture. Miranda arrived 1,5 weeks ago in Cancun. We hired a car and did a roundtrip Maya-Mexico. The bike has been given some rest after 3 weeks of work.
• 500km test-driving in Austin;
• 800km riding trough Texas to Mexico;
• 4000km dreaming, wondering, slaving away trough Mexico.
O, yes, and I crashed 2 times. As also in my last week towards Cancun the bike slipped! This, while I really started slow and controlled after my desert accident.

After a few days resting in the town Parras, and revitalizing also the motor a bit, I took the tarmac road, as a good boy should. First I drove aside sandy planes and heath land, but slowly the landscape started to slop more and the view became greener.
The engine snored pleasantly, the wind moo-ed softly aside my helmet and the road glided smoothly under us. The ideal circumstances to let the thoughts float free (what else to do):

• To my apartment of course, my tenants, but enough said about that (quick update: they changed the locks!).
• To whether or not my bike will get across the boarder, whether the papers will be accepted, or perhaps I need to create a `win-win situation` with the local customs guy.
• To the route I have taken and the one I may take in the days to come. How many days do I want to spend in Cancun, prior to my sister’s visit. Where will I store my bike?
• To my hands, which look very dry. Too much sun. Perhaps I should wear gloves. Or rub them in. Bye the way, sun crème is very expensive here. I should ask sister dear to take some with her. I happen to notice as well that my new wristband is too loose. One of these days I should check if I can fix that.
• About loved ones, family and friend. A friend just shared some horrible news, which brings my thoughts from those who are now, to those who are no longer there. My nephew. My mother. Was her birthday 21 or 22 September? I feel some shame I don't know it exactly anymore.

With more hills, more green, there also came more rain en it got a bit chillier. Also the road started to curve more. Curves absorb all my attention. No thoughts, just the curve: I accelerate while ascending to the curve, reduce the speed, change to a lower gear, and then I open the gas and I "pull" the motor trough the curve.
And so I slalomed trough picturesque villages, colonial towns, with names such as Real de Catorce, Dollores de Hildago, San Miquel de Allende. And when the sharpness of the curves are reducing and my eyes get used to the new environment, the thoughts are taking over again:

• To the motorbike, will it physical make the border. The punches it took cannot be good for it. I already head to do some bending and welding.
• I one had to refill a liter of oil. Also at once occasion I had to fuel-up much earlier then usual. Then I am for the rest of the day fully occupied with it, and I wonder if there is something really bad happening. I suddenly also hear new sounds in the engine: rattling, rumbling. Will the engine die any moment, or is it just my imagination?
• I am reading 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance`. It is about a man on a bike, who is thinking (and trust me, he has plenty of time to do that!): about romanticism, feelings, versus reason, ratio, and the search to a bridge between them. It reminds me of my flirt with the study philosophy. Long ago. I thought that the rational rules limited me in my search of why. `Long live the irrationality`, was my temporary slogan. Logic is okay, but has to exist of more than ratio. With feeling, images, music, or something. Never worked this thought out in more detail. A new form anyway. Perhaps a bit like we start today communicating with text and smileys. Just need to add a fitting tune with it ! Anyway, I look forward to the outcome of the book.

Enough thoughts and philosophy. It is time for a detour!

I woke up in Catameco, a town at the edge of a lack, situated in a nature reserve. It had rained the whole night, but this morning the sun started to shine.
‘Can I drive around the lack`?
‘Of course, that way, about 40km`, replied the receptionist, and she waived with her arms. Hence I left Catemeco. Over a beautifully swinging tarmac road, alongside the lake. Over a road that started to crack, show more wholes, becoming more sandy. Hmmm…….
It became a rained out sand road, a mud-bath. Fortunately it remained dry, and the clouds looked light and white. After about an hour driving, swaying around the pot-holes and little pools, I arrive in to a village where the road ended. Déjà vu!

`You cannot go around the lack´, a pedestrian told me. Hence, it was either returning, or making a possibly cut trough to a main road. Was that possible?
‘Off course, that way`, and a sway followed. And so my journey trough the mountains started. Via a red sand road, surrounded by volcanic shaped earth, colored in different green: light, dark, lime, pastel, jade, army, you name it.

Driving on dirt roads is like curves. Swallowed by the present, the now. You cannot be tempted to much by the surroundings. It is focus. To Be.
It became steeper. More mud. More clouds. The cloud cover started to lock around me. And it appeared that the path bended me exactly to the darkest part of the sky. Would I make it?
And then heaven poured all over me. The gravel paths became rivers, and swinging became ploughing. The water was soaking in my underwear; my raincoat was not resistant against this violence. I crawled with 10 km per hour trough the water curtain, hardly any visibility, both feet brushing over the ground for extra support. It was one of those routes again…..

At these moments suddenly all signs of live disappear. No town or person to spot. It would take eternity when I arrived at a few houses. Thank god, people! Who old me that there would be tarmac in 3 km.
‘I can make that!`. The thought did not even leave my mind yet, or my back wheel glided from a slippery sand hill, the motor started to slide and….PLOF!
I knew the drill by now: unload the luggage, drag, tug, lug the bike, and within a few minutes we grumbled to the tarmac. Red and wet.

Viva Buena Vista, viva tarmac town! In thought I kissed the black road surface. I also fond out there that a bolt of the pannier-frame was broken. So I had to search on a Sunday afternoon, in the mountains, for a welder. And I found Nacho! A merry Mexican, of around 50 years old. His wife Mathilde had to pick him from the football field. He fixed the bike quickly, and an hour later we were watching the football together, along with a (or 2). I slept that night at Casa Nacho.

The next day would be a beautiful coast-journey. A slightly raised tarmac road – as a dike road – guided at one side with palm trees, and at the other with a stripe of beach and then blue up to the horizon. Until….the road was gone! Literally! Bashed away (see picture). By a tornado. Pieces or road were lying on the beach. This time no desert, no mountain paths, but gardens I had to drive trough. A lovely road, only I had to go to the toilet. No 2. But also this I survived.

Well, I leave it for now. Time for some tacos.

Adios!
Rem
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Remco goes Latin America-coast-road-yucatan-2.jpg  

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Last edited by Remco; 11 Nov 2009 at 16:47.
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  #6  
Old 18 Oct 2009
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Nice thread. I like the XR650L. Hope to read more adventures.
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  #7  
Old 18 Oct 2009
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Yes Remco , by all means do wear gloves. They will save you a lot of skin and pain if you should fall down , and getting sunburned to a crisp is not healthy, skin cancer and all that y'know. In fact I do hope you are riding with your arms covered too.A mesh jacket fits the bill, saves having to get all slathered with messy goopy sunblock all over your body which actually also traps in some perspiration adding to your cooling problems.And it gets blowing dust stuck to you. also,more layers to wash off.Just do your face and areas that get sun exposure . Too many a time I see gringos and Euros riding around in sunny tropical climes wearing just short sleeves.
Now another guess ,about your picture of bike on washed out beach road. By any chance is that on the Gulf of Mexico somewhere on the sand bar coast strip west of Paraiso, Tabasco ? Looks kind of deja vu.
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  #8  
Old 6 Nov 2009
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How's the weather down there now? Just saw that there was a hurricane over Honduras and GT yesterday, but since your last post 2 weeks ago you may already be way beyond its reach.
If you are still not into Panama , I could suggest that you spend some time exploring the western end. Recommending that you take either the Atlantic side or Pacific side crossing is really difficult because by taking one you would miss the scenery of the other . Tough call, I like both routes.
If you have the time ride around and explore both. The Sixaola entry fro m CR is all neat banana country and tropical mountains and jungle, then a crossing of the mountains to the dry Pacific south facing slopes and Panam highway west of David.
The other entry from San Vito and Sabalito CR to Rio Sereno is also spectacular as it puts you into the lush green high country slopes up to the Volcan Baru. It is a total surprise country , very temperate climate, lots of dairy farming , potatoes and vegetables and small towns. I just love that area. Then take the Panam and at David take a jog up to the east side of the same volcano to Boquete, more of the same type of landscape .
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