It was all I could do to lie in a hammock with a book and lift a beer once in a while.
That is because these beach towns are hot. Lounging on a beach is nice for a while, but I'm finding out I am more of a mountain person, as far as a lifestyle goes.
8-30-06 to 9-5-06
Got a bright and early start out of Antigua on Wednesday. John, the other KLR rider staying here, drew me a map of Guatemala City, as it is notorious for getting travellers lost on the way through. I followed it for quite a ways, but then there was a fork and I must have taken the wrong one, because all the landmarks were gone. I wandered around for half an hour or so, wondering if I was ever going to out of the city, but eventually I did. After the city, the highway started losing altitude quickly, and it got hot and humid. It tried to rain a few times, but it never amounted to much. I made good time and got to the Honduras border about 3 in the afternoon. Borders are always an adventure, you never know if it's going to be a breeze or a pain in the butt. I got checked out of Guatemala, just like normal, got my passport stamped and canceled my bike permit. The expatriates in Antigua were all abuzz about a new agreement that Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua have. Now, when you enter one of these countries, you get a 90 day tourist visa, good for a cumulative 90 days in all 4 countries. previously, you got a fresh 90 days when you left one and went to another. For my purposes, it doesn't matter, as I will not be here that long anyway, but if you are living here as an alien, it complicates getting your visa renewed. Previously, from Antigua you could drive or bus the 2 hours to the El Salvador border, and reenter with another 90 days, now you have to go to Mexico or Belize which is an all day thing. What this all means to me is that the Honduras border guards wouldn't give me an entry stamp in my passport, since I was entering from another country in their agreement, they said there is no border control between these countries. I did have to cancel my bike permit and get a new one from
Honduras, though. I am feeling a bit like an illegal alien, with no entry stamp in my passport, but it's their rules. I just hope the border where I exit to Nicaragua has the same understanding. This law went into effect June 1, so hopefuly that is enough time to get the bugs out. Anyway, the actual crossing was easy, so my luck has been holding out so far in that regard.
The town of Copan Ruinas is only 10k or so past the border, and I got a room here for $25 for 2 nights. That is actualy pretty high for here, but this is a tourist town, with the ruins here. I had been here, before on my other trip through Central America, only spent the night here, and I wanted to take a look at the ruins. Next morning I got to the ruins when they opened, and pretty much had the place to myself. I don't know what you can say about these places that hasn't been said. It is just amazing what these people accomplished without metals tools, or even the wheel. In the afternoon, I took the bike and went looking for some hot springs that were supposed to by 25k north of town on a gravel road. This turned out to be a pretty respectable dual sport ride, as one bridge was washed
out and I went through the river, following a local pickup truck so I could see how deep it was, and it was rutted gravel most of the rest of the way. I never found the springs, so I either missed the sign, if there was one, or was on the wrong road. It was a nice ride anyway, through rolling hills, and several little towns.
The next day, I decided to try to get all the way to Trujillo, which would be a bout 350 miles. This is quite a long day in this part of the world, but I got n early start, and got there in the late afternoon. I picked Trujillo because it is about as far as you can go on the Carribean coast of Honduras, and I kind of like those out of the way places at the end of the road. In a weird way, it reminds me of Copper Harbor Michigan, in the US. They are both at the end of a peninsula, and you have to be going here, because there is no place further to go. Of course the temperature is a little different on Lake Superior than the Carribean, but you get the idea. On the bay side of the penensula the water is flat calm, but if you take a dirt road the half mile across the peninsula there is some surf on the beach on that side, and nobody around for as far as you can see. The Honduran Navy has a base at the tip of the peninsula and at night you can see boats coming and going. I'm staying at a hotel/hostel thing a few miles out of town, on the beach. I'm going to stay here a couple days, then head for Nicaragua. I have been offered a house on the beach on the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica for 2 weeks, by another Horizons Unlimited member if I house and dog sit while the owner goes to England for 2 weeks. Unless her plans change I will be taking her up on that, and will head that direction when I leave here. I have about a week to get there once I leave here, so that will still give me 5 days in Nicaragua, so I shouldn't be too rushed, and of course then I will get to chill for 2 weeks. I left Trujillo on Monday morning, with the intention of getting somewhere clode to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, that day. Not wanting to retrace my route out to Trujillo, I decided to take another highway roughly paralell, but inland, to the one I took out there. No one at Casa Kiwi, where I stayed, had been on this road, so I had no idea what I was getting into. It ended up being a real nice ride, with about 70 miles of gravel, over a small mountain range and through some real back country. The only caveat is that there are several river crossings in vados, and if the rivers were high you might end up turning back. I saw the two bigest snakes I have ever seen in the wild on this trip. Both were in the road, one alive the other dead. The live on was dark gey, almost black, with very shiny scales. This guy had to be 8 or 9 feet long, although it was curled back on itself and hard to judge exactly, and as big as my arm. I don't know what species this one was. The other was run over and dead, but pretty fresh. This was a Fer-de-lance, or yellow beard as they are known for the yellow underside of their jaw. These are quite deadly, and this one was 6 or 7 feet long too. I'll think carefully before walking in Tevas. Anyway, I got to within 50 miles of Tegus, and it was getting dark, and it had been awhile since I had seen a motel, when I came across on of these pay by the hour places. If you don't know, thse are set up so you drive into a garage type stall beside each oom, and pull a shower curtain behind your car, so no one can see it. the price is on a sign in the garage, and you put the money in a portal with a door on it, and no one ever sees who you are. Extramarital activityis big here, not that it isn't at home, but here it is a real industry. One of the New Zealanders that run Casa Kiwi
said it is not unusal for a guy to bring his wife and kids out to their restaraunt on Sunday afternoon, then come back midweek with some other woman, rent a room, and then be gone in a couple hours. And that isn't in the rent by the hour business, or anonymous. But i digress. I told the guy I only wanted to sleep, and he rented me a room for 10 hours for 150 Lempira, or about 8 bucks. Got up and on the road early, and made the Nicaragua border by 10 am.Up to now all the borders ahd been dirt simple, but I had used out of the way crossings for those. The last time I came down here, I crossed into Nica on the PanAm, and it was a pain in the butt, and I thought if I found another place to cross, it might be easier. No such luck. This was just as much of a madhouse as the other time. When I got
to within a hundred yards of the border, I literally had 20 guys running at me, wanting to change money, expedite the crossing procedure, watch my bike, wash my bike, shine my shoes, and I don't know what else. The place was set up so the windows you have to go to were on the back side od the buildings, so you can't keep an eye on the bike, so i paid 2 kids to watch it with the understanding that they got paid when I came back and everything was OK. That part worked out fine. I got checked out of Honduras by myself, but couldn't find where to do the Nica stuff, so I got one of the hangers on to walk me through that. The customs booth ended up being a shack that looked just like the other 100 shacks selling cokes and tshirts, and no sign on it, and it got worse from there. I don't know how you would find anything if you didn't know where it was. I'm sure I got ripped off, as I spent $60 on I'm not sure what, at the various booths. I think the "helper" has the official jack up the fees and they split the profit. In the end, I got through, but I would have to give myself a failing grade on that border. It would be a lot easier with a partner, as one guy could stay with the bikes, so if it took a while to find things it wouldn't be so nerve wracking. I rode to the first big town, found an ATM and got some money without any problem, the rode to Leon, where I am now.
Trujillo was the only place so far where I have had trouble with internet access. I did find a dial up connection, but it took 15 minutes just to log on to my yahoo mail, so I didn't even try to update my blog.
Near Antigua, Volcan Pacaya: Look carefully, you can see some glowing orange there. This whole mass was sliding down the hill.
Somewhere in Honduras: This is why you donīt drive at night. They donīt always ahve the dirt piles to protect the washout either.
Trujillo, Honduras: The beach on the bay side. The water is flat calm here.
Trujillo: The ocean side of the peninsula has more surf, and nobody around for miles.
Leon, Nicaragua: Yes, we are making friends everywhere. This was near a plaza that had a memorial to the people killied in the 1979 revolution. There was an old guy hanging around that had a photo album. He showed me a bunch of pictures of the downtown during the fighting, with a lot of current landmarks visible. Really interesting. He didnīt ask for any money, but I gave him 5 Cordobas, about 40 cents, anyway.
One of several Spanish churches in downtown Leon.
Dog sitting in Costa Rica
Leon, Nicaragua, was one of the strongholds of the Sandinistas, throughout the 80's and into the 90's, and it and Esteli were the only cities that Ortega carried the last time he ran for president. I had stayed in Esteli on my previous trip here, the other city known for left wing politics, so I figured I might as well complete the tour. I found a nice little hotel off one of the plazas for $18 with private bath and wireless internet, the first time I have had that luxury on this trip. I only stayed here the one night, but was able to walk around town and see most of the old colonial era buildings anyway. There are several backpacker hostels here, but they didn't have a place to leave my bike I was happy with. There seems to be a lot of volunteer workers here as well, most that I saw were European of some sort.
I had been in email contact with another Horizons Unlimited member, Lorraine Chittock, about possibly looking after her house and dogs, on the beach in Costa Rica, while she went to England for a couple of weeks. We firmed up our plans while I was here, and I decided to head form here to San Juan del Sur, near the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua, from here. I took the more direct, but unpaved route from Leon towards the Costa Rica border, bypassing Managua, which as usual, was a mixed blessing. Nicaragua has so much contrast in the way people live. On this route I saw several Ox drawn carts, with solid wood wheels, that looked like something I picture in medival Europe or somewhere, and then when you hit the main highway, there will be a Texaco that looks like it was just dropped in from California, complete with American brands of junk food and an ATM machine.
When I got close to San Juan, a guy pulled up next to me at a gas staion on an Aprilia Caponord, and asked where I was headed. It turned out he was from Ecuador, and was on his way to Managua to try and get a visa for Costa Rica, but would be coming back to San Juan. I told him I was going to be staying there too, and he could try to find me there. I got to San Juan and got set up in a little hotel, with courtyard parking for the bike an free internet. Sure enough, a littl later Fausto, the Ecuadoran guy, saw my bike there and got a room there too. He had not been successful in his attempt to get his visa, but was waiting for word from the Costa Rica embassy in Managua. He had bought the bike in the US and was riding it home to Ecuador. Nothing had happened by the time I left 2 days later, and for all I know he may still be there. His only other option seemed to by flying or shipping around CR and Panama.
So, One of the bars in SJ had posters up all over advertising Carlos Santana in concert the following night. You have to realize San Juan is just a sleepy little beach town, so I was skeptical, but thought maybe he had a house here and was going to do an acoustic set or something. So, I walked over to the bar and asked if Santana was really going to be there. Yes. Carlos Santana? Yes. Carlos Sanatna live? Yes. In San Juan del Sur? Yes. In this place? Yes. I asked every way I could think of. Naturally, it turned out to be a DVD of some old show, but I had to try. So Fausto and I watched it anyway. I should mention that Guatemala had the cheapest room prices, but beer in a bar there was almost American prices close to $2 a bottle. Honduras and Nicaragua hotels are more expensive, but beer is about half that. Pick your poison.
After a couple days in San Juan it was time to head for Costa Rica. I made the short ride to the border, and found 2 Canadian guys there on BMW GS twins. We hooked up together for the crossing, and it sure made things a lot easier to always have someone to stay with the bikes. We did use a helper to point us at the right offices, but it only cost us a few dollars each, and was well worth it. We stuck together untill the first big town, where we were able to get some money from an ATM, and go to a Burger King (YES!) for lunch. After all the chicken and rice shacks I have eaten at on this trip, I am not apologizing to anyone for an American fast food hit. Stainless steel countertops, purified water in the ice maker, toilet paper in the bathrooms, that's what makes America great. The Canadians were planning on being to the tip of S. America, and back to work in Canada by the middle of October. I wish them luck, but that was way too many miles in too short a time for me, so I didn't even suggest staying together for any more of ours trips, besides, I had my house sitting gig lined up.
Lorraine's directions to her place included phrases like "badly potholed", "worst road in Central AMerica", " pray it doesn't rain", and "you might have to wait for the tide to go out", all the kind of things that made it sound like my kind of place. I got there without much trouble at all, really, on Friday afternoon. Her flight was on Monday morning, so that gave me a couple days to bond with the dogs, and have Lorraine show me around the area. The area is really interesting, her house is in a little working fishing village of about a dozen houses, but a few (rough) miles away is a gringofied town, with restaraunts, massage and yoga studios, and like any beach town, bars. The fisherman go out in the afternoon and set nets, then at dawn the next morning they go out to haul them in. One day they gave us a filet off a shark they caught, and another time we got to try some raw oyster, fresh out of the water. With my track record on seafood, I was a little worried about eating this stuff, but no ill effects so far. Fingers crossed.
On Sunday we took the dogs up to a high peneinsula that looks over the ocean for 180 degrees or more. Like a lot of this area, someone bulldozed roads in with the idea of subdividing the property for vacation homes. For some reason it didn't fly, and now it is for sale, $22 million for 150 acres or so. It does have as good a view as I've ever seen, so if you have some spare cash laying around, remember, you heard it here first. While walkin home, Lorraine said she knew a sort cut we could take. We all know how that usually turns out. An hour of shoe sucking mud, lifting
a bicycle over fences, creek crossings and slithering under barbed wire we were back at the house. Went to a restaurant for the first decent steak I've had since leaving the US, so you know this is gringo territory.
This (monday) morning after Lorraine said a tearful goodbye to the dogs, I gave her a ride on the motorcycle, to the bus stop for the ride to the airport. Scheduling a flight on September 11th was either a very good or very bad idea. I haven't heard yet how it worked out. These dogs are treated like kings, so naturally they are traumatized by being seperated from their human mother and I could barely get them to go for a walk this aftenoon. I think they will perk up in a day or 2. So anyway, I am on my own for the next 2 weeks, hopefully I can keep the dogs alive that long. I should be able to study my spanish, and get a little work done on my computer. I do have (slow) internet access here, so if you have any burning questions for me this would be a good time to email me, I doubt if I'll be putting any pictures up from here, but you never know.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: Bike on the beach.
San Juan: Fausto (sp?) , an Ecuadoran I met there, waiting to get his visa status straightened out. He had bought an Aprilia Caponord in the US and was trying to ride home, but had some bureaucratic trouble. I hope it worked out.
Garza, Costa Rica: Momma howler monkey with a baby on her back. She was swinging through the branches, about 15 feet from me as I was sitting on th porch.
Garza, Costa Rica: My dogs, for 2 weeks.
Garza: The road to the house, after high tide washed a bunch of driftwood up.
Garza: Sunset with drift log.
9-27-06 5,200 trip miles, 34,200 total bike miles
I've been pretty lax on blog updates here lately, but I figured since I've mainly
been hanging out on the beach with my canine friends, that a motorcycle oriented
reader wouldn't be that interested anyway. At least that is my excuse. If you recall, I was house and dog sitting for another Horizons Unlimited member,
Lorraine turned out to be a really interesting person, which was no surprise
after what she had told me about herself before I came down here. She was born in England, but grew up in California. (Edit: She has since told me she was actully born in the USA, but her parents are English. Oops.) As an adult, she lived in Cairo, Egypt as a
writer for a magazine for several years, and then near a game preserve in Kenya.
When Ted Simon broke his leg in Kenya on his second round the world trip, he
recovered while staying with Lorraine, so there is some moto content here too. If
you don't know who Ted Simon is, go buy a book called Jupiter's Travels, the story of his early 70's trip around the world on a motorcycle. Suffice to say,
she has some stories to tell. Bruiser and Dog, her two dogs, followed her back to
the US from Kenya. Maybe with a little help from an airplane, but they are African dogs, and seem to have adapted just fine to chasing skunks and squirrels, rather than whatever they chased in Africa.
Shameless Promotion: Lorraine has two books out that I know of. One is called
"Shadows in the Sand" and is about a camel drive that she and another white woman participated in, from Sudan to Egypt in 1995. This is not a warm fuzzy animal book, but a look at the realities of the camel trade in desert Africa, through
western eyes. From a traveller's perspective, I thought this was a great look at life in the Africa desert, regardless if you give a flip about camels or not. The
other one is called "Cats of Cairo" and you can guess what that one is about. This one is a warm fuzzy animal book, and of course, focuses on cat culture in Egypt, where they were revered in the times of the Pharohs. Both books are high quality, coffee table type books, with many high quality glossy photos of their subjects, and would make great Christmas presents. Take a look at www.lorrainechittock.com , or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will
be HAPPY to tell you how to get one or both for yourself. Dog and Bruiser will thank you for the extra dog bisquits Lorraine will be able to buy them. End of Shameless Plug.
After 2 weeks of living here, I got to know enough about the beach life to say that I don't see it in my future as a lifestyle. I really enjoyed my time here, and I think the beach is a great place for a break, but the heat just sucks away all my ambition after awhile. I now understand how the expats living down here have so many drug and alcohol problems. It must be really easy to get sucked into the lifestyle where you go and swim or surf for awhile in the morning, and then go to the bar for lunch, and just stay there. Most of this trip I have alternated between mountainous and beach type areas, and I can now say that I would rather live in the mountains and go to the beach for a break, than the reverse. Now I just have to figure out how to afford to do that. I'm working on it.
Most of the time, I pretty much stayed to myself, walked the dogs, and studied my Spanish. I went in to town, of course, to go to the grocery store, restaraunts
and bars a couple times, but the road is SO potholed, I didn't even want to ride my motorcycle on it. My KLR has stiffer springs, both front and rear, than what
it came with, to habndle the extra weight of all the crap I am hauling around, and that makes it ride really harsh when the luggage is off. The effect on me is bad enough, but I have been on a lot rougher roads through Honduras, Nicaragua
and Costa Rica than what I originally planned on, and I need to make this bike
last another 12,000 miles at least. Costa Rica gets my vote for the worst road
conditions, once you get off the main highways. Its like they built all these gravel roads and never maintained them, just let the potholes get bigger and bigger, until there are just a great big checkerboard of potholes and washboard. It's not technically difficult, just tedious going slow enough to avoid the worst ones and not being able to look at the scenery, because you always need to watch where your wheels are going.
After Lorraine got back from England, we took a ride on the motorcycle up the coast to check out a wildlife reserve up there and just see the area. Like idiots, neither one of us took a camera, so we missed probably the hairiest motorcycle pictures of the whole trip, I hope. The road crossed a river several times, and being the rainy season, some of the crossings were pretty deep. Since she had sandals on , and I had running shoes, I made her walk the crocodile infested river to see how deep it really was before crossing. Conveniently, the crossings that were scary deep, had suspension pedestrian bridges that were a little bouncy, but just wide enough for a motorcycle, so we put them to good use. Anyway this all would have made great pictures, but you'll just have to take my word for it now.
I am now in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, known for the Arenal volcano, which has been
erupting more or less continuously since 1968. Unfortunately, it has been cloudy
and rainy, so when I went and hike the trails this afternoon, I didn't see much.
Whose idea was it to make this trip in the rainy season anyway? I am getting
anxious to get over into South America and am resisting the urge to just blast
down the PanAm to get to Panama City. I think I am going to go back over to the
Carribean coast again and down to Panama that way.
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