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We got into Zihuatenejo and immediately began searching for an ATM to pull out some more money. We had only a few pesos left at that point. We found a Santender and pulled out money, which cost $30 pesos from that bank and then $1 from my bank. About $3.50 to pull out cash. Meh. However, the rate was good, I calculated 12.25 pesos to the dollar. We would find that Santender banks always had the best rates by a good margin. I guess because they are a sister bank to Bank of America.
I did an illegal U-Turn (was going to make a left into a one way, then noticed and corrected myself). Traffic cop told me I could get a big ticket, then laughed and said I didn't know better, waved me on my way. We had good luck with the autorities in Mexico. Only a few times were we actually stopped at the military checkpoints, only twice were we actually asked to open our bags for a quick peek. Michelle always answered their questions with her usual inate friendliness and we'd be chatting like amigos in a few seconds.
We searched around to find a decently priced hotel room, it was clear that Zihuatenejo was going to be very expensive, a little touristy nowadays and new years eve. Hotels near the centro were going for $50+usd, near the beach would be even more. Eventually we found Hotel Krystal, for $350 pesos, shared bath. We thought it might be the best we could get, so we took it. DO NOT RECOMMEND. The whole place smelled of rotting food, not a very clean family ran it. Bathrooms, rooms and towells were dirty. My standards are very low, but this would have been a stretch for $100 pesos. It's funny that the most we spent on a hotel room was also the worst.
The next day we found another hotel called Hotel Washington, just a little bit off the main highway. Clean, $100 pesos cheaper, big room with two beds and private bathroom. Didn't smell of rotting food. Recommended.
I wish I had stories about a crazy new years eve celebration. Unfortunately, me and Michelle were both feeling pretty poorly. I went to the Farmacia Similares. The big pharmacies here (Similares y Ahoro) have a room next door which houses a doctor which will give you a basic checkup for little or free and perscribe you what you need. I was perscribed some antibiotics for my fever and throat infection. We both wanted to go to sleep early, but all around Zihuatenejo there were gun-shot like fireworks, starting at 8pm, including on the roof of our hotel. Michelle fell asleep and I watched shitty American movies in spanish.
Michelle also got a stomach flu at some point. Strange I didn't, because me and her had literally been splitting single plates of food the past few days. We stayed three days in Zihuatenejo, but didn't see anything outside of the few blocks of our hotel because of our illnesses.
We headed South for Acapulco, knowing we couldn´t afford to spend any time there, but wanting to see it anyway. We got there around 3pm but it took an hour to get through. Probably the worst traffic of the trip so far. Tons and tons of little VW Bug taxis in gridlock. We were sweating like crazy. There were huge hotels everywhere, just like we expected, and totally different than anyplace we'd been so far.
Eventually we found our way out of Acapulco and went to a little town called San Marcos, about 50 kilometers away. Got a little hotel with WiFi on the main road, $200 pesos. It was pretty much open to the elements along the top of the walls, the only climate control was a fan. We were now in a climate where enclosing the walls was not necessary.
We continued heading down Mexico 200 to our next stop, Oaxaca. We camped in a lime Orchard near Rio Grande. Simply asked some folks working on their house if we could throw our tent back there. It looked like it would rain soon, it was dark and there was lightning. The woman laughed and said it wasn't going to rain. It didn't.
The bike after 3000 miles of Mexico
Next day we woke early, expecting a quick dash to Oaxaca. Not exactly. Started off well enough, nice wide road, only the occasional donkey in the road.
Sometimes a lane was missing because it slid off the mountain, but no road is perfect. Soon we were in the Sierra Madres Del Sur though, and it turned into a dirt road through the mountains.
A little hairy, but very fun. My first time riding dirt roads for more than a few KMs.
Eventually we hit a long line of cars. We went to the front to see what was going on. Apparently the road was closed for construction. We waited about 40 minutes for the tractors to finish clearing the road. We chatted with folks about the road ahead and our trip.
After we were cleared to pass, we went a few more KMs and hit a donkey fight in the middle of the road. It was hilarious.
We hit Juquila, a little town at a fork in the roads. It's built onto the side of the mountains.
Here, we had trouble. The roads were all very steep and highway went right through the center of town. You might remember I had put modestly lower gearing sprockets on my bike back in Texas for the highway, and then a slightly oversized rear tire in Mazatlan because I couldn't find the original size. The result was ambitiously low gearing. No problem for most of Mexico, but big trouble here. When traffic stopped on a hill, I was unable to get going again. I was reving the engine, working the clutch, but she wasn't moving with her huge load. I stalled and the bike started going backwards. I grabbed the front brake, but the front tire had no traction and I was still sliding backwards towards the traffic behind me. I picked up my foot and did the rear brake too, finally stopping the bike just in time. Michelle jumped off and I nursed the bike up, full throttle but barely moving. Michelle ran up and jumped back on. I'm sure it was quite a spectacle. Two fully geared Americanos on their yellow motorcycle unable to go up the hill.
This happened again, and Michelle had the presence of mind to take a picture of me nursing the bike up the steep hill, using both legs to keep the bike alive.
I think stock gearing would have had no trouble, even slightly lowered gearing would have been fine. But be careful if you've got a torqueless bike and low gearing.
We ended up doing a loop of the city before we found the road out. Very confusing. We continued through a very rough, potholed road. Kids were on the sides of the road filling potholes with dirt and asking for donations. People would throw pesos out the window for them or they would run next to the car windows with open hands
View from the road to Oaxaca.
Beautiful. Once we get out of the mountains it's straight as an arrow and we get to Oaxaca before dark.
We got to Oaxaca and headed for el centro. Oaxaca's historical district is the nicest we saw in Mexico. It's like a little slice of Europe. The road is cobblestone, the buildings are clean, old and colonial. Michelle wants to move here.
There are tons of little trendy coffee shops everywhere. New cars, new BMW motorcycles, art galleries. Definitely a more affluent part of Mexico.
Most hotels in the historical center were very expensive. Eventually we found Hostel Mayflower, which had dorm accomadations for about $11usd per person. Free purified water, a kitchen we could use and free Wifi sealed the deal.
We meet other travellers and generally enjoy our time here. We go to the grocery store and eat mostly home-made meals (a la chez Jordan) to save pennies while we're here.
We go around the corner to Farmacia Ahorro (free doctor´s visit!) and get Michelle a few perscriptions for the stomach thing she picked up in Zihuatenejo that was still bothering her.
We spent three days running around seeing the sites. All the museums are within walking distance from our Hostel.
Museum of Oaxacan Textiles
Michelle was in heaven here. Her degree is in Textiles and Apparel Design.There was a small library upstairs with textile books. We spent a good amount of time here.
Museum of Oaxacan artists.
Museum of Contemporary art.
Monte Alban, huge Zapatec ruin minutes outside Oaxaca. Took 2.5 hours to walk around.
Major tourist sunburn.
Tried the local fair. Mole, Oaxaca cheese (delicious!), fried crickets.
Michelle was not hungry for some reason. I thought they were too salty.
Michelle in fabric heaven:
One of many busy plazas:
Pochote theater. Ever night at 7pm there's a free movie or set of short films.
Don´t see a theater? Yea, we walked past it twice before we found it. Go through a little door under the arch and enter a courtyard. See another little lit door and you're there.
That night they were playing a set of films by Chiapas film-makers interpreting poems. Very indy, very cool. That's something we would expect to find back in Austin, TX, not Mexico. I could live here.
"Italika" is the most popular motorcycle brand. They are the most common, and I just had to check out the showroom. A brand new 150CC FT150 motorcycle, $1200usd. 125cc's are $1000usd.
Website: Untitled Page click "Venta de Refracciones" to see the lineup. Very cool.
While doing my routine maintence and bike check, I notice the nastier topes (speedbumps) have done a number to my centerstand.
There's a little metal piece sticking out of the exhaust which is supposed to keep the centerstand from coming up too high when it's in a resting position. Bottoming out multiple times on the centerstand have bent this bracket way up and now the centerstand is rubbing on the chain! I bend the bracket back in place and vow to keep an eye on it.
We leave Oaxaca for the Mexico/Guatemala border. Although we heard interior Chiapas is very nice (and cheap!), we're anxious to not spend more money in Mexico when there is so much more to see. Maybe next trip...
We head out of Oaxaca to Tehuantepec. Roads are twisty but fast. We make great time.
We also stop at Matatlan, a town famous for Mezcla, the alcohol of the indigenous made from fermented corn. I buy a small bottle for $18 pesos (no typo). As our Hostel friend Shawneee put it, it's a very smokey taste.
Apparently every little town in Oaxaca has it's own unique Mezcla factory. They fill gallon gasoline jugs every week and take it to the big cities. Middlemen buy the jugs for a few pesos and fill fancy bottles which they sell to bars and the US for 50x the price. Unfortunately we're both recuperating so we haven't had a chance to enjoy our cheap bottle.
It starts to get dark and we're unable to find a suitable camping spot. All along the highways is fenced. While we desperately search I have a moment of sheer stupidity and nearly cause a wreck with another motorcyclist. He turns around and urges me to be more careful. He is right,
A few minutes later my headlight goes out. It's dark, we're never supposed to ride at night, and now this. I go a few more miles with the brights blazing, much to the annoyance of the other drivers. Just as we hit the next town my brights go out as well. We pull into the first hotel we see. Very nice rooms with hammocks outside at $250 pesos. Not bad, but he says he'll charge us 50 pesos to camp in the back so we opt for that. We camp next to the empty swimming pool with a bunch of decrepit looking dog statues all around. A little eerie. Forgot to take pictures, or even get the name of the town. There's also an abandoned restaraunt next door that hadn't been open in 2 years. A woman cleans one of the bathrooms (hadn't been used in 2 years) and we can use that while we stay. We fall asleep soon.
I get a high fever that night for no apparent reason, but in the morning I feel OK so we continue to Tapachula. The roads from Oaxaca to Tapachula are mostly toll roads according to the map. We were going to suck it up to make good time. We were pleasantly surprised to find not a single toll. Just long, divided, 80mph road with almost no topes and few towns. We make it to Tapachula before 1pm.
Tapachula is the big border town. Very dirty, but cheap. Tortas, 12 pesos, tacos, 5 pesos, room with private bath, 150 pesos. Nothing to see, but we're not here to sightsee. We need to update the blogs, fix the bike headlight, change the oil and do a general maintence of the bike. It's at 22,250 miles now, so it's covered nearly 4000 miles since I did the last major service before we left. She is a champ.
I try to get an oil filter for the bike, but no luck. We check at least half a dozen motorcycle shops and none of them sell oil filters. Nobody changes filters here? The bikes don't last long enough to bother I guess. In our search we find an Autozone, which is exactly like an Autozone in the states. It's surreal walking into someplace 4000 miles from home and the layout is exactly the same as the one down the street from your house. Same products, same employee uniforms. Prices were higher than the other shops though, and they didn't carry motorcycle oil filters.
We do find a replacement headlight bulb (Nikko brand?) for only $1usd from an awesome autoparts store. Old man owned it, parts on the shelves were dusty. Just an honest, old fashioned auto store. Price was honest right out of a book (and 1/4 what others wanted to charge). Plus, he sold white bulbs. Everywhere else only had the blue bulbs that are in style here. No word on how good that brand is yet, but we're not supposed to drive at night so hopefully we don't find for a while.
Work day in Tapachula!
Adjust and lube the chain. Air the tires. Check all the bolts for looseness. Adjust cables. Replace headlight bulb.
Would have changed my own oil, but the place I bought my oil did it for free, so I saved myself the hassle of finding a pan and a place to recycle the oil. The cost was about $9usd for an oil change with motorcycle specific 15w40 of a decent brand.
Tomorrow, 1/11/11, we cross the border into Guatemala.
We awoke early enough and of course, got lost on our way out of Tapachula. We escape and make it to the Talisman border crossing. Smaller crossings are considered better, but since we were already in Tapachula to do bike work and other errands it didn't seem to make sense to go 3 hours north. We rolled up to the Mexican side of the border and were immediately surrounded by Mexicans with border badges who were offering friendly advice. This being our first border crossing, we didn't realize that these are the "guides" that will be at every border, and unfortunately one of them latched onto us before we knew what was happening. We also didn't yet have any quetzales, so we argued one of them down to 1.75. I think the official rate should have been 1.5 or so.
The border officals at Juarez never said we had to get anything stamped at the bank, so we didn't. The border officials at the Guatemala crossing said we did. The office gave us the 2 stamps for 500 pesos? Not sure what was going on there, might have been conned, but if it becomes a problem we at least have the stamps and can plead ignorance. The border helpers also asked me if Michelle "was the boss" because she was going to deal with the Mexican border offials. Apparently it was be more traditional for me to talk to them, even though I don't understand much Spanish and she is fluent. The border lurkers were also in disbelief that we were not married. Throughout Guatemala it would be considered very unusual for me and Michelle to be unmarried and traveling together. For the sake of convenience we would often refer to eachother as husband and wife.
We then went to the Guatemalan side and got our paperwork done. As I rode the bike over the bridge awere a good dozen border lurkers started running alongside the bike. 10 quetzal per passport stamp, 55 quetzal to the bank for bike entry, 10 quetzal for the passport photos, 12 quetzal for fumigation of the bike, and then 400 quetzal for our "insurance". The other border guides said insurance shouldn't be more than 380 quetzal, but who knows if that was true either. We never did get a receipt for the "insurance" but at least we got our sticker. I think we probably overpaid by about $15-20usd somewhere in there. We'll be better prepared next time. Game faces on.
Once we got into Guatemala though, the troubles at the border were forgotten. It is beautiful.
We were entering into the Guatemala mountains. It went from semi-tropical to cloud-forest within an hour. I don't know what the elevation was but the mountains were in the clouds and it was pretty chilly. Clouds right above our heads.
Roads were great, fewer potholes than Mexico and far fewer topes (called tumulos here). We also got our first percipitation of the trip, a few short showers. Ate breakfast at that point. Guatemalan plates almost always come with fried plantains and cream/queso. I love the dairy of this region. So good.
First meal was somewhere around $5usd (40 quetzales) for two big plates + tortillas and drinks. Great deal, but that's actually on the high end of what we would pay for the rest of Guatemala. A full meal is normally around 15 quetzales at a comedor, 10 quetzales at a market.
The major highways are mostly divided, high speed and multi-lane (no tolls, despite what our map said), but quite often multiple lanes are blocked by landslides.
We spent the first night in some random town around San Marcos. Q$100 for an auto hotel, around $12.5usd. The highest we payed in Guatemala.
The waitress/chef/owner of one of the little commedors recommended we head to Lago de Atitlan, which was apparently very beautiful. Sure! A few hours later we were Panajachel, the biggest of many little towns surrounding lake Atitlan.
Lago de Atitlan is a huge lake in the the Guatemalan mountains, surrounded by volcanos.
Panajachel is somewhat touristy, and hotel prices reflected it. We felt lucky to find a place for Q$30 per person. Just a very simple room with two beds and a shared outdoor shower/bathroom. "Mi Rooms", a hostal down a narrow little alley off the main road. One of many times I felt lucky to be on a motorcycle rather than a car.
We parked the bike in the courtyard and went exploring.
Dock, with many private and public little boats eager to take you around the lake for Q$50.
Fruit was very expensive here compared to Mexico, I guess because of the our high altitude and difficult terrain. Packaged good goods were also twice as expensive as in the US. Also there are many tourists, and the locals are saavy to the money some carry.
The main volcanos (San Pedro, Toliman, Atitlan) are on the South side of the lake, Panajachel on the North. As soon as I saw Volcan Toliman I knew I wanted to climb it. The next day we left for Toliman, the little town at the base of the Volcano. On the way we explored Sta. Catarina and San Atonio(?), two little towns on the way, known for their distinct styles of weaving. Michelle and I climbed narrow alleys to a little shack with a dirt floor to see legit, traditional weaving at work.
We have no almost no room in the bags for souveniers, but Michelle allowed herself to get a little scarf. She loves the Guatemalan craftsmanship.
We were also berrated by a boy for not buying the little bracelets he was selling. He called Michelle a lair and selfish, and that she must buy one. It was a sales tactic I had never seen before.
We made it to Toliman and found a hotel for Q$60, like the night before. However, we decided to splurge and go for the beautiful hotel San Lucas for Q$20 more. Apparently this used to be an old house, and according to the clerk it's over 100 years old.
Enormous, empty room. Just two beds, chair and small table.
Hot water in the Guatemalan mountains is mostly supplied by these little individual electric heaters installed into the shower piping. The electrical work here is... amusing. Exposed wiring and electrical tape. Some of the showers electrocute you, some of the showers only produce scalding hot water, some of the showers only produce barely tepid water, occasionally a shower might produce comfortably hot water.
In this hotel, we had the electrocution + tepid water special. I find it amusing rather than annoying.
Michelle shared tea and talked extensively with the girl who cleans and cooks for the hotel. Leti is 18, and has never left the town of Toliman in her life. Her mother doesn't give permission. Her father didn't let her attend school. She was surprised that we had been "married" for 6 months and didn't have any children on the way. This was normal. Definitely quite a contrast from American culture.
The lake, down the street from our hotel.
Life is good in Guatemala.
Volcan Toliman overlooking the city.
Every afternoon and evening Volcan Toliman has a small cloud around the peak.
The next day we awoke early and went to climb the Volcano. We started out on the path to the top, but at some point we lost it and began an epic adventure. We climbed up a gulley littered with hundreds avocados from the orchards.
Weaved our way around dozens of farms growing corn, coffee and avocados.
Ate lunch once we had rediscovered what we thought was the trail.
Followed the trail into a dense forest of vines and weeds which we struggled through.
Volcan Toliman is supposed to take 5-6 hours to climb up, but after struggling through for hours without a good trail, we realized we should probably head back. Though we couldn't have been more than 100 feet from the top, it was just too late to carry on. The prospect of trailblazing back through the dense foliage was not appealing, so we decided to head around towards the gently sloping north side of the volcano.
Unfortunately, we fell short, and ended up going down the worst side of the mountain, the side that was very steep and covered with slippery gullies.
It was slow going, but we were going straight down, so we expected to get down soon enough. Soon we came to a cliff, what must be an incredible waterfall during the rainy season. Surrounded on both sides by steep and treacherous walls, facing an impassable cliff face and having nowhere to go but up, we realized we were not going to make it down by dark. We would be spending the night on the mountain.
We texted a friend and told her to let our hotel know we wouldn't be back tonight, and hunkered down for the night. It was cold in the mountains, and Michelle had lost her sweater back near the top. We were equipped with a pair of light jackets, a liter of water, a quarter can of beans and a rain poncho. Survival mode!
We chose a little sandy nook in the gulley to camp.
I made a wall of rocks and sand to shield us from the wind, and we used the rain poncho as a psuedo-bivy tent to reduce windchill. It was definitely not comfortable, but we made it through the night well enough.
Active volcano in the distance.
Took another 4 hours to climb up, around and discover a trail down. As soon as we got back to the hotel I drank a liter of purified water and jumped in the lake while Michelle took a shower. The lake was cold but refreshing. It felt good to swim in the clean, deep water and work the dirt of the last 24 hours out of my skin. Truly an amazing feeling after the ordeal on Volcan Toliman.
We showered, ate hamburgers at the little stand down the street, and headed out towards Antigua Guatemala.
The road to Antigua was quite an adventure. From Lake Atitlan to Patzicia is a secondary road, which involved rough pavement and pothole dodging. Also my first "river" crossing.
Woo! When the tarmac ended and we ended up on a rough dirt road, we finally realized we were lost.
Nice scenery though, in any case.
Antigua is quite an interesting place. It's name means, roughly, "Old Guatemala", and it definitely has it's historical side. We saw many old cathedrals/covenents, some over 500 years old.
Motorcycles are quite popular. Huge stretches of street were designated for motorcycle parking.
Also saw my bike's twin! Another Kawi EX250! The only other one I've seen in two months.
It's also quite the hopping vacation/2nd home spot, and can be quite upscale. We explored the hotel/museum "San Domingo" which was housed in an old covenant. Very beautiful, and on our way out we asked the price out of curiosity. $750usd per night!! Just a little bit out of our budget, but it was very cool how they built a 5 star hotel around the ruins. Very beautiful.
We found a little Hostel, "Hostel Viajadores" and were pleased with the Q$100 price, the cheapest we found, so we took it. We ate meals in the market down the street for as little as Q$10 per person, with drink. Very cool. We generally walked around and saw the sights in our two days there.
A textiles museum, with a personal guide.
As I've mentioned before, Michelle loves clothing design and took dozens of pictures of different fabric patterns.
1/18/11 Guatemala City
After two days it was time to continue on to Guatemala city. As I rolled the bike out, I noticed the front tire was flat. Couldn't find a puncture, and since it's only 30 miles to Guatemala city I filled it back up with my trusty hand pump and just pulled off the road every few miles to check the pressure. It was losing 3psi every 10 miles, so it was a serious leak.
We stopped at a Yamaha dealer in Guatemala city to see about a new front tire. None there, but the service guy sat us down while he spent half an hour calling a dozen different tire shops. Ulimately we didn't find exactly the size I wanted, but I was very impressed by how long this guy took with two customers he would never see again. This sort of beyond-the-call-of-duty service is common in central America. If they don't have the part, they'll call around for you or they might walk you to where you can find what you're looing for.
Guatemala City is super confusing. It's divided into 22 different zones, which as far as I can tell, are arranged randomly around the city. There are also major roads going through the city which have no traffic lights or U-turns and are impossible to cross unless you duck down into the sidestreets and hope to find a bridge or way across.
We found a bunch of seedy hotels in Zona 1, the historic zone. They ranged in price from Q$40 to Q$100, very reasonably priced, but we were warned it was a dangerous area. The clerks of the hotels were a strange bunch, and didn't seem to trust us or be interested in our business. While I was waiting for Michelle to check the price on one three young homeless looking guys came up and in perfect college-fraternity english: "BRO! We just got deported bro! Damn man, can you spare a quarter bro!" The one doing most of the talking had crazy huge scabs covering a good part of his inner arm. I didn't have a quarter and wasn't interested in donating to whatever the hell was going on, so after two minutes they moved on. Very strange, but somewhat illustrative of the randomness you'll experience in Guatemala city. Paraphrasing the "Lonely Planet" book: "some people find Guatemala city dirty, dangerous and unpleasant, other people find it dirty, dangerous and unforgettable." I'm not exactly sure which side I fell on.
Overall we didn't hear of or see anything really amazing in Guatemala city, just an enormous sprawling metroplex. I will note that almost every American food chain was represented here, from Pizza Hut (mostly a breakfast place here, opéns at 6am!) to Taco Bell (huge restaraunts) and Chili's. We had a few mundane errands to take care of. I used the soap and water trick to locate a tiny leak in the center of the front tire tread, which I patched with my Stop-and-Go patch kit. We also updated the blogs and loaded more photos. We did get a chance to relax a little bit though.
One street had cool lights hanging the whole length of it.
We saw a movie "The Tourist" in a little theater on that road, about $2 per person. The last showing at all the theaters was around 6-7pm. We got in a few minutes late. I didn't care what movie I saw, I just wanted it to be in Spanish. Unfortunately this movie was only subtitled, but the tiny screen, crappy projector and wavery sound made things more memorable. It was like I was watching an 80s VHS tape.
Having done our chores in Guatemala City, it was time to move on. El Salvador was our next destination. We got incredibly lost on our way out of Guatemala City, of course. The road to El Salvador is fine, just smooth two lane highway till the border. At one point our front tire went flat again! Damn, where is the patch?? It had disappeared after only 50 miles and the hole was back. I repatched and off we went, cautiously.
The border to El Salvador was easy enough, but Michelle and I were concerned that we were ripped off at the last border so she went to go talk to a manager about our dillema. Apparently, we were defintely ripped off. The guy who "sold" us insurance was a con and we lost $50 for nothing, plus the fumigation fee was nonsense too. We had his name and signature but predictably they couldn't do anything, even though he was carrying one of their official badges. They urged us to be more careful in the future, which of course we knew.
I'm not angry at the conman though, I blame myself fully. I have a list of general tips and fees for crossing Central American countries by motorcycle. I read the Guatemala border info and saw "around $45 in fees" and that's what I was expecting to pay. When we couldn't get a receipt for our "insurance" I knew we had been overcharged, but I knew we were going to be paying big for this border. I looked back at the list and it said $15, not $45. My fault.
Checking into the El Salvador border cost us nothing, and took about an hour. Our visas were good for two or three months if I recall, no need for a "2 day transit visa" that I was expecting to find. Also, we weren't mobbed by "translators", "helpers" or money changers, unlike every other border.
We zoomed to San Salvador, the capital, and arrived just as it got dark. We had used up all our Quetzales before leaving Guatemala, so our first stop when we arrived was to find an ATM. El Salvador uses the US dollar, but we had about $5 left. Easy enough, it was near this majestic statue.
"Sorry, your bank does not allow this transaction." Try again, same thing. What!? Oh wait, wasn't there a country that my little bank said my card wouldn't work in? Oh $"&%! (Initially we had Michelle's BoA card too, to cover E.S., but it was accidently left back in Chihuahua with her cousin)
We were in the middle of El Salvador and had no money, no way to get money, and we hadn't eaten all day.
We called the support team back home and arranged for a little money to be wired via Western Union. All the offices were closed though, so we were on our own tonight. We found a location, and then looked for somewhere to sleep that would accept our good names (and passports) as collateral for a night. Luckily we found Hostal La Portada only a few blocks away. The young man working there, named Rafael, said it was no problem. Woo! Now, any place to eat for less than $5? Yes! Pupuseria around the corner! Bullets dodged!
I still don't really know what a pupusa is, but I will say it is the most delicious conconction I have ever come across. Some sort of fried rice or corn (your choice) meal, fried into a thick tortilla, with beans/cheese/whatever mixed in. Topped with a vinegar/cabbage/onion based salad. One of the most satisfying meals of my life.
Sidenote: Private security outnumber police in El Salvador. Everywhere we went there were guards with shotguns. Guards at the gas-stations, guards at the banks, guards at the ice-cream parlors. Everywhere, guys with shotguns. Signs of El Salvador's troubled past I guess. Michelle also talked with a guy who was around for the 1979 revolution, when there "were bodies lying in the streets", and who "witnessed" many massacres.
Tomorrow we picked up the money and decided to stay another night at La Portada. We got on the bike and rode around, halfway trying to find a new tire, mostly just looking to see the city.
Our hotel was near the Metro Centro, which was a huge mall.
EXACTLY like an American mall back home. Huge, sprawling. I hate malls at home, and I can't say I liked this one either. We looked all over for a road map of El Salvador, to know avail. Just a simple roadmap or atlas. We checked gas-stations, bookstores, papelerias, NOBODY had a map.
While we were in San Salvador my rear brakes started grinding. I took off the back caliper to find that my pads were shot! After only 4000 miles! Apparently I have a technique problem and I didn't even realize it (only been riding for a few months). Predictably, we weren't able to find replacement pads for a bike that doesn't exist in El Salvador. Several places suggested we "refill" the pads. Never heard of that in the states, but since I had no other option I gave it a shot. $15 and several hours later, "new" brakepads!
The only other person staying in the hostal was a very interesting Canadian, who I only spoke with once. He was an evangelical Christian who had been traveling around Mexico and CA for years, to "stomp on the neck of the devil". He described all the places he'd been, some a beautiful, many as "inbred dens of perverts and whores" in complete seriousness. "Good people" lived in some of them, but "the devil has a strong hold" on the whole area.
We cooked in the hostal kitchen, spaghetti and meatballs. We shared it with Rafael, who always watched the place at night. He shared his "green mangos" (unripened, sour, served with salt) and we talked for a long time. He makes about $10 per day, and works 12 hour shifts 7 days a week. Granted, his job is not difficult, but we can make that in 1 hour stateside. He talked about how he used to sell pirated DVDs, how life is in El Salvador, and we talked about life in the states. Very cool.
After three nights in San Salvador, we decided to head to coast for one night on the beaches before we entered Honduras. We had a little more money wired to us to cover our brake-pad emergency from the day before, and headed to western union to get the check. Got frisked when I entered the bank.
We went West to La Libertad and took the South highway along the coast until we decided it was time to look for a place to sleep. We hopped on a western road and ended up going along a sleepy little coastal village near Bosque Santa Clara. We saw a big palm-leaf structure on the beach that looked to perhaps be a hotel. We enquired about it, and the woman on the street said it was just somebody's second home, but she knew the woman who took care of it. She whipped out her cellphone and started dialing, while ushering us to bring the bike it. We obliged, and a few minutes later the caretaker/tenant showed up. She said we could stay, we just had to be out by 9am when the owners might show up. No problem!
Not a bad camping spot.
Not a bad sunset.
We were expecting to be asked for some money in exchange for the camping spot, but nope, never mentioned. She brought out a bunch of coconuts and cut us both one to drink. Delicious. Her little boy, Oscar, ran around the yard chasing the rooster with a lasso, trying to catch it. When the caught it he would let it go and do it again. We walked (or ran) along the beach with him, and he showed us where the turtle reserve where the sea turtle eggs incubate protected in the sand.
Hyperactive seven year old, and we loved him. He ran around showing us everything on the beach. The mother, Rosa (coincidentally both of our mother's names are Rosa as well) asked us if we wanted pupusas from the pupuseria down the street. Of course, and at 3 for a dollar we got enough for breakfast too. Her husband, Oscar as well, rode off to place the order and an hour later we were sitting down with them for more delicious pupusas. We talked about our various experiences living in the different countries and Oscar Jr. fell asleep in the hammock. Quite an amazing family, incredibly hospitable and friendly.
That night we decided to ditch the tent and sleep in the hammocks. What a night! We slept like babies. The sun rose at 6am and so did I. Great weather, great beach.
Rosa said the owners wouldn't be coming that day so we didn't have to rush out. We ate breakfast with the family and I took a swim in the ocean while the Oscars went and got their hair cut. I saw a few iguanas scrambling around the trees and the beach.
Me and one of many chickens:
Eventually it was time to say goodbye. We were heading to Honduras today, and had a few hours to go till the border.
The border to Honduras was a little frustrating. We had to make about 15 copies of various documents, and we had to pay about $40 in fees to enter. The women working at the office were young and not helpful. First they accepted our US dollars, then when we pointed out a math error (in their favor, of course) and insisted on getting a receipt for our payment, they decided they were no longer going to accept dollars and insisted we get Lempiras instead. Time consuming and frustrating (well, for Michelle anyway, she is fluent so she deals with the borders), but we made it through. It's only a few hours from the border of El Salvador to the border of Nicaragua, but we decided to at least spend a day or two in Honduras since we payed so much. Honduras may have much to offer, but since we were on the wrong coast the bulk of Honduras will have to wait for our East coast trip.
Soon after the border we came across an 18 wheeler which had somehow lost control in the middle of the road and was completely blocking the two lanes. No shoulders, so cars were offroading around. Ninja is turning into quite the dirtbike. Michelle got hit with a low hanging treebranch right after taking this shot, so enjoy it.
We headed to the first major city we could find (I was starving, as usual), Choluteca, which at first appeared to just be an unremarkable dusty, small town. We were surprised to be able to find an ATM! However, soon enough we found the historical center of town, and an affordable hotel (Hotel Central, L$200). I actually quite enjoyed Choluteca.
Town cathedral at night:
A Honduran Taco:
I was so hungry I ate two plates.
The next day the guy at the front desk told about Corpus, a little pueblo near there, accessible only by dirt road. We were told it had gold mines and very cool architecture. Very safe and friendly. We ventured out to find this city. About 15 miles of dirt road between us and the pueblo. Another river crossing!
When we ended up behind trucks or buses, the dust was so thick in the air that you couldn't see anything. Here is a picture of us approaching a dust cloud.
We found the little town and went to the central cathedral. We enquired about the gold mine, and the locals directed us to the main town office, where the town mayor was. He seemed somewhat surprised we were looking to see the mine, but he called up a guide to take us to there and in a few minutes we were being escorted. It was about a mile away, and the views were amazing.
When we got to the mine, we had to wait another hour for the head honchos at the mine to decide what to do with us. I imagine this is the first time any tourists have shown up to see the mine. I was a little skeptical, but Michelle had her charm about her and soon enough we were being escorted in with vests and hardhats under the pretenses that I was a geology student from University of TX (Sociology is close enough, right?).
Entering the mine with Fuast and the company lawyer:
Reflective vests make photography difficult!
It reminded me of the muddy caves of Texas.
We were walked through the whole process, from extraction, to filtering, to the labratory where they pull out the precious metals.
This is what a good rock looks like!
Our labratory tech guide:
Now we know how gold is extracted!
We walked back to the town center and enjoyed fried chicken (all we could find) and icecream in the plaza.
You can't tell in this picture, but these stone streets were terrible for the bike! Big dips and big stones jutting out randomly. Probably the worst surface for the bike yet.
The Cathedral and our guide, Don Tino, who has lived in Corpus all his life.
We came back to Choluteca. That night an increasingly large number of ants were invading our room (and bed), so we switched to a different room, with slightly fewer ants. All part of the experience.
My right rear turn signal stopped working. Turns out the bigger tire was rubbing my re-wiring job (had to relocate turns for bigger bags) on the right side. I pulled out my electrical fix kit and whipped up new wiring for the turns, and moved them up so they wouldn't get rubbed. At first I was concerned my bike-fixing kit was overkill, but the last 2000 miles have shown that is not the case.
Next day we sent postcards and headed to Nicaragua, a short 45km´s away.
The border between Honduras and Nicaragua was easy enough. Insurance was mandatory, $12us for a month. Also had to pay $30US or so for various permits. Not the cheapest, but it was relatively quick. Stopped once by a police checkpoint and were sent on our way after showing our insurance document.
Shortly after entering Nicaragua we began to see some of the many volcanos that make Western Nicaragua famous.
We heard Leon was nice, and it was close to the border, so we followed the signs and were soon in Leon. Very beautiful city. Definitely was a big backpacker destination. Hostels were everywhere. We first stayed in "Hostel Colibri", which was cheap, but not the cheapest at $15. They advertised "free continental breakfast" so we figured those savings would make up the difference. I had very low expectations, but it turns out "continental breakfast" in Nicaragua means "toast". I generally have a huge appetite, so this would not do! Free coffee was nice though.
The next night we switched to Hostel Bigfoot, a very popular and lively hostel, with dorms for $6 and private rooms for $13. I got a pretty heavy hippy vibe, probably due to the enormous mural on our wall...
The rest of the place was similarly decorated. The "green tours" building across the street let me store the bike in their garage for $1usd the first night (the next night I had "free parking" at the police station, story later).
Did I mention Leon is a good looking city? Massive and beautiful Cathedrals around every corner.
The Leon people love their lion statues. They are everywhere.
I normally take a road trip to Colorado to snowboard in the winter, but this year I had to skip out due to my Southern adventure. To compensate, we went "Volcano Boarding" down the Cerro Negro volcano. This is a volcano that errupts about every 8 years, and the surface is entirely made up of loose volcanic gravel. A bunch of companies in Leon offer volcano boarding, the most affordable and popular being the program run out of the bigfoot hostel ($28pp). They only do the type of boarding where you sit though, and I wanted to do the standing, so we went with a smaller company. $30 per person! Ouch!
The road to the park:
The Volcano, quite an incredible view!
Very dangerous Sulfiric gas pouring out of the side of the mountain.
The ground is very hot, our guide said you could cook an egg in 5 minutes if you buried it.
View from the top:
Goofy suits you are given for protection.
Michelle on her way down.
Some people have reached up to 87kmph going down on the sitting boards. I don't think Michelle quite hit that mark! She was having a little trouble. I had a little trouble myself, mostly with the sandboard bindings not quite slipping off my enormous boots.
We both made it down alot dirtier than we started, and we had some incredible views to remember. The high price did turn me off of the whole "pre-packaged" tourist trips that are all over the backpacker destinations of Central America. If we had a bigger budget or less time it might be more appealing, but we've got time to burn and no money to spare, and the best memories of the trip so far have been free and unplanned.
One thing I definitely enjoyed was the opportunity to talk to our native Nicaraguan guide about the food of Nicaragua. He gave us many recommendations for typical foods of Nicaragua, and when/where we could find them. I love food, and perhaps my favorite part of travelling is all the new flavors. Nicaraguan cuisine is the best I've had in Central America. Heavy on yucca (sort of like potato) and even heavier on plantains than the the other countries. Also cheapest.
Favorites of Nicaragua:
Vigoron - Big pieces of fried pork skin (chicarrones) over a bed of yucca and cabbage salad. 20 cordobas ($.95usd) per plate in the market, also found in the street sometimes. Very cheap and hearty.
Moronga - 20 cordoba. The strangest one. I found it amazing, many people (even Nicaraguans) do not. A patty of fried pig blood and rice. Agains served over Yucca and salad. Hearty
(not my photo)
Carne Bao - 35-50 cordoba. Found only on Saturdays in the market. Ask around for it, we found it at a produce stand in a huge basket covered in banana leaves. This keeps it hot I guess. Big delicious pieces of beef cooked together with Yucca and topped with salad. Perhaps the tastiest meal of the trip.
"Enchiladas" - 5 cordoba each. No similarity to the Enchiladas of Mexico. A simple tortilla filled with rice and heavily fried, covered with cabbage salad. We found this incredibly cheap dish in the dirtiest part of the Granada market.
Fritanga - 30 cordoba. We found this often on the street at random times. A plastic bag is lined with plantain leaves, then filled with fried plantain chips, fried soft plantains (maduro), cabbage salad and grilled chicken:
On the second day of our Leon experience, we made the short 20 minute ride to the beach of Las Penitas. Very pretty, completely deserted. Incredibly strong waves, definitely explains all the surfers staying at the hostel.
We swam, drank a coke a little restaraunt on the beach, and headed back feeling great.
We were heading back at a reasonably slow speed (we weren't in full motorcycle gear so I was taking it easy) and we were "randomly" stopped at a police checkpoint to check our documents. The officer wasn't being clear with his hand motions, so I didn't realize he wanted me to stop at first. I had to brake pretty hard to stop without going too far past him. He asked for our documents, which we had foolishly left back at the hotel. All we had was the dummy wallet with my expired driver's license.
Uh oh! He motioned for me to pull off the road. He said he was going to have to give us a ticket for 500 cordobas ($25usd) for not carrying our insurance and "cirrculation document" (which we never actually got, we got something different at the border). Michelle tried to argue a bit, that it was an innocent mistake and we had all our paperwork at the hostel and that we couldn't have entered the country without those documents, ect...
It was clear he wasn't going to budge. I knew we were in the wrong, and I was prepared to pay the ticket through the proper channels. He didn't just want to give us a ticket though, he was going to impound the motorcycle. He demanded I give him the keys. Michelle said we weren't comfortable letting strangers ride the motorcycle. He said the bank was closing soon, and that we could give him the C$500 cordobas and he would go pay it for us right now. Uh... yea right. He was fishing for a bribe and we weren't biting. He claimed the fine would be double if we didn't pay today, and that the motorcycle would be impounded until Monday (it was Friday), first at the Las Penitas police station and then it would be moved to the Leon station. He was also claiming we were speeding dangerously. His partner was generally silent or sympathetic to our cases, he didn't seem comfortable with the other officer's handling of the situation.
We had 0 confidence in the situation, and there was no way we were giving him the keys to the motorcycle. He tried to make me sign a document turning the motorcycle over to him, and I refused. He whipped out his cellphone and "made a call" to the truck that was coming to pick up the motorcycle to take it to the police station. We locked the bike with the ignition lock and the rear wheel with the bike lock and quickly hitched a ride back to Leon to pick up the documents.
Our ride was a very friendly guy named Rafael. He had studied in the USA and come back to Nicaragua. His family owns some businesses in Leon and he had a cattle ranch out near the coast. He was going to pick up some money in town, then he was returning to his ranch, so he could give us a ride back too! What luck!
He dropped us off at our Hostel. We got the documents and 25 minutes later he was back, going out of his way to help us out. Really incredible friendliness.
Michelle was definitely agitated, she was scared for the bike. I was more upbeat, it was a memory in the making! During the ride I was still imagining the scene of a few disgrunted cops manually loading my immobilized bike into the back of a pickup. The damage could be severe. I was mostly hoping my bike would be there and the cops would be gone. Michelle and I could ride back to Leon and laugh about the whole situation over dinner and drinks.
We arrived back at the checkpoint. The cops were still there, waiting for us. Thankfully, the motorcycle was there too, to my great relief.
"Good luck! If I see you walking back to Leon again I'll give you a ride!"
We produced the documents, hoping that would satisfy them that indeed the motorcycle was legally in the country and legally ours. Unfortunately, but not unpredictably, this did not satisfy the angry cop, and now he had our documents which we really did need. Since we wouldn't let him take the bike himself, we demanded we follow him back to Las Penitas to impound the bike for the night. We didn't have a choice this time, so we obliged.
The Las Penitas police station is a little cinderblock building with a tin roof and one typewriter. I sat in a plastic chair at the desk while a rooster stared at me and Michelle told her story to the police chief. He was not sympathetic, and said we would have to leave the motorcycle there overnight and that an investigator would come in the morning.
Investigate what you ask? He claimed he had complaints of a "yellow motorcycle speeding dangerously, almost killed a kid". What!? I wasn't speeding and there were no kids on the road back to Leon! Since this was "the only yellow motorcycle he knew of" the bike was under investigation. Furthermore, my ID looked fishy with it's corner cut (he was right on that count, expired license).
What a night! We caught a bus back to Leon, my first taste of the backpacker experience. Aside from the fact that my 6'5¨ legs do not even remotely fit in this seats, it was a fun time. The bus was blaring a very loud mix of beatles and disco while we bucked and rattled down the night highway in a crowded yellow schoolbus. At least I didn't have to pay for parking that night!
The next morning we were 25 minutes late to our 9:30am appointment with the inspector, which was OK because neither the inspector nor the chief had shown up either. The chief seemed in better spirits that day, and actually listened to Michelle's story, understanding why we weren't cooperating with his officer. He said he would have been mad too, and that the offending officer would be punished. Soon the bike release paperwork was underway on the old typewriter. We never recieved any tickets and never paid any money. Nothing more was said on the expired license or the alleged reckless driving.
He said that the Nicaraguan police force is the smallest police force in the world, per capita, and that he is very proud of how well they operate given their very meager size and budget. Most Nicaraguan police we spoke with have a similar pride, though to be honest we have had more problems here than with the rest of the continent combined. Perhaps they are just overzealous.
We now had our bike, the stuff was packed up and ready to go at the hostel, and we were anxious to see more of Nicaragua. We headed out to Managua, the Nicaraguan Capital. We planned to just stop through and sleep in Grandada, which was highly recommended.
Leon and Managua are two of the most important cities in Nicaragua, so I was somewhat surprised when the pristine highway quickly desolved into a huge mess of horrendous potholes and sections of dirt road. I thought for sure we had made a wrong turn.
So we asked this boy if this was the road to Managua:
And he confirmed it, as did the next person we asked. I had a lot of fun weaving through the maze of holes, but I think the bike did not enjoy it quite so much.
We arrived at Managua looking for cheap lodging. Apparently Managua doesn't really have a "centro", like most other cities, so we just rode around randomly. We found a few places going for a steep $20+, so we kept looking. One man said he knew of an area of town with cheap lodging, but it was so dangerous he wouldn't give us directions there. He recommended we look for the "Ticcibus" area and try to find lodging in a private house there, and he gave us directions. Well, of course those directions didn't really match reality, and soon enough we were lost again. I saw a little sign for a motel down the road and we turned and checked it out. Definitely an hourly motel, but the room was clean and it had a bathroom. Best yet, he offered it for 150 cordobas ($7.50). We'll take it!
As night descended and we walked to get dinner it was clear that this was probably the dangerous area that man had warned us about. The streets were dirty, unlit and filled with all manner of people. We saw this enormous cone of lights a few blocks away. The picture of the lights is from google, because the hotel proprietor warned we take no money and no valuables to the park because it was too dangerous at night.
It also had this monument built for the pope John Paul II's visit to Nicaragua in 2002.
We left in the morning, but not before we got a few good shots of Managua. It definitely had it's crazy charm.
Lake Nicaragua apparently only a few blocks away from our hotel.
As we left Managua, we were again stopped at a police checkpoint. This was the fourth time in just 100 miles. Michelle was frustrated/amused by this point, and said "you guys sure like the yellow bike, huh?". He said that it was Americans, Columbians and Mexicans that were bringing drugs into Nicaragua, that's why we were stopped. We wondered how many Americans ride bright yellow sports bikes SOUTH to Nicaragua carrying drugs, but didn't say anything.
He was going to give us a ticket for our bags. What? Yes, apparently "this is a sports bike, it's not supposed to carry luggage". Michelle argued for a while. The luggage was designed specifically for motorcycles, it wasn't dangerous. This "sports bike" is all we could afford in the US. We have to carry alot because we are traveling. Eventually he let us go.
We found a little hotel/hostel on the main strip, around $9.50 a night, best deal we found
Lots of beautiful old churches, forts, train stations, what have you. We spent two days walking around.
Old Hospital, totally burned out and eerie:
Biggest Cathedral in Central America:
View from the Hostel:
Lake Nicaragua, apparently the only freshwater lake in the world that has sharks. It is an enormous lake, with sizable waves and islands big enough for full size pueblos.
Went to a museum of chocolate and drank at least 3 or 4 cups of the free tea brewed from cocao husks and bought a chocolate bar (the artisan chocolate of central america is a little grainy and the best I've ever had).
Also the museum of Pre-Columbian art (pottery before 1550):
Bought a very nice Cigar from the Dona Elba cigar factory. I just finished watching The Sopranos before I left on the trip, how could I not?
We considered going to La Isla Omtepe, a volcano island in Lake Nicaragua, but decided it would be a little expensive to ferry the bike back and forth. As we passed it I felt a little regret that we didn't, it seemed incredibly beautiful.
Oh well, next trip. We've got more things to see coming up!
Well, that's it for Nicaragua. My favorite country of Central America so far. I can't wait to return and see the interior. Next, Costa Rica.
The Nicaragua/Costa Rica border was quite tedious. On the Nicaraguan side, you get to wait in a few lines to get yourselves and the bike checked out. Then, you get your bike fumigated. Then you get to the Costa Rica side and have to go to the bank to exchange currency, wait in 4 different lines at 3 different buildings (including one that is hidden several hundred yards away), buy insurance, make copies.
The bank rate was 490colons = $1.
It was getting a little late so we stopped at the first major town we found, Liberia. We were greeted by the unholy quartet which we would see frequently in Costa Rica. Burger King + Churches Chicken + Papa Johns + Cinnabon. All in one location.
In Liberia we searched for a hotel. There was certainly no shortage, but nothing was cheap. We eventually found one for 10,000 colons ($20usd) and took it. Once we moved all our stuff in we began the search for dinner. Keep in mind we were coming from Nicaragua, where we were eating for $1.50usd per person. We walked for blocks and blocks looking for something, anything under $4pp. We failed. Eventually ended up at the little place near the hotel, and were treated to some of the worst food on the trip. Michelle got a hamburger drowned in mayo and ketchup. I got some sort of a meat on top of a healthy portion of shredded lettuce, also drowned in mayo and ketchup. Looking at the plates being served to other tables, it appeared that every plate was some combination of mayo and ketchup. I think our bill was 6,000 colones or thereabouts, the most we had payed the whole trip.
The next morning we went to find an ATM and go grocery shopping (very expensive in Costa Rica). No matter where we went, the fast food prices were about the same as in the US. In the US fast food is a cheap alternative to real food. I have no idea how fast food places survive in the rest of Mexico/Central America, where the money you spend at McDonalds could easily buy you two or three meals of higher quality at a local joint. In Costa Rica, everything was so expensive that McDonalds made sense once again. We had to do it, at least just once.
Michelle had a USA style pancake platter, but I went for the "McPinto". I got a healthy serving of "gallo pinto" (ubiquitous Central American rice and bean mix), fried plantains, cream and two tortillas. All served on the styrafoam containers that I haven't seen for 15 years in the US.
We then visited Playa Del Coco, one of a thousand beaches that cover the Costa Rican pacific coast. We pulled up, pulled off our riding suits, went for a swim and then lounged on the beach with the elderly cruise ship tourists.
We then headed to "La Playita", a secluded little beach in Golfo Del Morales, near the Morales port. It's only a couple hundred feet long and is only used by locals. There doesn't appear to be any tourism in this area of Costa Rica. We set up our tent at the end of the beach and relaxed.
Nicaraguan cigar pairs well with Oaxacan mezcal.
Went swimming and once again Michelle got stung by something, this time much worse.
In the morning thousands of hermit crabs were covering the low tide areas.
Next morning we leave our deserted beach for San Jose, capital of Costa Rica.
2/3/11 San Jose (Costa Rica)
In San Jose we find a little hourly hotel downtown for $20usd. Initially, we weren't thrilled with San Jose. Seemed like another sprawling metropolis, this time with just a little more money. Once we got to know her though, we became quite fond. A few things I liked:
Beautiful plazas and gardens all over downtown San Jose. Costa Rica is richer than other Central American countries. Combine the Latin American love of public plazas, a wet climate, and the resources to maintain them and you get a pleathora of stunning, lucious public areas.
You couldn't walk two blocks without find another one.
Also, pasteries. If you wake up really early on any morning and walk around San Jose the only thing open on every block is a gormet pastery shop, and they're all full of people. The pastery isn't cheap, but it is amazing!
We checked out the contemporary art museum near the hotel, probably our favorite museum of the trip so far.
At this time I noticed that my right front fork seal was leaking. Not having the tools or the parts to replace it, I tried a quick fix. I took a few glossy advertisment pamphlets they had in the lobby of the hotel, ripped them into smaller pieces, and then ran between the tube and the seal to get out any gunk. Worked like a charm and haven't had any leaking since.
We spent two nights in San Jose and then packed up and moved on. We had the option to go straight South from San Jose or head East to Limon to see the Caribbean coast. We chose the western path, through the Braulio Carrillo national park.
Braulio CVarrillo is a cloud forest. lmost immediately upon entering the park it started raining. This was the first time on the entire trip that we had needed to break out the rain gear. Two months on the road and not a serious drop of rain.
Riding through the cloud forest was incredible. Everything, every inch of ground, is covered by vibrant, lush folliage. You are going in and out of the clouds. It's cool and everything is soaking wet from the constant rain or the constant fog. Visibility is very limited. Obviously pictures will do it no justice but we took a few anyway.
Once we got out of the clouds we were soon in Limon, the large port town on the East coast. We stopped at a souvenier shop to buy some postcards and enquire about any cheap hotels in town. The cashier started dialing and soon enough we were randomly on our way to a small wildlife preserve 20km north. It was dark by this time, our directions only halfway made sense and the road was all mud.
Road through the jungle! Quite an adventure when dark and muddy.
Eventually we found it. Normally people stay there for long term volunteering, but we negotiated to just spend a night there to check it out and help out. The preserve specializes in tree sloths, but it had a whole variety of monkeys, birds and miscellaneous creatures that had been confiscated or rescued.
The next day we woke up early and pitched in. First we fed the animals and cleaned the cages. The monkeys are quite friendly.
Fun facts about sloths:
1. They only go to the bathroom about once a week. Cleaning the cages is a breeze!
2. They require a certain temperature to digest food. They can starve on a full stomach if they're too cold.
Then we took the sloths out to excersize them.
The other volunteers we met (from Germany, New Zealand, USA and Luxemborg). Count the sloths.
Wonderful experience. I highly recommend the program to anybody looking to do eco volunteering. Unfortunately I can't remember the name right now.
The bike looking dirtier than ever.
We bid farewell to our hosts and headed for the Costa Rica/Panama border.
We crossed from Costa Rica into Panama through the small Sixoala entrance on the Caribbean coast. Tiny border crossing. Checking out of Costa Rica you have to declare whether you are coming back into Costa Rica or continuing on. We had not yet decided, but it seemed there was no penalty for falsely declaring that you were coming back, it just leaves the option open to you. So we said we were coming back. On the Panamanian side you have to declare where you are leaving Panama. We had no idea about that either, so we just chose a different Costa Rica/Panama border town. The Panamanian border officials said that you had to declare your actual exit point, but we left through Puerto Obaldia (continuing to Colombia) and nobody mentioned anything.
To cross, we had to take the bike across this crowded pedestrian/train bridge, "paved" in loose boards. We crept along behind the foot traffic, hoping the front wheel didn't slip through the boards and topple the bike.
On the other side we met briefly with a Canadian couple who were going South on KLR650s. They told us where the insurance office for Panama was (down a path, up some stairs, through a dry goods store, on a balcony). Unfortunately they were finishing just as we were getting there so we didn't get to chat.
Total fees to enter Panama were $15 for insurance and $3 per person to get the passports stamped. We had about $20 left at this point, a dollar short and no ATM near the border. Michelle convinced a the border official to take some of our leftover Mexican pesos to cover the last of the fee.
It was getting dark-ish so we spent the night in the first big border town, Changuinola. Cheapest hotel was $16 a night. A little much. But, on the plus side, supermarket prices were almost as cheap as they are in the US. I was in heaven when I saw jars of peanut butter for under $3. PB in most Central American countries, if you can find it, is $5+. PB became a staple of my diet while in Panama.
Next night we went to Chiriqui Grande, hoping to find a beach to camp on. No beach, just the dirtiest little port town ever. Hotel was $12 or so, nothing remarkable at all about Chiriqui Grande.
Next day we headed out to Boquete, through the Fortuna forest reserve. Lots of mountains, very cool, very green. Lovely drive. On the way we stopped and ate lunch at a river.
Indigenous were washing clothes, a few kids were taking an afternoon swim, and a couple in a Panamanian van stopped to take a swim as well. Very pleasant.
Fortuna forest reserve
An hour later the couple we saw at the river was having some trouble with their van on the side of the road, so we stopped and offered to help. They got it started again, and offered to take us to Boquete through the back way. Sure! Little did I realize that this old diesel Toyota van was about to embarass me. The ninja 250 isn't a quick bike, but it does fancy itself to be a sportsbike, and it should be able to keep up with an old van in the curvy stuff. No. I was pushing myself to the limit trying to keep up with the ridiculous van. Daredevil passes, swinging through the curves, full throttle. Obviously this wasn't his first time going down these roads. Eventually we made it to Boquete, where we learned that he had gone a good hour out of his way to guide us. We had coffee in one of many little coffee shops that cover this area.
Panamanian coffee from this area is amazing. He bought me and Michelle's coffee despite our protests.
My uncle went to highschool with a woman who has now retired to Panama. My uncle told her about our trip and we were invited to stay for a few days with her and her husband. Kathy and Fred.
They live in Los Molines, a very nice Neighborhood of retirees from all over the continent.
View from the house:
Our time in Boquete was like a vacation from the vacation. Fred and Kathy's house is very much like a nice house you would find in America. After living for months out of tiny hotel rooms and tents, their spacious house was quite refreshing. The first night we arrived they had KFC ready for us, which I don't ever eat while I'm in the US, but it was a delicious change after months of beans and plantains. The next night, good old fashioned American pot roast. It was like a little slice of America. Plus, Fred is a car guy, and in the garage is his beautiful restored Ford Model A pickup.
We stayed three nights, eating delicious food, drinking delicious coffee. Evenings would be spent on the cool patio smoking cigars over cold .
Boquete is an affluent area where many people retire. Very cool, very clean, lots of little coffee shops and cafes. The roads are mostly new and in good shape. Lots of things to do. We would just take the bike out on little adventures each day.
First day, hot springs. Half an hour away, down a little dirt road, across a bridge and a short hike later, there is a hot springs. The owner charges $2 per person.
Another monkey gets hold of Michelle:
There are 4 different little pools, each one with a different temperature. We tried them all. Some are warm, some are extemely hot.
Following it up with a dip in the cold, clean river water:
Later that day, "Mi Jardin es Su Jardin", a house outside of Boquete surrounded by a huge garden. Ponds, thousands of koi fish, waterfalls, flowers. The house is privately owned, but the owner opens the gates every day, free to the public, so they may wander around the garden.
As we left the garden it began to rain, and soon it was a boots-full-of-water downpour. We didn't have the raingear with us since it was beautiful weather when we left in the morning.
Next day we ride to Volcan, a little town at the base of the Volocano that overlooked the whole area. The road is brand new, twisty and enjoyable.
Ate lunch and ice-cream in Volcan, then headed to David to get the bike fixed. The metal bracket that holds the mirrors, headlight and gauges had broken due to the rough roads of Mexico and Central America. First real non-wear-item problem of the trip. The broken bracket didn't inhibit the usability of the bike, but everything in front of the triple tree would shake wildly when going over rough ground.
We found a motorcycle shop selling chinese harleys, who directed us to the welder across the street. While we were waiting we met Ryan, (halfthrottle on advrider/youtube/horizonsunlimited), an American motorcyclist who had married a Panamanian and was now living here. He entertained us with his stories of his travels in Central America and we made plans to meet for lunch the next day.
Here is the "fixed" bracket (it would break again due to shitty welding before we got out of Panama).
Our time had come to an end in Boquete. What a relaxing few days. Thank you so much to Fred and Kathy for welcoming us into your home. It was a great time.
Our time with Americans was not yet over. First we went and met Ryan and his Panamanian wife for lunch at a casino. I got a real hamburger, the first since Texas. Ryan has worked, ridden and backpacked through Central America, and he is full of hilarious and amazing stories. He also told us about the beauracratic hell he was going through, trying to legally ride his foreign KLR650 that he bought six months ago and still cannot ride. We would be experiencing a taste of this in the days to come... Ryan is very funny and you should check out his youtube videos: YouTube - halfthrottle's Channel
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