October 15, 2007 GMT
Central America

CENTRAL AMERICA

Well – some of it anyway.

That’s really Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama for us.

Seems like a lot to see in just over 3 weeks – but we have been moving slowly – short riding days – and lots of time to enjoy the beaches, mountains, lakes and volcanoes – and the great old towns as well. Towns like Copan Ruinas, Altitlan, Chichicostingango, Granada, and of course Panama City.

These countries are all pretty small and very diverse for such common histories.

We started the process of several absolutely chaotic border crossings – with perhaps the most chaotic & quite bizarre one – from Mexico to Guatemala. For some reason, the main road through (which just happens to coincide with a large indigenous market) was closed – we were redirected down a dirt side track & through the walking tracks in the midst of the market & up a very steep & rough track – back to the border post - with churning people, carts, kids, dogs everywhere – what a buzz for our chaotic entry to Guatemala.
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Proceedings went smoothly (though VERRRYYYY slowwllly) at the border – the process is similar at all borders:

1.
Get to the border – usually recognized by a huge parked train of trucks, thousands of people, a few non descript buildings – and little if any signs– then find the right building (somewhat by chance – or in our case – usually Kevin has a good memory from his previous border crossings – but not always).
Find a park for 15 bikes and the van – ensure you leave at least 1 person at the parked bikes to avoid the light finger brigade - find the right window (usually one only) and hand over the Passport – immigration exit from the leaving country – usually pretty simple.

2.
Customs – leaving country – find another non descript window, and hand over the bike details – they are checked against the entry document – sometimes the bike is checked – then a clearance stamp on the passport – not so simple – and usually 1 person does it for our 15 bikes – each individually (maybe an hour or 2).

3.
Move site to entering country – maybe next door – maybe a couple of kms away (and maybe a rope across the road – or if it warrants it a boom gate) – find a park – run away from all the hawkers & money changing peddlers & “official” helpers – start the immigration process again – Passport & stamp – simple.

4.
Find non descript customs window & hand over all bike documents again (at least once – sometimes in 2 places) – bike permit issued, sticker on the bike (sometimes) – wait for all the group to do same – and move on!!!!

Phew – if we are lucky – it takes 3 hrs – if we are not lucky – it has taken 7 hrs to cross a border – we are told of many instances when it can take days!!!. Kev is pretty savvy with the process & we use “helpers” when it all gets too hard. The one common factor at all crossings – you pay – and pay – and pay. Who knows how much of it shows up on the records.

Once into Guatemala, twisty mountain roads, belshing overloaded trucks (the one common deniminator everywhere) - and our first very pleasant stop - Lake Atlitlan – staying at an old Coffee Plantation transformed into a magnificent hotel & Guatemala Independence Day.

A few hints of the hotel, the views, and the magnificent gardens:
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Roomy Mark and Mike outside our room:
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The hotel had birds - these macaws were let out to stroll around - I found myself being pursued by them arround the garden - they bite!
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Jeff got into the act & they were after him as well:
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Independence day - procession in local village:
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Then a great riding day to the north - into the mountains where the indigenous indians have a great market town called Chichicastingango. They trade there - as they have done for centuries. Spent hours wondering the markets - getting lost & just people watching (had to buy 2 Che Guavera tee shirts though - one for Sam - happy birthday son!)
the great fruit & vege section of the market:
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Eric - taking photos in the bustle:
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Ladies selling wonderfully colourful cloths & rugs:
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Back to the wonderful hacienda style hotel - for local musicians welcoming us:
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Mountains & dirt riding – anther border crossing!
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and into Honduras.

A newly discovered (by travellers) town called Copan Ruinas - near Mayan ruins - a German couple ran the hostel - and I enjoyed a great massage to pipe music & breezes across the mountains. The ruins were different to Palenque, and had a great example of the "football pitch" game played by royalty - where death to the losers was common. Some examples of the ruins:
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The football pitch - the angled side structures have the goals & are used to bounce the ball off the sides:
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The player changing rooms above the pitch
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The magnificent history stairway - that recorded several hunderd years of Mayan history - under preservation & repair:
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The jungle has won the war for over a 1,00 years & restitution is slow:
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An ornate sacrifice altar:
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My guide for the day - Antonio - 70 years old & as he says - "famouns - in the Guiness Book of Records" for his knowledge & language skills - even remembers guiding Bob Hawke through the ruins in 1980 - said he drank alot!
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After the time with Antonio (even going into the 6kms of tunnels below the the later structures - that archeologists have dug to explore the older ruins upto 30m below the surface) - I wandered the Mayan city for hours - often in blissful solitude - to imagine the society that created all this. An inspiring day!

Into Nicaragua next -not yet really on the tourist map - but quite beautiful. The poice ar shockers though - we were warned! They stopeed a small group of us 3 times in 1 day - supposedly checking documents & "enforcing the traffic rules" - but really trying a shakedown - we were ready & played the game & had some great sport playing dumb. One insistant group of 3 ended up costing me 3 kangaroo pins - they were chuffed & we rode away with smiles!

Masaya Volcano - we were allowed at the caldera complete with plumes of sulphur fumes (would not be allowed in most places - but hey! - this is Nicaragua) - a guard advised "keep your vehicles parked ready for a quick get away - in case she blows - and stay only 10 minutes - or you may become ill from the sulphur fumes!!"
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Matt - still smiling - not quite poisoned yet!
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Then to Granada - a 500 year old town - in rebirth mode after years of conflict. We stayed at a grand old hotel on the plaza:
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Sunday evening - pleople wandering the plaza & streets - music from the church & a great meal in a classic old hotel that has been beautiflly renovated.

We also got a boat onto lake Nicaragua - huge & some exclusive island homes for sale:
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After a few local rums - we were diving off the boat (impressive back flips) - and watching the sun go down - I must admit, I felt like a 12 year old having pure fun!!

Into Costa Rica - probably the most tourist oriented country in Central America - lots of beach resorts & wealthy Americans buying up (holiday or retirement homes) - condo construction everywhere.

Stayed at the beach at Paya Hermosa on the Caribbean coast - a great swim, a run along the beach, watch the sun go down over the water - and then 2 lobsters for dinner!!

The mountains & rainforest are very like north Qld - stayed at an eco lodge & explored the jungle. Along the way - La Paz waterfall:
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You could get behind the waterfall:
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Note the old bridge - collapsed:
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Back to the Caribbean coast - near the border - ready for another hectic crossing (the secret is to get there early) - stayed at a coastal lodge called: "Suizo Loco Lodge" - run by a crazy Swiss guy - who has settled in Costa Rica & built a craxy lodge:
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A walk along the beach
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and great night - started at a seafood restaurant - where I plundered a bottle of wine & some rum liquers - by enthralling all with my "get the cork out of an empty wine bottle" trick - only to repeat the performance back at the lodge - again the reward being a variety of schnapps, rum, wine and (hmmm!) some local Costa Rican herbal delights! The small group left at the end of the evening (including the loco Suizo) had such tales to tell the next day!

The next day was border day - this also involved crossing the 2 infamous "banan bridges" - timber decked bridges - high above the river - with rotted timbers, huge gaps, little guarding protection - and for a few of us - huge hangovers!
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Successfully on the other side:
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Most rode across with confidence & had no hassles - some faultered & needed help - a few fell!

Into Panama - and an introduction to local politics - a roadblock by a local village - demanding the committed funds for school supplies:
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We spoke with the school teacher - 450 kids - 2 classromms - no books - have to use their hands to learn Spanish & English (after their indigenous language) - good luck to them - we all applauded their cause!

Panama City – half way! Yahoo!
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A few days in Panama - sort the bikes to fly them to Ecuador, see the canal & celebrate with a dinner of local cuisine & dancing:
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The Panama canal:
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the lock system:
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and finally a few celebrations to mark the half way point:

Rod (our van driver & the jounalist cronicling the expedition on the Globebusters web site) - leaving us to rejoin his new wife in Melbourne (they were married just before the trip started) - a few well chosen gifts for Rod - in character with the local culture - to thank him for his support and outlook:
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and finally the award for the most outrageous silliness so far - went to Prof - the honour of wearing the silly hat (he had to wear it on the plane to Ecuador!)
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That's all for now - next entry will be Ecuador & Peru in a few weeks


Cheers

Ron & The Black Mamba

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 05:25 PM GMT
 
 

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