"The Bar Mas Bohemia"
7-31-06 start 30,120 end 30,332
Last night I went to a bar called La Musa, right around the corner from where I was staying. "The Bar Mas Bohemia" People with dreadlocks and t shirts that said "without justice there is no peace" and things like that. In spanish, of course. They had two folk singers, one of which was a great guitar player. He played a nylon stringed acoustic guitar that had a really smooth sound, and the room had great acoustics. Unfortunately, I could only catch the odd word here and there, because it was all in Spanish.
I wanted to check out San Miguel de Allende, but didn't want to make a whole day out of it, since I just took a day off in Guanajuato. I rode the hundred miles or so to SMdA and parked the bike near the square. I walked around the town for an hour or so and took pictures. San Miguel is like the Jackson Wyoming of Mexico, which I knew, but wanted to see for myself. It has Dunkin Donuts and Remax real estate, and US plates on a lot of the Jeeps and Land Rovers parked around town. None of this makes it a bad place, like most of these kind of places it its a beautiful location, which is what attracted people in the first place, and that is still there. The architechture is similar to Guanajuato, except for the big church in town, that is quite different from anything I have seen in Mexico. It's just that it starts to become a cartoon of itself when enough people like me go there.
Got back on the road, and really went through a lot of different climate zones. What they call the Central Highlands, where I've been for most of the last week has about the most perfect climate you could imagine. For instance in Guanajuato, I didn't see any evidence of heat or AC in any of the buildings there, except the occasional fireplace. It gets cool enough at night that you want a thick blanket, and warms into the 80's in the afternoon. And it doesn't vary much during the year. This country is pretty dry though, and the trees are just scrubby little things. On the way south, I crossed in to the state of Michoacan and the country got a lot greener. Not jungle but very lush, with the corn growing 6 or 7 feet high, instead of the puny stuff you see in northern Mexico. I'm starting to see what I think of as a very Central American land form. There are these hills with very steep sides, and rounded at the top, kind of bullet shaped. I assume they are lava domes, but I'm not enough of a geologist to know for sure. I climbed up and into a mountain range and was in pine forest that looked like something you would see in Washington state or somewhere.
The dogs seem more agressive here than further north. The northern dogs would seldom bother to raise their heads to look at me, where here, I can see them crouching for a good running start at me from far away. My theory is it is hotter in the desert north, where in the mountains it is cooler so the dogs have more energy. I got surprised by a tope (speed bump) for the first time this trip. A dog was chasing me, and I was playing the game where you go just fast enough so he thinks he might catch you, and you can run them till they about drop. Well I was watching the dog in my mirror and not the road when I hit a whopper of a tope at the speed of a fast dog. My knees about hit the handlebars, but I hung on to it. Serves me right, I guess.
Found a really nice motel for 165 pesos, in a town called Tuxpan, except that it is on a big hill and trucks go by using the Jake brake. Speaking of money, I have spent the equivalent of $320 dollars in the 8 days since I crossed the border, or $40 per day. I gave myself a budget of $400 a week average when I started planning this trip, but hoped to spend 2/3 of that, and that is right where I'm at. The other 1/3 will probably be consumed by unexpected expenses and motorcycle stuff.
On the way here, it kept occuring to my how many big towns there are in Mexico. i went through one caled Celaya, and it just went on for miles. It had a Home Depot, Sam's Club, and McDonalds. Ok, I have to admit it, I went to the Mcd's for lunch. It was just like an American one, and advertised wireless internet access, but then just to keep me on my toes, there was no soap or TP in the bathroom, and the electric hand dryer didn't work. What's up with Mexican bathrooms anyway? When I started taking motorcycle trips here a decade ago, you would go into a PEMEX gas station bathroom an there would be turds piled up to the toilet rim, and forget about TP. Now the PEMEX's look like 7-11's but still no TP. I guess that's just a sensitve subject with me.
8-1-06 start 30,332 end 30,565
Today I was navigationally challenged for the first time this trip. I wanted to take a road that went southwest, because it looked like it went through the most mountainous terrain. Fine, except I couldn't find the turnoff. I asked directions to the town of Melchor Ocampo, which was on the road I wanted, and when I followed them I knew I was going the wrong way. I stopped and asked someone else, and they told me the same thing, so I thought I was wrong and went ahead. Turns out there is another town called just Ocampo that was about 50 miles in the wrong direction. Well, how was I supposed to know there were 2 of them? Besides, I asked for the right one. Whatever. I know, get a GPS. So after some more backtracking I got a road going the general direction I wanted. The Ecuadoran guys I met in guanajuato said that Mexico was the hardest country for them to navigate in too, due to the lack of road signs. If native spanish speakers have trouble, I don't feel too bad. There are vey few numbered roads, and if you see a road sign with a highway number, it might mean that is the road, it might mean this road leads to the numbered road, or it might be there for NO FREAKING REASON. And while I'm on the subject ITMB maps SUCK. They show highways on the wrong side of rivers, half the towns aren't shown, and the code to tell you whether a road is paved, gravel, etc., is not reliable. i could have bought a Mexican road atlas in San Miguel for $20, but I'm not sure it is any better and it was to big to lug around anyway.
So even with al that, I still got to Taxco (TASS-ko) at a reasonable hour,which is where I wanted to go. This is the last on my mining town tour. This place is a silver town, and built more vertically than guanajuato, even though I didn't think that was possible. I don't know how anyone keeps a clutch in their car on these hills. This appears to be a town full of Mexican tourists, I don't think I have seen an obvious gringo since I have been here. After finding a hotel, and arrainging to have my clothes washed. Now let's stop there. What is the deal with laundry here anyway? I think I have only seen one coin op laundry in al the time I have spent in Mexico, and that was at a KOA campgound in Creel. You have to take your clothes to full service laundry to get them washed. Naturally IF you can find one, then you have to hope they actually have them ready when they say they will. Some entreprenuer could make a bundle with a chain of laundromats down here. The hotel people directed me to some woman in the neighborhood who washes clothes, who will probably have her kids beat them on a rock in the river or something. And I won't be able to get going in the morning until they are ready.
Anyway, this town strikes me as a low rent Guanajuato in looks, but without the international bohemian culture. There are some real nice silver jewelry galleries, which is what the town is known for. When I rode into town, I saw a Ducati Multistrada parked outside a restaraunt, so I went back there to see if it was still there. It was, and I went inside to see who owned it. The guy at the counter said it was not his. I'm pretty sure what he said was the owner of the restaraunt owned the bike and just left it parked there to attact attention. It worked on me. Killer tacos al pastor. So, i would call Taxco a tourist trap, albeit a Mexican tourist trap, that has nearly American prices with Mexican quality and sevice level. Not high on my must see Mexico list.
8-2-06 start 30,565 end 30,735
Acapulco is big. I had no idea it was so big, I looked it up and it is like 800,000 people. I got lost but first I better back up a little.
If you recall, I had taken my clothes to be washed in Taxco, and of course they weren't ready the next morning, so I didn't leave town till noon. I started south on the free road, and went about halfway to Acapulco, but after the billionth tope, I relented and took the cuota, or toll road. Besides, the poor KLR had been running around on 40 mph mountain roads for a week or so, and I thought it would be good to run 75 for awhile and clean it out. At least that was my excuse.
Taxco is in the mountains, and I was going to the coast, and the road just seemed to descend forever. Which brings me to another point, why have a toll both at the bottom of a huge hill? A loaded semi must use of most of its' brakes stopping there. Now you can do a lot of things cheap in Mexico, but drive on a toll road isnn't one of them. I cost me 95 pesos to get on the road, I asked the attendant, "Mas cuotas antes Acapulco?". Which I'm pretty sure is "more tolls before Acapulco?". He said "No, no mas". Lying bastard, I got nailed for another 80 some pesos before I got there. So I had done some research, and knew I wanted to go to a little town along the coast, north of Acapulco, called Pie de la Cuesta. However, I failed to reseach Acapulco. I thought I would just go to the ocean, turn right, and pretty soon I would be there. No way, Jose. Suffice to say, I got lost, it was hot, and I wasn't having fun. After getting directions from several people, and triangulating the results, I finally got there though.
Pie de la Cuesta is a peninsula that sticks out a couple miles or so into the ocean. There are a string of small hotels here, but it's off the highway, and way off the Acapulco scene. It's almost like a little piece of Belize, here on the Mexican coast, only without people trying to sell you drugs. Muy tranquilo. Scored a room for 2 nights at a real nice little beach resort, probably 30 rooms here. Roxana, the owner of this place is obviously part black in heritage, and there is a VW beetle with speakers on top playing Reggae music advertising something. $22 a night, not to shabby, right on the ocean side of the peninsula. Normally I'm not afraid to swim in the ocean, but the waves are pretty fierce looking here, so I doubt if I'll go in far.
Acapulco has a lot of hotels that look like they are probably from the Rat Pack era, 50's or so. Think Miami Beach, gone to seed. Miami Beach is maybe a little older, but you get the idea. Kind of run down looking from the outside, but if I have learned anyhting, it's you can't judge a Mexican hotel by the outside. It might be nice inside, it might not. I didn't go through the high zoot area, so I didn't see how the jet setters do it here.
Being back in the lowlands means there are insects again. I haven't seen a mosquito yet, but the flies are bad. I bought a head net, but it makes me look like subcomandante Marcos or somebody, so it would have to be real bad before I would wear it. I would probably get shot as a Zapatista or something. I am taking my cloroquine, but he best thing is to not get bit.
San Miguel de Allende: The main church there. Pretty futuristic looking, makes me think of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.
SMdA: The main plaza. The whole town looks like Guanajuato, only flatter (a relative term) and more Yuppified.
Taxco: Typical street scene.
Pie de la Cuesta: Hotel Roxana, go there. Now.
Today was basically a hammock and cerveza day. I had taken 2 other days off the bike, but had kept myself pretty busy on those, so this was the first time I really relaxed and did nothing. I did poke around town a little and had a couple beers at Steve's Hideout, which was mentioned in Lonely Planet. Steve was laying in a hammock watching a Mexican soap opera, and acted like it was an awful lot of effort to get up and get me a beer. He spoke decent english, but with an accent I couldn't place. I asked him where he was from, and he said Acapulco, but I don't believe it. After talking with him for awhile he said he had owned the place for 42 years and wanted to sell it and retire, since it is such a high stress operation. the place is run down, but has potential, and as they say, location, location, location. He wants 3 million pesos, or about $275,000. You heard it here first.
I have had zero trouble with my stomach this trip. In the past, I have done pretty well, as long as I stay away from seafood. The restaurant next door had a special on a sea bass dinner, so I decided to try it because, apparently, I am an idiot. See tomorrows entry.
8-4-06 start end 31,009
I wanted to get to Puerto Escondido today, which was a little over 400k from Pie de la Cuesta. After arguing about my bill a little bit, I had negotiated a small discount on my room and we had to find Roxana, the owner to straighten it out, I ate a normal breakfast and got on my way. It became evident real fast that I was in trouble with my innards. Without going into graphic detail, let's just say it was a good thing I was packing a roll of TP. See previous entry on PEMEX bathrooms. I had got on the road about 8:30, and it took me until 5:00 to get to PE, which seems like a long time, but 250 miles is pretty much an all day thing when you have to go through all the little towns and it's a windy, low speed road anyway. Not to mention the topes, although they can be a blessing, because if you've been having trouble finding a place to pass a truck, you can usualy get him at a tope. A high percentage of topes have a restaurant or abbarote
(convenience store, or convenience shack really) next to them. It always makes me wonder which came first, did they build a store because thats where traffic has to slow anyway, or did they put up their own tope just to slow traffic at their store? Hard braking made my stomach slosh forward, and really got to hurting after a while, so i was cussing all those topes.
So I got to PE and started looking for a place to stay. I saw a sign pointing down a alittle road and at the end was a little place run by a guy who must have been Ozzie or Kiwi, by his accent. He was full, but got me set up with another place down the road. I was just happy to be able to lie down, as I was really dragging by this time. This was one of theose places with a thatched roof and there was about four inches of open space between the roof and the top of the walls. At one point I watched two rats run in there and along the poles supporting the roof. Naturally that didn't help me rest any easier. I had originally thought I would go check out the beach bar scene that night, but no way was I up to it. If I had realized how miserable I was going to be, I would have stayed at the hotel Roxana another day, and laid on the beach.
8-6-06 start 31,009 end 31,212
It was only about 200 miles to Oaxaca from Puerto Escondido, so I got on the road by 8, a got to Oaxaca by 2 or so. This road could be one of the great motorcycle roads of all time, if it got a little maintenance. For 150 miles, I doubt there is more than a 50 yard straight stretch of road. You climb from sea level to whatever the elevation at Oaxaca is, maybe 6,000 feet. There had been some rain lately, and more than once there was equipment clearing mud and rockslides off the road. The pavement is rough for about half the way, and it was covered with sand and gravel, but what a ride. I'm back in the area of Mexico where the banks and gas stations have armed guards again. I went through 3 military checkpoints today, but got waved through all of them.
Food didn't appeal to me at all, but I was craving salt, so I ate some doritos, as that seemed like a low risk way to get some calories in me. Coke seemed to help settle my stomach too. Some PEMEX stations have all female pump attendants, most in their 20's and very pretty, but they wear those olive drab PEMEX coveralls. You take a state like Oregon, in the US, where full service gasoline is the law, and you could have scantily clad women pumping the gas there. Think Hooter's, with gas pumps. You could get an extra 20 cents a gallon, I bet. Or how about Hugh Hefner doing a feature in Playboy, The Girls of PEMEX. I think I'm hallucinating on lack of nutrition.
The fan on the motorcycle quit working on the way up here. It didn't affect me much today, since I am in the cool weather again, but I will need to fix it before I leave Oaxaca. It's weird the kind of mood shifts you get on a trip like this. As I was pulling into town, I had the usual scene, where I don't know where I'm going, Mexican traffic takes all your concentration and doesn't leave you with much time to look around for signs, which may not exist anyway. In addition, I had to keep an eye on the temp gauge when I got stuck in slow going. I just wanted to blow off Oaxaca entirely and just ride somewhere less hectic where I could look at the bike, not that I knew where that would be. But, I soldiered on, and now I'm glad I'm here.
There is a teachers strike of some kind going on, and they have chosen to blockade part of the downtown to show their displeasure. Tomorrow I'll have to try and figure out what is going on. There are a lot of signs and graffiti saying "down with Ulises" and the like. I don't know who or what Ulises is but I'll try to find out. Other signs say, roughly, "don't privatize education". I rode through one of their roadblocks, but hey, I just spent all day riding around rockslides, so it just looked like more debris to me. Nobody seemed to care, but if you hear someone hollering "send lawyers, guns, and money, the shit has hit the fan" and it isn't Warren Zevon, it's probably me. You have to know the song. Seriously though, I don't think it's a big deal. Road blockades are a traditional way for different political groups to get their point across in Latin America.
From your reporter on the ground....
The big story here is the "Teacher's Strike". I put that in quotes, because there are clearly a lot more issues at stake than teacher's pay. The main issue seems to be that the protesting faction believes that Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruiz was elected fraudulantly, in 2004, and they are demanding his resignation. Why it took 2 years to reach this point, I can't say.
Someone could devote a major article to this, and many have here locally. The whole zocalo (town square) area has been blockaded off, but not too tightly, as pedestrian traffic is allowed through. The whole downtown is covered in graffiti, most of which calls the governor an assassin, a son of Pinochet, or something of the sort. The zocalo, in addition to the regular hot dog and t shirt vendors, is full of booths of various political groups, some showing videos and handing out literature promoting their position. The whole thing reminds me of the Mifflin street block party, for those Madison readers, but there is a serious, dangerous side to the situation. Last night the police fired in the air to disperse a crowd trying to take over the Oaxaca state Economic Ministry building. I'm not sure exactly where that is, but it is a ways north of where I'm staying. No one was hurt, but some state vehicles were torched.
This morning I walked across the zocalo to my spanish class, there was the normal pedestrian traffic of people going to work and school, so I didn't feel in danger in any way. Some of the street vendors were setting up for the day, and everything looked normal, for the circumstances. Still, I felt like I was in an Oliver Stone movie or something as I passed a VW beetle with 4 flat tires and a smashed windshield, and the remains of a bonfire in the street and made my way past the rubble of a makeshift roadblock.
I got to talking to my spanish teacher about how I thought there were quite a few American tourists in town, and she looked at me like I was crazy,and said "there are NO tourists here". I guess I have been staying off the tourist track, because I have seen more Americans here than anyplace except San Miguel. She said they have been on the phone with people cancelling classes for the past few weeks, as travel agents are steering clients to other destinations, and that the tourism business is about on its' knees from lack of traffic. I guess having grown up in Madison, Wisconsin, in the Vietnam protest era, I don't look twice at a bunch of left wing rabble rousers, and I want to say again, that I don't feel any bad vibes, or that I'm in danger in any way. It's a really interesting time to be here, as a person with no preconcieved ideas about who is right or wrong, but I can´t say I would recommend it as a vacation spot right now.
On lighter topics, I had no trouble at all getting in a Spanish class, as you might imagine. They want to teach proper grammar, and I am more interested in increasing my vocabulary, but we'll work that out. I went to Monte Alban, a pre Hispanic ruin just outside town after school on Monday. I am in a real nice hotel, with quite an international crowd staying here, and they let me park my bike in the courtyard. Today, I went 30 miles north to Ixtlan, where there is a park with hiking trails, waterfalls etc., but got rained on big time. It is the rainy season here, which I knew when I planned this trip. Most every day starts out sunny, and rains in the late afternon. I could have gone to classes from 4 to 8 , instead of 9 to 1 like I'm doing, but live and learn. I started with the date I needed to be in Tierra del Fuego in their summer, backed up to when I needed to leave the USA to get there in time, so here I am. I will willingly deal with rain here to avoid winter down there.
Puerto Escondido: Yeah, this looks safe, let´s stand under a 230 volt heating coil in the shower with bare wires twisted together for power.
Oaxaca: Ruins at Monte Alban under a scary sky.
Monte Alban: Attempted art shot in the museum there.
Monte Alban: Some ancient Aztec carved Mr. Burns, from the Simpsons.
Oaxaca: That wasn't a nice thing to say. Graffiti in the zocalo.
Oaxaca: The communista booth in the zocalo. Included are posters of their heroes "Carlos Marx" and "Jose Stalin"
Oaxaca: Roughly translated: ĦENOUGH! of repression and misery in the Native towns
Oaxaca: A few months old, but a poster for a Zapatista speaking tour.
Oaxaca: Roughly, For our dead and disappeared; not one minute of silence.
My week in Oaxaca is almost up, and while I'm really glad I was here during this time, I am just as glad to be leaving tomorrow. The Spanish school where I took my class organized a trip to Teotilan del Valle, which is a little town east of here that is known for it rug weavers. The most well known weaver here is named Isaac Vasquez, and has had exhibitions all over the world. We got to tour his workshop, where he showed us the techniques they use to weave wool rugs. Vasquez has recreated the process that was used hundreds or thousands of years ago, using traditional carding, spinning and dyeing techniques. I don't think these went back to pre Hispanic times, because I don't think the native culture had the wheel for spinning, but I'll let someone prove me wrong if they want to. Anyway it was really interesting stuff, for a tech head like me to see a new manufacturing process, as I know nothing about textiles. Well, maybe a little more than nothing now.
I found a little bar around the corner from my hotel, to have a drink or two at. Enrique, the bartender speaks a little better English than I do Spanish, so we practice our respective languages on each other. Pepe, the bouncer for the Karaoke bar next door has hooked up with a Canadian girl here in town for spanish lessons, and she was in the bar practicing Spanish as well. Pepe would get a break, and come over here, and he and the Canadian girl would make out for a while, then he would go back to work and she would go back to her Spanish. Ah, youth. After awhile we got bored and Enrique turned "Los Simpsons" (SEEMP-sons) on TV. Trust me, you have not lived until you have seen the Simpsons, dubbed in Spanish. We were about rolling on the floor. Homer was trying to buy a pistol at "Bloodbath & Beyond Gun Shop" I was able to clue the Mexican guys in that it was a takeoff on "Bed Bath & Beyond", but my Spanish wasn't up to explaining the confederate flag in the gun shop. Of course that is hard enough for Americans to get there mind around too.
This morning, I had my last Spanish lesson, and after class went to eat with some of my fellow students. I met a guy, Spencer, who spent 16 years in Madison. I have never taken a trip where I haven't run into someone with a Madison connection. Us Madtowners get around. Now, I don't want anyone at home to take this the wrong way, but as usual I find it easier to meet interesting Americans outside the US than I do back home. After all, anyone who spends their vacation riding busses around Mexico learning Spanish, is almost by definition going to be an interesting person. One of the few bad things about traveling is that you you barely start to get to know people and have to say goodbye. It is interesting to get the point of view of people who travel by public transportation, as it is quite a bit different than that of the motorcycle rider. I have more freedom of schedule than they do, but the bike can be a ball and chain too, as it is always on my mind when I stop for the night, or just to look at some attraction. Jill, from my Spanish class is headed for San Cristobal de las Casas next, same as me. She will get on an overnight bus and be there in 13 or 14 hours, where it will take me 2 days to get there, if I don't drive at night, which I don't. We also have different Spanish vocabularies, as what I know of Spanish is mainly from reading signs while riding. Of course, riding is like my meditation time which is probably the biggest thing going for it, but I totally understand the appeal of the backpacker thing.
The political situation here is escalating, and I will be happy to get out of Dodge in the morning. Last night there was a huge march where one person ended up dead. It is not clear to me whether the killing was directly related to the march, or just happened to be in the area. Last night most of the east-west streets in the downtown were blocked off by parking buses across the intersections. It is not clear to me whether the police did this to direct the march or the protesters did it to prevent the police from interfering with the march. Today there was another march, which I took to be honoring the dead man. The leadership, such as it is, of the protesters seems to be of the Marxist, violent overthrow persuasion. I can't help but think that these people haven't done their research on political history, and are doomed to repeat it. I can't remember who I'm quoting there. The Marxist regimes have a horrible record when it comes to oppressing, or just exterminating, native populations, and here they are flying posters of Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin, for christ's sake. I would laugh if someone hadn't just died over it.
I don't think it is any coindidence that Guatemala and Nicaragua, two countries that have suffered through machine gun politics in the recent past, are visisbly poorer than the other countries in Central America. I'm sure it is very romantic to think of yourself as a revolutionary, but the average Jose, who they claim to be fighting for, ends up worse off. I would hate to see Mexico go down this path, as I have seen this country come so far in visible standard of living just in the decade that I have been travellling here. Admittedly, all this is my view, as an outsider who doesn't appreciate the subtlties of the culture, but I also think that not coming here with the weight of a lifetime of knowing the fighting factions lets me see things a little more impartialy.
End of rant. I am outtahere.
Ixtlan: Driver cooked his brakes on a mountain descent. I stopped, but another car already had, and the driver was OK, so I just wished him good luck and left.
Teotilan del Valle: Isaac Vasquez at his loom.
Clipping from the Miami Herald, Mexico edition.
Oaxaca: City bus blocking intesection during march.
Oaxaca: Protest march the day after the fatal one.
I think I'll go to Chiapas, because it's so much safer than where I am now.
I never thought I would say, I think I'll go to Chiapas, because it's so much safer than where I am now, but that's what I was thinking as I left Oaxaca. I was headed for San Cristobal de las Casas, but I knew it would be more than I wanted to do in one day. I got out of town at a reasonable hour and made good progress, although the going was pretty slow through the mountains and a bunch of little towns. When I got to the litle town of Jalapa de Marques, there was a line of cars and trucks stopped on the road, so i figured it was an accident and puled off the road. I walked up the line, and come to find out, it was more of the same group as in Oaxaca, blockading the road. (The Oaxacan group is called the APPO, Popular Assembly of the Communitiy of Oaxaca, or something close) About this time, I met a Dutch couple, who were waiting as well. Mark and I went up to the roadblock, and found someone who spoke English, and we tried to get a handle on what was happening. The story we got was that a protest organizer from this town was "captured" by the government, on orders fromm governor Ruiz, and no one knew what had happened to him, although they thought he had been taken to Oaxaca city. They were going to blockade the road till they got word that their man was alive and well, and were waiting for a phone call from Oaxaca, and when they got their confirmation, they would open the road. Of course, there was no telling when or if that would happen. About this time, a local guy came up to us and in broken English said there were 2 kids on bicycles that would lead us on a detour around the blockage for 25 pesos each. We tried to find them and couldn't, but it gave us the idea that, since there was a profit to be made, there would soon be a solution to the problem. Sure enough, after another hour we got word of a kind of "toll road" around the roadblock.
More than one local had told me they would let a motorcycle through, as they were letting pedestrian traffic through. I tended to believe them, as I had ridden through one blockade in Oaxaca city, and the protesters never bothered people on foot there either. But, on the other hand, there were a bunch of tough looking guys at the barricade, with machetes dangling from the wrist straps, and I thought a misunderstanding could get ugly real fast, plus I wanted to stick together with Mark and Chantelle, so not knowing the protocol for running a roadblock set up by leftist rebels, I decided to take the toll road with them. We got a caravan of 2 pickups, a suburban, The Dutch couples rental car, and my motorcycle together. The guide got into the suburban which led. We bounced along on 2 track roads the farmers used to get tractors into their fields with. Now I'll give the guy in the surburban credit for setting the whole thing up, but he was incompetent as a driver. One time he got the suburban wedged inbetween a tree and a fence post, and we had to dig out the post before we could get going again. three times we stopped to pay different people to cut across their land, the agreement was for 20 pesos each to each landowner, but the last guy got a bonus from me, as I ran out of smal bills and had to give him a US 5 dollar bill I had in my wallet.
We got to a creek crossing that had real steep banks that dropped down to a muddy creek bed, and Mark got out and said "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to do this, we don't drive in mud bogs in Holland." So, never being one to turn down a chance to beat the crap out of a rental car, I jumped in and drove it across. I think Chantelle was worried, since I didn't take off my motorcycle helmet, and she was afraid she should have one too. After one more easier water crosing, which Mark handled, we were back out on the highway.
We stopped for a coke, and to discuss plans, as we had heard there was another roadblock up ahead. As we were drinking our cokes there were three sharp explosions that I took to be gunfire.
Mark said "Nobody in Holland has guns, so I don't know what shots sound like."
I said "Everybody in Texas has guns and they sound just like that."
So, we slammed our cokes and got on the road. I still don't know if it was gunfire or not, and that is a good thing. We drove on, crossing from Oaxaca state to Chiapas, and there never was another road block. We saw several Humvee's full of Mexican Army soldiers headed the other way, but I don't know what happened. The Dutch couple and myself drove until it was getting dark, then stopped at a little motel for the night and had dinner, and spent the evening talking about the various places we had visited.
I got up and was ready to roll by 8 am. Said goodbye to Mark and Chantelle, they were headed to a river , whose name I can't remember, to take a boat ride through the canyon it created. Supposedly cliffs 3,000 feet high. That's like Yosemite stuff. Anyway sounded very cool, but another trip. I was planning to go to San Cristobal, but I got there before noon and still felt like riding, so I went north to Palenque. I had planned to visit the ruins at Palenque anyway, and figured it didn't matter which I did first. I should say first, though, that Chiapas may be the prettiest state in Mexico, and that is saying a lot. The mountains are spectacular, of course, but the diference is here there is water. All kinds of little mountain creeks flowing into big rivers in the valleys. This is the rainy season, so take that into account, but this country is incredibly green. Sometimes there is grass 8 or 10 feet tall right up to the edge of the road, makes it like riding through a green tunnel. Naturally, it also blocks your view, so you have to resist the urge to grind the pegs or anything. So if you get a chance to take the Libre, or free road, from Tuxtla to San Cristobal you won't be sorry. They grow corn on hilsides so steep, I don't know how you could cultivate by hand even, but evidently they do. There looks to be some beef cattle here as well, in addition to the normal pigs, goats, and chickens. When I was researching this trip, this is the area of Mexico I was most concerned about, for safety, as Chiapas has a reputation for being unsettled. The good news is that the EZLN, or Zapatistas, don't have any history of messing with tourists, but after all the aggravation with Oaxaca my attitude was "I dare any Zapatista to fuck with me." There wasn't even much military presence on the highway, just one checkpoint, and a couple of Humvee's on patrol. My last trip down here, there was a lot more military presence, although I did't go through this exact area. I was riding with my helmet shield up and hitt a swarm of bees. I don't know if they were the African killer persuasion, but the 2 that got in side my helmet and stung me hurt like hell. The worst part was one was buzzing around, and Iknew I was going to get nailed, and sure enough, before I could get stopped and get my helmet of, ouch.
So, I got to Palenque, and rode out the road to the ruins, to get oriented for the next day,and found a little enclave of a few palapa style hotels, a couple restaurants and a bar on that road. I ended up getting a little cabana thing for 160 pesos a night. Really, up and down the road to the ruins are a whole bunch of camping and hotel things. If you wanted to cheap out, you can rent a hammock for 3 or 4 dollars a night at some of them, but as usual I have motorcycle and computer security to think about. They kind of have the island thing going here with outdoor bars and restaurants. Seems like a lot of European new agers walking around playing flutes and looking stoned. I can deal with it, but a little of that goes a long way with me.
The park at Palenque opened at 8 and I was there at quarter after. I walked the 3 miles from my hotel, just to get some exercize, since I am not doing any bike riding now. By the time I got there I was just dripping sweat. The humidity was 100 per cent, and the air was incredibly heavy. There were already several tour busses lined up to get in. I was hoping to find a tour group that was getting an English speaking guide, where I could tag along and listen in. No luck, I found 2 Italian, and one German, but no English. So I didn't get as much of the history as I could have, and the museum ended up being closed on Mondays, too. I still really liked the place though.
In the afternoon, I went to a waterfall caled Agua Azul. This place was great. For about a mile at least, it was just falls after falls. There were some good swimming holes at the bottom of some of them too, which I took advantage of. Went back to the cabana, and had dinner at one of the restaraunts there, and had a quiet night looking at the pictures I have taken so far.
Somewhere in Chiapas: Mark and Chantelle, Dutch couple who got a little more adventure than they planned. They seemed fairly civilized, for Europeans ;) They even knew that all Americans don't watch Jerry Springer and vote for George Bush. They do put mayonaise on their french fries, though.
Near Ocosingo, Chiapas: I was waylaid by these Chiapan bandidos on the highway. They held a piece of twine across the road, and wouldn't let me pass till I bought oranges from them. The one second from the left was the ringleader. She had her mind made up that I was going to buy the oranges and that was all there was to it. I ended up giving her 10 pesos, about 90 cents, for 4 oranges. That is about twice what they are worth here, but I didn't have the heart to bargain with her.
Ocosingo: Basically, You are in Zapatista territory
Cascada de Agua Azul, Chiapas: Self portrait by one of the falls.
Fog lifting on a Chiapan highway.
The ruins at Palenque.
Adios Mexico, Hola Guatemala
I left Palenque by 9, happy to be going up in elevation and cooler weather. Palenque is a sweat box like you wouldn't believe. Once you break a sweat, and it doesn't take much, you are wet all day. Tikal, in Guatemala, is the only other place I have been that compares. I stopped at the Misol-Ha waterfall, just for a few minutes. If you have seen the Ahh-nold movie Predator, parts of it were filmed there. It's a cool waterfall, what else can you say. Went through the town of Ocosingo, which was the center of the Zapatista movement in the early 90's. The elementary school has a mural depicting balaclava clad rebels on it. I stopped and ate lunch at a restaurant there. I need to do some reading on the Zapatista's, I really don't know what they are all about. I did a little research on them from a tourist safety standpoint, but not their principles.
From Palenque to San cristobal is another one of those roads that is just mile after mile of mountain turns. It also must hold the record for topes per mile. It is just constant accel/decel, either for turns or speed bumps. My neck actualy got sore from the weight of my helmet, i think, from all the g forces.
San Cristobal ended up being another very pretty, old, colonial city. It is smaller than either Oaxaca or Guanajuato, and easy to get around in. It gets the prize for the most restaraunts and shopping of anyplace I have been this trip. It is also relatively cheap to eat and sleep in. I got a room for 80 pesos a night, but after looking around, I could have gotten a much nicer place for not much more money. There is a pretty well defined tourist zone here, and it's heavily patrolled by tourist police. I don't think this area will shake its' image as the city the Zapatista occupied for a long time.
There was a little plaza near my hotel that had something going on both nights I was there. On night it was a band with 2 trumpets, a trombone, guitar, bongos, and I don't know what else. The next night there was a folk dancing group. Very blue collar crowd at these, I suppose it was pretty hick stuff for the hipsters in town.
Spent the morning visiting the museums in town, pretty lame compared to the other cities this trip. The most informative one was actually a coffee shop. Lots of coffee is grown in Chiapas,and this shop sold locally grown products, and had displays showing the farming process and why fair trade coffee is important. Anyway, one of the brand names is Cafe Direct, so if you see some, buy it.
Spent the afternoon paying bils online and doing some non zen motorcycle maintenance. The bike has used maybe 4 ounces of oil in the 3,000 miles I have ridden in Mexico. The rear tire is wearing a litle faster than I had hoped, and I suppose that means the chain is to. I'm sure it is all the acceleration and braking on these mountain roads. The only problem has been the fan quit working, and by jumpering it, I knew the fan itself was OK. After I plugged all the connectors back together it worked again, but then quit again later. I think it was a bad connection in the fuse, as I put a different fuse in, even though the other wasn't blown, and it has been fine since. It really annoys me that you have to take the seat, and both side covers off, disconect the terminals and pull the battery out, just to check the water level. This bike has always had a tendency to boil a little water out of the battery, but I don't think it is anything to worry about.
Tonight there was a funeral procession that went by my hotel. I thought I was in New Orleans or something, as they had a ragtag brass band, bass drum, and some people dressed in clown suits. They had a pickup truck, with a virgen de Guadalupe statue in the back, leading followed by the band and the hearse. Go figure.
I rode the 140 miles to the Guatemala border by 11 am. After some lunch and a gas fill up, to use up some Mexican pesos, I got checked out of Mexico. Took maybe 15 minutes, they looked at the bike to see if the serial number matched the paperwork. Honduras was equally easy to get into. First thing i did was changed my pesos for Quetzales with a money changer at the border. These guys get a bad rap all the time by travelers, but he only made a couple per cent on me, if the official rate I looked up on the internet is right. Then I had to get my bike "fumigated". this consisted of a guy takig a garden sprayer and spraying about 1 drop of some liquid on the tires, cost 13 Quetzales, or 2 dollars. Next stop immigration, where a 90 day tourist visa was free. Then to customs, where a 40 day permit for the bike was 40Q or 6 dollars, and that was it. This crossing, Cuatemoc on the Mexican side, and La Mesilla on the Guatemala side, is set up so you can park the bike in front of the offices to get your permits. The bike was only out of my sight for a minute, when I went in to pay for my vehicle permit, at a different booth than where you fill out the form, and there weren't big crowds, like there are at some borders. I hope they all go this smooth.
Guatemala drivers makes Mexicans look pretty orderly, by comparison. Within the first 80 miles I had 2 buses come at me in my lane around blind curves. I'm not talking about just being 2 feet in my lane, I mean in the act of passing someone and totaly in my lane. One time I had to dive for the shoulder, which at the time was one of those concrete drainage troughs on the inside of the curve. It was real steep and it would have been real easy to lose it there, but I hung on. As I always say, the danger in these trips is on the road. If I would have been leaned over hard in the turns, it could have been bad news, so I am glad I'm riding conservatively.
I had to find an ATM before I could get a hotel, since I only had a little Guatemalan money, and I stopped in a couple towns on the way and asked about an ATM, and people said the closest was in Xela (SHELL-ah). I had no idea where or what Xela was, I figured my map just sucked and didn't show the town. Turns out that the locals call Quetzaltenengo by its' Mayan name, Xela. So after decoding that, I found an ATM, and my card worked first time. Last trip here, money was a big hassle, as my card was on the Cirrus network, where Guatemala uses Plus. So, being no dummy, I have a Plus card this time. And it worked.
Hotels are cheap here, I got a decent room, with my bike parked in the entryway, for 50Q or about 6.50 US.
I had forgot how much changes when you cross the border. Before I started travelling down here, I always had the image of Latin America as a pretty homogenous region, but evey country is distinct. All the brands of beer and food change, and some of the expressions are different, along with the accent. Makes it tough for the struggling spanish speaker, as I was just getting a little better at Mexican spanish. In Mexico parking is estacionamiento, where here it is parqueo. Live chickens is "pollo en vivo" in Mexico, where here it is "pollo en pie", or literally, "chicken on foot". Don't ask me how I know that one, I just do.
I decided to look into hikes around here, and found an outfit that had a flyer posted at my hotel. It is a non profit deal, run by volunteers, and all the money goes to fund a school and shelter for street kids in Xela.I went to their place and made arraingments to take a 3 day hike to Lago de Atitlan, which has 3 volcanoes on its' shores. This will start on Saturday the 19th, so I will be incummicado for a few days. I got a room at a hostel next to the guide place, where I can keep the bike while I'm gone. Should be pretty cool, it goes through some little villages that aren't on car roads, and over some mountains. It's about 50k or 30 miles, most of which you do the first 2 days, then hang out at the lake, and take a bus back here. I was planning on getting another Spanish course in San Pedro or Antigua next week and this will screw that up, but you have to stay flexible.
Ocosingo, Chiapas, Zapatista mural on school building.
San Cristobal, Chiapas, Open air market.
San Cristobal, Chiapas, 17th century convent that is being restored
San Cristobal, I had my first decent cup of coffee in forever at this place. Breakfast for $2.50, and learned a little about coffee growing besides.
La Mesilla, Guatemala, Someone we know was here before. One of Chris and Erin Ratay´s stickers on the customs building.
First glimpse of Guatemala.
I took a little walk...
8-19-06 to 8-21-06
The hotel I stayed in the first night I got to Xela had a bunch of flyers posted for different activities in and around town, and one that appealed to me was a hike from Xela to Lago de Atitlan. I looked into the guide service, Quetzaltrekkers, and they are a non profit, organization staffed by volunteers, but more on that later. They described the hike to me as 50k over 3 days, more or less, with indoor, but very basic sleeping accomodations. I went ahead and signed up, there were to be 2 guides, one guide in training, and 4 paying customers. That's me.
The first day started with breakfast at their offices and parcelling out the community provisions we were responsible for carrying. My borrowed pack ended up weighing maybe 45 or 50 lbs. We started out with a walk through town to a bus stop for a ride to the edge of the city where we would start our hike, on a road through a small town. I got off to a rough start, as I had put my camera in the outside pocket of my pack, not knowing there was a huge rip in the pocket. First time I reached for it, it was gone. I hollered at the others to wait, while I dropped my pack, and went back. Luckily, it was laying in the road, about a quarter mile back, no harm done. The road turned into a steep single track trail, and we proceeded to gain altitude at a pretty brutal pace. After an hour I thought this old man had picked the wrong hike, as I was one hurtin' gringo. Of course, I could have suggested we slow down, but that would mean admitting that I couldn't hang with this crowd, that was 20 or more years younger than me, and we couldn't have that, could we? In truth, I normally ride a bicycle 60-100 miles a week back home, so I do enjoy pushing myself, but I was maxxed out here, and the biking muscles just aren't the same. I think we climbed close to 1000 meters, (Edit: I´ve since been informed that the initial climb was only 500 meters. Well, it felt like 1000) through what started as dense forest, which got progressively thinner as we climbed. We topped out in a pasture like setting where there was a small village that had fields of corn and beans, along with the usual chickens and pigs. This village had been nearly wiped out when hurricane Mitch went trough in '98, and had been rebuilt with a bunch of concrete block houses that all looked exactly the same. Kind of strange to see what looked like a housing development run amok out in the boondocks, but at least they got to stay in their community. We then did some minor up and down, ending with about an hour walk on a gravel road to the town of Santa Catarina. Here we had the use of a block building, known to the guides as"The Asylum", as it has a bunch of cell like rooms off of a central hallway. While the guides were making a pasta dinner that we had carried the fixin's for, Ronnie, one of the other hikers, and myself decided we should try to rustle up some Gallo, the national beer of Guatemala. We got directions to the local saloon from some guys hanging out in front of what passes for a convenience store here, and walked over there. We went inside and there were 3 patrons, local ne'er do wells I'm sure, in the place, one with his head down on the bar, semi conscious. The other two, I think, were trying to sell us some dope, holding an imaginery cigarette to their lips and saying in spanish, "you want?". We declined, but succeeded in scoring a supply of beer. After an excellent dinner, we retired to the Asylum to try and get some sleep on the concrete floor.
After a big physical effort it is not unusual for me to have trouble sleeping, and this was no exception, so I was a tired, grumpy gringo in the morning. We had breakfast at a local restaraunt, and took some rice with us as well, for lunch. We did quite a bit of up and down today also, but I was getting my walking legs back, and I had an easier time of things. We walked along a river that we crossed a dozen times or so, over the course of a couple miles, putting our sandals on, so we could walk through with out soaking our boots. We ended this day at the home of a man named Pedro and his family. We called him Don Pedro, as a sign of respect. His wife cooked up a great chicken dinner, with eggs for the vegetarians. We bunked in a kind of pavilion building he has, with woven mats for padding even. Woohoo. There was even a boombox and a CD, Rock en Ingeles. I didn't take an Ipod or anything on this trip and have been jonesing for some decent music, instead of the ranchera crap you hear all the time, so I even appreciated this 60's CD of Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and the like. I don't know why I didn't load some tunes on the laptop before I left. Slept lots better this night.
Next morning we got up before dawn, to go catch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan. We walked to an overlook, and started a hot chocolate and oatmeal breackfast while waiting for sunrise. Don Pedro and his family, of his wife, daughter, and 4 grandkids, came along too. Still being dark, at first all you could see was the outline of the lake , and the lights of the towns around it. Gradually, you could see the lake and the volcanoes that surround it. Finally, the sun came up over a distant mountain range, and you could clearly see the lake from our vantage point, 1000 feet or so above it. This is already in the highlight reel in my brain for this trip. The rest of the morning was spent descending to the lake, for a much needed swim. We then took a boat across a bay on the lake to the town of San Pedro, where we had a celebratory lunch. Then the real adventure began, as we had to get back to Xela by bus. Since I have done all my Latin American travel by motorcycle, I have never done the chicken bus thing. It took 3 changes of busses to get back, stowing our packs on the roof each time. It's a good thing I didn't have to figure out which busses to take, or we would probably be back in Mexico or someplace. Arrived back in Xela, safe and sound, and got back to Quetzaltrekkers office just as it started raining. We had been really lucky with weather, as it had threatened rain several times, but never did, except at night.
Quetzaltrekkers is a backpacking guide service that exists to raise funds to support a school for children in Xela who would not otherwise be able to get an education, along with a dormitory for orphaned or abandoned kids attending the school, or those who simply live too far away to go back and forth very day. Staffed by volunteers, it is about as low overhead an operation as you could imagine. There are no paid directors, but the teachers at the school get paid. The guides all make a minimum commitment of 3 months service, and are of many different nationalities, although it happened that the 2 guides on my trip, as well as the apprentice guide, were all British. I paid the equivalent of $65 US, which included 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 2 dinners, and all bus rides, and they let me borrow a pack for free. It's insanely cheap by American standards, but remember this is Guatemala. This is a charity on a very human scale, where a contribution won't get lost in buearucracy, and I can't imagine a charity where more of a dollar collected goes to directly benefit their programs. Currently , Quetzaltrekkers funds over 60% of the school expenses, with other grants from Save The Children, and others. If you're interested in making a donation, see www.quetzaltrekkers.com, or better yet, come take a hike.
The city of Xela itself, strikes me as a pretty grubby town, where outside the central plaza, and the few blocks around it, doesn't have a lot that's interesting as a vacation spot. You have to remember that Guatemala in general, is a poorer country than Mexico. There are enough volunteer workers and language students to have reached the critical mass to support a cultural scene that's more like a university thing than a vacation spot. Several of the bars and restaraunts have currents events speakers on a regular basis, and there are film venues as well. Crime is an issue here, where most times in Mexico I felt totally at ease walking around town at night, here I don't. I think the crime risk is manageable, and I would come here again, but I don't want to sugar coat the bad things about this town with my descriptions of the good.
No caption needed
Proprietress of a small Gutemalan restaraunt
Sunrise over Lake Atitlan
I needed a wider angle lens, but this is the same time as above, about 30 degrees to the right
Stinky gringos after 3 days on the trail. At least we swam in the lake before this. Center, Brendan, USA. Clockwise from lower left. Ronnie, Isreal; Restaraunt owner, Guatemala; Karl, Germany; Tim, GB; Yours truly, USA; Nick, GB; Becky, GB.
Prettiest city in Guatemala
8-22-06 to 8-25-06
After the big hike to Lake Atitlan, I spent a pretty uneventful day doing laundry, buying a few things and just recovering. That night I went to a presentation on the election controversy in Mexico. If you recall some of my adventures in Oaxaca, you know why I had an interest in what was happening back there. While this talk was mainly on the national election, they did talk about the Oaxaca thing some as well. It was held at a restaurant called Cubatenango, which, not surprisingly, served Cuban influenced food. I had dinner there also. I won't go into the details, and it was in Spanish, so I'd probably get them wrong anyway, but I did find out they are still burning busses in Oaxaca city.
I wanted to take another week of Spanish, somwhere in Guatemala, and the obvious choices were Xela, San Pedro, or Antigua. I had already been in Xela for a while, and had at least seen San Pedro when we hiked there, so I decided to go to Antigua to see what that was like, and figured if I didn't like it, I could backtrack to San Pedro. I had an uneventful ride, except for some road construction. They are still recovering from Hurricane Stan down here, but in general, the roads have been in great shape. I should say that the weather this whole trip has been a lot better than I have any right to expect, since this is supposed to be the rainy season for much of this area. The pattern has been that the days start out sunny, then clouds up in the afternoon, and may rain after 4 pm or so. The temps have been great as well. As long as I stay in the mountains, which has been this whole trip, except for Palenque, and the coast near Acapulco, the highs have been in the 70-85 F range, and the lows in the 50's. I've been watching to San Antonio weather and it's been over a hundred regurlarly, so I'll take this.
So I got to Antigua, and I know I keep saying this, but it is another beautiful, colonial era town. It is quite small, you can walk everywhere. This is definitely the most upscale town in Guatemala, and consequently overrun with tourists, but it's so pretty I almost don't mind. This is definitely a vacation spot, in contrast to my description of Xela. I keep thinking I am in Mexico, instead of Guatemala. I got a room in a guest house, which I'll try to post some pictures of. Excellent private room, shared bath, 3 meals a day, and cable TV (I have the NASCAR Busch race from Bristol on now) all for about $15 per day. I'm really roughing it now. There is another guy from Sante Fe here on a KLR like mine, he has been living here for several months, and is waiting for some buddies to get here in October, then they are going to South America as well.
I went ahead and signed up for a weeks worth of 4 hours a day Spanish, and had my second lesson today. It's a slow process, learning another language, but I'm finally learning some stucture, so hopefully I'll sound a little less like a caveman to a Spanish speaker sometime soon. The guy I'm taking Spanish from uses a room in a restaraunt for lessons, and after class, he showed me around the place. It is over 400 years old, with 400 year old timbers holding up the roof. The whole town is like that. We just don't have this kind of stuff in the states. Saturday I am going to hike up the volcano, that dominates the sky south of town, with the son of the guy who owns the guest house and some of his friends. It has been fairly active, and supposedly you can see some moltem lava down in the crater. I'll be here till wednesday, and the question I have to answer is where to go from here. I would like to go back to San Pedro, on Lake Atitlan, but I want to get to Panama City by the end of September, and there are lots of places I'd like to see between here and there, so I don't want to dawdle too much. I have never been to El Salvador, so I would like to go, but it is out of the way from some places I want to go in Honduras, so I will probably just head to Honduras from here.
Antigua: The Santa Catalina arch, that you see in all the pictures of Antigua, with the Volcan Agua in the background.
Would you rent this for a week, including 3 meals a day, cooked by a former chef on a Mediterranean cruise ship, for $105? I did.
Antigua is full of these kind of shots.
Final thoughts on Antigua
Antigua is really unlike any other place in Guatemala, whether that is good or bad depends on your point of view. It is touristy, the high end restaraunts have menus in English and prices in dollars. Of course that means you can get a decent cup of coffee and a slice of New York cheesecake anytime you want it, not to mention being able to see the Packers on Monday Night Football at a sports bar, even though the Bengals handed them their asses, but it also means that you aren't seeing what most of Guatemala is like if this is the only place you go. There is a big expat community here, from what I've seen, mostly British and American. A fair number of people are here taking language courses, as well. There are some really nice places here, I walked around in the Hotel Santo Domingo, which was built as a convent in the 1700's. Bill Clinton stayed there once when he was president, and is is quite posh. The town is also a weekend getaway for Guatemalans fron Guatemala City. I have seen all kinds of high end vehicles here with GT plates on them, from Range Rovers to BMW motorcycles. I'm told that on Sunday mornings as many as 100 motorcycles from the city show up on the town plaza. I was on a volcano hike at the time, so I can't verify that.
Speaking of volcanoes, the volcan Pacaya is very active now and this is a great time to see it. With Sunday off from Spanish school, I took a guided hike up the volcano to the crater and got to see some flowing lava, up close and personal. The guide was a guy Who was born in GT, but grew up in California, then moved back to GT as an adult. He had hiked up the vaolcano more than a hundred times and was able to tell us when the different lava flows had been made. I had seen the volcan Arenal in Costa Rica spit out lava from a distance before, but this was a whole different thing. I got to within 30 feet or so of this moving river of molten rock, before the heat got too fierce. Just like on National Geographic, it was truly an awesome thing to see. Makes you think that the earth is 5 billion years old, and still it's core is hot enough that it boils up to the surface like that. No matter how powerful we think we are, Ma Nature can still kick our asses anytime she wants.
Ok, all you married guys who want to do some Latin American riding, but don't want to go on vacation without your wife, listen up. The two of you get on a plane to Guatemala City, and take a shuttle 35 miles to Antigua. Get set up in one the the many hotels, and spend a couple days walking around, checking out the bars, restaurants, jewelry shops and art galleries. Then the fiendishly sneaky part of the plan kicks in. You go see Dave, a bloody British bloke, at the Moto Cafe (www.catours.co.uk), and he will rent you a motorcycle ranging from a 175 Yamaha 2 stroke to a KLR650, and you can go riding. "Honey, look. I didn't know they rented motorcycles here." Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. If your wife rides, great, if not take a KLR two up, maybe up to Lake Atitlan, or get some other pointers from Dave. You get to ride, and at the same time get major bonus points with the ol' lady, and Dave gets to eat and buy beer. Everyone is happy, and you can thank me for your marriage being stronger.
I bought a few t shirts, and wanted to send them home, along with a CD copy of the pictures I have taken so far, and some other stuff. I had seen a DHL office in town, and figured it would be no big deal. Turns out they only offer express service and wanted $137 to ship 4 kilos to the US. I think I'll wait till I find some ground service somewhere.
I'm leaving in the morning, and the next post should be from Honduras.
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