That was an experience, we have just finished 5 days of Spanish "immersion" lessons. Five hours a day of one on one tutorials, and around 2-3 hours of home work a night.
At the same time we have been staying with a local family to get the full experience.
We chose Quetzaltenango (Or Xela, pronounced Shayla, by the locals) because it was ;-
a) At a high altitude (7600 feet), so no Malaria issues which meant we could come off the medication for a week
b) It was not "touristy", we were not getting dragged into every restaurant or shop as we passed like we were at Antigua and Atitlan.
c) The school was highly recommended.
d) It is not a main back packer stop off, so not a drunken party town and not many locals speak English which makes shopping and food ordering much more fun and worthwhile.
We could have gone to a school in Lago de Atitlan with this view
But, being us, we chose this one in Xela.
I've really enjoyed my week and have managed to move my Spanish on a bit. I'm impressed with some of the people we met in the school who have been there a month or more, their Spanish is now excellent. It really is the best way of learning a language.
We finished the week by helping out with the schools English class, free for locals, and taking Salsa Lessons. Yes, me , Salsa lessons. Lets just say, Jean could do with a new partner for dancing, one who has a left and a right foot. The one move we could manage was the "spin out, spin back" and will be happy to demonstrate it on our return.
Due to the altitude of Xela we are getting temperature swings like we had in Mexico City, high 20s during the day to below zero overnight. Last night hit -4, and Jean chose it for a spot of Moctezuma's revenge. Which would not have been so bad, except the toilet is across a courtyard next to where I took this picture and our room is over by my motorbike.
She was not a happy bunny this morning.
Anyone watching our progress on the map at http://www.ytc1.co.uk may will have noted it has been slowing down somewhat, we seem to have come to a stop in Guatemala, and we have been off the bikes more than on ( not just in the way Jean was off at Lanquin). So far we have only visited 5 countries, in over 3 months, and we have at least another 11 to see before we head for Spain. But Guatemala just does not seem to be a place to hurry away from, we have met many other travelers who have been here for over a month, and others that keep returning.
Next stop is Guatemala City for new tyres and an oil change, if I can get Jean out of bed tomorrow.
Performance in the Parque Centro, Quetzeltenango, Guatemala.
Marimba is the national music of Guatemala, and is played on large wooden xylophones with a group of players. Each player holds up to 2 beaters in each hand. What follows is an incredibly well sychronised multi-layered performance of complex pieces of music. When we arrived they were giving 'White Christmas' the marimba treatment!
The water is loverly, Surf's up !
We had a choice between Volcanoes or Beach. We both felt it was time to visit a beach.
It has taken us over three months to reach the Pacific, and it happened to be our 100th day on the road, so a birthday of sorts.
The beach is in the small coastal village of El Tunco in El Salvador, and had been recommended to us by both the motorbike dealer and the hostel owner in Guatemala City. It is laid back, has a brown volcanic sandy beach and is a surfers hangout.
As it was out of season the breakers were only 6 feet high (on average), they are a constant 12 feet in season.
When you are standing facing the beach with the water up to your neck one second and then only up to your waist the next, you know it is time to take a breath before being knocked over.
My previous experience of the Pacific in LA and San Fransisco is that it can be a touch on the cold side. Here it is warm, even in the morning and after sunset. Running in is a pleasure, no sudden shocks at around waist height.
After what seems like many months of mountains (except it was only a month ago we were in the Caribbean) seeing the Pacific was exhilarating, especially as it coincided with a well tarmaced, bendy but fast coast road on fresh run in tyres.
El Tunco beach, El Salvador. Looking over the Pacific.
Pengy considers theories of evolution and why there are a lot of surfers but no penguins on Central American beaches.
And then the sun went down, as it does every day........
Our plan for Costa Rica was to head straight through in the "Inter Americana" highway that cuts through the capital, San Jose, and then into the mountains.
We stopped over night just across the border ( a four hour crossing from Nicaragua) in Liberia and had an early start at 08:00.
Initially the road was good, but then as it hit the first mountain range the number of trucks and tailbacks increased, and our speed dropped as it was overtake, overtake, overtake.
We didn't get into the outskirts of San Jose until just before midday, and were negotiating the lack of signs when we spotted a gas station so pulled in to top up and get oriented with the myriad of roads and junctions.
The attendant would not fill the bike until I got off, but would not explain any reason until I repeatedly asked him "Por que?". Apparently it is a law in Costa Rica to avoid spill problems and drive offs, but we had not been asked to dismount anywhere else.
As I got off, the woman from the car in front that he had just filled asked him for some directions, in Spanish, and he ignored her repeatedly. He then refused to fill both bikes on the same pump reading so he had to take down the total and add it up later manually.
As it was a hot day I was getting a bit ratty, and having realised the woman was not native due to her accent I let rip with a rant in English, which seemed to amuse her. As things happen we got talking and she asked us where we were headed etc.
When she (Tanya) heard our plans for our route she was most insistent that the coast road was a better option, our maps showed it as being incomplete and not passable, but she assured us it was now paved the entire way back to the Inter Americana and that her husband, Lee, would be glad to lead us to the unlisted toll road to the coast. They were spending Christmas in Costa Rica with some friends.
We have learned not to look gift horses in the mouth, so decided it was a plan.
Tanya was right about us not being able to find the toll road, it was completely unsigned.
When we got to the coast road they pulled in to see some crocodiles, as we chatted and prepared to say goodbye she invited us to stay with them over night in their holiday home, which was only 2 hours from the border.
Jean and I quickly realised it would have been rude not to accept the offer, especially when we saw a picture of the view from the infinity pool.
It was still another three hours down the coast, including a detour to see some Iguanas at a resort hotel.
Due to the delays it was getting dark as we turned off the highway and onto unpaved tracks into the hills, the 5km ride up to the house was another test of our off road skills as it wound up steep rises and we avoided deep ruts left over from the heavy rain water washing down the hill. At one point I got a deep, long puddle wrong and thought I was about to go over but managed touch my feet down and stop the tip, my pants got a bit muddy.
Doing the road in the dark mean it was more a case of feeling the surface through the steering and we were both pleased with ourselves when we finally arrived.
it was straight into the pool, beer and then food.
The house was in fact two houses, part the way up a cliff, edged by jungle with unhindered views to the Pacific .
After an early night, it was an early rise as the jungle noises wake you up around 05:30, so we went outside into the early dawn and watched some monkeys swing past, followed by a fascinating couple of hours seeing all manner of exotic birds flying by.
Finally the morning ended with a yoga session on the balcony, with the calming seascape as a backdrop, certainly more pleasurable than the last time I did yoga, at the St Helens YMCA.
We left around 11:00 to witness the track in the daylight, and to be passed by a moped ridden by a local woman with 2 passengers.
It was a wonderful experience, from the moment we met Tanya and her family, to the moment we left and returned to the paved road.
A short ride to the Panamanian border, which despite being so quiet on Xmas Eve still took us two hours to cross. We were headed to the house of an ex-pat, Norman, who had contacted us many many many months ago and has been kind enough to host us over Xmas with his girlfriend Emelia.
When we arrived the first creature to greet us was a monkey called Bubba who has no mother and does not know it is a monkey. A real handful.
He has taken a shine to Jean
He just poos on me.
After a quick meal we then had to go out with Norman, Emelia and friend Billy to join in the custom of decorating some trucks, which the local children then pile in, and driving in a noisy cavalcade through villages throwing sweets at the rest of the local children
We had not expected to find a house kitted out like Santa's grotto in Central America.
After the expense of Costa Rica, finding out beer, in a bar, is only 50 cents a bottle was a pleasant surprise.
(Note they use the US dollar as currency in Panama)
The countries we flashed through
Ok, a quick summery so as not to bore people.
This was the border crossing I had dreaded, there have been so many stories of corrupt officials, and dodgy "helpers" that hassled in crowds I wondered if we would even get across in a day.
This was one of those occasions were one of us looked out for the other.
In El Salvador we were "met" by some really pushy helpers at the gas station 3k from the border.
I kept telling them we didn't need their help, but they were persistent and followed us to the border in their truck.
When we got to the border we were surrounded by more and in a moment of weakness I selected the original one and followed him (my intention was just to give him $5 to keep the others at bay).
Jean thought he was dodgy and refused to follow so I had to back pedal the bike and tell the helper to forget it.
He started to ask me who wore the trousers, I said it was Jean.
He and his friends followed us around for an hour, wasting their own time as we dealt with all the paper work ourselves (after all we had done the same process since Mexico on our own). Our simple Spanish is now good enough to humour the officials, especially when the helpers started to tell us what forms the customs woman would give us, I told them in Spanish that "She has a mouth of her own".
The best moment was when a group of them followed us into a small cramped photocopy shop and pointed at the photocopier saying "photocopier... photocopier", Jean snapped, and giving up on the polite ''No gracias senors" which had no effect over the previous hour, finally turned round and told them to F*&K Off :-)
They then started to argue amongst them selves and Jean heard them calling us rubbish and other names in Spanish, so I rounded on them and let them know (in Spanish) we understood what they were saying, that finally got rid of them.
In all it only took us 2 hours to cross ( slightly over average).
We are glad we did not use them as we have met a few people since who have been totally tipped off.
It only costs $35 to get a bike into Honduras, we met 1 guy who had been fleeced for $140, and 2 who had paid them $100 each.
Now when we see any I just say "No" loudly and ride through them :-)
We watched a parade of "cowboys" making their horses dance to the disco music in the streets of Estelli.
We changed plans and went to Granada because a police man told us to. Well worth it.
We visited a volcano and were able to ride right up nest to the active rim.
The worst border crossing yet. Over four hours, the Nicaraguan side starts with a 4km line of trucks to be passed, then you have to cross from the right to the left to enter the "compound" where the passport offices and the customs offices are scattered around, unsigned, with various officials that need to sign and stamp paper work.
There was one sign on the customs building though, I know borders can move but this was ridiculous, last time I looked Guatemala was the other side of Honduras.
Once we had cleared Nicaragua we had a long queue to enter Costa Rica as 4 bus loads had beaten us to it. We passed the time chatting to Dan and Mike, another 2 bikers on the same route who rode with us into Liberia for the night.
We parted in the morning as we were going to take the mountain road and them the coast. During our detour mentioned at the start of this blog entry, we met them again later at the resort complex.
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