Almost ready to go!
A new road or secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun."
from a "walking song" in "Lord of the rings" by J.R.R Tolkein
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I should be back home sometime in September. Have a great summer!
It's May 25th, 2004 and I'm planning to leave Montreal on the 1st of June.....but I don't know !
For every item ticked off on my "to do list", I think of at least 2 more to add!
Well, as they say, "the best laid plans...." ! I'm still in Montreal after missing the best weather window on Monday because I wasn't as ready/prepared as I thought I was. So as of today, the next "window" appears to be this Friday, and this time I will be ready!
Here I am in Waynesville North Carolina, just W of Ashville. My good sailing buddies, Dick and MaryAnn Brashler are both "putting me up, and "putting up with me", in their beautiful summer home high up in the Smokey Mountains.
I arrived here, in NC, Wednesday afternoon after a 2 day ride from Boston where I spent Friday night (after a freezing ride down from Montreal), Saturday, in the cold, and Sunday in the cold and rain, with my other sailing friends Glenn and Laurie Myette on their beautiful new sail boat. Thanks to Glenn's triathlete daughter, Tracy, we attended a real fun live performance of "Hootie and the Blowfish". I left Boston early Monday and rolled down to Waynesville over 2 sunny and warm days.
Yesterday, I rode with Dick (behind me on my bike) through the fantastic back roads of the Smokies to a really neat little German town of Helen, Georgia...you'd think you were in the German alps. This ride with Dick meant a lot to me because we talked about riding together like this over thousands of miles of blue water sailing on Dick's boats, and now I was able to take HIM for a ride. We had a great day.
Tomorrow we are going to check out "The Tail of the Dragon" with Bob, a biker friend of Dick. It's about a 3 hour ride from here.
Legend says a Dragon lives in the mountains of western North Carolina. He tests your skills on US129 with 318 curves in 11 miles. Everyone who comes to ride the Dragon will always remember it.
Check out the Dragon's web site...it's amazing...
I should be leaving Waynesville early Sunday (13th) and try to make 500 miles to Memphis TN., and then Monday another 500 miles to Dallas TX., where I will do a major service on my bike. Then it's SW to Presidio TX. where I will cross into Mexico.
Sorry for the delay but the internet supplier was down where I was staying in Dallas, TX. of all places.
I´m now in Chihuahua, MX., and leaving for a little village called Creel in the "Copper Canyon" where I will stay for approx 3 days.
Every thing is fantastic. I´ll add more details when I get to Creel tomorrow.
It's finally time to fill in the details since my arrival in Dallas.
Through the Horizions site I met Les Hall who lives 5 minutes from downtown Dallas. He offered me the most incredible hospitality by allowing me to share his home for three days. Dallas is a beautiful young city, and for me the highlight was visiting the infamous "Book Depository" and the "Grassy Knol". For those of you who forgot, or, are to young to remember, this is the place where JFK was shot. The 6th floor from where Lee Harvey Oswald "supposedly" fired on JFK has been turned into an amazing museum, and on the street below, a big white X marks the "spot". I spent a few hours there and found it to be quite moving. Another day was spent at "Dallas Honda" where I put on 2 new tires as well as a major inspection of the bike. Service was excellent...(but Phillip Cantin from my Montreal dealer, "Alex Berthiaume", is still the BEST....don't let this go to your head, Phillip!). Before leaving, I treated Les to a fine dinner at "Texas dos Brazil"(Jody, check out it's web site), my friend, Jacques McCabe's recommendation. For a prix fixe of $45 per person you get the most amazing salad bar and all the charcoal grilled meat and chicken you can eat. The food, chicken, lamb, ribs, pork, sirloin, etc., is continuously brought to your table by roaming waiters carrying "spits" of freshly BBQ'd meat where they slice off as much as you want!
From Dallas I went W to Abilene TX., then S to Big Bend Natl.Park, and then W to Presidio TX., a dusty boring border town, where I spent the night. The next day I had a relatively painless 2 hour border crossing into Mexico to Presidio's sister town of Ojinaga, MX., from where I continued SW to Chihuahua. It was a beautiful 7 hour drive in sunny, 104oF weather. Chihuahua is a big "non descript" city of around 600,000 people. After spending the night there, I continued 200 miles SW to Creel, a real pretty small village which just a few miles N of the Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) National Park, where I am now. I spent the night at a great hostel, Casa Margurita's, where for $150 (read 150 pesos ... 7.5 pesos = $1.00 CAD) you get a clean private room with shower and a full breakfast and supper, served "mess hall" style.
Here I met 4 great guys, Xavier and Andreas, both Swiss, and Peter and Anders, Americans. We rented a pick-up truck for 2 days from "3 Amigos", a super tour company here in Creel. They loaded it with a picnic lunch for all of us, and we threw our packs in the back and headed DOWN to Batopilas, a tiny village at the very bottom of one of the deapest canyons in the Park, where we spent the night. We returned to Creel last night after a great 2 days of good times with new found friends.
Now Creel is at an elevation of around 8,000 feet where the day temps are in the high 70's and nights in the low 60's. As we decended the 5,000 feet into the Batopilas Canyon we left the pine trees of Creel and entered the tropical climate of desert, cactus, mangos, and 95oF weather. In the decent to Batopilas we dropped almost 5,000 feet over a distance of 6 miles over 1 lane (barely) dirt roads with NO guard rails, carved into the almost vertical canyon walls. This has to be one of the undiscovered wonders of the world. This beat any amusement park ride by miles! We hit the bottom around 4pm after a 6 hour drive. The guys hiked to a small mission 3 km away while I filled up un Margaritas, and then drove to the mission to meet them a few hours later. The next day..yesterday morning.. we hired a guide to take us part way up a steep canyon wall trail with some amazing views of Batopilas below, to see some abandoned copper mines. Then it was back in the truck for the 6 hour climb to Creel and much cooler weather. But before leaving the heat of the canyon we found a neat swimming hole in the bottom of the canyon where we skinnied in the warm rushing water of the river.
Today I hang loose in Creel, the guys are leaving around noon to Los Mochis by train. Tomorrow I will try to make the 300 miles W to Guaymas, where I will take the ferry across to Baja where I will spend a few days ay my sailing friends, John and Priscilla's eco lodge "Danzante" (google it).
Since my last entry as I was leaving Creel, MX., I crossed the Sea of Cortez which separates mainland Mexico from Baja, by a 12 hour ferry ride.
My first day on the road was from Creel, at 8,000 feet in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mts. (that run almost all the way down central MX), all the way to Guyamas, on the MX side of the Sea of Cortez. It was so far my toughest day on the road so far. The road winded and turned, up an down as I crossed the mountains to the coast. 9 hours on the bike and could go no faster then an average speed of 50 km/hr. The first 3-4 hours were at around 18oC, but as I wound my way down to an altitude of around 2,000 feet, the temp. quickly rose to 35 - 40oC ! Even on the bike the wind was HOT. I finally reached Guyamas as the sun was setting on the 24th. Heading west into the sun for 3 hours was no fun either. G is a city of around 300,000 people with nothing special.
On the 25th I went to the ferry office and found it didn't sail till the nite (2000h) of 26th. So I booked the ferry - first class ( which meant I was in a separate cabin of only 16 aircraft seats vs. economy which had over 100 seats for $15 CAD more - total cost with my "old age "discount of 20% was around $150 CAD).
By the time this was done it was 1100h and the temp was close to 42oC - YES that's the low 100's - and I went 30 kms. north to San Carlos, a really neat quaint beach resort and spent the rest of the day and the following day on the beach with the most beautiful warm turquoise water. By 1500h at 44oC I couldn't take it any more and retired to a beach side palapa and enjoyed a "few" marguritas, and then had the most fantastic jucy, fresh, garlic grilled shrimps I've ever eaten ! (sorry Jody). I repeated this the next day too, and then returned to Guyamas for the ferry on the eve of the 26th. Just as boarding started another motorcycle pulls up with a Swiss guy, Dieter Wyler, a mechanical engineer, who's been on the road for the last 17 months (he had shipped his bike over to Argentina from Switzerland). Now the amazing thing is that when I rented the truck in Creel with the 2 Swiss guys and the 2 US guys, we passed Dieter while we were almost at the bottom of the canyon and he was coming up. He had just crashed his bike in one of the turns and was surveying the damage... none to him, but a bit on the bike. He was going to stop in La Buffa in the canyon for repairs. We chatted a while ..., now 3 Swiss guys, 2 Americans, and a Canadian in the middle of nowhere....then moved on. He was riding a specially customized BMW for riding a combo of hughway and back dirt roads. I was glad I chose to leave my bike in Creel and take the truck to the canyon.
I'll continue this tomorrow, I off to dinner...Buenos noches
Well something always happens.....I was supposed to be leaving La Paz, Baja for Topolambampo/Los Moches, MX. this afternoon...bought the ferry tkts. this morning...when I noticed one of the saddlebags was loose. I found one of the bolts holding one of the luggage racks had cracked. The local machine shop could not deal with it in time for me to make the ferry, so for 100 pesos ($12) I changed my tkt. for tomorrow. That also meant another nite in La Paz at 200 pesos ($25....8 pesos to the $CAD).
But not so bad, since La Paz is a beautiful small seaside village with nice beaches almost near the bottom of “Baja de California Sur” . ….95% Mexican and 5% American.
Baja de California is “funny”…...the northern part, or “Norte” is “sort of” Mexico. This makes it easier for Americans to come/drive to B de CN without much paperwork, or military checks, but half way down, you cross the real border into Mexico. ( When I took the ferry from Guyamas, MX. to Santa Roslalia, I came right into B de C Sur…..got it?
Anyways, back to getting on the ferry with Dieter.
Once we got on board I suggested he try to get into the first class section with me since he bought an economy tkt. We pretended we “owned” the boat and it worked. We were the only two, with TV, video, and air conditioning. When the boat began to sail we went up on deck to the slightly cooler evening air, and when we returned to our first class cabin an hour later there must have been at least 10 people sleeping all over the place, but mainly on the floor….oh well, so much for “first class”. D and I talked for a few hours, and then we tried to sleep. D was out like a light but I couldn’t sleep in the seats (remember Hong Kong Jody??) and there was no more room on the floor. So I went up on the upper deck and slept on the floor there under the stars. The next thing I knew was D wakeing me up at 0530h to watch the sunrise. We chatted another few hours and I got a lot of riding and hotel tips from him since I was heading to where he came from. We landed in Santa Rosalia at 0830h, had breakfast together and D headed North to Alaska, and I South to Panama.
The ride south to 50km south of Loretto and the resort of Danzante was as hot as it was beautiful…amazing desert and 45oC….the wind in your face was like a blast furnace….it was actually hotter when you exceeded 100k/h.
I arrived at Danzante around 1400h and was greeted by the most fabulous owner/hosts you could ask for, Mike and Lauren Farley. They have only 9 beautiful rooms, and only one other was occupied since this was “low season” because of the heat. In fact Mike said in August the temp. hits the 50’s.
This is real desert with scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, and all the other critters we only see on TV. Lauren added it only rains two or three days (in November, I think) a year, but when it does, it dumps 20 inches at a time.
I can’t describe Danzante, but you MUST check it out at www.danzante.com ¡
It’s an all inclusive “Eco” resort that I found out from my sailing friends, John and Pricilla Baldwin, who are investors, and even with my special rate, I could only afford 2 nights. I relaxed a few hours in the 43oC heat and then headed down to the pool for “happy hour” and some of the best marguritas with home made salsa and taco chips I ever had (eat your heart out, Joanne), and then a great home made dinner. The next morning, they packed me a lunch and I kayaked alone about 2 hours to a deserted island and swam, snorkled, climbed its 800 foot steep peak, and slept in the sun until 1600h when I headed back for my second and last happy hour and dinner at Danzante. After breakfast the next day I left the luxury of Danzante and Mike and Lauren, and headed down the 5 hours to La Paz.
After I get my bike fixed tomorrow it’s the ferry to Topolombampo/Los Moches and from there probably down the coast to Acapulco, and then inland to Guadelajara, Taxco, Cuernavacas, and Mexico City. (Please excuse the spelling of some of these city names. The next time I’ll have my map with me !)
A short note on what’s it’s like to ride in Mexico.
So far I covered over 8,000 kms. (including about 2,000 in Mexico) and since leaving Quebec I have NOT hit one single pot hole…whether autoroutes, interstates, toll roads, main roads, back roads, or dirt roads….well actually there was ONE near Guyamas, but you had about 5 warning signs BEFORE you came to it!
You never go more than 2 hours of riding without coming to military check points (most frequent)…looking for weapons on drugs, immigration checks…checking papers, and agriculture check points…where if you are carrying meat, veggies, or fruit, they will fumigate you.
They are all very professional and even the military (all carrying machine guns and even a few with rocket launchers) go “ga ga” when they see the bike…I have yet to see anything that big here in Mexico. They rarely search me, and the odd time they do, it’s very brief. They are more interested in checking out the bike and where I’m from and where I’m going, and it usually happens that they teach me some Spanish and I teach them some English. When leaving they all like to say, “hasta la vista, BABY” and wave me off with “Buena suarte” (good luck). While this is happening the cars are waiting in line to be searched. While I’m usually done and out in 5 minutes, each car normally takes 10 – 15 minutes!
Most trucks and cars wave at me when we pass, and pedestrians shout, wave, or whistle… so far it’s been really great and EVERYONE has been so friendly.
There worst thing about the roads are the “topes” (the bumps they put across the road to make you slow down…like Westmount does). You have 2 – 4 of these in every village and town, and most of the time there are NO warning signs, nor are they painted. They are at least a foot high and only a foot wide.
They are not easy to see especially when the road is very dusty, and I’m busy looking everywhere except the road. I hit a few of these at 60 – 70 k/h…I thought I broke my front fork in half…but no damage. Now I always keep my eyes peeled when I approach any town!
At the coast the temp. is usually in the 30's by 1000h and the 40's by 1400h....despite the fact you don't have the humidity that we have in Mtl., it's still HOT, but I love it! The nites are usually in the upper 20's.
I hope this gives you some flavor of what it's been like for me so far. If you've got any special "requests", just ask.
Well, that's it for now...addios.
It's now 1600h and guess where I'm going now !....To the beach with a margurita or two in my hands............
I will continue this one later.........OK, NOW I'M BACK......
The ferry from La Paz, MX. (pop. 200,000), was a huge modern ferry - escalators, elevators, restaraunts, bars - compared to the much smaller, slower ferry from Guaymas (pop. 130,000). As an example, this ferry could easily hold 100 loaded 18 wheelers, and a few hundred cars. It took 5 hours to cover slightly more distance while it took the Guaymas 12 hours to cross! (For my sailing friends, it moved at 40 kts, vs. 13 kts.)
We sailed at 1600h and while I was sitting on deck enjoying the warm sun, I was joined by a really nice Mexican girl also travelling alone back home at the end of her 3 week vacation. She helped me a lot with my route planning, suggesting many neat non- tourist beaches SE of Acapulco, in the Peurto Angel area. She said on these sort of hippy beaches you spend the nights on hammocks, and with a full supper and breakfast it's only 20 pesos...approx $3CAD...I can't wait !!
We had supper together and parted company at Topolompampo (pop. 7,000) which is mainly a commercial seaport for the city of Los Mochis (pop. 200,000). It was dark (2100h) by now, and with no place to stay, I decided to break the first rule which is, DO NOT TRAVEL AT NIGHT and try the 30 kms to Los Mochis in the middle of all the traffic leaving the ferry. Well it was a rather uneventful, slightly stressful 30 min. trip on a divided highway to Los Mochis, where I found my usual cheap hotel...200 pesos...and spent the night.
200 pesos (divide by 7.5 for $CAD, or 11.3 for $USD) is about the cheapest you can get a reasonably clean room in northern Mexico.
My next major stop would be Guadalajara (pop. 2,000,000), a 2 days ride, S and E, but I would have to spend the next night in Mazatlan (pop. 350,000). Mazatlan is a really pretty city. It's Mexico's main Pacific seaport for fishing and trade, as well as a prime resort centre with 16 kms of beaches, and Latin America's largest fleet of commercial shrimp vessels...guess what I had for supper enjoying the cooler on shore breeze from the ocean in an open outdoor beach resto after a walk down the beach and watching the sunset?!?!
A very popular way of preparing camarones (shrimp) or most seafood for that matter, is called "ceviche" - a cocktail of raw seafood, marinated in lime, and mixed with onions, chilies, garlic, and tomatoes, and served cold in a tall soda glass...it' SOOO good!
Usually I spend the final hour before lights out preparing my route and plans for the next day.
The next day would take me S through Tepic, then SE up to Guadalajara. Here is what my travel guide said about the route from Mazatlan to Tepic, "...mostly 2 lane with heavy truck traffic. Stretches of poor surface. The last 120 kms are thrilling enough to recall the carnival ride you'd like to get off, but can't till it's over. Imagine duelling semis (18 wheelers) racing, passing at top speed on a narrow 2 lane blacktop road. The pavement has sharp edges, 4 inch dirt shoulders and a 20 foot drop off into vegitation on each side. The semis swerve into lines of traffic with the rear ends of trailers "snapping the whip", leaving cars barelling over and down below!
In the span of 120 kms, 4 semis were seen rolled over with their wheels up, plus a few cars and a few burnt out hulks with police wizzing by, unable to pull off the road to render aid. Be prepared, drive in daylight with a full tank of gas, and pray you don't get a flat....there's no way to stop, or no place to pull off. When it's all behind you,you will feel an exhilerating appreciation for well being.......OR you can take the new 4 lane divided toll autopista!"
Well, not yet having lost my sense of adventure, I opted for the more "picturesque" old road.
I only saw 3 upside down semis - one, loaded with the best tomatoes you ever sank your teeth into, blocked traffic for almost 1 hour - and one wrecked pickup truck...it was quite a ride beginning the climb from the coast into the Sierra Madre foothills of Tepic and I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the Tepic sign!
From Tepic to Guad. I passed through Tequila (pop. 22,000). Yes, the same town and region where all the tequila comes from. Fields of blue agave, the cactus like plsnt from which tequila is distilled stretched for miles. To control the quality, Mexico allows the blue agave to be only grown in this region, the state of Jalisco.
While in Montreal, through this site, I contacted the "Motolatino.com" and I recieved many generous offers for help, tourist info and lodging. In this area - Guad., and Mexico DF, I heard from Miguel Ibbera, fromMexico DF, Alberto Lopez and Humberto Moro, from Guad. Miguel, of the Revolucion Motorcycle Club., wrote to me often about my plans and urged me to visit Mexico DF, despite much reading that said to stay out of Mexico DF as a tourist with a motorcycle. He offered lodging and 24/7 companions from his club to ride with....WELL, again I could not say no.
Using Miguel as my "point man", I emailed him from Tepic and he arranged for Angie, the leader of the women's moto club in Guad., to meet me just outside Guad., and escort me in to the city center where I would meet Alberto Lopez who would put me up for a few nights. Everything worked like clockwork and by 2100h I was in Alberto's home with his mother, sister, and brother.
They are all the most generous, warm, and hospitable people you would want to meet. They opened their home, "fridge", and hearts to me. By 2300h I had a shower and was asleep.
The next morning, after a great breakfast, Alberto took me out to "see" Guadelajara, a really beautiful clean city.
.............more to come............
We rode together on my bike and spent 3 hours walking in "el centro" up and down the Plaza Tapatia, a beautiful combination of both modern and very old structures including the beautiful old Cathedral of Guadalajara, the construction of which began in 1558. Perhaps this inspired me to buy the book, "The Da Vinci Code (Fred, I have some questions for you) in a nearby bookstore. We returned to Alberto's for lunch, typically at 1500h, while supper is generally a light snack. After lunch we went to "Parque Mirador Independencia" about 3 kms from the city centre that ends literally at a the 2,000 foot cliff of an amazing canyon, Barranca de Huentitan, with a river flowing at the bottom.
...........more to follow on Guadelajara.....it's now Tues, 6 July......
After Parque Mirador it was off to Tlaquepaque, which is sort of a suburb of Guad. It's raison d'etre today is centered on it's creative talents and has converted many old 19 century country homes into stylish restos and galleries.
When Alberto and I got "home" from Tlaquepaque, Alberto shared his photo album with me. Alberto "works" as a member of Team Honda where he races Honda CBR 600's on paved race tracks at the NATIONAL level where he ranks in the top half. He tells me they reach speeds of over 200 kph on the track. He also competes in the race circuit in Europe....WOW. (Alberto, send me a link for your web site so I can post it.)
The next day, Monday the 5th, I just vegged out, and in the evening we all, (Alberto, when he wasn't checking the world race results on the internet, Yolanda, his mom, and Yolanda, his sister) sat back and chatted.
The next morning I reluctantly said goodby to this beautiful family, but not before a photo session in front of their house.
Then it was off NE to the AMAZING village of Guanajauto (pop 73,000 , elev 6,500 ft.) , where I arrived yesterday in the afternoon. This place is truly special and beautiful and have never quite seen anything like it before...Thanks for the recommendation Yolanda (Alberto's sister). I will describe Guanajauto in the next entry after I've had more of chance to explore.
I digress to what the weather has been like since I left Montreal 37 days ago. It was coolish untill North Carolina, where it became hot (30's) with an hour of rain in the late pm, usually after I got off the bike for the day, but not without the occasional downpour in the mid afternoon.
Contrary to what I thought, MOST of Mexico is made up of the Sierra Madre mountain chain that runs down from Texas to Guatemala, and the weather - temperature - varies directly with the altitude (10 - 60 minutes of rain after dark).
When you are near the coast - LOW altitudes - it's hot and dessert like - upper 30's to mid 40's - and once you leave the coast and head 50 - 100 kms inland you begin to climb, and the temperature drops to the mid 20's to the low 30's.
Now more on the roads...
Once you reach the Seirra Madres the roads also become very narrow and VERY windy with steep hills and many switchbacks with drop offs of 1,000's of feet. Here the heavy semis CRAWL up the winding steep hills resulting in an accumulation of much traffic behind them, and then go barreling down the other side. Everyone passes when they can - double lines mean NOTHING - not even the ubiquitous "Curva Pelligroso" (Dangerous curve) signs make a difference. When you reach any sharp curve, the guardrail, if there was one, is usually totally mangled. This up and down repeats itself at least a few times every kilometer. When you reach the rare straightaway it becomes a REAL game of "chicken"....ALL traffic in both directions pull out to pass (remember these are 2 lane roads). Fortunately with the power my bike has I can usually pick off 3 or 4 trucks before being forced back in by either on coming passers or a Curva Peligrossa...and this goes on all day. Ocaisonally though it's interupted by some plateaus with the gently rolling hills of the agricultural regions.
All drivers in Mexico have one driving trait that takes a while to get used too, and that's how they use their direction signals...the right one is normal, but the left has 2 uses....it can either mean he is turning left, OR it means he is NOT turning left but it's OK for YOU to pass. So when you see a left flasher, you must first check if there are any turnoffs. If there is none, you know you can pass. If this happens on a curve where people pass all the time, you just take your chances. All in all, it's quite exciting.
Guanajuato (pop 74,000, elev. 6,000 ft.), is a beautiful city crammed into the steep slopes of of a ravine with narrow streets that twist and turn around the hill sides and then dive underground into a series of tunnels. The subteranian roads have all the characteristics of normal roads...intersections, street names, parking,...etc., and to get anywhere you are half of the time above ground and half of the time below ground. Neither road system has a straightaway that exceeds 100 meters. After one hour of trying to find my hotel, I gave up and hired a taxi to lead me...I NEVER could have done it myself.
This impossible topography was settled into in the 1500's because of the discovery of some of the best silver and gold deposits in the world, and much of the fine old architecture created from this wealth remain intact today, making this city a living monument to a prosperous past. It is listed by UNESCO as a “World Heritage Site”.
The main reason for this underground network of roads was that as the city grew there was obviously no way to widen the streets without destroying the buildings, so streets were added underground !
Because the cobblestoned streets are so narrow, they are all one way, making getting around even more complicated.
The city is also home to a 21,000 student arts university, adding to the life and culture of the area. All the buildings are painted in different pastel colors. Restos and shopping are everywhere...(a bit like Kinsale, IR., Joanne, Laurie, and Glen, but with much more “life” and culture). The main zocalo (downtown square) is crammed with people, food vendors, and strolling minstrals every night...it’s a real show!
Tomorrow, before driving SE to Mexico DF (District Federale – in order to distinguish it – the city – from Mexico, the country), I will visit a museo built to honor a famous Guanajuato resident artist, Diego Rivera. In case you forget, he was Frida Kahlo’s husband (remember the movie??).
In Mexico I will be hosted by Miguel Iberra and his motorcycle club...Revolucion
Motorcycle Club....’looking forward to it!
After 3 days there, it’s off to Taxco (remember Donna?) and then back to the hot Pacific south of Acapulco, masso mennos (more or less).
Mexico D.F. (pop. 20,000,000 elev. 7,000 ft.)
Well, finally, here I am in "big, bad" Mexico D.F. (Well, actually I am leaving tomorrow for Taxco.
(My writing plan will be to write about an area when I'm either leaving it, or at the arrival at my next stop.)
Well NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH! I think the general opinion that Mexico DF is a bad, dangerous city is probably the biggest "urban myth" ever created.
The only reason I am in Mexico DF in the first place is because of Miguel Ibarra. MI emailed me through HorizonsUnlimited and insisted I visit MDF, despite my plan to avoid it. He persisted through many emails prior to my departure, and continued to follow up with me while I was on the road.
Thanks to Miguel Ibarra and his "gang" - Roberto Medallo, (police, Federal Agent Special Forces AND lawyer), Rafael, (police, public security), Julio, (computer operations), Adrian, more commonly known as "Diablo", (pharmaceutical intelligence), Juan Gonzales, and his son, "Little Juan", (one of the best motorcycle customizers and mechanic I have ever met (you are in this "class" too, Phillip Cantin), Raul Falomir, the most amazing stunt motorcycle driver I have ever seen, Geraldo Troller, owner of our "home away from home", the RestoBar, "La Differencia", Javier, who invited all of us to his beautiful country home for the day in Jiutebec, 2 hours south of MexicoDF, near Cuernavaca, and last but not least, ANGELICA, Miguel's mother who owns and runs a super 50 seat resto, "Clavo y Canela" with her two beautiful daughters, Sonia, and Jemma - Angelica, showing typical Mexican warmth, treated me more like a son than just a friend of Miguel's, and many others - made my stay in Mexico DF a truly memorable event.
As far as exactly what Miguel does (for a living), I'm not exactly sure, but he is the kind of guy, despite his 6'3", 200 lb + body, who's "bigger than life" . He seems to be the one who holds the MDF moto community together, notwithstanding the fact that he also seems to know almost all of the 20,000,000 people of the city. I guess he can best be described as an "orchestra leader who keeps the music going". The only thing bigger than Miguel himself, is his heart.
I can only say that Mexico DF is one of the most exciting, beautiful, warm, artistic and cultural, and safe cities I have ever visited!
Proof of this is that I stayed here 8 days, despite my plan of 3 days!
Of course, while any large city - and especially Mexico DF with a CITY population of over 20,000,000 people (that's about all the people we have in Canada!), has a few fringe areas that you best avoid, all in all it felt no different than New York, LA, Boston, London, or any other large city.
The ride from Guanahuato was a great ride 5 hour ride. I proceeded our pre arranged meeting place where Roberto, Miguel's very close friend was waiting, and proceeded to his house to wait for Miguel. Miguel arrived with another friend, Julio, as I finished my shower and we immediately started the 2 liters of tequila which I bought in Tequila. After ? marguritas the 3 of us moved down a few doors to the guesthouse where we spent the night.
The following day the 3 of us proceeded into downtown Mexico to Miguel's house.
Now driving in Mexico D.F. is a bit like Montreal, but only a lot more exciting. ...traffic lights are used only as a rough guide as to what you should do.
Imagine city streets - not expressways - 4 lanes wide going only one way, with 4 lanes next to you going the other way...and all lanes are always full of cars. Imagine also that when the cars try to make a left turn into the oncoming 4 lanes, they bunch up into 7 to 8 lanes and wait to cross.
Intersections where you have 16 lanes of traffic meeting with traffic lights usually have around 10 special traffic police stationed there to try to sort out the mess with horns blaring everywhere.
And then there are the rotaries with 6 - 8 lanes of cars zig zagging everywhere.
With the bikes we simple create our own lanes between the traffic saving tons of time.
Once you get the hang of it, it's really fun, and at least most of the time, cars in Mexico City really respect bikes and generally give us room.
Riding with Raul, the stunt driver, was really special. Popping wheelies and sooming in and out of the traffic was nothing compared to him popping a wheelie, THEN STANDING ON HIS SEAT WHILE NEGOCIATING THE TRAFFIC !! He promised to teach me a few tricks my next time in Mexico DF.
In order to try to control the traffic and minimize polution (which really wasn't so bad), Mexico DF does a unique thing. Monday to Friday, if your liscence plate ends in certain numbers you are NOT allowed to take your car into the city. For example, if your plate ends in 0 or 1, you are simply not allowed to use your car that day.
The whole time...all 8 days in Mexico DF, either Miguel, Robert, Diablo or Julio were at my side. They, especially Miguel, like all Mexicans are fiercely proud of their country and know everything about their history. Of the 4, Diablo spoke fluent english, and as for the others, let me say their english was a lot better than my spanish, but yet we all managed very well. Most of my time was spent with Miguel and Roberto, except for the 2 or 3 nights I stayed with Diablo. The rest of the time I slept at Miguel's and was treated to Angelica's super traditional Mexican breakfasts and lunches at Clavo y Canela.
In all the most amazing thing was that despite cultural, religious, language, and age differences (me being at least double, if not triple the age of most of Miguel's gang"), you would think we had all grown up together.....all that really mattered was mutual respect, of which there was plenty, and riding the roads on 2 wheels!
Friday night, my 2nd night in the city, was Miguel's club's meeting (as Miguel called it, but it was more like a party to me though), at Geraldo's resto bar, La Diferencia, which, because of the heavy rain, did not end till 4 AM and only because that's when the bar closed. Miguel, Diablo, Roberto, and I think 1 or 2 others...not sure...rode in the rain to Diablo's, where we all "crashed". I spent the next 1 or 2 nights there with Diablo.
The next 5 days were a whirlwind of sightseeing -
The downtown Zocalo (main square) Plaza de la Constitucion, surrounded by the President's office, the Mayor's office and the the Cathedral Metropolitana, built in the late 1500's. This was also the site where the original "Mexicans", the Aztecs built the city in what was originally a huge lake covering many square miles. In fact MexicoDF is a huge flat plain (the lake) compleatly surrounded by mountains 2,000 ft higher than Mexico DF. Because of this many of the earlier structures are very slowly sinking. You can actually see this when you "sight" along ant large building. During the days there are hundreds and hundreds of outdoor stalls selling crafts and food, while at night the city treats it's people to some form of live entertainment.
The Almeda Central, not far from the Zocalo, which is a huge treed park surrounded by many monuments and dominated by the white marbled "Placido de Bellas Arts". It was here where Diablo and I parked our bikes while Miguel and I took a few pics, that I had my bike "imobilized" while Miguel and I were only 50 meters away. Diablo who stayed with the bikes could do nothing to stop it without risking his bike too. The "imobilizer" in Mexico is their version of the "Boot", but it's a 2 inch steel cable that's put through your wheel and locked to an iron sign. Once it's locked you must take the ticket to the city hall and pay 350 pesos ($45 CAD), then bring the reciept back to the bike, hail an "immobilizer" truck, who then unlocks the cable.
The Monumento de la Revolucion, The Angel Monument, and many others too numerous to mention.
The Basilica de Guadalupe, not far from Miguel's.
The Zona Rosa, the main shopping, hotel, and entertainment district.
Teotihuacan, )just 30 kms outside of the city), Mexico's bigest ancient city and the site of two enormous and spectacular pyramids - Sun and Moon.
Garibaldi Square where you can "rent" mariachi bands by the song. It's also the only place you can drink alcohol in public.
Coyoacan, once a small colonial town, just south of the city, but now swallowed up by Mexico DF. Despite this it still retained it's colonial atmosphere and is now a trendy mix of rich and hippy with a beautiful park and many restos and bars.
Another great day was spent at Javier's "country house" south of MDF near Cuernvaca. 12 of us did the 3 hour back road ride to Javier's. Miguel, and Roberto used this day as a rest from me and stayed in town.... :-) . The narrow 2 lane road became very twisty, as usual, when we reached the mountains. But they showed me how to ride Mexican style....the space between the double lines down the center of the road is actually a third lane for motos. This enabled us to pass long lines of traffic as they crawled up the steep hills......go figure....and all the time I thought a double line meant NO passing!
After spending the afternoon at Javier's pool, enjoying sun, pizza and beer, we all rode back in the rain.
The last day was spent at "MOTO Expo", a big motorcycle show at the World Trade Center (yes, the same name). Miguel, who among other things seems to be the major force behind the "Federacion Mexicana de Motociclismo A.C.", a federally incorporated federation which sets moto standards for all of Mexico, and of which I am now the only non-Mexican member.
And last but not least, I spent one day roaming the "atellier" of Juan while he repaired one of my broken rear shocks, and strengthened my luggage rack. While hanging out there with Miguel, and Roberto, I met a steady stream of "drop-ins" - the "who's who" of motorsport in Mexico. This is where I met Raul, the stunt guy, and Raphael, the other cop, who gave me a Mexican flag sticker for my bike...and let me play with his 9 mm weapon...awsome! Other than having to pay Juan to repair the shock (it had to be sent out for very special welding), he refused to accept any money for the other repairs, saying that I, being a friend of his friends, Miguel and Roberto, meant I was a friend of his and he was just happy to help me out. I say this because this is typical of the the way Mexicans treat their friends and tourists.
Friday morning, before Miguel left to spend the second day at the Federacion's booth at MOTO Expo, he escorted me to the main road to Taxco, where we hugged good-bye.
The whole gang in Mexico DF, as well as Alberto Lopez and his family (from Guadalajara), made me promis to stop in again on my return north in September.
Well, this is now my first morning, Saturday, after arriving last night in Taxco.
More to come after I leave Taxco tomorrow for the Acapulco area coast.
Taxco, pop. 52,000 elev. 5,800 ft. (SW of Mexico DF).
Now I am in Puerto Escondido, after a beautiful 2 day ride from Acapulco.
But first, an event in Mexico DF. which I forgot to mention. The first full day with Ibarra, and Roberto, was spent as guests of the Mexican head office, and plant for Yamaha Motorcycles. Miguel Ibarra was of course invited to a special "PR" day for the Mexican press, TV, VIP's. The day started with a tour of the facilities, and then an instructional video on all aspects of how to ride a bike (moto). After we all headed outside and were each assigned a bike and had a practical course on how to ride...from the basics to the advanced. After 4 hours, they treated us to lunch, and then we all recieved personalised diplomas.... I am now a "Yamaha VIP" who is driving a Honda !!
Now back to Taxco, the silver capital of Mexico. Even though the silver mines have run "dry", it continues to be the silver (hand made jewelry) production capital of Mexico (remember Donna?).
Taxco, is a beautiful colonial antique town, and one of the most picturesque places in all of Mexico. Clinging to a steep hillside, it's narrow cobblestone streets twist and turn and then suddenly open onto pretty plazas., but unlike other colonial towns, it has not surrounded itself with industrial suburbs. Hundreds of VW taxis run through the labyrinth of streets like ants on an ant hill....or beetles... Very few streetscapes are defaced with rows of parked cars because the roads themselves are only wide enough for one car.
By "colonial", we generally mean white hacienda type buildings with red terracota roofs, with the interior, furniture, and doors made of heavy Mexican cedar, ornate black wrought iron, and floors of shinny dark red tile. The federal government has declared Taxco a "natl. historic monument" to preserve its architecture and heritage.
There are literally hundreds (300) of shops of all sizes and descriptions selling hand made sterling (min. 92.5% pure silver) silver jewellery, much of which is exquisite and original. The quality is strictly controlled by the Mex. govt. and all pieces must be stamped with the "seal" followed by ".925". Anyone discovered selling forged .925 pieces is sent to prison.
After two days of shopping, roaming the streets, and taking the little Swiss made cable car high up over the city to a fabulous hotel perched on top of a mountain, I left for the one day ride from the mountains, to the Acapulco coast.
Stay tuned for Acapulco, and Peurto Escondido.
Hasta lavista, baby.....
(which means "see you LATER, baby"....Arnold Schwartzeneger was in error when he used those words before he "blew" that guy away since, obviously, he would NEVER see him again. The better choice would have been, "addios, baby" which means "good-bye, baby"!
Hi again, I’m way behind in my reports (see Simon...it’s not ONLY with Xerox)
Now I am in beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas. Previously since Taxco, it was Pie de la Questa, Acapulco, Peurto Escondido, Zipolite, Tuxcla Gutierrez, and now here!
Leaving Taxco and heading SW to PdlQ was not such a great ride...lousy, uninteresting roads and more than anything else, I lost the sun around 1500h, and by the time I arrived in Acapulco, it was on and off rain...the first for me in weeks. Also just on the edge of Acapulco I did what I was warned not to do, and that is to make eye contact with a police when he shouts/whistles/motions to pull over. I then had no choice but to stop. He and his buddies were very friendly, mind you, even calling me “Norman” after checking my papers. They proceeded to inform me I broke the law by not wearing a helmet and that a ticket was $450MX, ($48CAD), BUT that he would return my set of many sets of photocopies of my documents, and ignore the infraction if I gave him $100MX. I also noticed he had his name badge convientely hidden by his pocket flap, as did his buddies. He assured me it was a good deal…and it was raining, so I paid, got my copies back, and it was off to Pie de la Questa. (PQ)
PdlQ, is a potentially interesting place, since it’s much less touristic and expensive than Acapulco (A), and you have the ocean beaches on the left side of the road and on the right for almost 1 kilometer you have a fresh water lake. And PQ is only 10 kms. North of A.
But, maybe it was the grey skies and rain, but I found it to be dirty, and access to the lake side was blocked by many closed and shabby establishments. So the next morning it was off to A 10 kms. south.
The weather cleared in the early afternoon an it was off to the beach.
A is a busy, and crowded city. The main road around the bay was constantly jammed with traffic, and the beaches were packed shoulder to with tourists. If you like Miami Beach, Cancun, etc. then you would like A, but not me.
After watching the cliff divers that evening diving from a cliff 400 meters high, into the foaming, surging surf below (try THAT Joanne), I packed up and it was off to the surfers paradise of Puerto Escondido – a 200 km ride SE of A.
(BTW, Donna, Las Brisas is still there, but there was no sigh of Condessa del Mar).
After a few days in beautiful Taxco, and a day in "not-so-beautiful" Acapulco...Much to busy, noisy, crowded, etc.
I´m leaving today, and heading SE along the coast to Puerto Escondido/Puerto Angel, where for $15CAD you can spend the night on almost deserted beaches in a cabana/hammock including a freshly grilled (al carbon) seafood dinner.
Weather on the coast starts at 28-30oC at 0700h, and quickly hits the upper 30's by noon...I love it....riding down the coast on my bike in nothing but a pair of gym shorts and the warm wind on my face.....
Rain only in late pm or at night.
Stay tuned...next complete update in 3 - 5 days.
I just got back to “civilization” after spending the last 5 days living and rafting in the jungle of Mexico on the Guatemalan border. I am now in Comitan, MX., and will be in Guatemala tomorrow.
Puerto Escondido (PE), is a real gem, notwithstanding the beautiful ride there along the coast from Acapulco.
PE has 3 main beaches…each one about 1 km. From the next. All are beautiful, with white sand and far, far less people than A. It’s really laid back. I chose the beach with the big breakers, where all the surfers hang out. The beach is around 1 km. long with palapa resto/bars every few hundred meters or so. Arriving there at around 1400h, gave me the opportunity to spend the afternoon on the beach watching the surfers. The only problem though was that most of the cheap lodging was full and my room cost $250 MX or around $30CAD….so I left the next morning for Puerto Angel/Zipolite.
After a great 2 hour drive to Puerto Angel, I found heaven on earth….the beach at Zipolite, around 2 km. west of Peurto Angel. Zipolite is one of 3 beaches/bays that run west from Puerto Angel…each one is around 1 km. apart.
Zipolite though is one of the least developed and the least expensive for great food and lodging. It was almost deserted, despite it being prime vacation time for the Mexican People. Most of them go to the other 2 beaches. You could choose any part of the beach to lie down on and there would be at least 100 meters between you and the next person.
It’s also probably one of the only beaches in Mexico where clothes are optional.
I found a really neat hotel, where for the first time in my life I slept in a hammock…..for 4 nights, at $50MX ($8CAD) a night.
Life here is slow and easy and for the first time in years I did not see or HEAR a cell phone!
Life is literally spent between the low and high tide lines. All my meals were eaten with my feet in the sand…either watching the sun rise, or set.
The days were hot, the water warm – just the right temperature that you can lay in the sand and let the waves wash over you for hours without feeling cold, and every afternoon was with a siesta in my hammock.
The nights were warm enough that a hammock and shorts were all you needed.
BUT, as difficult as it was, I had to leave and find my way North East up in the mountains to San Cristobal de Las Casas in the state of Chiapas.
This was a really long ride from the coast to San Cristobal de Las Casas (SCC). In fact I had to overnite it in the town of Tuxtla Gutierrez, approx. a hundred kms. from SCC.
TG., pop 425,000, elev. 2,000 ft. is the state capital of Chiapas one of the many states of Mexico. It lies in the west side of Chiapas' hot humid central valley...a valley that runs N-S from the Carribean to the Pacific.
While crossing this valley from Juchitan on the coast eastward to TG, I experienced the most heavy cross winds ever for almost 150 kms. These winds blow down the valley from the Gulf of MX to the north, to the Pacific. They are frequently strong enough to blow over 18 wheelers, but after 150 kms. of "white knuckles", I finally made it to the protection of the mountains, and TG. It must have looked funny though to see me riding on a straight road, with the bike at a 10o angle leaning into the wind.
TG was a pleasant, and friendly city, and before leaving the next morning to SCC, I took a 3 hour boat ride up the Canon del Sumidero. The Sumidero Canyon is a daunting fissure in the earth with the Rio Grigalva flowing northward through it.
Motorboats take us through the Canyon between towering sheer rock walls almost 1 kilometer high. And on the shores of the river we watched aligators and iguanas (Joanne) sunning themselves. And at one point we watched monkeys swing through the trees.
Then it was off to SCC, (pop. 113,000) a 2.5 hour ride to cover 85 kms. This was because the road climbed from 2,000 ft in TG to almost 7,000 feet in the space of 85 kms. This road was amazing with steep switchbacks, hairpin turns, and 1,000 foot dropoffs at the edge of the road - most of which had no guard rails.
It was also amazing how the temperature dropped from the 30's in the Canyon to upper teens in the clouds. Infact I had to stop to put on a shirt, jacket, long pants and shoes.
SCC has been a favorite travellers haunt for decades, and it's rewards come from walking it's rambling streets and discovering many intriguing nooks and crannies and visiting many nearby villages. SCC has a bohemian, artsy, floating community of both Mexicans and foreigners with a lively music, bar and resto scene.
Prior to leaving on my trip, through this site I contacted Hugh Sinclair, an American, or I think more accurately, a "world citizen" who convinced me to visit the state of Chiapas, where he lived for a few years. Despite all the warnings of problems with the Zapatistas - a sort of gurilla rebel group lead by a masked cult "comandante" named Marcos, I decided to go. Very simply, Marcos was trying to bring to world attention the plight of the poor people of Chiapas by kidnapping and robbing travellers...you probably saw him on CNN, 60 Minutes, etc., wearing a ski mask and smoking a pipe.
Anyways, Hugh sent me some contacts in SCC who I contacted. One of which, Maru, a beautiful girl from Argentina, invited me to share her huge colonial style home a few kms. from the center of town, while I stayed in SCC.
I arrived at Maru's just as she was coming home from work. The sun was now almost down, and for the first time in a long time I found it quite chilly. We took a "collectivo" taxi to town where we roamed the markets looking for a wool sweater, after which we proceeded to her friend's Argentinean resto for the best steak since leaving Texas. Then it was back to Maru's and a nice blazing fire to take the chill away.
The dangers of the roads were brought much "closer to to home" over the next few days. Over the last 4/5 weeks I became accustomed to seeing many wrecks, but Maru's late arrival at the end of the next day showed me a more personal side of the problem. Maru arrived later than planned because of a visit to the hospital where a friend of hers was involved in a fairly serious car accident between TG and SCC. Her friend's mother required hospitalization.
The next day some beautiful friends of Maru, Juan and Gabriella, arrived from Mexico DF to spend a few days with Maru. They told us that on the way from Mexico their taxi was involved in an accident. Though not seriously injured, Juan's lower leg had to be bandaged up and Gabriella was quite shaken up. Maru also mentionned that a few weeks ago her co-worker friend was involved in a serious accident when his car went over the edge of the road and rolled a few hundred feet down into a ravine.
Juan and "Gaby" livened up Maru's big house, and over the next few days we all had great conversation, super diners (thank-you Maru) in front of a blazing fireplace, and even a DVD movie thanks to Juan and Gaby's laptop PC.
The next few days were spent visiting SCC and a few surrounding towns, one of which was Zinacantan to which I rode the 10 kms. with Gabriella who kept me laughing all the way. Zinacantan is a small orderly clean town to be contrasted to another nearby town of San Juan Chamula which was much livelier and considerably dirtier.
SJC is among other things known for its unique religious practices or rituals. There is supposedly a huge sign at the entrance to town, which I didn't see, forbidding any photography.
While mainly Christian, the Tzotzil people, like many others of the small remote towns of both Mexico and Central America also embrace pagan beliefs. There was a very colorful religious procession in the Centro as I rode into town. After watching a few minutes I took out my camera to take a few photos. Almost immediatly I was pelted by corn cobs which litter most streets, tomatoes, and a few rocks, amid much shouting by men waving sticks. I quickly got the point and left as fast as I could. Another tourist, a Mexican, saw what happened and explained that these people could be quite dangerous if provoked and could actually destroy my camera, if not me!
I decided to visit the church where I was treated to another amazing site. The floor was covered with pine needles to a depth of a few inches and covered with thousands of lit candles, groups of which were surrounded by families chanting and rocking while kneeling with their faces to the pine needles. The darkness, broken only by the candles, along with the candle and inscence smoke and pine smell, and the sound of hundreds of chanting people created quite a powerful impression.The men were surrounded by 5 to 10 bottles of cokes and other softdrinks as well as eggs or bones. Images/statues of saints dressed in holy garments are surrounded with mirrors. The Chamulans revere San Juan Bautista (Saint John The Baptist) above Christ (a place for you, FatCat), and his image has the most important place in the church. The chanters rub themselves with the bones and eggs while drinking their soft drinks, which facilitate burping which is believed to expel evil spirits....wow...and I thought Judiasm was complicated!
After leaving the curch I went back out into the bright sun to watch the rest of the religious ceremony sans camera. When they saw me return, a few of the men with big sticks stood beside me all the time. Every 10 minutes or so the other men would pack around 15 steel cylinders about 10 inches high and 3 inches in diameter with gun powder. Then they would hold these above their heads and light a fuse causing deafening explosions.
Before leaving SCC for the jungle and much warmer weather I visited the amazing museo Na-Bolom - a beautiful 19th century house originally the home of anthropologist Trudy Blom and her archaeologist husband who studied, photographed and helped the Mayans and protected the scattered Lacandones (people) with whom I stayed with in the jungle in my next stop.
My last stop in SCC was at Servico Aguilar, where the owner Alfredo extended to me the most helpful and professional service possible. Changing the oil was easy, but getting a filter for a bike that does not officially exist south if the USA was not. This was despite the fact that Alfredo owned a bike the SAME as mine - the only other I have seen. After a few calls, Alfredo located a filter in Mexico DF and had it FedEx'ed the next day. After many hours chatting with Alfredo who left me with his personel home and cell number, his friends, and workers, I returned to Maru's for a final dinner with the gang and left early the next day for a prearranged adventure trip with a very professional outfitter, "Explora" in the remote areas of north eastern Chiapas in the Lacandon Jungle.
I was a little nervous about this trip, since it meant passing through Ocosingo, and Palenque on some remote roads.
Here is what the official position of the Canadian government says,
"This Travel Report replaces the previous one, dated June 21, 2004.
Unrest in the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas, has resulted in the blockade of a foreign-owned hotel/ranch. Canadians travelling to the state of Chiapas are advised to exercise caution, remain in known and well-frequented tourist areas such as Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristóbal, and avoid areas of political tension (particularly in the highlands). Travel between Palenque and San Cristóbal and in the area north and northeast of San Cristóbal should be avoided. It is recommended you carry a valid photo identification with you at all times while travelling in Mexico."
Bus crashes occur frequently in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca due to poor road conditions and mountainous terrain. Avoid road travel after dark.
Next report.....the Lacandon Jungle
The only "problems" between San Cristobal de los Casas and Lacanja (pop. 500 elev. 950 ft.)were the hundreds of topes along the road, the heat combined with the humidity, and the first rain storm that lasted longer than 15 minutes. Other than that it was a great ride. The roads from Palenque to Lacanja were mainly straight and flat, with only the slightest curve here and there.
Just before Palenque I pulled into Misol-Ha where the Rio drops 150 feet into a wide pool surrounded by lush vegetation. It was a refreshing 1 hour stop playing in the natural pool under the waterfall.
I decided to skip the famous ruins of Palenque, since 3 hours later I would be in the Encampemento Lacandon which is essentially a wilderness jungle camp run by Explora. Part of my stay there included a 2 day, one night jungle rafting trip down the Rio Lacanja, ending with a 1 hour hike through the jungle to the ruins of Bonampak. This would be followed by a motorboat ride 2 days later down the .5 mile wide Rio Usumacinta, which separates Mexico from Guatemala, to the ruins of Yaxchilan near Frontera Corozal.
It began to rain just as I turned south from Palenque. I put on my raingear and continued to ride slowly on the almost deserted road towards Lacanja, but soon the rain became so heavy I could hardly see, so I pulled over and stopped by the side of the road. Two minutes later amid the thunder and lightning I heard some shouting and whistling. Looking throuth the heavy rain, I could barely make out a poor farm house about 200 feet from the road, which looked more like a shed. On the porch was a man waiving and inviting me to come into his house to get out of the rain. I shouted back "si" and he ran to the gate to let me in and we ran together back to his house. All this guy had to his name was a small plot of land, 4 chickens, 2 ducks, a dog, a few goats, and 2 of the cutest little daughters I have ever seen. He spoke no english, yet we managed to communicate quite well during the hour it took for the rain to stop. This was quite a moving experience for me, to see someone so poor with a million dollar heart. This guy's behavior essentially summed up the attitudes of all Mexicans.
About 2 hours later under steamy sunny skies I arrived at the encampment. It was beautiful with a large kitchen and out door dining area under a large palapa.
The rooms were actually a series of 8 bamboo huts scattered along the Rio Lacanja with mosquito neting surrounding each bed. I had already started with my Maleria pills. All one could hear was the birds, crickets and other assorted jungle animals. While eating supper, a beautiful guy, Leoncio Reynoso, a Doctor from Mexico DF, came over to my table and we began to talk motorcycles. He told me how he used to ride enduro and motocross all over Mexico, but now with both a family that he cares very much about, and a number of sophisticated medical testing clinics scattered around Mexico City he had no time to ride. He was very intrigued about my trip, and we compared notes about the places I rode, most of which he knew well. Before leaving we promised to exchange photos, and he insisted that I visit him in Mexico DF on my return.
The next morning after an early morning swim in the warm river just outside my room, I met Axel, a Mexican who would lead the rafting trip, and his assistant Alex, who was a Lacandon - an local Mexican indian tribe, similar to the Mayans.
Axel explained that we would be joined by another Mexican family, Miguel and Isabel Cruz y Celis and their 3 great kids. All 8 of us would share 2 rafts for the next 2 days. Miguel was the director of all operations for Mexico and Central America for the giant software company, "SAP". They all spoke english fluently and were a big help in explaining to me what Axel and Alex was saying.
We all got along quite well and Miguel and I appeared to be reliving our childhood playing in the water and floating down the river with the rafts.
The river was mainly flat interrupted by a few sections of white water - some as high as 5 meters.
In the middle of the afternoon we tied up at the side of the river and hiked 45 minutes through the jungle to a beautiful cascading waterful, passing some scattered ruins under going restoration along the way. We spent an hour in the falls jumping of 9 meter high cliffs into the warm pools.
After a snack, it was back to the rafts. We paddled some more until around 1800h, when we pulled in and set up 3 tents in a clearing in the jungle. Axel prepared a great dinner of pasta in a cream of mushroom sauce and by 2000h I was fast asleep.
What a treat to wake at sunrise - 0700 h - to the sound of junjle life, including a few "howler" monkeys. These large black monkeys, about the size of a 10 year old, call to each other from the trees with a sound that sounds like a deep gutteral roar of a lion. It was really scary the first time I heard them, but Axel assured us their "bark" was worse than their bite.
After a breakfast of coffee and quesadeas, we were off in the rafts by 0830 h. We coasted down the river, half the time in the rafts, and half the time in the river until the early afternoon, where we pulled out for the last tome and hiked to the ruins of Bonampak.
The ruins of B, which was once a prosperous Mayan village, date back to around 500 AD - that's 1,504 years ago. Bonampak is famous for its well preserved painted murals.
After touring the site, we were picked up by a bus and driven back to our rooms at the Explora encampment.
After dinner, Miguel and his kids taught me the fine art of dominos.
The next morning after having breakfast with Troy an American teacher in Mexico DF and his friend "Texas Mike", I said goodby to Miguel and his family after exchanging emails and phone numbers, should I run into any problems.
Around 0930 Axel drove me the 20 kms to Frontera Corozal, where I picked up a motorboat and began the 1 hour ride down the river to another famous Myan ruin, Yaxchilan. Here are many tunnels that you need a flashlight to explore. Upon entering the tunnels it was quite un nerving to be surrounded by hundreds of bats flying around screaming. I also saw a family of six howler monkeys roaring in the trees.
Then the boat back, where Axel was waiting to bring me back to camp.
After a great night's sleep it was off SE to Comitan, MX., my last night in Mexico before crossing to Guatemala and Panajachel on the shores of Lago Atitlan.
Well hi again.
The ride from Lacanja, south and west, to Comitan was a beautiful ride, in beautiful sunny and warm weather on relatively straight and deserted roads......except for the military!
Because this road runs for miles along the Guatemalan border, there is major drug and weapon smuggling in the area. As a result there are military blocades around every 20 kms., all staffed by around 20 Mexicans with machine guns. They are all very professional and friendly though, especially when they see the bike....then it's always the same questions;
Do you have any drugs?
Do you have any weapons?
How fast can your moto go?
How much does it cost?
How big is the engine?
Did you travel all the way from Canada?
Open this bag please?
Then I show them the GPS, and its another million questions as I show them the maps on the screen....then they forget about opening my bags, and we all shake hands and it's off to the next checkpoint 15 minutes later, and it starts all over again.
The only real problem though was there were no gas stations from Lacanja to Comitan...approx. 350 kms..... and my range is only 250 kms. Thank god for capitalism. In every little town the locals buy drums of gas and package the gas in 5, 10, and 25 liter containers, and charge double the price!
The best part of the ride though was NO TOPES !
I passed through the Lagos Montebello Park in pine forests which has a series of around 5 lakes all different colors of blues, greens, and turquoise. It was really nice.
After dodging a few thunder storms, I arrived in Comitan around 1600 hrs. It was really nice to be in civilization again. Comitan is a nice small town...extremely clean and pleasant, but with nothing really special.
After supper I studied up on Guatemala, and prepared all my papers for the border.
The next morning it was off early for the Frontera.
It was a beautiful early morning ride to the Guatemalan border less than 1 hour south from Comitan, Mexico.
The border crossing at La Mesilla via CA 1 was smooth, painless, and quite professional despite all the horror stories I heard....1 hour and I was done.
The drill was first to check out of Mexico where they make sure my bike and I actually leave. Then it's to the Guat side where I have to pay 20 quetzales ($4.00CAD) to have my bike fumigated and disinfected...REALLY...then it´s immigration, then it's customs, and finally it's the importation papers for the moto, with every step requiring to go back to the beginning to get photocopies made.
While cruising through the northern mountains of Guatemala, I saw some of the most amazing scenery yet on my trip. The road climbed up to almost 10,000 ft. where it became quite cold. After droping down to 3,000 feet in the town of Salola the road then plunged down to 1,500 feet in less than 8 kms. to the small lakeside town of Panajachel, commonly known as Pana. It sits in the shore of a huge fresh water lake called Lago de Atitlan.
This whole area from the La Mesilla border, known as the Highlands is Guatemala's most dramatic region. Here the traditional values and customs of the Guatemalan people are the strongest, with Mayan dialects being the first language, and Spanish the second.
And in this region, Lake Atitlan is one the most spectacular locals in all of Central America. The lake is a caldera (a collapsed volcanic cone filled with shimmering water to a depth of over 1,000 feet. The lake covers an area of 130 sq km and is surrounded by 3 powerful, now dormant, volcanoes all towering over 2,000 feet above the lake...it's really a site to see.
Pana is one of Guat's oldest tourist hangouts, and this week it was full of El Salvadorians there on their vacation.
Lakeside villa owners drive there for weekends from Guatemala City.
The town is full of artisans and mercados, and restos and bars...it's really fun.
Once I checked in to my hotel, it was off to visit Montrealers, Lyle and Andree who I met through my friend and dentist, Peter Stutman. Lyle is a doctor, who has spent much of his money and time to set up a medical clinic foundation to help the poor indigenous people in the villages around the lake. (LYLE, PLEASE POST A "COMMENT" WITH THE WEB SITE OF YOUR FOUNDATION).
Lyle and Andree were in the final throws of finishing their beautiful home high up on the hills overlooking the lake...what spectacular views from their livingroom, as we watched the sunset over a few beers and supper.
The next morning I took a sort of ferry boat...people only... acrosss the lake ...1 hour... to the small town of Santiago, known for it's markets and "Maximon", a rum drinking, cigar smoking deity revered throught the Guat highlands. Max is actually an effigy to which Guatamalans make offerings of rum and cigars and in return expect his blessing. In Santiago, he is a wooden figure draped in colorful scarves with a cigar in his mouth. While I was in "his" shrine like home, surrounded by hundreds of candles, there was a steady stream of locals on their knees praying in front of him. Once again, like in San Juan de Chamula we see this mixture of christianity and paganism.
Then it was off to the market, where I see this sign advertising a hike up the volcano or hike over the ridge to the rain forest. So I call Jim Madison who lives way around the lake and we make arrangements to meet early the next morning. I had really wanted to climb the volcano, but he said it was too dangerous because of many muggings and robbing of tourists by armed thieves. He also assured me that the hike up the ridge into the rain forest was much more interesting, and safer because much fewer tourists go there, but none the less, we would be accompagnied by 3 rotweillers and he would also be armed....sounded better every minute!
Next morning it was up at 0500h so I could get the 0545 boat to Santiago. Jim, who could easily pass for "Crocodile Dundee" was waiting there at the dock in his 4x4, and we were off to his "ranch" ...a remote 10 kms behind the village.
Well, talk about a spectacular house and location far from any other civilization. He has about 10 horses, 15 dogs, other assorted animals he keeps in a glassed in "zoo" built into his house, and the most beautiful 1 year old ocelot that runs around his home.
His home was built by Jim and His beautiful native american indian, Nancy. They moved there in the 70's and built up this place during wild west days of the Guatemalan Civil War that only ended 5 years ago. They also rent out 1 huge room to guests, complete with fireplace and anything else you might imagine .
After a nice breakfast, Jim collected his dogs, packed his gun, grabbed a few machettes, and we were off into the rain forest by 0830h. After a 5 hour strenuous hike without incident, it was back at Jim and Nancy's where we were joined by a Canadian, Marion Moore, who owns a guest house in Pana. All of us hung out in their huge kitchen where Jim and Nancy prepared a gourmet lunch of home made gaspacho soup, garlic parsley salad with shaved parmassan cheese, filet mignon grilled to perfection and home made sausages.....WOW.
After hanging around a few hours, Jim drove me back to the dock for the last 1630 boat back to Pana....but not before first inviting me back the next day as Jim and Nancy's guest for breakfast, and then we would be off to spend the afternoon with their good friends, David and Suzie who own the Posada Santiago, a beautiful hotel, consisting of individual stone cabins in the woods...all with fireplaces, as well as a swimming pool, hot tub, and wood fired sauna all down by the lake.
How could I refuse!
After a great breakfast with Jim, Nancy and Marion the next morning, we all headed to David and Suzies for a fantastic afternoon in the sun, in the pool, in the sauna, and in the hot tub, all the while feasting on shrimp and Cuba Libres. 1600h came too fast and I had to get the last boat back to Pana, but David and Suzie offered to put me up for the night in one of his deluxe cabins for "next to nothing" (THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN, DAVID AND SUZIE, AND JIM AND NANCY, FOR SUCH A WONDERFUL DAY).
After a nap to recover from the Cuba Libres, it was to the diningroom for supper with Rachel de Souza, a real nice Canadian (Calgary), travelling alone, who was also staying at Dave and Suzies. After dinner we laid on the grass counting the stars and talked for hours...and get this FRED DOLAN, we talked about "The Da Vinci Code", and guess who's name came up...?...your's, Fred, and Rachel's parents, Cedric and Greta, with whom you frequently have dinner when you are in Calgary...small world!
After breakfast the next day it was back to my last nite in Pana to plan my next morning's ride north east to the Carribean town of Rio Dulce, Livingston, and the ruins of Tikal.
After a great 6 hour ride on relatively straight and smooth roads, I arrived in Rio Dulce (RD), a small town on the Rio (River) Dulce about 10 km inland from the Caribean town of Livingston which is about 20 kms south of the Belizean border.
However, along the way I had to pass through Guatemala City, Guatemala's capital, where I promptly went around in circles for an hour before escaping to Rio Dulce.
Guatema City (pop. 2,000,000),contains the largest urban agglomeration in all of Central America. It's rickety buses chug along in huge clouds of black diesel smoke, compeating with each other while trolling the streets for passengers. At times 2 or 3 buses arrive at a stop at the same time, and then It's a race to see who gets to the next stop first.
When they all take off, their combined cloud of diesel smoke literally creats a fog so dense you cannot see past the buses.
When I finally found my way out, I was choaking on the fumes and polution and it was there I pulled into the first resto I could find...MacDonalds....for a much deserved breather.
In Rio Dulce are a number of marinas, one of which where I stayed is owned by a Montrealer, named Bruno. Most of these marinas were full of boats because this is one of the best safe places to park during the current hurricane season in the Carribean.
Bruno is quite a character, and lives life to the fullest, notwithstanding the fact he has 3 motorcycles, and HIS marina is the one where everyone hangs out.
The town of RD itself consists of 2 cross streets, each about 100 meters long. The streets are lined with stalls selling everything from saddles, pizza, guns, fried chicken, live chickens, and every type of fruit and veggi you can imagine.
The first night Oliver, Brono's German mechanic, and I, took a small boat 5 kms down the river, and then down a small creek to a small "hotel and resto" built entirely on stilts over the water....as is almost everything there, since the river banks are mostly mangrove swamp.....for supper. As we approached the resto's docks which were lined with candles, it began to rain lightly. If there every was a scene from the movie, "Apocolypse Now", this was it.
The next day it was a 2 hour boat ride down the river to the Caribean town of Livingston just south of Belize. It was a small town, but it afforded me my first chance on this trip to swim in the Caribean.
It was back to Bruno's where I hung out for happy hour with a bunch of the "regulars" downing Cuba Libres, after which we all took a dingy to another resto for some of the best chinese food in a long time.
The following day Bruno lent me one of his dirt bikes to go out to a river around 60 kms away, on real back country dirt roads. The attraction there was a steaming hot waterfall about 100 meters high, falling into a cool river in the middle of the jungle. You can swim under the waterfall into a small cave where you look back out through the falling water. The cave creates a sort of sauna/steam bath.
However, around 45 kms out, in the middle of no where, the bike stops and won't start. I see what looks to be a banana plantation, and I push the bike off the road 100 meters to the gate where I was met by 2 rough looking characters, both packing hand guns and waiving their shot guns at me.....seemed a bit too much security for a few "bananas". But it also seemed as safe a place as ever to leave the bike while I hitched a ride to Bruno's Marina in the back of a pick-up. Bruno and I then went back in his 4x4 and jump started the bike. He then joined me in the river, where we hung out for a few hours. What a neat place!
Early the next morning I took off for a 4 hour ride due North to the fabulous Mayan ruins of Tikal, one of many national parks in Guatemala.
Here the pyramids rise like skyscrapers above the jungle canopy. The "in" thing to do here, is to hire a guide and hike in the dark and climb the highest pyramid and watch the 0550h sun rise over the jungle top. Despite the fact it was partly cloudy, it was still quite a site...and feeling...overlooking the jungle while sitting on top of a 1,600 year old pyramid, and watching the sun come up over the tree tops, all the while listening to the jungle wake up to the sounds of the "howler monkeys" (more like a gutteral lion's roar), and seeing parrots and toucans fly by.
Late that afternoon it was back to Bruno's and early to bed.
The next morning it was an early departure for the Honduras border, armed with Bruno's contacts in El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
After leaving Rio Dulce, Guatemala, it was a beautiful early morning ride under clearing skies on nice road into El Salvador.
Riding south for 50 kms from Rio Hondo, Guatemala, one comes to a fork in the road....5 kms east, and you are in Honduras, and 5 kms south and you are in El Salvador.
Other than the famous ruins of Copan, Honduras, and the fantastic scuba diving in the Honduras Caribean Islands of Roatan, there was not really much else for me to see, and since I now had enough of ruins, and I don't scuba dive, I headed South to El Salvador.
After the usual entry proceedure at the border...Latin Americaln border officials LOVE "stamps" - (like the ones that go in your passports and on documents) - there was the never ending series of documents, stamps, forms, stamps, copies, stamps, and fumigations, after which I finally hit the roads of El Salvador.
One other "proceedure" you see at every border, is the exchange of "dollars".
You are "assaulted" by at least 5 - 10 men waiving 4 inch thick wads of money, compeating with each other to get your "business" to change your current money to the next countries currency. They all shout different exchange rates, and when you pick the best one, it starts all over again. In the end, you can usually get to within 1% of the official bank rate, and since I only need enough money to get me to the nearest "cajeo automatica", this is not a problem. By the way, while these "transactions" are technically illegal, no one really seems to care.
I arrived in San Salvador, a huge city, (pop. 500,000) and called Rene Caceres, a friend of Bruno's (Rio Dulce).
Rene asked me where I was, and within 15 minutes he was there in an old Jeep Cheroke, and told me to follow him to his house, which was more like a mansion!
Five minutes out of the city center, high on a hill in a gated community, we pulled into Rene's beautiful 5 story, multi veranded home built in the colonial style of white walls, teracotta roofs, and dark wood trim...it was beautiful.
Rene insisted that as a friend of Bruno's, I stay with him.
He showed me to my room with privare bath and balconied terrace, and said the maid would have supper waiting after I showered.
Rene, somewhere in his 60's, is now sort of retired, leaving his daughter Peggy and other sons run his meat processing business. He also owns the only Deli, "KREEF", in San Salvador, run also by Peggy and Rene's wife.
Rene and I chatted over a simple supper where I met Peggy, a beautiful girl who lives with Rene and her son, while her husband, Carlos, lives in Managua, Nicaragua where he works in the "shmata" business. They get to gether approx. 1 week each month, but soon plan to open a deli in Managua and then Peggy and Carlos will live together there.
The next morning after breakfast, Rene proudly showed me his mobile home which he uses to travel with his family, and then took off to the gym, while I spent most of the day at a surfing beach 30 minutes south of SS, La Libertad.
That evening, I met Peggy and her friend, Tita, who was about to marry a Canadian the next week, at the deli where I had a great pastrami and cheese with a German beer.
The deli, Kreef, is located in the Zona Rosa, which is the general name given to the upscale resto, shopping, and nightclub/disco area most cities in Mexico and Central America. This section resembled any modern, first world city.
Guns are another thing in El Salvador, as in most cities in Mexico and central America.
I see more guns in a day than I see in a decade in Montreal.
Posted in front of banks, hotels, restos, discos, parking lots, homes, ice cream parlors, MacDonalds and BurgerKings....just about anywhere you go....you see bored looking security guards packing, M16s, or 9mm pistols, or shot guns, or all of the above.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central america, and the ONLY one with no access to the Carribean, and despite it's long history it has few historic buildings.
This is because the city was destroyed several times by 2 earthquakes in the mid 1800's, and one in 1986, the erruption of the Volcan San Salvador in 1917, floods in 1934, and the most recent earthquake in 2001.
The next morning it was off to Honduras, and Managua, Nicaragua.
***GO BACK TO THE "RIO DULCE" ENTRY AND READ THE NEWLY ADDED (BOLD/ITALIC) PARAGRAPHS ON GUATEMALA CITY.***
The plan here was to ride the 3 hours straight through Honduras, and try for San Salvador, El Salvador.
The border at Honduras was something else... TOTAL disorganization....different ramshackle buildings with no markings...that houses the customs, imigration, insurance, security, and the ever present fumigation people.
I was instantly besieged by at least a dozen kids, shouting in Spanish and waiving hand made, plastic laminated ID's in my face, essentially saying that they will facilitate my passage through the "system".
One kid looked pretty sharp, and spoke some english, so I "hired" him.
For the next 2 hours he literaly took me by the hand, saying, "Norman, sign here, go there, come here, $10USD please, now Norman go there and get a stamp put here, now Norman, give me your passport and drivers liscence and registration and $25USD, and wait here.......". At this point I said; "NO WAY", to which he responded, "OK, Norman, my brother will watch your bike and you come with me."
He seemed to know even more than the "officials" about what forms to fill out, and how, and where to place the never ending series of stamps.
Finally $75USD, and 2 hours later I was out travelling down the beautiful roads of Honduras, on my way to EL Salvador.
My entry "Honduras" dated 2004-08-14 had a few errors...
#1 - I only entered Honduras only AFTER El Salvador.
#2 - I was attempting to enter San SALVADOR, the capital of El Salvador....NOT San Jose, which is the capital of Costa Rica.
Sooooo....see the 2 previous entries.....
Checking out of Honduras was much easier than checking in, thank god, and checking in to Nicaragua was suprisingly the quickest and easiest so far.
But despite this, I lost so much time checking IN to Honduras that it was now a race against time to get into Managua, the capital, before dark.
One place you you DON'T want to be is on the roads of Mexico and Central America after dark. First of all there are animals....in many places the roads are an extension of peoples farms. Then there are the drivers who either don't use - or don't have - headlights, drunk drivers, roving robbers and gangs, and the rare pothole big enough to swallow your bike.
So there I was in Esteli, Nica, the last hotels before Managua, with 90 minutes left to sunset at 1800h....and I figured at least 2 hours to darkness and Managua.
Here the sun sets around 1800, but rises at 0500.
I called Carlos, Peggy's husband who assured me I could make it to our prearranged meeting point in Managua before darkness fell, and he would then guide me to his house. He also suggested that even if it DID get dark, that our meeting point would be easy to find, and that Managua was safe after dark.
So it was now a race against time to make it to Managua, a large spralling city of over 1,000,000 people and one of the few major cities of Central America only 50m above sea level, making it always hot - low to mid 30's throughout the year.
Managua, like San Salvador, had a rough history of natural disasters...fires and earthquakes(last one in 1972), after which geologists discovered the old downtown area to be riddled with faults, causing it to be abondoned. Only a handful of pre 30's buildings remain most of which are occupied with squatters.
The new Managua, built on the outskirts, with it's sprawling streets devoid of reference points, has little tourist value.
Well, back to the race which I was losing. It was now dark, with rush hour on, and I just arrived at the outskirts.
Imagine arriving in Montreal, after dark during rush hour, with unlit streets with no names.
But with determination and luck I found Carlos who insisted I stay with him in his apartment situated near the new Metro Centro, a modern mall, in the Zona Rosa.
Carlos is a beautiful generous guy with a great sense of humor, and after my shower, we were out on the town checking out the discos, restos, and hookers of every size, age, shape, and sex, who lined the strreets.
The next morning Carlos took me on a daylight tour of Managua, bringing me to it's many markets where he combined pleasure with business.
Carlos seemed to be known by, and friends with everyone in the huge markets, as well as most of the restos.
Early in the afternoon it was goodby to Carlos and off to the town of Granada, around 1 hour south, but not before giving Carlos who used to ride bikes, a chance to ride my motorcycle while I stayed home ("watch it", Peggy).
It was an easy ride south to Granada (pop. 90,000), Nica's oldest city. Although it did see some recent fighting between the Sandinistas and Somoza's forces, it was spared the shelling seen by other cities.
Today Granada is the major tourist center, retaining it's colonial character - streets lined with Spanish styled houses with stuccoed adobe walls and large doors opening into cool interior patios.
While it is situated on the shores of Lago de Nicaragua, Central America's 3rd largest lake (fresh water) measuring 180kms long and 60 kms wide, there is no swiming because of polution. It is separated from the Pacific by only 20 kms, and contains fresh water swordfish and s h a r k s .
Rising out of the center of the lake to almost 5,000 feet are 2 twin volcanos, the larger of which is still active.
Here I contacted another of Bruno's friends, Maria Mercedes (thankyou Bruno), a beautiful spirited 17 year old girl living with her grandparents. She offered to show me the nightscene of Granada but not before I asked "permissione" from her grandfather. He agreed, but only on the condition that we be chaperonned by her 2 cousins. After hitting the first bar, Maria asked for a ride on the bike to show me the night sights. It was a great idea since there was only room for Maria, causing us to lose her cousins....tsk, tsk.
For the next few days I roamed Granada and explored it's beautiful restos, bars, and markets.
I began every morning for the next 3 days with the best massage I ever had. Carlo charged only $10USD for one hour in his huge parlor with high ceilings and his table in the center of the room. With the wide open windows allowing a breeze to blow across the table, I relaxed, totally nude under at least a liter of olive oil and Carlo's strong hands...heaven on earth!
The last day there I took a side trip to the town of Masaya (pop, 111,000). Despite the fact the town suffered an earthquake 4 years ago leaving 1,000s homeless and killing 30, the artists markets were open and life goes on amid the reconstruction.
Next to Masaya is the still active volcano, "Volcan Masaya". You can drive to the top of the crater and see the billowing toxic smoking and steaming gases rising from the crater. There is a huge cross, frequently obliterated by the escaping gases, overlooking the crater, which was placed there by the Spanish in the 16th century. They belived this volcano was the gateway to hell and hoped the cross would exorcise the demons who dwelled there. It's an awsome sight to be right there at the crater of an active volcano looking down.
Despite the fact it's a tourist destination, here is a quote verbatum from the visitor's guide;
"The active crater could present some phenomena without advisement sush as: emition of smokes, expulsions of rocks, sand, and others. We advise you that gases irritate the eyes, the respiratory tract, affect people with asthma, and diminish visibility of the area. We recommend to keep away from the area.
Park your car facing away fron the crater.
In case of expulsions of rocks you can protect yourself under the car. (What about a motorcycle !?!?!)."
Early the next morning after my last visit with Carlo, it was off to the Pacific seaside town of San Juan del Sur.
After a pleasant 2 hour ride, interrupted by a 30 min. downpour, I arrived in the fishing town of San Juan Del Sur (pop. 6,000).
SJDS is set on a nice horseshoe shaped cove with dramatic cliffs forming at it's far edges. Although the beach is nice, I found it a bit dirty.
While cruising up the main street looking for a vacancy I was waved to by a beautiful couple sitting on the veranda of Posada Nina. It turns out they were real estate agents from Montreal, but became fed up with the city life, sold everything, bought a camper Volkswagon and are in their 2nd year of touring Mexico and Central America.
Elizabeth and Alain are now hoping to settle down in SJDS and buy a small posada (B & B).
Their "business card" reads;
"Elizabeth et Alain en voyage...Ne savent quand reviendront....."
E and A were spending the next few days at their friend's, Nina, untill their rented home is ready. Nina offered me a great deal on a room which I booked and was promptly invited to join them all for supper in Nina's kitchen where we were joined by E&A's visiting son, Maxime, and Nina's son Roberto and little daughter. It was great to have a home cooked meal in a family enviornment.
The following morning, I left my moto locked up near Nina's and hitched a ride with a gang of Italian surfers and headed up the coast 12 kms by 4x4 to the remote surfing beach of Playa Maderas.
From there it was a 10 min. walk on the beach to an even more remote beach, Playa Majagual and the beautiful "Bahia Majagual Eco-Lodge", where I spent the next 3 nights on a hammock under a palapa 20 meters from the high tide line.
Days were spent walking the many beaches that scalloped the coast and just laying on the hard clean sand that sloped ever so slightly to the surf. Every 5 minutes or so a wave would slowly creep up to me, bathing me in 1 or 2 cms. of water and then slowly recede.....as they say in Costa Rica, "Pura Vida" (the good life).
3 days later I returned to Nina's and found E&A packing up to their new rented house a few blocks away.
It was also Alain's birthday and I was invited there to their beautiful new home for dinner with Nina and her family. Nina cooked a fabulous lasagna, and with the rum and wine flowing, we all had a great time.
It was hard to leave the company of Nina and E&A. In the space of only a few days they felt like family.
However time was getting short, and early the next morning we all kissed good-bye and it was off to Costa Rica.
While the Caribean of Nica and most other countries of Central America are also very beautiful, such a the "Corn" islands of Nica, and "Rotan" islands of Honduras, there just isn't a developed road network serving the Carribean side, notwithstanding the rain there at this time of the year.
It's for these reasons, that except for Guatemala, and Costa Rica, I have not visited these areas.
With Costa Rica's (CR) reputation for being the most "North American" like country of all Latin America, I was off from Nicaragua with high hopes!
Not only is CR safe but it's also very friendly.
It's been a democracy since the 19 century and is now one of the most peaceful nations in the world. In fact the armed forces were abolished after the 1948 civil war, and CR has since avoided the despotic dictatorships, military coups, terrorism, and internal strife that has affected the other countries of Central America.
CR is also famous for it's enlightened approach to conservation and the enviornment, with over 25% of the country protected in one form or another.
That however changed as soon as I hit the border.
First of all the clerk said I had to wait because his computer was down...10 minutes, he said.....well 2 hours later after begging and pleading, he simply stuck a form in his typewriter, typed a few lines, stamped it ...and said good bye. I could have killed him. My plan was to hit the capital, San Jose, before dark, and losing 2 hours was going to make this run difficult.
At least the roads were great, as they were with Mexico and the rest of Central America....in fact in all the 18,000 kms I had put on my bike so far, I encountered a 10 km stretch of road in Nicaragua, and another soon to be found in CR, that was even close to the dismal roads we have in Quebec....sad, but true!!
After an hour or so as I gained a few thousand feet of altitude, it began to rain lightly as it typically did under these conditions since leaving Guatemala. I pulled into a small "soda", as little road side restos are called in CR, for some nice dark CR coffee. The owner said that CR is comprised of about 20 micro climates, and that while it was raining there, it could easily be sunny and hot 10 kms down the road. So after my coffee, I left and sure enough.......!
After another 2 hours of great riding on 2 lane CA1 (Pan American Highway) the traffic flow came to an abrupt stop. After waiting 10 minutes, I decided to pull into the oncoming lane and get by all this traffic, which after about 10 kms seemed to be all "semis" (18 wheelers) and other big trucks. I continued another 15 minutes, passing all this stopped wall of traffic until....I was face to face with an oncoming police car. His lights and siren immediatly came on and he stopped me. But all he did was inform me that this was a major "demonstration" by all the truckers of CR because of the governments policy on safety inspections. Their tactic was to totally shut down the CA1 about 20 kms farther down the road at San Ramon. He then took off saying I should not be using that lane and I should wait until the demonstration would be over...which could be hours !!
Once he disappeared behind me, I continued riding the oncoming lane of traffic...I wanted to be in San Jose before dark.
Finally arriving at San Ramon I spotted a huge demonstration of truckers - around a 1,000 of them in the highway shouting and waiving banners, with the road completely blocked by burning tires, and a barrier of cut down trees.
So there I was in the middle of the riot amongst the truckers, facing off with the police on the other side.
Even though there is a basic rule that foreigners should NOT under any circumstances get involved in any political demonstrations, I decided to use my sales skills to "sell" these guys on the idea that their cause would be better served if they could show the public that they had no fight with tourists, and especially since it was now raining again, they could show they had a heart, and let me past the barrier.
I wound my way through the crowd until I reached one of the leaders at the front who spoke some english. I pleaded my case and he bought the idea. He then yelled through his megaphone, and within minutes the crowd began to cheer me on, and dismantle the barrier to let me through.
Well this worked better than I thought, until at the other side, I was promptly arrested by the police for taking part in a demonstration as a foreigner. While in handcuffs I explained I had NO sympathies with either side, and that all I wanted to do was to get to San Jose before dark. Also the truckers who now saw their "new friend" beign arrested, began to become quite agitated and with the police being quite outnumbered, they decided to make their own "PR" show, and let me go.
Now it was a race against the sun which I lost. I rode into the outskirts of SJ in the dark. And like when I entered Managua, it was pretty scarry since I had no idea where to go in this city of almost 1,000,000 people.
Call it a sixth sense or what, but with a turn here and another there I found my self at a neat hostel in the middle of town. It was a converted mansion and even had a garage where they let me park my bike.
While touring San Jose the next day, I saw a poster showing a trip to the Carribeen side of the country to the Park National Tortuguero where in this highly protected area you can go to the beach at night with certified guides and see the leatherback turtles emerge from the ocean at night and lay their eggs.
Having seen this phenomen many times on TV, I jumped at the chance to see this first hand and promptly set up this 2 day adventure with a local outfitter.
I was told to be ready to be picked up from the hostel at 0530 in the morning. It was a long ride to Tortuguero by mini buss, then 4x4, and the final 90 minutes by speed boat.
After making arrangements with the hostel to leave my bike in the garage, I was off to T, a small town of 600 people and 10 hotels. The town is set up on a series of natural canals that parallel the ocean, ond here we see both howler and spyder monkeys, toucans, parrots, iguanas, alligators and many other jungle animals.
After checking in to the hotel and an early supper, I napped untill "Jungle Tom", the outfitter, woke me at 2130 to say it was time to head to the beach.
Well, what an experience it was!
To to watch 400 lb., 60 - 200 year old leatherback turtles measuring 4 feet by 3 feet come out of the ocean at midnight, dig a hole 6 feet deep and lay approx 125 baseball sized eggs, then cover them up and dissapear into the ocean for another 3 years...was amazing...WOW!
The next morning while touring the many canals we came across this encampment with a huge Canadian flag. It was a non profit organization out of Toronto doing research on the turtles. After a tour of the facility, it was a long ride back to the Hostel.
The next morning it was off to the coffee plantation, Finca Rivera, 100 kms south of San Jose, high up in the mountains. This plantation is owned by the family of the sister in law, Ginnette, of my good friends from Boston, Laurie and Glen.
I stayed in Ginnette's home and met her parents, sister and four brothers who run the plantation. The next day it was off to the fields with one of the brothers, and after a 1 hour hike up the hill side it was 5 hours of back breaking work with macheties, clearing the undergrowth from around the coffee plants.
After a day of rest I decided that this would be the most southern point of my adventure. Being already weeks longer than I had planned, there was simply no time for Panama....which combined with South America, will be part of my next adventure.
After saying goodby to Ginette's family it was off to Playa Tamarindo, on the Nicoya Peninsula on the north Pacific coast of CR.
......to be continued.....
First of all, some corrections and additions on my stay at the coffee plantation south of San Jose in the town of Jerico. The "Finca" is owned by JEANNETTE'S family who is married to KENNY, the brother of Laurie (and Glen), my sailing friends from Boston.
Kenny and Ginette live in Maine, but set things up for my stay in their second home next to the family home in Jerico, Costa Rica (CA).
There I met most of Jeannette's family, Don Francisca and Dona Celina, her parents, and Juan Bautiste, William, Olman, Celi, and Henry, her brothers and sister.
They immediatley made me feel at home in Jeannette's and Kenny's home.
My first day there I exlored the beautiful moutainous countryside, while Olman and Henry worked in the coffee fields.
That evening I said I wanted to join them the next day to work on the plantation....they looked at me like I was crazy (not too far off).
So the next morning I met Olman with his machetie. I asked him where mine was...he laughed and thought I was kidding, but he soon understood and gave me a machetie too.
After an hour hike straight up we arrived a the section to be cleared. After a short "course" on how to use this razor sharp tool, it was down to work. After 4 hours I was wacked out, and my hands had small cuts everywhere...but I was not going to give up until Olman called it a day - I had to prove that Canadians were tough ! (Beat that, Glen!!)
Finally an hour later, he said that was it for the day...thank you Olman...and we headed back down, stopping now and then to pull oranges off the trees...mmmmm.
As a coffee lover, it was a real treat to see some of what goes in to producing it...you can now call me "Juan Valdez" ! :-)
Returning to the farm, Olman made me lunch, and I slept the rest of the afternoon.
OK, now off to Playa Tamarindo to meet Julius, a friend of my doctor, Ivan Rohan.
Playa(beach) Tamarindo and nearby(1 km.), Playa Lagosta, is one of of the most beautiful and rapidly growing areas on the North Pacific coast of CR, and no wonder. The beaches are beautiful, uncrowded, warm ocean, and consistantly great weather.
In Lagosta where Julius has his beautiful home minutes from the beach...see "Photos", there is simply no more ocean front land available.
His spectacular home is available, by the way, for minimum rental periods of 2 - 3 weeks and it's a great deal !!! Let ME know if you are interested. (You can check out his developing web site at " www.TamarindoRentals.com ".
Julius decided long ago he was just fed up with the rat race up north and set up his life here where he has been buying and developing prime realestate.
I spent a week with him wherein we shared our lives together, whether working on one of his latest construction sites, watching the sun rise and set over the beach, or eating fresh caught fish with our feet in the sand. He is a terrific guy and after a week it was hard to say goodby to Julius and Tamarindo. (Thank you, Ivan Rohan).
Now it was time to head home, but not without stopping in Mexico D.F. to celebrate Mexican Independence Day - Sept.15th - with Miguel, Roberto and friends of (Club) Motolatino, to be followed a week later by a visit with my old Crand Canyon hiking buddy, Lou Martin, in New orleans
Here I am in front of the Jaguar Inn in Tikal, Guatemala.
My "border brokers" entering Honduras.
Waiting out the rain on the way to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.
On Nina's porch, San Juan Del Sur.
Dinner at Nina's with (L to R) Nina, daughter, Maxime, Alain, and Elizabeth. A&E are in the process of painting Nina's dining and reception area.
Bahai Majagual Eco-Lodge.
On a boat in the "canals" in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.
At Julius' (Ivan Rohan's friend) in Lagosta, Costa Rica (near Playa Tamarindo).
This is Julius at his pool.
Julius making me work for my supper at one of his construction sites.
Morning and sunset at Playa Tamarindo.
At 2000h on the 17 September, I sadly left Mexico, and crossed the border into Brownsville, TX. (on the Gulf of Mexico).
Stay tuned for the Costa Rica and the return trip stories.
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