So I got tired of working and thought, hmm, I think I'll quit my job and ride my motorcycle around Latin America for 6 or 8 months. Naturally there was some planning and saving involved, but basically that is what happpened. The general plan is to leave my home in Seguin Texas (near San Antonio) about the 1st of August 2006 and ride south all the wayto the southern tip of South America. I left my job on the 9th of June and am currently doing a little tune up ride on my Kawasaki Concours to visit family and friends in Wisconsin, Montana, Oregon, and if the planets line up right, make it to the Horizons Unilimited meet in Leadville Colorado on the way back to Texas. There, I will switch bikes to my Kawasaki KLR 650, do some final prep, and head south.
So as long as you found my blog, I hope to keep you entertained and informed on my progress. I hope some aspiring travelers get something useful, since I have got so much out of this site over the years. I'm going to try to give some general info on what it costs to do a trip like this, but I'm not going to list every bottle of beer and bag of chips I buy.
The bike I'm taking is a lightly modified 2000 KLR 650 that I have owned since new. It has 29,000 miles on it and is a veteran of three trips to Mexico, Moab, Big Bend, and several of the 4WD passes in central Colorado. I still wonder if I should have got a newer bike for this trip, but I know this bike so well and it has been so reliable that I figured why not take it. Besides I am taking a few wrenches and some duct tape, so no worries. Hopefully an older bike attract less attention from thieves, and people in general, it also gives me the option of selling the bike at the end of the trip if I decide it's not worth shipping back.
So check back when you get a chance, or sign up on this page for email notification when I post a new entry. Let's go for a ride.
In the meantime, I'll work on my packing technique...
Just some quick notes to let you know what I have been up to. I can't get my pictures to upload from my sister in law's Mac, so I'll have to try that some where else.
6-18-06 start 46,034 end 46,642
Left Madison, 7:15, in a light rain. In line at the ferry on 113 a guy told me the usual story about his brother in law, who had a motorcycle wreck, hit by a drunk driver, and now can't support his family. Rain quit about 11 am. WI 33 through Wildcat Mtn. Went to Grandad Bluff. Stopped at MN rest stop for picnic lunch. MN towns often have camping at city parks, paved bike trails.MN 16 followed Root River and bike trail. Night at private campground in Chamberlien SD.
6-19-06 start 46,642 end 46,976
Did the black hillls tour, badlands, rushmore, custer state park, crazy horse. Didn't pay the $8 to get into Mt. Rushmore, been there before and can see the monument fine from the road. Did pay &10 toget into badlands, $5 for custer and $5 for crazy horse. Crazy Horse is still an inspiration. I was last there in '92. At that time they were getting down to detail work on the face. The face is now done, and they are roughing out the horses head. For those of you that don't know, the Crazy Horse monument was started in 1948 by Korcak Ziolkowski (sounds like he should be from Wisconsin). He worked on it till his death in '82, his wife and 7 of their 10 children are still at it. The main reason I am such a fan is it is being done entirely without government money. Ziolkowski was asked by one of the Indians who survived the massacre at Wounded Knee to build a monument to the Indian leader, and I'd say he is getting more than he bargained for. Weather was great all day, but I am typing in the tent now, as it is raining out. Lots of lightning, but the rain is light so far. Want to bet it changes? Ok, I took alittle brake, and now it's coming down haed. Guess we'll see if my 13 year old Kelty can still keep the rain out.
6-20-06 start 46,976 end 47,474
Took the long way to Cody Wy. Took 385 north from Custer SD. Went to Devil's tower, then wussed out and took I-80 to Sheridan Wy, took US14 from there through Shell Canyon. All spectacular scenery, but I'm getting a bit jaded already. you know, ho-hum, another magnificent vista. Got to Cody near dark, and it was threatening rain, so I got a motel for the first time this trip. Did manage to find an excelent bar though. I f you are in Cody check out the Silver Dollar Bar, great food, friendly staff, locally brewed beer. Got to watch the Heat beat the Mavericks for the NBA title. Serves the Mavs right for knocking the Spurs out of the playoffs, even though I could give a flip about basketball.
6-21-06 start 47,474 end 47,787
Got a late start out of Cody, as I waited for the library to open so I could check email. I might have to think about carrying a laptop in the future. Lots of wi-fi hot spots advertised, but very hard to find public computers. Most libraries have them, but you often have to wait for one to open up. I know, they are free, but I still complain. Went over the Beartooth highway, in a light rain. Still 4 feet of snow in places on the side of the road. The road itself was all clear though. I did this road 20 some years ago on my CB750, but I forgot how awesome it realy is. The temperature can vary about 30 dergrees in a few road miles because of the elevation change around here. Tried to take a dirt road short cut to I-90, but the road kept getting more rutted and it started to rain again, so I wimped out and backtracked on the paved highway to I-90 and took that to friend's Dan and Jacque's place in Belgrade MT. Even made it in time for supper.
6-22-06 start 47,474 end 47,474
Gave the bike the day off and went to Yellowstone with Dan in his truck. walked around the geyser's and gawked at elk and buffalo, the whole tourist thing. Dan and I have known each other since we were 12, so we got to catch up on a lot of old times.
6-23-06 Start 47,474 end 48,154
Started out west on I-90, then south on I-15 at Butte. Butte is an interesting town. You can buy propery there dirt cheap, but there are so many environmetl and other issues left from the mining boom, that I would be afraid to own anything there. There is a toxic lake in the bottom of an old strip mine, and every once in a while a house falls into an old mine shaft, but other than that it would be a great place to live, as there are a lot of really cool old buildings from the turn of the century, just waitng to to be restored. I digress. Turned west on hwy 43, which is another really neat rockie mountain road in a river valley with mountains towering overhead. Along this road is the Big Hole Battlefield monument, which I had been meaning to visit for a long time. This is where the Nez Perce war stared in 1877. Another sad chapter in American Indian history, you can google "Chief Joseph" and "Nez Perce" if you want to know more. Chief Joseph's surrender speech is the only Indian speech I can quote a line from by memory, "from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more, forever". Yet this most famous of all Indian speeches was not featured in the movie at the memorial. Strange. I walked around the 4 or 5 miles of trails there to all the critical places in the battle. They have put up the poles of teepees in the original locations, and people have tied strips of cloth to them. I have seen this at other Indian memorials, I'm not sure what the symbolism is. One of the women survivors of this battle went on to marry Andew Garcia, who lived until 1940. After his death his family found old diaries from this period, which eventually got published as "Tough Trip Through Paradise", so check that out too. There is a bar in Alberton, MT that Garcia hung out at till shortly before his death, that has a bunch of pictures of him on the walls, which is how I got interested in this in the first place. I did not get to visit it this trip, I assume it is still there. Funny how bars usually fit in somewhere. But I digress even further. Anyway, I ended up at a forest service campgroung near Stanley ID.
6-24-06 start 48,154 end 48,737
Left Stanley on ID hwy 21, a great road that goes over two big mountain passes
6-24-06 start 48,154 end 48,737
Left Stanley on ID hwy 21, a great road that goes over two big mountain passes on its' way to meet I-84 near Boise. Lots of 25 mph curves so slow going. Realy makes me realize I live in the wrong part of the country for remote exploring. As big as Texas is, there is very little public land. From S. Dakota al the way to Oregon there is unlimited oportunity for dirt road exploring. Of course I haven't been able to do too much, since I'm on a road bike, and although it seems like I should have all the time in the world, I do have places I need to be. With that in mind, the rest of the day was pretty much just a high speed blast west on I-84 to my brother's place in Portland. Nearly a 600 mile day, and the first 150 was slow.
6-25 to 7-2-06
For the motocentric reader, there isn't much to tell here. I spent a week at my brother's place, and my Mom and my 11 year old nephew flew out from WI to meet us. Spent the week visiting with my 14 month old niece, who I had never met. Went bicycling, went to the beach, went to some waterfalls, to the movies, out to eat, to some brew pubs, to a rodeo, and all that kind of thing. Moto content: I washed my bike and changed the oil. But speaking of the bike, I don't know how it could have performed any better. All I have done to it, in 4400 miles, is put gas in it and check the oil and tire pressures. There was about 4600 miles on this oil, and it used maybe 1/2 a pint in all that time. Maybe I'll get 100,000 miles out of this one.
7-3-06 start 48,767 end 49,248
Left Portland about 10, after my brother took my Mom and nephew to the airport. Went south on I-5 to Salem, then east on OR-22 to Bend and south to Klamath Falls. It's been really hot out here and I was trying to stay up in the foothills of the Cascades to stay cool. I'm wearing a 3/4 length First Gear Cordura jacket, and that is OK till mid afternoon, then I have to take it off. Up to now I would have been OK with my mesh jacket, but Colorado is still to come, so I might be glad yet that I took this one. I gravel rashed my calf and palm of my hand trying to show my nephew how to wheelie a mountain bike, so I got a little reminder of why we wear protective gear. Right now I am southeast of Lakeview OR, probably very close to where OR, CA, and NV meet. I know, if I had a GPS I would know for sure. Anyway, I left OR hwy 140 that I was on to go up a gravel Forest Service road to find a campsite, when I started seeing ribbons and arrows from what I assume was a recent mountain bike race. I kept going, thinking there might be an after race party with naked mountain biker chicks dancing around a bonfire or something, but at the end of the road there was just an empty camp ground. Bummer. 12 miles of dusty gravel put the kibash on the wash job on the bike, but at least I got a free campsite out of it.
7-4-06 start 49,248 end 49,879
Rode the 12 miles back out to the paved highway, Oregon 140. This is a great road that goes over several 6,500 foot passes before dropping into Nevada. This country is dry, with hills and views I would think of in Utah or Arizona, not Oregon. Having seen "The World's Fastest Indian" recently, I wanted to stop by the Bonneville Salt Flats, and see what I could see. I have driven through on I-80 before, but never stopped to see the racetrack. I ended up talking to a guy riding a Guzzi California at a gas station, and he convinced me to go south to US 50. Besides, I am going to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, which is supposed to blow the doors of Bonnevile. He was right, this road goes through the Great Basin, which is a bowl maybe 250 miles in diameter that doesn't drain to one of the oceans. Naturally in a wetter climate this would be a huge lake, but now there are lots of dry lakebeds in the bottom. Be prepared out here, there were several stretches where it was 120 miles or more between any significant civilization. Around 7 I took a dirt road on some BLM land to see if i could find a campsite. After a few miles, I could see a dry lake ahead, so I kept going till I got to a place I could bushwhack out to the lake surface. The lake had to be 4 or 5 miles in diameter and hard packed. Not completly smooth though, the way it cracked when in dried left it about like a cobblestone street. Easy to ride on though. I resisted the urge to open up the Concours and see what it would do, but I went 60 or so and I'm sure I could have gone 120 no problem. There is the matter of being by myself, miles and miles from anything though. I camped near a probably 50 foot high rock "island" in the middle. I know, I know, I need to post the pictures.
7-5-06 start 48,879 end 50,264
I am now 4 for 4 with Moab, I have been here 4 times and it has rained 4 times. It is raining now and raining hard. This is supposed to be a desert.
I rode US50 to I-70 and then took Utah 24 through Capitol Reef Nat. Park, which I had never been to. Similar land forms to the Moab area, but higher elevation and therefore greener and cooler. Lots of riding areas around Torrey that look like they would be good for mountain bikes or dirt bikes. The trouble with these trips is you come back with too many ideas for where to go next time.
I now appreciate how much time the Interstate system saves. It has taken me 3 full days to get here from Portland. Well, I got here at 3 today. Obviously I have taken some detours and indirect routes, but this type of trip easily adds 50 % to my travel time. Not that this is bad or good, just something to consider when planning. I thought I would have time to rent a mountain bike on this leg of the trip, but the Horizons meet starts tomorrow, and I'm still 300 miles away, so I will have to hustle tomorrow too.
A few pictures with comments. They're not too big, but could take a little while to view.
It's not the Virgen of Guadalupe, you'll see some of those once I get 2,000 miles south, but this is what those Norskies in Wisconsin build for roadside memorials.
Southwestern Wisconsin has some of the best motorcycling and bicycling roads anywhere. Seven months out of the year, anyway.
Somewhere in Wyoming. These things bug me for some reason. A painted on cattle guard. Are cows really so stupid they look at these lines and think they can't walk across them? If they are, I will never feel guilty about eating one again.
Portland Oregon, my niece Ursula, biker chick in training. Notice how much cuter she is than any other baby you have ever seen. Smarter, too.
South of US 50, near the Nevada/Utah border. This was cool. A dry lake a few miles long, miles and miles from anywhere. Out in the middle it was totally flat, with nothing to hit. I bet you could close your eyes and pin the throttle. Didn't prove that myself though.
Shrine Pass, near Leadville, CO. All motorcycles are dual sportable, it's just a matter of degree.
Leadville, Colorado. A very soggy campground at the Horizons Unlimited meet.
It rained a litle overnight, so I had to pack up soggy gear to get going in the morning.
7-6-06 start 50,264 end 50,675
It rained a litle overnight, so I had to pack up soggy gear to get going in the morning. Headed south on 191 and east on Utah 46. I was trying to find a low traffic route east into Colorado, and this one went just south of the LaSal mountain range. You climb up out of the valley 191 runs in and at the CO border the road turns into CO 90. This road runs through a huge valley beside a river, with red rock cliffs on both sides. I tried to take what my map showed as old 90 over a mountain range, it was shown as gravel on my map. I met some guys running graders, doing road maintenance, and they told me the gravel turned into dirt a few miles up the road and I wouldn't make it. Being stubborn, I ignored that warning and went ahead. When the gravel ran out, I didn't make it a quarter mile before the dirt/clay packed up between my front wheel and fender and locked the wheel, which made for a very interesting couple of seconds. So I turned around and went back, about 20 miles to the paved road. I think the road grader guys laughed when they saw me come back through. I then crossed the mountain range on the paved road and came out on 550 just south of Ridgway. Took 550 north to US 50, then east through Gunnison, and over 2 more passes and past a huge reservoir, formed by a dam in the Black Canyon. Turned north on CO 24 to Leadvile and the Horizons rally site.
I found the place without any trouble and there were probably 20 tents set up and a MASH syle tent for a pavilion. Within 2 hours I had met a couple people who I had met at HU Mexico meets in the past. Jeremiah, who left Mexico last fall and headed south. He left his bike in, I think Brazil, and is currently planning when he can get back to finish his trip, as he came back to the States to work for the summer. Also, Chris who had done a multi year round the world trip with his wife Erin (ultimatejourney.com). Chris and Erin had made some stickers up to give to people they met on there trip, and I had seen one on the toolbox of the BMW mechanic at the dealership in San Jose, Costa Rica. It didn't mean anything to me at the time, but a year later in Mexico at the HU meet, I met Chris. Erin is here with him this time in Colorado.
An American guy did a hilarious slide show of a trip he took on his Harley to the mid east in '05. Started in Germany and went through Czech Republic, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Israel, and I forget where else. No serious problems, except for almost getting run over by Porsches on the Autobahn.
7-7-06 start 50,675 end 50,874
Got a little rain over night, but nothing serious. Went to town for breakfast and came back to figure out what to do for the day. There was a ride over Mosquito pass, which I have never done, but is supposed to be pretty hairy. Another, less severe but still rough ride was going over another pass, while Erin, who was leading a women's only ride tomorrow wanted to scout the route ahead of time. Since I am here on my Concours, I was relegated to the girly ride. (Oooh, I'm in trouble now..) We reasoned that if I could make it on the Concours, beginning riders on dual sports should be able to do it. It ended up being a great ride over a pass and through an old mining town, with some views of 14,000 foot peaks on the way. I wouldn't have wanted to do anything real much rougher, but it ended up being totally doable on a street bike. After we got back, I decided I would ride over Indenpendence pass to Aspen, and see how the beautiful people live. The ride over the pass is incredible (I keep saying that, don't I), it's asphalt, but at times goes down to one lane with wide spots for passing oncoming traffic. Aspen is about what I expected it to be. I have been to Jackson Wyoming several yimes, an it reminded me of that. The town is in a beautiful spot, but is restricted from growing by the valley it sits in. Naturaly, this drives up property values to the point of ridiculousness. Lots of Range Rovers driven by good looking women, in a high maintenance, trophy wife kid of way. Unfortunately, I had to come back the same way, and it was raining by that time. You have to expect to have some rain in the afternoon in the mountains, but this was turning into an all day soaker. I was going to take some pictures on the way back, but the rain ended that. Got back to camp and did the normal picture show, and beer around the campfire thing.
7-8-06 start 50,874 end 50,884
It rained. I sat in my tent and read a book. It rained. I went to town and ate breakfast and did my laundry. It rained. I went back to the camp ground and stood under a tarp and talked about motorcycles. It rained. Did I mention it rained?
Ok, I copped an attitude for a while there, but the weather has just sucked. Now it's later and it's not raining. We had a presentaion by Chris Jones tonight, who is doing the Dakar rally as a privateer in January. For those that don't know, the Dakar is the Indy 500 of desert racing, held in northern Africa every year. Really fascinating insight into what really goes into preparing for something like that. For instance, the event is so grueling that 1/3 of the support trucks routinely fail to finish. Watch for him in the results.
This was followed by Lawrence, an Irish guy who is on a round the world trip, who did a little show on the portion of his trip across east Europe and the former USSR. He is probably in his 60's and rode all the way across, including the Zilov Gap, which is the part Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman took the train around in "Long Way Round". And he did it on a Honda ST1100 which is very similar in concept to my Concours.
7-9-06 start 50,884 end 51,551
Got up in the morning and guess what? No rain. Spent an hour or 2 helping tear down the big tent, and then the rain started again. I figured I had done my civic duty by that time and packed up and left. As I was leaving the Ryder truck they used to haul all the gear out wouldn't start, but I left anyway. I assume they got it going one way or another. I'm not sorry I went, but I have to say, I prefer the set up for the Mexico meeting better. There you at least have a real meeting hall for presentations and a bar to sit in if the weather isn't cooperating. Here you had to go to town if you wanted anything, and I think there was more interaction between rally goers in Mexico.
Rode south for hours in the rain. I'm realy sick of that word. I was going to take a route through Taos and southeast from there to meet up with I-40 at Tucumcari, but the cops had the road to Taos blocked off. I stopped and asked the sheriff's deputies what was up, and they said there was 8 feet of water on the road up ahead. Needless to say I didn't go to Taos. I was peretty disgusted, so I just got on the bike and rode all day, hardly stopped for anything except gas, and made it al the way to Pecos TX, where I got my second motel room of the trip. At least I got a chance to spread out al my gear inside and let it dry. Oh, the rain did quit as soon as I crossed I-40, so it didn't rain all day, at least.
7-10-06 start 51,551 end 52,032
Not too much to say today. I was on the home stretch, and pretty much just slept late, gassed up, and rode home. Took US 90, just to stay off the interstate. The Pecos river had more water in it than I have ever seen, although I haven't been here that long. Stopped in Langtry to take a look at the Judge Roy Bean tourist trap. The judge sounded almost corrupt enough to fit in with todays politicians. Got home about 6 pm.
It seems hard to believe, but I’m almost ready to pack up and head south of the border.
I have spent the last week or so doing fun things like putting money in escrow to pay my property taxes at the end of the year. It is surprisingly hard to give people money ahead of its’ due date. “But Mr. Tiegs, we don’t know what the rate for your homeowners insurance will be until October.” As far as I know, I’m done bleeding money for the time being. Just have a few little things to do, like forge a couple copies of my driver’s license, since personal experience has shown that it is wise to not give out the original to local cops down there, but that’s another story.
On a trip of this length, you need someone back home minding the fort, but I’ve got these guys watching my stuff, so Lord help me. That’s Blake Berlin and Andy Snell on the left. I have had to go several hundred miles to West Texas to retrieve crashed motorcycles for both of them, on separate occasions, in the last couple of years, so if they ask you to ride to Big Bend with them, be afraid, be very afraid. Hopefully I won’t be calling them from Bolivia or someplace and asking how much gas they have in their truck. But seriously, thanks guys.
This is pretty much what you need for a trip like this. If you have your docs in order, everything else can be had with time and money. But I’m carrying 150 lbs. of other stuff, just to be safe.
Readers that are on the ball will remember that a couple of installments back I went off on painted on cattle guards. One of my vegetarian readers (probably my only vegetarian reader) informed me there is some science there, due to the way cattle brains process images. Thanks Jody. But just between us carnivores, I'm going to keep chowing down those burgers.
Real de Catorce
7-24-06 start 29,055 end 29,348
Made it through the Tortilla Curtain today (that would be the Mexican border, stolen from a TC Boyle book) without any trouble. Crossed at Piedras Negras/Eagle Pass, the actual paperwork station is about 40 miles into Mexico. It always feels weird to me to just ride across the border and keep on going, but that is what I did for 40 miles. The smaller crossings the bureaucratic thing right at the border.
I got a late start today, because as I was packing up yesterday, I discovered I couldn't find my proof of insurance for the bike. It isn't good outside the US, but at least it has the VIN of the bike and current dates, and I'm guessing some town cop in Peru or someplace won't know the difference. So that meant waiting until my agent's office opened and getting them to have the underwriter email them a form, so they could print it out for me. By that time it was 11 am, so then I thought, might as well have one last American fast food hit, since i hope I won't see any of those places for a while. So Burger King it was. Anyhoo, that meant I didn't get to the border till 3pm, so I just rode 3 hours into Mexico to the little town of Sabinas.
Now I hate to say this, but one of the first things I saw when I crossed the border, was one of the angle iron trusses that cross the road and support the overhead green highway signs. The thing was installed upside down, so the diagonal members were in compression, instead of tension the way God and any decent engineer would want them to be. It looked like it was designed properly, just installed upside down. Makes me think about things like that when I get on a cable tram, or an elevator down here. I suppose after designing machines for 20 years, I'm cursed with noticing shit like that, for life.
I have to look at the map, but I think I'll get on the road early tomorrow and try to get to Real de Catorce. I'm reading a book called "Behind the Mexican Mountains" I bought for 4 bucks at Half Price Books. I only started, but if you are planning to visit Copper Canyon in your future, as any good Horizonista should be, check it out. Written back in the 1930's by a guy from U of Chicago, it's an anthropological study of the Tarahumara (Indian tribe) from the Canyon region, but gives you a good feel for what it was like back then, as well as description of the landscape.
I could have stayed at this place for $55, with guarded parking, free access to an internet terminal and cooked to order breakfast from their swanky looking restaraunt, but alas, I'm on a budget.
So, I stayed at this dump. If I can, Ilike to get a hotel in the middle of town, so I can walk around for dinner and a beer or whatever without hassling with the bike. No parking? No problem, that's what lobbies are for. This where a relatively small bike is really handy. I think the Concours would handle most of the roads I'll see this trip, but I would have smashed the exhaust if I would have tried to get it up the steps into here.
This is what you get for your $13 in Sabinas, Cuahuila.
Like most Mexican towns, Sabinas' downtown is centered around a square with a church on the
7-25-06 start 29,348 end 29,555
Didn't really sleep very well, and I think I allowed myself to get dehydrated, so I wasn't a ball of fire in the morning, but I had a fairly short riding day planned. I rode south to Saltillo, this started out in the northern desert country and climbed pretty much the whole way there. So I hope I am in the cooler weather for a while now. It sounds counter intuitive to go south to find cool weather, but elevation is everything. Quite a bit of industry in this area, both in Monclova, which was a city on the way here, and in Saltillo. GM has a plant here and I saw coils of steel on the back of semi trucks headed north, so I assume there is a steel rolling mill nearby.
Saltillo's old town is built around the traditional plaza with a cathedral on one corner. Ths one was but by Jesuits in 17 something. As i was walking around the church, I met a guy who asked me where I was from, in English. I told him and he wanted to practice his English on me. It ended up that he knew quite a bit about the church, and he showed me some literature about a children's charity he worked on through his church. He then said if I would make a small donation, he would get me in to climb the bell tower. I still do't know if I got conned or not, but it was worth a few bucks to me regardless to go up the tower. We wound up this circular staircase to the level the bells were at, It was quite a view of the city from there. We went into the organists balcony and took a look at this 1897 German pipe organ they have, which was quite a thing on its' own. The exterior was made out of mahogany or something and lots of very intricate mechanisms, and you could see how they had cobbled little baffles and things onto each pipe to get the exact tone they wanted. It happened to be high school graduation day as well, and the ceremony was held in the church, so I watched some of that from the balcony. It looked like a beauty pagaent, with all the girls dressed to kill. I suppose the guys were dressed up too, but I didn't notice them.
It also happened to be the 429th anniversary of the towns founding. They had a festival in the plaza at night where they set up quite an elaborate stage and sound system. Some woman singer was backed up by a few guys who played all different instruments, from guitar to piano, sax, trumpet, bongos, concertina, and I don't know what all. My favorite part was when they did a real stripped down jazz tune, with just sax, piano and drums. It was a little strange, since I had never heard that kind of slow, smoky jazz song sung in spanish before, but it really sounded good. I have no clue who this woman was, but the crowd obviously did. She did a call and response song, and everybody but me knew what to say.
I moved up to a $26 hotel for tonight, because I wanted to stay in the old town and needed a place with secure parking. Ayway, i had a real interesting night just walking around town checking out everything that was going on.
06-07-26 start 29555 end 29735
I got up at a reasonable hour and got on the road by 9, after a quick breakfast. I then spent half an hour riding in circles trying to find the free road south. Finally gave up and took the cuota (toll) because I knew where it was. It really was a pretty good deal, at 52 pesos from Saltillo to the turn off to Real de Catorce. The road was not quite up to US Interstate standards, but it was close. The thing that struck me was the number of semi trucks headed north. Mostly enclosed trailers and a lot of the same freight companies you see on US roads, JB Hunt, Roadway, Schnieder, and others. The were trucks going south as well, of course, but northbound was easily 2 to 1. The road went through a lot of irrigated farmland, there were always mountains in view, but the ranges are spread out enough that the road can go between them. It rained, sprinkled really, a few times on the way down, but once I turned off the main road it was raining for real.
I realize this is only the third day of the trip, but this is already a highlight for sure. To get to Real, you have to go about 20 miles on a cobblestone road, where the cobbles have been polished smooth by traffic for who knows how long. We are not talking about formed bricks here either, these are just rounded river rocks set in the round. Kind of what I picture the Appian Way, from ancient Rome looking like. Not fun in the rain on a motorcycle. You climb most of that time, and I haven't seen a sign, but I bet Real is at 8-10,000 feet. You then have to go through a 2.3 km (~1.5 mile) tunnel to finally get to the town itself. Once I popped out of the tunnel, I was immediately acosted by 3 kids who wanted to be my agent in finding a hotel room. I let them lead me around town, first to a place that was out of my budget, then to another place where i got a fine room for $18. I gave the kids 15 pesos to split between them, but not before I taught them how to say "do you need a hotel?" in English. A bargain, as I would never have found this place on my own. Once again, i parked my bike in the lobby, but I wouldn't be afraid to leave i on the street in this town, as long as it was locked up.
Real de Catorce was a silver mining town, whose heyday was in the 1890's. After that the price of silver dropped for some reason and the town dried up. The place was more or less forgotten until 30 years ago, when it was rediscovered by artsy types, who they claim make up a good portion of the population today.Most of what I've seen so far is the same t shirts and crap that every tourist destination sells, but I'll walk around tomorrow and see what I can see. There are tourist buses that come here, most people seem to day trip out from Matehuala, the nearest town of any size. I got here in the afternoon, when they were leaving, so tomorrow I'll see what it's like with more tourists, as I've decided to stay another night.
This place attracts a very hip, upscale crowd, lots of 20 and 30 somethings with piercings and carrying guitars. It's an easy weekend getaway from San Luis Potosi or Monterrey, and all the private cars I've seen have Mexican license plates on them. There is no night life to speak of, no internet cafe, and no mountain bike rental. So I'm picturing a Hostel/Brew Pub/Restauraunt/ with internet access and bike rental. And while I'm in my perfect world, it would be full of Swedish backpacker girls with low moral standards. Potential investors, please contact me. I will be back to this place for a romantic getaway with a lady friend some day. I don't know who that will be right now, but whoever she is, she has a big treat coming. Oops. I lied about the internet cafe. There is one, which is why I was able to upload this entry. I´m having a heck of a time with pictures though.
This is gonna get ugly....
Roosters crowing, donkeys braying, church bells ringing, now that's the way I want to wake up in a Mexican town.
7-28-06 start 29,735 end 29,735
Roosters crowing, donkeys braying, church bells ringing, now that's the way I want to wake up in a Mexican town. You appreciate the simple things in these places, like when I took this hotel room, they told me there was hot water. Well they all say that, you don't know for sure until you try it. It took a long time for the cold water to get flushed out of the pipes, but finally, glorious hot water. When I got out, I stepped fom the bathroom into the bedroom, and Wham! Down I went on the slick tile floor. I caught myself on this kind of curb that seperated the rooms on my right forearm. I immediately had visions of my arm in a cast, having to come home, and tell people what happened.
"Did the bandidos beat you up and steal your bike?"
"No, I did an endo in the shower at my hotel."
That would be the definition of humiliation. Luckily, after a few seconds it was clear my arm wasn't broken, but I have a nasty bruise and two fingers are still a little tingly.
It was actually pretty darn cold last night, and I'm only 50 miles or so north of the tropic. Unfortunately it has been cloudy and drizzly most of the time I have been here. I could see where this place would really be beautiful in a late afternoon light, if there was any sun. I stayed off the bike, and must have walked 12 or 15 miles today, all of it up and down, just checking out the area. there are several roads that lead out of here that look like they merit exploration by motorcycle or mountain bike, but it rained and I am still feeling little beat up after falling getting out of the shower this morning.
I am writng this in a really posh Italian restaraunt, by Real standards, just to give myself a little treat. I have been doing OK on my budget. I could economize a little more, but I'm not in competition with anyone to see how cheap I can travel. I expect the next 2 days to be mostly riding, the next stop I think is Guanajuato.
On my last night here, I thought I had to get a little of the local flavor, so I went to the local bar/pool hall. This was clearly a local crowd, I recognized a few guys that were doing construction work around town during the day. They were playing a version of stripes and solids, but instead of racking the balls to start a game, they would line the balls up against the long bumpers, stripes on one side, solids on the other. The table was so worn, the varnish was mostly gone from the wooden rails, and there were actually depressions in the areas where they got the most use. The felt was in good shape though. Now, I used to play a fair stick in my day, but I wasn't sure if they were playing for money, and didn't trust my spanish to keep me out of trouble, knowing how seriously some people take their pool. I just drank a couple beers (Carta Blanca, a cheap working man's beer) and tried to make a compliment when someone made a dificult shot. All this while Tejano music played and Urban Cowboy was on TV with the sound off and spanish subtitles.
All in all a very interesting couple of days. Real de Catorce has elements of several different places I have been in Mexico, but here the gringo's haven't arrived in force yet, but maybe I am just out of season.
7-29-06 start 29,735 end 30,009
Wel, I'm trying to figure out how I rode all day and only went 200 miles. Actually it's pretty easy. I was packed up and moving by 9, but when I got to the tunnel, I had to wait there a while. there is only one lane and a guy at each end with a telephone to the other guy tells you when to go. Keep in mind this is a mile and a half long. So, he told me to go, and I went. Everything was rosy unil I got past the only turn and saw headlights coming at me, so I dove for the widest spot handy, and a dually truck went past at about 30 mph. He never even lifted. Then down the 20 mile cobblestone road, at least it was dry this time. i could have taken the autopista as far as San Luis Potosi, but that would not have been in the spirit of this trip, so I found a squiggly line on the map that looked like it crossed a mountain range and took it. The mountain pass was no big deal, but it was nice to see some back country little towns, although I got lost in one for a little while. The pavement ran out in the little town of Cerro Prieto, and I continued on the gravel for a while, but after I crossed a river a couple times, through concrete vados (that's a low water bridge to a Texan) and could see it was raining in the direction I wanted to go, I wimped out yet again and backtracked to where I could hit the highway to SLP, where I could conect to a highway going Southwest, where I wanted to go. I was afraid if it rained enough I would be trapped between river crossings until the water went down.
Anyway, I got to SLP and just rode around the outskirts on a ring road to my other highway. SLP is really a hapening place, judging by the southwest outskirts. There were new houses and condos going up, along with concrete and glass office buildings. Also the Monterrey Technologico something, which I took to be a university. Very prosperous looking area. Almost makes me forget the last time I went through here I had to line a cops pocket to keep my drivers license. Almost. At least it is the only hassle I've ever had with Mexican cops. Speaking of the law, I have yet to be stopped at any kind of checkpoint. I think this is a record for miles with out one. Not that I'm complaining.
So I found my road, and wouldn't you know it, it started raining. By this time it was about 6:00 anyway, so I stopped at the first motel that looked to be in my price range. 100 pesos, with hot water and TV. Looks like most of the other people here are truck drivers or construction workers. I'm not even sure what the name of this town is, but I am warm and dry. So that's how I spent 9 hours going 200 miles. Should be an easy ride to Guanajuato tomorrow though.
7-29-06 start 30,009 end 30,110
Today is one of those small world stories that only seem to happen to me on a motorcycle trip. I rode the 100 miles or so from where I stayed last night to the city of Guanajuato. As I was riding into town, trying to get my bearings, I looked in an open mechanic shop door and saw a motorcycle rigged up for travel in a state of disassembly. I pulled a quick u turn and parked on the sidewalk. Inside were 2 Ecuadoran guys, Xavier and Enrique, who are on their way to Alaska, from Ecuador. It turned out that Xavier spoke excellent English, and we told each other about our trips. The small world part is that we have a friend in common. If you recall, a few thrilling episodes ago I told about a guy named Jeremiah, who I met in Mexico and then again in Colorado just last month. Well, Jeremiah stayed with these guys in Ecuador last winter, as Xavier's family has a hotel there. What are the odds? After they got the fan straightened out on Enrique's bike, I followed them to where they were staying, and we got me set up in a hospedaje close to where they were staying. Pickings are pretty slim in lodging as there is a festival of some kind going on. We spent the afternoon walking around taking pictures, doing the tourist thing, and talking about the things that motorcyclists talk about. You know, tire selection, what country has the most beautiful women, road quality, what age are women the most beautiful, that sort of thing. I have about 15 years on these guys, so my number was different than theirs, but I'm not telling.
Guanajuato is an old mining town, that is built in the craziest little canyon you ever saw. In the old town, every street is crooked, narrow, and steep. Of course that is it's appeal. Many of the buildings date from the mining boom, and most are in really good shape. Makes me think of Real de Catorce, only much bigger and not having spent most of a century as a ghost town, in lots better repair. A fair number of American tourists here, lots of people seem to come here for language courses, and it's just a cool place to hang out while learning. I'm going to spend 2 nights here, and visit some of the museums tomorrow.
7-30-06 start 30,120 end 30,120
I stayed off the bike today and went to several of the museums that guanajuato is known for. The most bizarre that I have ever been to is the Museum of the Mummies. Space is at apreium here, so in the 1860's they dug up a bunch of bodies in the cemetery to make room for more, and instead of skeletons, they found mummified remains. Somebody must have thought, hey, let's make some money off of this. So they built a museum to display them. Now, I have been in Mexico on Day of the Dead before, so I at least had some clue about the fascination with death here, but this was waaayy over the top. The mummies are displayed in glass cases, their shrunken skin distorting the faces into grotesque expressions. The whole tour was in spanish, but judging from some of the clothing styles, I got the idea that some were a lot fresher than 1860. They had a pregnant mummy, the world's smallest mummy (must have been a premie baby), mummy this and mummy that. Too weird. Please cremate me when I die.
Next on the list was the Diego Rivera museum, at what was his house. He must have done pretty well, judging by the house, all 4 floors of it. Rivera was known as a communist sympathizer in the 30's and just recently has he been kind of officially recognized by the state. He painted in a lot of different styles, there were some Van Goghish impessionist landscapes, cubist portraits, and some almost photorealistic still lifes. There were more styles, but I've exhausted my ability to describe them. Knowing a little of his reputation, I expected more political content in the subjects, but they seemed pretty benign, except for one of a worker at his forge, and a strange mural of a column of soldiers with larger faces superimposed that I thought looked very soviet like. I interpreted one of the figures to be a mild caricature of Lenin, but no one there could tell me anything about the subject or even when it was done.
Next on the list was the Museo Iconigrafico, dedicated to art inspired by Cervantes' Don Quixote. Mostly paintings and scultures of Quixote and his sidekick Sancho, as one would expect. This was realy a good display, even for me , who has never read the book. I suppose I'll have to now. If I was really ambitious I would learn spanish well enough to read in the original spanish. Probably won't happen. They also had popular articles on display, like chess sets, playing cards, and coins from various countries with Quixote as a subject.
Guanajuato should definitely be on the list of anyone´s must see places in Mexico. You feel like you are on a movie set or something, the way the streets and alleys snake around between all the brightly colored buildings, and the ever present cathedrals are always in view.
The Ecuadorans left this morning for points north. Adios, amigos, I will see you again in Ecuador. Miah, if you are reading this, I told them you live in Durango, and they should contact you. I will be sending them an email with your email, but figure I might as well mention it here too. They will be going through Colorado, but not sure what route yet. They have a date they have to be in Seattle by, so they may have to by pass you.
Pictures to come, if I can quit having this upload fight me.
Real de Catorce: The view out my hotel window on a misty morning.
View of the main Cathedral in Real.
Looks a little better inside, no?
I´m told this is where Julia Roberts, et. al., stayed while filming "The Mexican" here. I saw that when it came out, guess I´ll have to rent it sometime and see how much I recognize.
Real: Prickly pear in bloom with yet another cathedral in the background.
Some little town: Nectar of the Gods. Cuban rum and coke in a can, what a concept.
Guanajuato: Los tres motoqueros, Xavier, Andres y Enrique. My Ecuadoran friends
Street scene in Guanajuato. The colors are unbelievable here.
Guanajuato: Another cathedral? No, inside it´s a huge flea market.
"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: ¡ENOUGH! 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.
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 don´t drive at night. They don´t 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 didn´t 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.
The bike is strapped to a pallet, and I have a plane ticket.
Just a quick update to let you know I made it to Panama. This has been a hectic couple of days, but the bike will fly tonight (Tuesday), and I have a flight tomorrow to Bogota. I stayed at a real interesting place called Puerto Viejo, in Costa Rica for a couple days since I updated last, and crossed the border to Panama at a real out of the way spot. Beats the hell out of taking the PanAm, but I don´t have the energy to go into detail now. Next update will be from South America.
Me and the dogs on the beach in Costa Rica.
Packed up and leaving Nosara Coast Rica. I´m going to miss that place. photos by Lorainne Chittock
I'm getting a little out of order here, but I wanted to finish writing about Central America before going on to my first impressions of Colombia. I am in Medellin now, and everything is good.
Oct. 4, 2006
I left La Fortuna, headed for the Carribean coast. I originally thought I would just stop for the night in Puerto Limon, and head for Panama the next day. When I got to PL, it seemed pretty dumpy. This is basically a shipping town, and supposedly the center of Costa Rica's underage prostitute business. There were billboards up saying how strict Costa Rica'a laws are on sex with minors. So, I took a quick look at my trusty Lonley Planet book, and decided to try Puerto Viejo, another couple hours down the road. I'm sure glad I did, and ended up spending a couple days there.
Puerto Viejo is touristy, but not in the industrial way, it is a bit sceney though. This has a real Carribean vibe to it, lots of rastas and reggae. If I hear "red,red wine" or "buffalo soldier" one more time, I'm gonna scream. Met a guy from Madison here last night at a bar shooting pool. He is about 30, got hurt in a car wreck and got a settlement that lets him live here on the cheap. Once again, you never know where you will run into someone with a Madison connection. I think a lot of the gringos are just here for the drugs. I don't know where I have ever been asked as repeatedly and openly if I wanted some ganja or a prostitute. Being Costa Rica, part of the sales pitch is that it is organic marijuana. I didn't ask if the prostitutes were all natural, I suspect some of them have artificial ingredients. People smoke openly in the bars, and I got enough of a contact high to get the cotton mouth thing. It's a good thing I don't have a job, I probably wouldn't pass a drug test now. This is all at night, during the day the town doesn't have a sleazy feel to it. There is a strip of beach about 10 miles long that has small hotels and restaurants dotted along it, but the actual town is small, and you can walk everywhere. I rented a bicycle and some snorkel gear, and rode out of town to a beach with a reef just off shore. The water was nice and clear, but I can't really say I saw any significant wildlife. I did get 25 miles or so in on the bike, which felt good.
From Puerto Viejo, it is only 50 miles or so to the Panama border. I was hoping this border crossing at Guabito would be easier than the Paso Canoas crossing on the PanAm that I used on my other trip here. This border ended up being really small, with only some semi trucks waiting to cross. Paperwork wise, this made it very easy, but physically crossing the borde was the most interesting yet.
The bridge across the river dividing costa Rica and Panama is an abandoned railroad bridge. They just laid some 2 x 12 planks on the ties outside of the rails for the trucks to drive on. It was drizzling rain, so the planks were greasy, wet and slippery. There are actually 2 bridges like this, the second one is a few miles into Panama. There were guardrails for most of their length, but in the places there weren't, it was a long way down to the river. I just crept along, with both feet down. After the bridges the road was in excellent shape, the best I had been on since Mexico, I think. The islands of Boca del Toro are the attraction in this corner of Panama, but I had spent my time budget for Panama in Costa Rica, so I had to pass them by. The road goes south, over a suprisingly high mountain range, where you climb up through the clouds, and then back down through them. After getting down to the valley floor again, I went through some farm country before meeting up with the PanAm highway, just east of the city of David. I rode for another 100 or so uneventful miles and got a hotel in the city of Santiago.
The next day I hoped to have an easy ride of 200 miles into Tocumen, where the airport is, just past Panama City, all on freeway. Wishful thinking. In the first 2 hours, I was stopped by cops 4 times. The second one wanted money. First you have to understand that in this part of Panama, the highway is a modern 4 lane divided road, not the quality of a US interstate, but close. The posted speed limit is 80 kph (50 mph), which is absurdly low, and is ignored by everyone. When you go through a town, the limit is 50 kph (30 mph), and if you actually went that speed, you would be flattened from behind. So anyway, the first cop flagged me over, asked for my liscense and passport, looked them over and sent me on my way. The second cop was on a motorcycle on the shoulder, and pointed me to the side of the road. I pulled over onto the shoulder, and he walked up to me with his ticket book ready, and said that I had a big problem, that I was speeding. The fine was $100 dollars, and I would have to pay it in Panama City. This was in one of the 30 mph zones, and I was going faster than that, but like I said, there is no way you could actually go that speed. I argued that point for a while, and the fact that he had no radar or anything, so he didn't know how fast I was going anyway, and then he suggested that if it was a problem for me to pay the fine in PC, I could pay it on the spot for $200. To make a long story short, I offered him $20, and we settled on 30. He took the $30 pretty quickly, so I think I should have started at $10. This is the second bribe I have paid in about 20,000 miles of Latin American motorcycling, I don't know if that is more or less than most. The third cop stood in the road, and held up his hand for me to stop. I pulled over and he asked for my liscense and passport. He just asked my a bunch of questions about the motorcycle and sent me on my way. By the time the fourth guy pulled me over I was pissed. We went through the liscense and passport thing, and he said I was speeding. I said I was not speeding and would he please return my passport and liscense so I could get on my way. To my surprise he did.
It was still early in the day, and I thought I would get a chance to look at the locks in the PAnama canal, but before I got there it started raining hard. I said screw it, I'm just going to the airport. Even though it was raining, I wanted to take the road along the ocean through Panama City, so I headed into town. Mistake. Because of the rain, many of the streets were flooded. I got caught in a one way flooded street, and after watching trucks go through, could see it was pretty deep. I was still pissed, so I said screw it, I'm going for it. The water was over the brake caliper on the front wheel, but the engine never missed a beat, I kept it revved up and slipped the clutch through the water. At least I got to see all the new construction going on in PC. There are high rises going up left and right. PC is a very modern looking city, not like most of the other central american capitols. So, I got to Tocumen, where the airport is, and found a hotel close by. It's most important feature was they had ESPN on the lounge TV, so I could see the Packers on Monday Night Football, plus it was only a $2 cab ride to the airport. Unfortunately, I left my overpants draped over the bike to dry, and forgot to bring them in, and somebody swiped them. So let's see, I got busted for speeding, got my rain pants stolen, and the Packers got their asses whupped, not a good day for the home team.
The next day I got things orangized with the air freight company. I used Girag Air Cargo, as I had used them once before to ship my bike from Panama City to Miami, and they did a fine job that time. I knew the drill from the time before, very little fuel in the tank, disconnect the battery, remove mirrors and windshield and that's about it. They placed the bike on one of their standard aluminum pallets that lock to the floor of their planes and strapped it down. This took most of the day, partly because it was raining again, of course. I took a cab back to the hotel, did laundry, checked email, and got ready for my flight the next day. It was only an hour and 10 minutes in the air for PC to Bogota, so I didn't get much of a chance to wonder if I had made the right decision.
Colombia. That has been the biggest question in planning this trip. Through it or around it? From what I have been able to read, it seems to be quite a bit safer on the highways than it was a few years ago, but it is still the kidnapping capital of the world. Naturally most of that is among the criminals themselves, or wealthy Colombians held for ransom. I eventually fell off the fence in favor of going to Colombia, mainly because I know several people personally who went through without any problems and loved it. Past the point of no return now.
Greetings from Medellin!
The plane ride from Panama City to Bogota was uneventful. At the last minute, the air freight company said I couldn't leave the tank bag and tank panniers on the bike. I wanted to leave them on and stretch wrap them to keep
inquisitive people from unzipping them, but they said no. So, I was carrying more stuff with me on the plane than I wanted to. Immigration was easy, they just asked why I was in Colombia, I said vacation, and they gave me a 60 day visa, no cost. Since i was carrying so much stuff, I caught a cab to the cargo terminal. I was going to just confirm that the bike was there, get a hotel, and come back the next morning to extricate the bike from customs, so I had the cab driver wait. The bike was there, and they said I could get it today, if I wanted. They told me to take this pile of papers they gave me, and go to customs to get a permit so they could release the bike. The cab driver knew where customs was, maybe 1/2 mile away, and we drove over there. She waited while I went in, filled out a form, made some copies, and was told to return to the air freight company, and wait for a customs inspector to look at the bike. The cab driver took me back over there, and I paid her $10. The inspector, who was a woman showed up after an hour or so, took a look at the bike, check VIN number etc., then told me I would have to have insurance and a "chaleca" before I could take the bike.
The chaleca is a vest with your license plate number on it. The story I got was that some years ago, when the drug wars were hotter, there were so many assasinations by gunmen on motorcycles, that they made all motorcyclists wear these vests so the cops could ID them easier. Now if I was going to do a shooting, I think I would use a fake license number anyway, but this is government we are talking about here. You also have to have your number on the back of your helmet. About this time, the inspectors husband, Oscar, showed up for some reason, and he and I started talking travel and motorcycles, and he offered to take me around to get my insurance and chaleca. I gratefully accepted, because I could not folow the directions they were giving me about where to go for them. The insurance place was right down the road, but they didn't do motorcycles, so he made a call on his cell phone and found another place to go. We drove there and I filled out the form and they printed up a card for proof, but they got a digit wrong in my VIN. I hated to make them do it over again, as it had taken awhile, but no sense in not having it right. Then we went to a street that was nothing but motorcycle shops, and got atarted on having my vest made. When they got done, there was a digit wrong here too, so I had to get it done over too. By this time I was really feeling bad about wasting Oscar's night running me around like this, when he asked if I wanted to stay at their house that night, since it was now too late to get the bike. I told him I had money and had planned on getting a hotel anyway, he insisted it was fine and called his wife, who said their two boys wanted to meet me also. So we went to their house which was a townhouse type thing in a gated community, nicer than my place. They fed me dinner, and I tried my best to explian my trip, what I thought of Colombia, and life in the US, hopefully my spanish was close enough that I didn't start any international incidents by saying the wrong thing. The kids were maybe 11 and 8, and I told them I had nieces and nephews their ages. Anyway, we had a real nice time. The next day, Oscar and I went to the freight company and got the bike. I tried to give him some money, but he wouldn't hear of it, but at least he let me put some gas in his car. So, all told it cost me about $45 for insurance, $15 for my vest, and 40 cents for some copies, to get the bike out of customs.
I got some directions to get me started out of town and got on the road. I thought about looking around Bogota a little, but the place is like 7 million people or something and I just didn't want to deal with it. Bogota sets the new standard for poor or nonexistent signage, and after stopping for directions at least 4 times, I was on the highway to Medellin. I was going to Medellin because a guy who posts on Horizons has a hostel type thing there, and I thought it would be nice to get some native info on the country, especially given the reputation Colombia has.
The first thing I noticed was how many people were out riding high end road bicycles on the highway shoulder. I'm sure in the first 50 miles out of Bogota, I saw more bike riders than I had seen the whole trip up to now. A perk of riding a motocycle here is you don't have to pay road tolls. There were about 4 toll booths between Bogota and Medellin, but they have a 3 foot wide lane just for motorcycles that you just ride through. Very enlightened country. I got roughly halfway to Medellin by 3 in the afternoon, and found a motel on the side of the highway and stopped for the night. I also wanted to repack everything, since my packing system was all screwed up from the plane flight, and it was bothering me that I couldn't remember where I put some things.
The next day I was on the road by 7 and was in Medellin by noon. The last 80 miles into Medellin was unbelieveably heavily patroled by the military. Every bridge had a sandbagged machine gun pit. It was reassuring to see all these guys, but at the same time, they are there for a reason. They wouldn't go to the trouble and expense if they weren't. I was planning on staying a CasaKiwi, a hostel run by HU member Paul Thoreson. As I was sitting on my bike on the side of the road in Medellin, reading my map and looking lost, a couple on a motorcycle pulled up and asked if I needed help. I told them what I was looking for and they said to follow them, and they led me right to it. I gave them my blog address, but they didn't speak any English so they are probably not reading this, but if you are thanks again.
CasaKiwi is located in the Zona Rosa, an upscale part of Medellin, with a lot of nice restaraunts, bars, and night clubs. This part of town is where locals go to treat themselves to a night out. It's fairly expemsive, by Colombian standards, but still reasonable by American ones. Dinner with 2 beers at a great Thai restaurant was about $8. More info at www.casakiwi.net , if you are going to be in the area. One night I went to one of the dance clubs with some people from the hostel, but they play the music painfully loud, and I am just too frickin' old to appreciate that scene any more. On the other hand, it was a good chance to see a lot of hot Colombian babes all dolled up, so it wasn't a total loss. Motorcycles are a big part of upper class Colombian culture, and there are Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Ducati dealers, along with a bunch of independent
shops, all within walkng distance. I bought a pair of Joe Rocket pants to replace the ones that were stolen in Panama. Paul has a garage at the hostel, where I have been parking the bike. I have done a little maintenance on it here. One of the welds on my aluminum panniers split, and I cobbled up a fix with some angle brackets bolted around the corner, changed the oil and just looked it over. I will need a rear tire soon, but I didn't find exactly what I wanted here, and it will go to Quito, and I'll look again there.
Anyway, life is pretty good here in Colombia. People have gone way out of their way to make me feel welcome, and I have had no hassles at all. This is Monday, and I will probably leave here Wednesday and head south toward
Ecuador. It will take me 2 or 3 days to get down there.
Border between Costa Rica and Panama.
Panama: First nice asphalt road in I don't know how long.
Colombia: Soldiers stopped to talk when I stopped at a store for a coke between Bogota and Medellin. They were not threatening at all, these guys are your friends on the highways here.
Medellin has a metro train system similar to the El in Chicago, only here the hills are so steep that one branch is a cable tram. I rode up and down just to get a look at the city from up high.
View from the cable car looking towards downtown. Medellin is about 2 million people.
Weird sculptures outside the art museum in downtown Medellin. The bridge looking thing in the background is actually the tracks for the Metro.
I left Medellin (the locals pronounce it med-eh-ZHEEN, where the "ll" is like a french J in Jacques or Jean) on Wednesday as planned. Paul at Casa Kiwi had suggested that I stop in The town of Salento for the night, and knew of a hostel there he thought I would like. The road south of Medellin was really slow going, as it was a twisty mountain road, with a lot of truck traffic, and small towns. It ended up taking me 5 hours to cover 150 miles. This highway didn't have anywhere near the military presence that the one from Bogota did. Salento was a small town, about 10 miles off the main highway. I found the hostel and cheaped out and got a dorm room, but there was no one else in it, so it was a private room anyway. There is a national park near here, but I decided I need to get some miles in, so I just stayed the night and left in the morning.
The next morning I got on the road fairly early, and had a pretty easy 200 mile ride through farm country to Popayan. This is a colonial era city, on of few that have survived with an intact downtown. It is diferent than anyplace else I have been in Colombia, but I don't think it compares with the colonial cities in Mexico or Guatemala. It's a nice enough town though, and i got a room in a hotel for $12, and that's for a nice place. It's going to be tough going bck to the US and paying American prices again, but I don't have to worry about that for a few months yet.
Shortly after leaving Popayan headed south, the road goes up in elevation, and the country gets drier, turning into grassland rather than the forest and farm areas I had been going through. It reminded me of Wyoming or west Texas, where you get those hundred mile views down a river valley. There was even cactus growing, which I didn't expect in Colombia. I thought I could get across into Ecuador today, but it started raining, which slowed me down, and by the time I got into the town nearest the border I was wet and cold and didn't feel like dealing with the border, so I got a room in a truckers motel.
The next morning, I had just a few miles to the border and got there by 8 am. I don't know why I was surprised, but his turned out to be one of the more pleasant borders of this trip. It took about 10 minutes to get stamped out of Colombia and turn in my vehicle permit, and not more than 30 minutes to get my passport stamped and my motorcycle permit on the Ecuador side. Ecuador uses the US dollar, which is one less mental adjustment I have to make in a new country. It was 150 miles or so to Quito, and there were several military checks on the highway, and I got stopped at one and had to show passport and bike permit, but no big deal. I got to some town north of Quito and there was a fork in the road, so I took it. Both forks were signed to Quito, but the one I took, didn't go past the equator monument hat I have seen in pictures, so I didn't get a picture of that, but I was in the southern hemisphere for the first time. When I got close to quito, a guy pulled up next to me on an XR600, and asked in English where I was going. I really wasn't sure, as I thought I would try the Moto Guest House, which is run by an Ecuadoran who runs guided motorcycle tours, but I didn't have the address. We went to an internet cafe and I looked up the address, and Roberto, the guy on the Honda, led me to it. It turned out that nobody was there, so I headed to the Turtle's Head pub, owned by a British guy, Albert. Albert rides a KTM 950 and also has a Husqvarna 610 SuperMoto, and he posts on Horizons Unlimited, which is how i knew to go there. Like so many of the people I have met on this trip, he has gone way out of his way to make me welcome here. My bike is parked at the bar, along with whichever of Albert's bikes he is not riding. Tomorrow he is going to help me make some phone calls and find a tire for my bike.
Myself and Paul, the owner of Casa Kiwi, in Medellin.
Colombian cycling team training on the highway south of Medellin.
Where do you think these last two were taken? Wyoming? Maybe west Texas? Nope, southern Colombia, south of Popayan.
As my faithful readers will recall, I met two Ecuadorans, Xavier and Enrique, back in Mexico who were on their way to Alaska on bikes, and we had exchanged emails before we went our seperate ways. While I was back in Quito, I had emailed them to tell them I was in the neighborhood. Xavier wrote back and said that they would be happy to see me, and gave me some pointers on a place to see on the way to their hometown of Ambato. I went to Lake Quilotoa, as Xavier suggested, and it was a great side trip. The lake is in the crater left by a volcanic explosion, I suppose like Crater Lake in Oregon state, although I've never been there. It was about a 2 hour ride off the main highway over some incredibly high mountains to get to the lake. Ecuador has several peaks of nearly 20,000 feet, and while the road didn't go nearly that high, the lake is at 4,000 meters, which is about 13,000 feet, so it is way up there.
I have been over 13,000 feet with this bike in Colorado, so I haven't been too worried about rejetting for altitude, it definitely runs rich and loses power, but there is so much elevation change in these countties, that you would have to always be changing jets, and better too rich than lean. Bolivia is yet to come, and that is higher yet, but so far so good. While I am on the subject of the bike, I don't want to jinx myself, but it has just performed nearly flawlessly, in about 7600 miles so far. As far as routine maintenance, I have changed the oil three times. One time I couldn't find my prefered oil, so I changed it again when I did. I am changing filters every other oil change. I have cleaned the air filter, added water to the battery, and adjusted the chain twice. I changed the rear tire in Quito, to a Japanese Dunlop Trailmax. I could have got a Brazilian Pirelli cheaper, but I have no experience with them. The original Michelin Sirac went almost 8,000 miles, and it had another 1,000 in it, whn I took it off. The only non routine items have been the fan worked intermittently back in Mexico, I traced that to a bad fuse, even though it was not blown. The side stand safety switch stuck once, I still need to find some WD-40 and get it freed up a little better. The right pannier developed a split up one of the welds, I cobbled up a fix in Medellin using some angle brackets to reinforce the corner. Thats it, other that that, put gas in and ride it. Oil consumption has been about 4 ounces in 2500 miles, and very consistent. At the low speeds on most of the mountain roads, I have been getting over 50 mpg, at 75 on US interstates it drops to the low 40's, so speed costs.
Meanwhile, back at the lake, I stayed in a little hostal right by the rim of the crater, run by an indigenous family. There was a husband and wife and their three kids, maybe 11, 9 and 4. A room for the night , with dinner and breakfast the next morning was $6, so you can imagine that it was pretty basic, but they were really nice people and it was very interesting. A bonus was that they spoke the clearest Spanish I have heard in a long time, so I could actualy have some meaningful conversation with them. Their first language was Quechue (sp?), which is a native language that is actualy fairly widely spoken in Ecuador, and I'm told, Peru and Bolivia. I suppose their Spanish is so perfect because it is a second language, and they don't use all they short cuts that a native speaker would.
The next morning, I got directions for an alternate route back to the PanAm highway that was about 50 miles of gravel roads. It went through some little villages, and I got to see some indigenous people herding their llamas and sheep on the road, in native dress. I am not sure native dress is really correct, because the women all wear bowler or fedora hats. A 5 mile or so stretch was paved in round river stones, just like the one I described back in Mexico, on the way to Real de Catorce, right down to the pattern of the stones, so there are some pretty consistent influences all across Latin America. I went back over the two mountain ranges I went over to get to the lake, only slower on the gravel roads. I got back to the highway and rode south to Ambato.
I got to Ambato in the early afternoon. I had the address of the hotel that I had the address to the hotel that Xavier's family has, but Ambato was bigger than I thought it was, and at the first place I stopped for directions, there was a guy there who was delivering parts for a truck dealership who said he was going right by there, and I could just follow him. Once again, people have been unbelieveably friendly and helpful. I got to the hotel and Xavier was there, and I had lunch with him and his family. They set me up with a room in the hotel, and a place to park the bike. Xavier had some work stuff to do, so later on that night Enrique, the other guy I met, picked me up at the hotel and we went to dinner.
Enrique's English is about on par with my Spanish, so we can talk, but it is a lot of work on both our parts. It turned out that the restaraunt we went to was sponsoring a runway model show at a local shopping mall that night. Hmmm, sit around the bar and work on our language skills, or scantily clad models? OK, we're there. They started out with some guy singing, but before we could find some tomatoes to throw, they brought out the girls. It ended up not being that big a deal, but it was still interesting, especially the mall, which put most American malls to shame. Like most of Latin America, small motor cycles are everywhere, and in an appliance store in the mall they had a Suzuki AX-100 street 2-stroke for $1150, including a helmet, a 14" color TV, and a boombox. Such a deal. After that we went to a Karaoke bar to meet two women that he knew. They were prettier than the models. Anyway, they were really into the Karaoke thing and wanted me to sing too. I said I can't even speak Spanish, so I sure can't sing it. To my dismay, there were a few English songs in the book, so I got trapped into doing "Hotel California". At least there is no recording of that, if there was it would be great blackmail material.
The next day, I hung out with Xavier, he manages a small furniture manufacturing plant. Lots of bent and welded tubing and sheet metal, so I felt right at home, with my background in manufacturing. I don't know real much about their business, but when I get some free web time, I need to send him some links on some equipment I think he would find interesting. Then he gave me a little tour around the city. Later that night, I went out for ice cream with Enrique and his 8 year old son Isaac. I am probably spelling that wrong, but the pronounciation is ee-SAHK. Isaac races motocross on a 50cc KTM, so he is off to the right start.
The next day was Saturday, and there was a rally race nearby, and some of Xavier and Enrique's friends were racing. It was mainly a car race, although there was a bike and quad class, with a few entries. We hung around the pits, and they introduced me to their friends, while we checked out the cars and bikes. Except for the language barrier, it was just like a day at the races with my buddies back in Wisconsin, from my Formula Ford driving days. After the rally, Isaac wanted to go to the local go-kart track. He really had to twist our arms, let me tell you. These karts were a lot better than the wimpy rental karts we get in the US. 7 hp Honda OHV engines and no governors, good for at least 50 mph. Isaac drove his so well, I forgot I was racing an 8 year old, and punted him from behind hard enough to get him crossed up pretty good. It didn't even faze him though.
The next day, Sunday, Enrique, Isaac, and me went to the tourist town of Banos. We went to the zoo, paddled around a lake in a raft, went to the hot springs, and just had a relaxing day. Anyway, I just can't express enough how much I appreciate these guys taking me under their wing and showing me around. I got to see so much that I would never have on my own, especially the daily life of working people in technical fields similar to my own. I hope one or both of them can get to the States again at some point so I can return the hospitality.
Lake Quilotoa, in a volcanic crater west of Latacunga, Ecuador. It´s up at 13,000 feet or so, and probably a couple of kilometers across.
The kids in the family who owned the hostal I stayed in at the lake.
Cotopaxi, the world´s highest active volcano at nearly 20,000 feet. It is less than 100 miles from the equator, yet has snow on top all year.
Xavier and Enrique, along with Enrique´s son Isaac. Notice how they are dressed, even near the equator at this elevation it can be cold. If you look closely, in the background you can see Volcan Tunguragua spewing ash.
Citroen cars being prepared at the rally.
Rally car in action.
A local delicacy is Cuy (koo-EE). They look like Guinea pigs or something.
Me chowing down on one of the little guys. I hope you all appreciate the lengths I go to in reporting on life in South America. I thought it had a fishy taste.
Isaac apexing like a pro at the kart track.
That´s 100 days and 8800 miles since I left the USA, not counting the month I spent riding around the US before that. I have been slacking in my blogular duties, so I just wanted to post something so that people wouldn´t think I rode off the edge of the map or something. I am taking a rest day today in Huaraz Peru, so I might get some writing done.
While I was in Banos with Enrique and Isaac, I sw that they had mountain bike rentals, and as I had been pretty sluglike lately, figured I could do with some exercise. Banos is only 40 miles or so from Ambato, so when I left Ambato, after saying goodbye to Xavier and thanking him for all their kindness, I headed back to Banos. I got there and found a room, and just looked around town, and went to one of the excellent restaurants there, and just took it easy. The next day I went to one of the bike shops and rented a bike for the day. Going east from banos is all downhill for the first 20 miles, as Banos is up in the Andes, and it drops off fast into the Amazon basin in the Oriente province of Ecuador. After that it is rolling hills to the town of Puyo, where you can catch a bus back to Banos, and throw the bike on the roof. I had a fairly uneventful ride, except for waiting out some rain in a little store on the way, and found a bus without any trouble. The conductor kind of looked digusted that he had to climb up on the roof to put the bike up here, but he did it. Hey, it could have been a crate of live chickens. That night I met a group of British women on a group tour of several countries down here, and it turns out they rode the "World's Most Dangerous Road" in Bolivia, on mountain bikes. I think the name is marketing hype, I hope, but this road drops 7,000 feet or something crazy in just a few miles, and I had planned on either doing it on the motorcycle, or mountain bike. I'm still not sure which, but they all gave it good reviews, and I know which mountain bike place they went through, so I will check it out when I get to LaPaz.
I had now been in the Ambato area for almost a week, and decided I needed to get some miles in, so the next day I headed south on the PanAm, to Cuenca. I spent most of the day riding in fairly heay traffic, and by the time I got to Cuenca, my face was black with diesel smoke. That, combined with the ash the volcano in Banos was putting out started a sore throat that I still have. Cuenca is one of the few surviving colonial era cities in Ecuador, it reminded me of Mexico in some ways. After Cuenca you have two choices, down to the coast, or stay in the mountains. I had talked with Ricardo Rocco, a guy who runs guied motorcycle trips in Ecuador, back in Quito, and he said the mountain route was prettier, and the border was easier there too, so that's what I did. I could maybe have made the border that day, but chose to stop early, in the town of Loja for the night. Unfortunately, something I ate there didn't agree with me. The only thing unusual I ate was a blended fruit juice thing, but who knows if that was really it. Anyway, I spent some time getting familiar with the toilet facilities in my room, and didn't feel up to riding the next day, so I stayed another night and OD'ed on CNN, since the hotel had it on cable, which was the first time I had seen it in English for a while.
Still feeling a little wobbly, I headed for the Peru border on Saturday morning. Ricardo had steered me right on this road, you got some views that are just incredible. The vertical relief in the Andes is just amazing. The rockies in Colorado and Montana have a more rugged look to them, but the scale of the Andes just blows me away, the Andes being so much taller. Then the bad side of mountain driving came into view. I saw a dump truck all wadded up against a cliff face on a descent called Nariz del Diablo, or nose of the devil. There was already a police car and ambulance there, but the driver was dead. They had him laying in the road, with a blanket over him. I suppose he overheated his brakes and couldn't make the corner. Makes you think, of course.
So, let's see. When I left off I was headed for the Peruvian border. I had elected to stay in the mountains, and not cross on the coastal route that is more populated. As usual, this turned out to be a good choice, as far as border formalities go. The border guards were pretty bored and had nothing better to do than process me through. Total time, about 40 minutes for both sides, total cost $0. The town on the Peru side was La Tina, I don't recall the nearest town on the Ecuador side. You are losing altitude pretty steadily as you approach the border, after crossing the border the country changes immediately, drying out and becoming more rolling hills than mountains. By the time you hook up with the main highway again in the town of Sullana, you are down on the coastal desert floor. Up until this time, Peru looked like anywhere in rural Latin America. After getting on the main highway, it started looking like a dump. You could see where garbage trucks would just drive out into the desert and dump their loads. Some of the piles would be on fire, which added the nice smell of burning plastic to the mix. Maybe I had just gotten too used to first world conditions in Colombia and Ecuador, but this was not a favorable first impression of Peru. My first destination was the ruins of Chan Chan, near Trujillo, but I knew I couldn't get there the first day, so I just hammered out as many miles as I could, and got a room in a roadside hotel.
The next day, I got an early start and made Trujillo early in the day. I found a room in a little hostal in the beachside suburb of Huanchaco. Huanchaco is a weekend getaway for Trujillo residents, as I got there on a Sunday and it was packed, and Monday it was just about deserted. Monday, I spent the day going to the various ruins with a Canadian woman I met at the hostal. Yes, she ended every other sentence with; eh? Chan Chan was huge, but wasn't particularly impressive other than its' size. What I really enjoyed was The Palace of the Sun and Moon, or something close. This place had more detail work and the construction techniques left some incredibly well preserved original paint on some of the murals from the 800's AD or something.
Tuesday, I left Trjillo early, with the intention of making it to Huaraz. Huaraz is in a valley between two mountain ranges, many of which are over 6,000 meters. You turn off the PanAm at the little town of Santa, and climb up following a river through a canyon. Starting down on the desert floor, the canyon is totally naked rock, with not a speck of green. As you climb, there starts to be vegetation. About 50 miles of this route is gravel, but not especially rough, although some of the bridge decking leaves something to be desired. Once you top out of the canyon, the road becomes paved again, and this portion of the drive is supposed to be spectacular, with views of the snow capped peaks. I can't confirm that , as about this time it started raining, and there was no visibility upwards. I made it to Huaraz in mid afternoon, and got a room in probably the best run hotel I have seen snce the states. A little expensive by Peru standards at $15 a night, I was ready for some luxury after riding in the rain. Besides, my stomach troubles from Ecuador had morphed into a head cold, and I thought this would be a good place to rest and regroup a little. The big attration in Huaraz is mountain climbing and high altitude trekking, and there are lots of guide services for all the adventure sports here. This means there are excellent restaraunts and tourist services here. Naturaly high prices go with that. From here the decision is how to go from here to Cuzco. The easy way is to go back down to the PanAm, through Lima, to Nazcz, and up to Cuzco, all paved. The alternative is to go east up over the mountain range on the east side of the valley on a mixture of gravel and pavement, and on to Cuzco the back way. Hmmm, you know which is more appealling, except that there will be a lot of stopping and asking directions. It would mean bypassing the Nazca lines, but I can live with that.
Another border crossing done. I think that is 9 down and 3 to go.
One of about 30 tunnels on the road up the canyon towards Huaraz. This is just a little baby one.
When they expanded the temple at The Palace of the Sun and Moon, they covered up the old facade, preserving it almost perfectly. The paint you see is from 800 AD or something. I thought this site was much cooler than Chan Chan, if you can only see one, this is it.
On my next trip I am going to use a giant fiberglass chicken as a top box.
While I was in Huaraz, I met a German/Swiss couple, Horst and Ruth, Who were staying at the same hotel I was. There were celebrating the 20,000th kilometer of their bicycle trip. That's right, bicycle. They have been on the road for 15 months or something like that, starting in Canada, and are now in central Peru. Makes me feel pretty wimpy, doing all this motorcycle riding. A day later, we were joined by their German friend Annette, who they had met in Panama. Annete was riding the length of the Americas as well, having not gotten enough riding to satisfy herself on her trip cycling Africa from the Cape to the Mediterranean. These people have more patience than I do, although I do understand the appeal, having once done a 500+ mile ride back in Wisconsin once. Anyway, we all went to dinner at a place I had found a couple days before, Chili Heaven, run by a British guy, Simon, who had motorcycled Africa and the Americas. Simon has a KTM 950, and has a 990 on order from the KTM dealer in Lima. Funny how you run into people like this.
When I finally left Huaraz, I started up a gravel road towards Huanuco, intending to kind of take the back way to Cuzco. I started out easy enough, on a graded gravel road, in cool temperatures. After 20 miles or so, the road climbed into the clouds, and it began raining. Soon after, the road turned to dirt, and climbed over a pass and it started sleeting and snowing, and the mud had a little crust of ice on it. Mind you, this is at about 10 degrees south latitude, way inside the topics. After descending somewhat, I went back up over a pass that was 4670 meters above sea level, that is 15,318 feet, according to Bill Gates' Windows calculator. That is the highest I have ever been, without help from an airplane. The KLR just kept chugging along, down on power and with noticeably less engine braking, but no real problems. This was one of those days where I was really glad I was on a motorcycle, as there is no way you would get to see this kind of remote country otherwise. I took a bunch of pictures, but landscape pictures are a little fustrating, as you only get a tunnel view through the camera, when it is all around you in real life. Soon after the econd pass, I intersected with a paved road and had a decision to make. Turn left, and it would be 3 more days of this kind of thing, through the mountains, with lousy maps. Turn right, and in 3 hours I could be back at sea level on the PanAm. I hate to admit it, but I turned right. As remote as the country I was travelling through was, I just felt I couldn't take the chance on doing it alone. I had seen a couple of sheep herders, but no other traffic on the road, and in the sleet and ice thought, better to live to ride another day. My main concern was getting lost though. Maybe next time, with some more preparation and better maps. Anybody want to fly to Lima, rent bikes and explore the Huaraz area for a couple weeks? In a couple years when my wallet recovers.
From 15,000 feet, down to sea level is a long way. You just descend and descend, it doesn't seem like you should be able to go downhill that long. I made me think of my cycling friends making that climb, when they came up from Trujillo. Soon I was down at the coast again. It was still quite cold, which has surprised me about the coast of Peru. The cold Humboldt current comes up the west coast of South America from Antarctica, and dominates the weather, creating the coastal deserts here. The next day, I just rode, for the most part, except I did stop to check out some sand dunes west of the highway.
About the time I was thinking about stopping for the night, the speedometer on the bike quit working. That may not sound like a big deal, since no one pays any attetion to speed limits anyway, but the odometer is a crucial piece of equipment in remote areas, as that is your gas gauge. I was in Ica when this happened, so I got a room in a hotel near a motorcycle shop. After a little disassembly, I found that the worm gear in the speedo drive had seized. Something had to give when that happened, and luckily it was a washer with internal and external tangs to drive the gearset. I was able to get the worm gear freed up and lubed over at the motorcycle shop, and hammered and filed the drive washer until it looked more or less like it was supposed to. It's not perfect, but it worked fine for 120 miles today, so with luck it will keep working. I'll look at it again when I change tires in a couple thousand more miles. I think all the water crossings this bike has done washed the lube out of the speedo drive. Now let's hope the wheel bearings make it.
After Ica, it was a fairly short ride to Nazca the next day. Nazca's tourism business is built around the famous Nazca lines. Nobody knows why these were built, and the fact that they can only be seen properly from the air has fueled all kinds of speculation that they were built to signal aliens and who knows what all. On the highway going into town there is a tower built for looking at a couple of the figures, so I climbed up that. I was interested enough that when I got to town, I looked into an airplane trip to see the lines. For $50 you can go up in a 4 seat plane for 40 minutes or so and loook at the lines. It was me and a British couple on my flight, plus the pilot. We went early in the morning, when the winds were lightest, but wind was the least of our worries. The pilot banked the plane to where it felt like we were vertical in both directions to get the best views out the windows. This was the closest I have been to acrobatic manuevers in a plane yet. I kept an eye on the airspeed indicator when we did climbs and banks, but the pilot was really good and didn't scare me at all. The British woman did hurl into the plastic bag thoughtfully provided by the pilot, and I felt queasy a time or two myself, but it was worth it for the ride. As for the lines, they were OK, but didn't blow my socks off or anything. I don't think it is that big a mystery, leisure time + creative energy = art. If you have a desert to work with, that is what you use. But it was a cool flight anyway.
From Nazca, I rode towards Cuzco, over a couple of big passes, and across a high plain that has to be over 4,000 meters. There were a couple of lakes up here with pink Flamingoes on them, and a lot of Vicunas, a deer like critter. There were enough of them that you had to keep a sharp eye out, as they would run across the road, and it would not be fun to hit one. Most of this trip, I have only had to worry about livestock on the road, not wild animals, so I had to realign my thinking as if I was in west Texas, or northern Wisconsin. This was a really pretty ride on good asphalt most of the way. It was cold, being at such altitude, and for the last two hours it rained. I pulled into Cuzco cold and wet, but found a place to stay near the center of town with good parking for the bike. That's where I am now, in Cuzco. I signed up for a 2 day trip to Machu Pichu from here. I was going to do the full 4 day hike up the Inca trail, but it has rained so much, I just don't feel like walking in the rain for 4 days, so I am taking the easy way out and getting somehelp from a train. I will write more a bout Cuzco when I get back.
These 3 pictures were taken on a very remote road, east of Huaraz, Peru. Naturally, photos donñt do justice to the scenery.
This is the famous Ästronaut¨figure at the Nazca Lines.
Mummified remains of some pre Inca people at a cemetery near Nazca. There was a whole cemetery on display like this.
The Plaza de Armas in Cuzco
This is some municipal building in Cuzco, built on top an Inca foundation. The Spaniards tore down what was the Supreme Inca´s palace and built on top the Inca foundation. This building was rebuilt at least twice due to earthquake, but the origina Inca foundation is still being used.
The stone to the left of me is estimated to weigh 6,000 lbs.
More detail of stone work. Nobody really knows how they got them to fit so perfectly.
On the bus ride to Ollantytambo, to catch the train to Machu Picchu, a totally bald tire on the bus blew out. They replaced it with an equally bald spare. At least it was the outside dual. Still made my train though.
If you are going to go to Machu Picchu, you might as well have some mate (mah-TAY) de coca. Coca tea is on the menu of every restaurant in Peru, anyone that thinks we are going to eliminate the crack problem in the US by spraying some parraquat or whatever on the coca fields in Colombia and Peru doesn´t understand how much a part of the culture coca is here. It would be like taking coffee away from Americans. It´s just like any other tea, I didn´t get all whacked out on it or anything. I hope Dick Cheney doesn´t read this, I won´t get back into the US.
The classic shot of Machu Picchu, taken during the 10 minutes the sun was shining.
This was taken from on top the mountain on the right in the previous picture. I worked hard for this photo, so you better appreciate it.
I worked even harder for this one. This in in a little visited part of the park known as the Temple of the Moon. As good of stoneworkers as the Incas were, they didn´t have the arch, and it limited the size of the doors and windows they could build. You´d think someone would have slapped their forehead and said DOH! Apparently not.
I signed up for a group mountain bike ride the day after getting back from Machu Picchu. What was I thinking, my aching quads.
This was an easy part. The route was a lot more down than up, but I now have a lot more respect for downhill racers, as my legs were jelly at the bottom of a descent that took forever. Of course the fact that I had hiked Machu Picchu and was at Norton Rats Pub till midnight the night before had nothing to do with it.
No, this isn´t a gay pride flag. The rainbow had mystical meaning to the Incas, it´s an Inca pride flag. Confuse them at your peril.
I think I have seen more other motorcycle riders here in Cuzco, than the rest of this trip combined.When I first got to town, in the rain, I was riding around the plaza when a guy waved me over to the side walk. At first I thought it was somebody trying to hustle up business for a hotel, but then I noticed he was wearing a motorcycle jacket. It turned out that Leo was a Thai, who has ben living in Switzerland for several years. He was staying in a hostal with 2 other riders, and invited me to stay with them. The place turned out to be a dump, really, but it had good courtyard parking for the bikes, and was in a good location. Good location being stumbling distance from Norton Rat's Pub. Norton Rats is owned by an American who came down here in the late 80's on a bike, liked it, and found a way to stay here. As you might expect, Jeffrey, the owner, is into Nortons, but his daily rider is a Triumph Speed Triple. First honest to God biker bar I have been in since the US of A. Everyone who comes to Peru ends up in Cuzco at some point, and if you are on a bike, you end up at Norton Rats. There were Brits, Germans, a South African, a Swiss, and me the lone American, except for the owner.
Machu Picchu lived up to it's hype. It really was as stunning as the pictures make it look to be. But first I had to get there. This place must be a gold mine for the Peruvian government. First off, there is a $36 fee to enter the grounds. Then, the town where you have access to Machu Picchu from, Aguas Calientes, is not served by road, only train, and there are two classes of passenger, "local" and "tourist". A tourist ticket is $22 each way from the town at the end of the road, Ollantytambo. I don't know what a local ticket costs, but probably $2, but you have to show ID proving you are Peruano to get one. Then, you really need to spend 2 nights in Aguas Calientes if you want to have a reasonable amount of time at the ruins. Anyway, I ended up paying $130 for a package deal for all this stuff, including bus transport to Ollantytambo, hotel, and a guide at the ruins, partly because I went through my hotel in Cuzco, and they let me keep my bike and luggage there while I was gone.
Machu Picchu itself was just phenomenal. The mountaintop setting where it is, is the most spectacular of any ancient city I have ever seen. The amount of work that went into fitting some of the stones in incredible. I'll let the pictures in the previous post do the talking on Machu Picchu.
After leaving Cuzco, my next major stop would be La Paz, Bolivia. I knew it would be more than a one day trip, if I took the scenic route, so I stopped for the night in Puno. I only picked it because it was a convenient distance, but it is on the shore of Lake Titicaca, and had a nice waterfront area, with a good sized boat that was built in England in 1860 something, disassembled, shipped to Lima, then packed by mule train over the Andes, and reassembled here.
The next day it was only 100 miles to the Bolivian border, and then maybe another 100 to La Paz. Bolivia is an hour later thean Peru, so that caused me to get to the border at lunch time, so I had to wait around. After lunch, I got processed through in hardly any time, and at no cost. My passport has enough stamps in it now that the border guards get some entertainment looking through it. This guy made a show of wiping his forehead with the back of his hand and said, Whew! Just 5 miles into Bolivia, there is the town of Copacabana. I stoped and ate lunch, and the town was so nice I decided to call it a day here. Really, just a way of delaying the plunge into another big city. I found a place to stay for $2.50, a low for this trip, to make up for spending the princley sum of $13 in Puno the night before. You get what you pay for though. Anyway , I walked up the hill in town to get a view of the lake, and it is spectacular. Titicaca is at 3800 meters, and is at least a couple hundred miles long. I could just see a couple of mountain peaks on the far horizon, other than that, you couldn't see the other shore. Later, I had lasagna, bread, salad, and a glass of wine, all for $3. I'm getting to like Copacabana. The only thing is, you can't stay here and not have that stupid song running through your head. (the hottest spot north of Havana....) Who was that, Barry Manilow? Consider his initials.
To get to La Paz, you have to take a ferry across a strait in the lake, which looked a little scary, till I saw a bus loaded on one of the ferry boats. It floated, so I figured they could handle my bike. They did, and I made it to La Paz by noon. Spent a little time finding a place to stay, and with my bike secure in the lobby of a smal hotel, went out to see the city. One of the things I wanted to do here was ride "The World's Most Dangerous Road". This is a road that goes from La Paz to the town of Coroico, and from the summit at 4780 meters it goes down to 1180 meters in 65 km. The decision was whether to do it on my motorcycle, or ride a mountain bike down it. Back in Banos Ecuador, I met 2 Irish women that had done the road with Gravity Bolivia, a bike tour company in La Paz, and they couldn't say enough about the ride. If you can't take a drunken Irish girl's recommendation, what is the world coming to? So, I went to their office and signed up for the ride the next day.
We met at a restaurant in the morning, and had a van ride up to the summit, where we unloaded the bikes and got ready to ride. My bike was a Kona hardtail, very similar to the Cannondale I have at home. Those wacky Brits have the front brake on the right, and that's the way most of the bikes were, so the main reason I picked this one was to have the brakes in my normal position. You start out with 20km of downhill on pavement, and we seperated into the people who rode the brakes, and those who tucked in and tried to go the fastest. You guess which group I was in. After going through a checkpoint, where I'm told they are most interested in supplies going to the coca labs in the Amazon region, where we were headed, but which we were obviously not carrying on our bikes, we stopped where the road turned to gravel for some instruction on rules of the road. For instance, downhill traffic uses the left side of the road, which has the drop off next to it, and yields to uphill traffic, as the road is only one lane wide, with turnouts for passing. This is the main road between La Paz and the Amazon region, so there is quite a bit of truck and bus traffic. The turns are way to tight for a semi, but you see lots of 20 foot box trucks and 35 passenger buses. They average about 2 buses a year going over the side, which is how the road gets its' name. The road itself is in a lot better shape than some of the gravel roads I have ridden on this trip, but the sheer drops of 3-400 meters are intimidating in places. We started in rain at the top, and it was dusty by the time we got to the bottom. Out of the 8 riders, plus 2 guides, we had one spill by a guy who banged up his knee and elbow bad enough that he rode in the chase van the rest of the day. The best part was that we got the wall side of the road on the way up, since my biggest fear was trusting someone else's driving on the way up. I'm told the record for riding a bicycle up, is 5-1/2 hours, by some New Zealand adventure racer. I'm not going to try and beat it.
So today, Friday, was an errand day, when I got laundry done, mailed some stuff I wasn't using back to Texas, and just got caught up on a few things. Tomorrow, I will head towards Sucre, but I doubt I will do that in one day.
Hot dogging it on the ¨World´s Most Dangerous Road¨
Yeah, I know, hot dogging again.
In my opinion, the scariest place on the WMDR. At least one cyclist has gone over the side here and died.
Lake Titicac, with snow covered mountains in the back ground.
Ferry across Lake Titicaca.
Between Potosi and Uyuni, Bolivia. Southwestern Bolivia looks a lot like the Western US, I can see why Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid set up shop here after things got too hot for them in the US.
Bolivia has some of the richest silver deposits in the world. In the early 1900´s they had some of the most advanced trains here to work the mines. After they had outlived their usefulness, they just parked them out in the desert here. Some of these have been sitting here for over 100 years.
A little anti Bush graffiti at the train graveyard. Roughly translated: ¨G W Busch (sic), like this train, you are finished.¨ They could have at least spelled his name right.
Allan, the guy on the left, is someone I met at a Horizons Unlimited meet in Mexico a few years ago. He and I had kept in email touch and we met up in Uyuni for a few days. You can keep up with his travels at www.worldrider.com, there might even be a video of he and I out on the salt flats on there by now. The 2 on the right are Dutch guys we met on motorcycles here. They run motorcycle tours in Europe, and were here scouting locations for tours in South America.
Lots of empty space out here on the Salar de Uyuni. Much bigger than Bonnevile.
Allan at speed on the salt flat.
We camped for the night near an ïsland¨ in the middle of the salt lake.
Sunset on the Salar de Uyuni.
Between Uyuni and the Argentinian border at Villazon.
For maybe 6 or 10 miles, the road doesn´t exist, you just ride in the river bed. At least there were enough truck tracks to follow so I didn´t get lost. This is the only road between two good sized towns. No one said this would be easy.
No, this isn´t Utah, it´s southwestern Bolivia.
It might not be exciting to you, but this was the first piece of asphalt I had seen in over 400 miles. I wanted to kneel down and kiss it.
With a totally white canvas, and nothing for scale, you can get some very weird effects with a camera. These are not photoshopped in any way.
That is my goal, still a long way away. I crossed the border to Argentina without incident, except waiting in line for 2 busloads of tourists in front of me. About and hour and a half standing in the sun.
Premium fuel at YPF stations in Argentina is refered to as ¨Fangio¨ I asked the attendant if that refered to Juan Manuel, and he was all excited that I knew who he was. You know, Juan Manuel Fangio, the Formula One driver from the 50´s. He is a national hero here, the attendant told me their is a museum devoted to him, but I forgot what city. I´ll have to look it up.
In the same town as the YPF station, a guy on a motorcycle stopped to talk and said he owned property and had an empty apartment which he would rent me by the night. That is where I am now, $8 per night.
So, let's catch up a little. Where was I? Oh yeah, La Paz. So I left La Paz, headed for Sucre, but I knew I wouldn't want to do that all in one day. I stopped for the night in Potosi, a town mainly known for its' silver mine. Tours of the mine are a big business there, but I didn't feel like going. It just struck me as further exploitation of the miners poor working conditions, but I guess I won't know now, since I didn 't go. I left the next day for the short ride to Sucre. Sucre turned out to be a really nice town, and I stayed around for a few days. I had read about the Joy Ride Cafe there, run by a Dutch motorcyclist, who used to run motorcycle tours out of there, so I stopped in for lunch and met Gert, the owner. He does run mountain bike rides now, so I signed up for one the next day. It was on this ride that I met Simon and Lindsay, a British couple who I would continue to run into over the next couple of weeks. This ride, unlike the WOrld's Most Dangerous Road, actually had up as well as down hills, so I had to work, which was a good thing. Sucre is the Bolivian capitol, so there are a lot of government buildings, and realy nice looking parks. Sucre is a much smaller city than La Paz, which is the finance center of the country, with high rise banking and insurance buildings throughout the downtown.
After Sucre, I headed toward Uyuni, which is the town nearest the Salar de Uyuni, the world's highest and largest salt flat. This meant backtracking to Potosi and then taking a gravel road 130 miles or so to Uyuni. The road was an easy ride, except the washboard on the gravel was pretty fierce at times, keeping my speed down. It ended up being a pretty easy days ride. I rode into town, and started looking for a hotel, and as I was about to walk into one, I heard someone holler my name. It was Jeremiah, who was sitting in an internet cafe writing me when he heard my bike go by,and went outside to look and see who it was. Jeremiah is someone I first met in Mexico at a HU meet, and then again this summer in Colorado. He is also the one who knows the two Ecuadoran guys I met in Mexico on this trip, who I ended up staying with in Ecuador. Small world. I knew he was roaming around down here in Bolivia, so it wasn't a total coincidence that we met up here. He was travelling with Ming, another American rider from Oregon, who he met on the road. Jeremiah and I knew that Allan, another American, was in the area as well, and we tried to figure out where he might be. We came to the conclusion that he was probably out on the Salar on a jeep tour, since we knew he had shiped his bike here on a train, due to an injury he had from a small crash in Santa Cruz. Are you keeping up with all this? If you want all the gory details on that story, you can read up at www.worldrider.com. Allan was in fact, out on a jeep tour, and we all eventualy got together for a traditional Thanksgiving pizza dinner, at a restaurant run by a guy from Massachusetts. It was here that I ran into Brits, Simon and Lindsay again, where thanks to me introducing them, they were cornered by Allan and interviewed for a podcast on worldrider.com. I'm sure they will thank me for that someday. Not today, though.
Jeremiah and Ming had just come back from a few days on the Salar on the bikes and were headed for Chile, so Allan and I took off the next day for the salt. We spent a few hours taking stills and film of each other at speed on the salt, and camped out that night. The night was absolutely cloudless and the star show was great. I could have been a little better, but the moon was fairly bright. I could see Orion low in the northern sky, instead of overhead like he is back home. Never did find the Southern Cross though. The next day after some more fun and games on the Salar, we headed back for Uyuni. In all, we put over 200 miles on the bikes on the salt. I was concerned about the salt on the bikes, but it was packed so hard that not much got on them, and we washed them back in Uyuni, so no worries.
When I entered Bolivia, they asked me what country I would exit to, and I said Argentina, so that was what was on my visa, so I was more or less committed to heading southeast from Uyuni to the border crossing at Villazon. Also I had a contact in Salta Argentina for insurance, which is supposed to be a pain in Argentina. Allan wanted to go through Chile, so we split up in Uyuni. We are both headed the same general direction though, and might get back together. I never did a trip like this before email, but it is great for keeping track of people like that. So with good intentions of getting an early start, we got up and ate breakfast. We discovered some of the mounting hardware for Allan's panniers had disapeared, probably out on the slat, so we had to cobble a fix for that. Then his bike wouldn't start and we had to organize a jump start for that. So much for the early start. Another washboarded gravel road took me to Tupiza, where I found a surprizingly nice hotel for $6, and stopped there. That left an easy 60 miles to the border the next day.
Once into Argentina, I rode 100 miles, until it started raining. I found a really nice little town called Tilcara, and ended up staying 2 nights there. From there it was an easy paved ride to Salta. My main goal there was to get insurance sorted. I found an agent through my Horizons Unlimited contact who could insure a foreigner, and stayed here 3 nights checking out the city while I waited for my insurance policy. While I was walking down the street, I bumped into Simon again, and met he and Lindsay and 2 guys they were travelling with, for dinner and drinks later. Tomorrow, Saturday, (is it really December already?) I will head south toward Mendoza. There are a lot of outdoor activities there, plus I need tires for the bike, so I will likely stop there for a few days. Maybe a bicycle tour of the wine country is in the works.
As far as first impressions of Argentina, as far as people go, it reminds me of Colombia. The European influence is obviously more present here. There is is every combination of skin, eye, and hair color here. The European influence can also be seen in the cars on the road. They use Puegeots for taxis, and the working mans car is a Ford Falcon. Ford must have kept building those here long after they quit in the US, There are millions of them on the road yet. I saw a couple very old DKW motorcycles on the street. If memory serves, these are the ones that the Harley Hummer and BSA Bantam are cloned from. Except for the language, walking around in Salta doesn´t seem real much different from a city in the US, which is a big change from Bolivia.
Between Mendoza and Cafayate, Argentina.
Town square in Cafayate, this region produces most of Argentina´s wine.
Ruta 40 is to Argentina kind of what Route 66 is to the USA. Makes it easy to tell if you´re still on the right road, at least.
Three Chilean riders I met on the road. They were headed to Bolivia, so this time I was able to give information, rather than ask for it.
Puente del Inca, a natural bridge near the Chilean border, west of Mendoza. It reminded me of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, with the mineral deposits from the stream.
There is a whole bunch of this on Ruta 40 in Argentina. I am now in the area mariners refer to as the ¨roaring forties¨For some reason between 40 and 50 degrees south latitude, the wind really blows, which I can testify to.
3000 km to go on 40. That is not quite all the way to Ushuaia, but pretty close.
Up in elevation near the Chilean border in tha lake district. Greener here in the high country.
Lake near San Martin de los Andes. This area reminds me of British Columbia, with the long skinny lakes in the valleys between mountain ranges.
Argentina is a vegetarians nightmare, they serve meat with every meal. These are whole goats roasting at a street vendors stall.
Another mountain lake on the way to the Chilean border south of San Martin.
Wildflowers on the same road.
Had to stop here. This little museum had about 80 cars on display, maybe 50 of them Studebakers. No Avanti´s on display, which is my fave Stude, but they did have a ´53 Hawk, which is my next favorite.
In Puerto Montt I couldn´t figure out how this town could support all the souvenier shops, as there didn´t seem to be that many tourists. Then a Norweigen Cruise Lines ship pulled in and disgorged about 2000 passengers for shore leave. I get it now.
Main plaza in Puerto Montt.
Going south from Salta, the most efficient way to get to Mendoza looked to be highway 9, which runs east of the mountain ranges. In keeping with the spirit of this trip, I decided to take hwy 40, which stays more to the west, and up in the mountains. I think Ruta 40 is to Argentina what Route 66 is to the USA, running almost the length of the country for 3,000 miles or so. The area from Salta south to Mendoza is where most of the country's wine is produced, and 40 goes through a lot of vineyard country. It's not unlike the Napa area of California, complete with tours of the wineries, and all the nice restaurants that go with. After some lunch in Cafayate, I stopped off at some indigenous ruins at Quilmes. They weren't that impressive, but the museum there had some incredibly well preserved pottery. The road alternated between good pavement and washboard gravel most most of the way, and with this being summer in the outhern hemisphere, and now being far enough south, it is light till 8:30 and I ended up riding longer than I had intended, stopping in the little town of Belen. I went to a restaurant there, and the owner started asking my about my trip and life in the US, and why we like George Bush. I try to not talk about politics on these trips, but more people in Argentina have asked me about the political situation in the US, than the rest of the trip combined. My Spanish isn't good enough to discuss world politics, my English either come to think of it, but I try to tell them that the US is divided too, with the last presidential election decided by 100,000 votes out of 80 milion, or whatever it was, and the Democrats taking control of the House back just last month, and that seems to surprise them. Or maybe my Spanish is worse than I think and they just don't know what the hell I am saying. Regardless, the Argentines I have met seem to take more of an interest in US `politics than I would expect. Anyway, the restaurant owner decided that I needed a tour of the town, so we got in his car and we made a few laps around the town square, looking at girls, with him pointing out the hot ones, like I wasn´t going to notice. That's another thing Latin American guys like to be complimented on, is the beauty of their countries women. You always have to be ready with a comment like: "Boy, I've been from Alaska to Argentina and I've never seen girls as pretty as those in (insert current country here)." Just a little travel tip to endear you to the locals. Be careful if he has a sister or daughter close by.
I know I keep saying this, but western Argenitna looks a lot like the western United States. I had given myself a month to get through Argentina and Chile to make it to Ushuaia by Christmas, and I knew I had to make some time. I pretty much rode for 3 or 4 days to get to Mendoza, where I intended to take a break, and try to find some tires for the bike. After a couple days on Route 40, it was headed toward the metropolis of San Juan, and I had been out in the boondocks long enough that I wasn't sure I could handle it. So, as if route 40 wasn't remote enough, I took an alternate route, more or less parallel to 40 to the west. this went through a river valley and over a couple mountain ranges before hitting highway 7 in the litle town of Upsallata, which is the major route between Santiago Chile, and Mendoza. One good thing about Argentina, is that safe camping is available just about everywhere. A lot of the small towns have free camping in a city park, but if you want a bathroom and shower, you have to spring for $3 or so at a pay campground. I camped at Upsallata, and the next morning rode west to the Chilean border to get a look at Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere, and the Puente del Inca, a natural bridge. Later that day, I headed in to Mendoza. As long as I was in the camping mood, I found a little place on the outskirts of town for my tent. I thought Mendoza was a really nice city, it has a real downtown, but you can get out of town in just minutes, and traffic isn't at all what I had come to expect from a Latin American city. I also found a set of Brazillian made Pirelli Scorpion tires for the bike without any trouble. The only hard part was that Argentines speak so differently from everyone else I have heard on this trip. I have come to expect a different accent in the different countries, but here they use so many words that just have a totally different meaning, it has been a real struggle trying to communicate with my Mexican Spanish. It is also the first place where Spanish speakers have had trouble understanding my accent, which adds to the fun. I was able to find tires though, and pretty reasonably priced too. I stayed in Mendoza for 3 nights, but after pigging out on steak dinners with the money I saved by camping, had to hit the road again.
I headed south on 40 again, through more high desert, with snow capped mountains alway visible to the west, and stopped for the night in Malargue. I sprung for a hotel, since it looked like rain, and I didn't feel up to camping again. Earlier in the day there was a lone hill out in the middle of the plain, and I could see a road switchbacking up it, so figured, why not? Aparently the hill was an extinct volcano, as part way up, the road turned to a fine black gravel, that I took to be pulverized pumice. It was so loose that the back wheel dug in, so I aborted the climb, and headed back down. Nice view from up there though, you could just see forever.
Up until this time, 40 had been alternating between asphalt and gravel. Sometimes you could go 50 mph, others 20, due mainly to the washboard. After Malargue, it turned to asphalt for a good long time, which was a nice break. This day brought me into what they call the lake district. The highway goes up into the mountains again here, and it is a lot greener. The area reminds me of British Columbia in Canada, with the mountains and long narrow lakes between them. Along the road, I met an Argentine rider from Cordoba, who was riding a BMW R1150 GS. He passed me on the road, and when I caught up to him when he stopped, I stopped to talk. He told me his real name, but I forgot it, but said his motorcycle fiends call him Puma. That was my first clue that he was an ex Harley rider, the second was that his gas tank had a mural on it that looked like a Molly Hatchet album cover or something, the first time I have seen something like that on a Beemer. He said he got rid of his HArley because the highways were too rough in western Argentina for them, and he didn't like the Harley attitude, where you are a sub human or something if you ride another brand. My kind of rider. And I like Harleys, I have a Buell at home, just not to the exclusion of everything else. Anyway, the towns in the lake district look like Colorado or someplace, with upscale clothes and souvenier shops, and expensive restaurants. Luckily, I was able to find a campground and a hamburger joint, in San Martin de los Andes.
The next day, I rode to the Chilean border, through a national park on the 7 lakes highway, or something like that. I was headed for Puerto Montt, and the start of the Carreterra Austral, but on the way I saw a Studebaker museum, of all things, on the side of the highway. This was close to Osorno, and I decided to stop and check out the museum the next day. I did, and it was a retirement hobby for a dairy farmer. He had about 80 cars on display, 50 of them Studebakers. He had a bunch of unrestored cars under a roof outside, with cows grazing around them to keep the grass down. You just never know what you'll run into. After spending the morning there, I headed for Puerto Montt. This was the first 4 lane divided road I had been on since Panama, I think. In P.M., I wanted to get some info on how much of the Carreterra Austral you could actualy ride, since there are several ferry crossings to deal with. I couldn't get any definitive word on what ferries were running, so I opted to take a ferry 90 miles to the town of Chaiten, to start with. This got me past the area where the other ferry crossings were. I had got into Chile on the day Agosto Pinochet died, and that was all over the news. Pinochet is the one who ordered the Carreterra built in the 80's, enabling the people in the area to go from a sheep ranching based economy to tourism, which pays a lot better, judging by the Land Rovers and Suburbans at the fly fishing resorts. So you don't say anything bad about Pinochet here. This area reminds me of north west Washington state and BC, complete with the rain. I spent 4 days on the Carreterra, and it rained most of the time. Pretty country, but I couldn't wait to get back on the Argentine side, where it is relatively dry.
After crossing back to Argentina, at Chile Chico, I spent two days riding south on 40 again. This is the notorious stretch of gravel where the wind just howls. The road is in decent shape, as far as washboard goes, but the wind presents its own special hazards. The cars make wheel tracks, where the loose gravel is pushed off to the side. If you can stay in the wheel tracks, everything is rosy, but if you let the wind push you out of these 18 inch wide paths, the loose stuff sucks you into it, and you get crossed up real fast. After the first day, of about 200 miles, my right shoulder and forearm were just on fire from pusshing on the handlebar all day to fight the wind. The next day wasn't any easier, BUT, I now have most of the gravel out of the way. From what I hear, there is only one little stretch of gravel left, and then blessed asphalt all the way to Ushuaia. Which brings me to where I am now, El Chalten Argentina. This is 60 miles off the main road, and a mecca for climbers of the FitzRoy mountains. I am going to take a day off tomorrow, maybe hike to the climbers base camp, just to check it out, if the wind doesn´t blow me away. After that, I will go the the Moreno glacier, and then cross into Chile again to go to Torres del Paine park, and then make the final push to Ushuaia. I should still be on track to make it there by Christmas, as today is the 17th. I think I am only 600 miles or so by road from there, but as I said, I have some more places to see between here and there yet.
The bike has been holding up well, but I have a lot of really tired gear. The speedometer drive, which I half assed repaired back in Peru 5,000 miles ago, gave up the ghost on the Carreterra Austral, so the mileage count is stopped at 14,223 for the trip, 43,277 for the bike total. I have put maybe 600 on since then, and will put at least 2,000 more on, depending on where I ship home from. Other than that, the bike is running well. It used a half quart of oil in the last 4,000 miles, I should change it one more time. I have had a hell of a time with zippers, I think the dust gets into them and jams them up. The one on the tank bag split, so I can only keep things in there that can get wet. The tent has holes in it from the poles rubbing on all the washboard roads. The fabric on my jacket sleeves is disintegrating, I guess from the wind, so whatever waterproof quality it once had is gone. But, it looks like everything will limp to the finish. I'm looking into ways to ship home. There is a motorcycle tour company that has a container with extra room going back to Houston from Santiago, which would be great, except it means missing Buenos Aires. I'm working on getting a quote from Buenos Aires, so we'll see.
If anybody is wondering what it realy costs to do a trip like this, here are my expenses for the trip so far.
What it costs (me) to live on the road for 150 days.
Since I took today off in Punta Arenas to enjoy being dry and warm for the first day in about the last 12 (it has rained at some point every day but one since I entered Chile the first time near Puerto Montt), I thought I would take a stab at seeing what this trip really cost me. I have not been doing any accounting as I go, but thanks to internet banking, and free wi-fi at the hostel I am at, I looked up my checking account activity. These are expenses since I crossed from the USA into Mexico back in July.
Total withdrawn from checking accounts or paid on my credit cards: $7400
Still have $400 cash on hand, leaves $7000 expended for 150 days.
big ticket items:
shipping bike, Panama to Bogota: $501
shipping me, Panama to Bogota: $260
Pair of motorcycling pants: $180
3 tires: $280
Spanish lessons: $180
Machu Picchu trip $130
Camera/storage card/reader to $280
replace the originalthat died
That leaves $4569/150, or $28.59/day, that went into daily expenses, like lodging, food, beer, internet access, border crossings, oil and chain lube, mountain bike rental, laundry, whatever. I don't think there is too much fat in that $29/day figure, although I'm sure people have done similar trips on much less. Most days I had a private room, although there were probably 15 nights that I spent in shared room hostels, and probably another 25 where I had no cost, either camping out or staying at someone's home. I ate pretty good most of the time, usually 2 restaurant meals per day, and didn't skimp on the beer, which is surprisingly expensive in a lot of places. I can't think of anything I bought for the bike, other than oil and tires, so I was lucky in that respect. Without going to a lot of effort to pin it down exactly, I would guess I spent $20/day in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru and Bolivia, and maybe $30 in Colombia and Ecuador, and $40 in Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Panama, I only spent a couple days in, and most of my time in Costa Rica I had a free place to stay, so it's harder to estimate for them.
Of course, I still have 2 or 3 weeks to go, and have to get home, which will be by far the most expensive part of the trip. I think I will get myself and the bike back home with a total trip cost of about $10k. I originally thought this would take $10-12k, so I was right on the money there.
If I have any decent weather tomorrow, I should get to Ushuaia on the 22nd. Merry Christmas to all.
Just a quick hello, from the end of the road here in Ushuaia. It´s Christmas day, and there are at least 30 or so motorcyclists here in town, that I know of, and I´m sure some more I don´t know of. Everyone is having a good time, aside from the odd bike issue, and we all wish everyone the happiest of Christmases.
I only spent a few days in Ushuaia, standing around in the cold around a campfire with a beer is fun for a while, but it only goes so far. I wanted to head back north where it is warm, and take a different route, to see what I missed on the Argentina side when I took the Caraterra south through Chile. Proving that the world really is a small place, I ran into Grant and Julie, a couple from Australia that Don McCann and I camped next to at a Horizons Unlimited meet in Mexico a couple years ago, in Ushuaia. I also met up with Fausto, the Ecuadoran I met in Nicaragua, here in El Bolson, and he and I are staying at a hostel here. I figured out a route that is all paved this time, north along the eastern coast of Argentina, then northwest when I got to Comodoro Rivadavia, hooking back up with my old friend Ruta 40, but north of the gravel sections. The wind was just as bad, but at least I was on asphalt this time. I am currently in El Bolson, spent New Year´s eve here, and hoped to find a sports bar with American football on New Year´s day, but no luck. I will leave here tomorrow, the 2nd, and go to Bariloche, maybe spend a day there, then head for Buenos Aires.
This family was in Ushuaia from Germany. I am terrible at remembering names, but the couple on the left are the parents of the girl on the right, and the other guy is her husband. Sounds like a nice family outing to me.
The guy on the left built his own side car rig on an old BMW, and his wife rides in the sidecar, while the daughter and her husband ride their own bikes. The sidecar was really trick, with disengagable drive to the sidecar wheel, and lots of hand machined parts all over the bike.
Methinks there are Ozzies about. Vegemite is to an Australian what peanut butter is to Americans.
I´m sure I am spelling the name wrong, but this is Heideki, from Japan. He has been on the road four years, and has 180,000 kms on his Honda XR400.
Some cold, wet motorcycle rider by the Perito Moreno glacier, near El Calafate, Argentina.
I last left off New Year’s day a hostel in El Bolson. I discovered that I missed a presentation by a German couple who traveled around the world for 16 years, mostly on motorcycles. This was on December 30th, one day before I got to El Bolson. Oh well, maybe next time. So, after a low key New Years day, I headed out for Bariloche on the 2nd. In Bariloche, I met up with Fausto, my Ecuadoran friend, again. Fausto was riding an Aprilia Caponord, which is a pretty rare bike in South America, and his front chain sprocket was almost worn out. He was planning on taking a train from Bariloche to Viedma, on the east coast, to save 500 miles on his bike, making it more likely that he would get to Buenos Aires, where there was an Aprilia dealer, before his sprocket gave out. It sounded like a interesting break from riding, so I decided to go along too. We tied the bikes down in a boxcar, and set out. It ended up being about a 16 hour ride, overnight. I didn’t know there was such a thing as washboard train tracks, but now I know. We were a little worried about the bikes, but they ended up being fine. On the train, I was seated next to a young Argentine couple who had lived in Madison Wisconsin, where I grew up, for 5 years. They were moving back to Argentina, and opening a guest house with a fishing theme on the east coast. Just another unlikely coincidence. Anyway, we got off at Viedma, and I headed north to Azul, where I wanted to check out La Posta del Viajero en Moto. There is a guy named Jorge in Azul, who has a motorcycle parts store, but more importantly invites motorcycle travelers to stay at his place and camp out in his back yard. He is pretty well known , in moto traveler circles, at least I have heard of him. I stayed there for three days, there were maybe six other people there at the time. One of those days was spent going to Balcarce, to the Juan Manuel Fangio museum there. Fangio was an Argentinean race car driver who won 5 formula one world championships in the fifties, and the museum was a lot better than what I expected. There had to be a couple hundred cars on display, including one of Ayrton Senna’s formula one cars from the nineties, an Indy 500 winning Penske, along with a bunch of Fangio’s early cars. Some of the old American coupes from the 30’s were right hand drive, and I think I was told that they used to drive on the left in Argentina. My spanish is still lousy, so I won’t swear that is what they said, but I didn’t know the English had that much influence down here.
So, after Azul, I rode the couple hundred miles to Buenos Aires, on Dakar Motos. Javier and Sandra, who own Dakar Motos, main business is motorcycle repair and have a kind of moto hostel thing going there too. Which basically means there are some bunk beds in a room off the shop, but it is a very cool place to meet other travelers. There were six or seven other paople there while I was there, and I had a really good time, considering I was preparing to go home. The first couple days were spent arranging to ship the bike and myself home, and then I had a few days to do the tourist thing and see the sights. Buenos Aires is a huge city, and I only saw a fraction of what there is to see. I am still not on the Argentine time schedule, and the bars don’t start hopping till 1 am in some places, so I didn’t do the club thing at all. Not to mention that all I had to wear was beat up clothes that had been on the road six months.
The flight back. Oh boy. The first flight out of BsAS was cancelled, so I had to spend another night in the city. It wasn’t so bad, since the airline bought me a hotel room and dinner. After getting to Miami, I couldn’t get to San Antonio since all the connections were through Dallas, and that was shut down due to ice. They were able to get me to Houston, and from there I rented a car and drove home. After about 40 hours of airplanes, airports, and driving, I finally got home at 5 am on Sunday. I’m trying to get my life started again here, getting my vehicles licensed and taking care of all the million details I need to. Of course I have to start planning my next motorcycle trip too. Europe and Australia interest me, as does the eastern route through South America. Maybe in 2009 or 2010, stay tuned.
When you see these clouds, that look like they are painted on with a dry brush rather than all puffy like cumulus clouds usually are, you can bet it is windy as hell. This is a totally anecdotal observation and not scientifically verifed, but was 100% accurate on this trip.
Just another beautiful landscape, near Bariloche.
Loading the bikes into a boxcar in Bariloche.
A couple of pictures from La Posta del Viajero en Moto.
Lew and Anita, from England, are going around the world on identically prepared Yamaha Seca's. I think it is actually a covert SAS operation, using the top of their luggage for Harrier landings in remote locations. Anyway, they are 2-1/2 years into a planned 2 year trip around the world. And they are only half done.
Me and Jorge, owner of La Posta.
Eva Peron's tomb, in Buenos Aires. She is still a very popular figure here, people still leave flowers on her grave.
Memorial to the soldiers lost in the Malvinas, or Falkland depending on your sympathies, Islands war in 1984 with the UK.
Park grounds behind the memorial. Reminded me of Bascom Hill, on the Universtity of Wisconsin campus, for you Madison readers.
Lunch time at Dakar Motos. I made a really feeble effort at taking pictures here, this is the best I have. Clockwise from left: Sandra and Javier, the owners of Dakar Motos; Alexis and Greg, from England, who are going around the world in a tricked out military Land Rover; Dave from California in the lower right; and the back of Jacques from Belgium's head
And last but not least, a friend of mine's daughter, Emily, had this ready for me when I got back home. Thanks Em!
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