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Photo by Bettina Hoebenreich, At the foot of the Bear Glaciers, eternal ice, British Columbia, Canada

Adventure is what you make it

Photo by Bettina Hoebenreich, at the foot of the Bear Glaciers, British Columbia, Canada.



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  #136  
Old 23 Mar 2013
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We would love to have stayed longer in San Pedro, but when we initially entered the country, we had only applied for a 1-week visa, thinking it was such a small country, how long would we need? The 4 day stopover in the islands was entirely unplanned and as we sat in our hammocks on the beach, we regretted only applying for 1 week. I think it worked out in the end, because we probably would have drained all our travel funds in this one place.


Neda is Belizeing a path through the lush scenery!

After getting off the water taxi back to Belize City, we rode a very short distance to San Ignacio, which is close to the Belize/Guatemala border. We're stopping here for the evening to get all our documents in order for the border crossing. As we walked around the small tourist area (a single street) in San Ignacio, we noticed we were in the company of a lot of foreign tourists. We eavesdropped on a few of them and recognized that subtle Canadian accent that separated them from Americans - also the way Canadians always end their sentences on a higher pitch, as if constantly asking a question.

Belize is very popular with North Americans because the primary language here is English, even though more than half of the population speaks Spanish.


Neda makes a new friend while walking around San Ignacio

There's not much to see in the town of San Ignacio. It's more of a hub for the tours that fan out to see the Tikal ruins or cave tubing or other adventure sports in the area. Since we blew our budget in San Pedro, we're going to skip Tikal and head straight for the Guatemala border the next morning. That, and our 7-day Belizean insurance expires on Feb-29-2013. There is no Feb-29th! So because of an insurance slip-up, we're leaving on the 28th, just to "insure" we don't run into any problems!


Bye-Bye San Igancio, we're going to Guatemala!


Roadside stop to pet a horsie...


Aduana (Customs) at the Belize/Guatemala border

The Guatemala customs border was fairly easy, at least according to Neda as she did all the talking, since she was the Spanish-language expert. I noticed that the border official we were dealing with was originally very cool towards us, almost annoyed at us, until Neda started speaking fluent Espanol. Then instantly he warmed up to us. Actually he warmed up to Neda. He was still annoyed at my amateurish attempts to speak Spanish. So I just shut up and tried to stay out of the way as Neda got us out of Belize and into Guatemala in a heartbeat, telling jokes and charming all the border people in Spanish.

I think this is the primary reason why people report so much difficulty crossing Central American borders - not being able to communicate in the official language.


Ta-DA! We don't need no steenkin helpers, we have a Neda!


Amazing roads in Guatemala


Passing lots of farmland in the north of Guatemala

We're kind of heading south-west, back towards the Mexican border, trying to get as much distance done today. The roads are in way better shape than Belize, and it surprised us a bit. Quite a lot of twists and turns along the way which made us happy as well. There's a bit of a discrepancy between our two GPS maps. Neda's map routes us quite a distance to the south, while mind shaves off 150kms and seems like it's a more direct route.


This is the reason - ferry crossing at Sayaxche

Turns out Neda's map didn't know there was a ferry to take us across at Sayaxche, while mine did. I'm glad we've got two different maps to consult. The ferry was powered by a small outboard motor off towards the side!


10 minutes waiting for the ferry to load, 5 minutes to cross


Riding through Sayaxche

We were running low on Quetzals, since we didn't buy too many from the money changers running around at the border, fearing that they'd rip us off with exorbitant exchange rates. Unfortunately, my bank card doesn't seem to work in Guatemala, something that Kari (fellow Canuck we met in Oaxaca) had warned me about over e-mail. So Neda is officially our money person for this country.

I am feeling a bit like a useless appendage on this leg of our trip. My wife plans the route, finds the hotels, does all the border crossings and gets all the money. All I do is take pictures...


Posing in Sayaxche

It was getting pretty late so we decide to stop in Sayaxche for the evening. We found a casita just outside of town to stay for the night. The owner had twin 10-year-old boys who clamoured around the motorcycles and peppered me with a million and one questions in Spanish. Since Neda was already busy talking to someone else, I had to fend for myself.

Guatemalan Spanish sounds a lot different than the Mexican Spanish I had learned in La Paz, so I had no idea what these two boys were asking me, which frustrated both of them! They brought out their English textbooks but because they only studied family members, were only able to ask if I had a grandmother, a sister, a nephew... Finally Neda finished up and was able to translate for them: they wanted a ride around the block on the back of the bike!


Taking one of the twins out for a spin around the block

So I made them a deal: they could each take turns sitting in the back if they guided me into town and then helped me with my Espanol so I could buy groceries for dinner.

To further thank them, I also bought them some chocolate, so I think I've made some friends for life..


Renaldo and Rivaldo hanging out in our room playing video games on our computers and iPhones.
When their mother called them out to finish their homework, they were very disappointed!


I took each of the twins out separately to the corner store for chocolate. The second twin was very sneaky - while in town, he wanted to extend his ride a bit longer so he made me do 7 left-hand turns in a row... all the while the GPS in front of me was drawing nice overlapping squares all over the map...
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  #137  
Old 24 Mar 2013
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Amazing

Your trip is an adventure that you will remember for a lifetime. Iam very envious of you all. I hope that you have a Great Trip.

Respectfully, Rickey

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Messiahs Messengers, USA, Missouri
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  #138  
Old 25 Mar 2013
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We've got a couple of travel days ahead of us, as we are booked for more Spanish school in Quetzeltenango in the south of Guatemala next week. Since we're dropping into the country at the very north end, we've got some mileage to do, so not a lot of pictures off the bike.


We ride through many villages, some tiny, others a bit larger

It's a rainy ride through the northern department (states are called departments in Guatemala) of Peten. The first time we've ridden in rain for months. The land here is very flat but the hills start to turn into mountains, as we enter the central highlands of the southern region.


Vast tracts of farmland everywhere! Guatemala is so lush!


Weather is slightly cooler, so we didn't mind donning our rainsuits


Women carrying bowls of corn on their head. If they were carrying jars, the jars were always painted with stripes


Hilly terrain in the background

Our stop for the evening is in a town called Coban, in the department of Alta Verapaz. Instead of looking for accommodations right away, we ate a late lunch in a restaurant. When we came out to the bikes, Neda exclaimed, "Oh no! One of my dry bags must have fallen off!" Upon inspection, someone had cut the Rok-Straps holding the bag onto the sidecase and made off with a sleeping bag and pillow. Most of the stuff not in our hardcases are just clothing, sleeping bags and camping equipment. Nothing that we'd thought we'd be too bummed out about if they were stolen.

Until it was stolen... It's still a hassle having to replace it, and the Drybag and the Rok-Straps are not as easy to find around here. So we are kind of bummed. I'm thinking about getting a PacSafe to secure our drybags, but I'm not sure if it's worth the hassle of locking and unlocking every night.

The thief hid between Neda's bike and a parked car next to it while he worked away at cutting the straps holding the drybag down. Since we parked on a quiet side-street, they took advantage of the fact that there was little traffic around the area. We are parking in the middle of crowded streets next time!


Some colonial buildings in downtown Coban

After finding a hotel, we walked through the markets in Coban and Neda told me she was half-hoping to find her sleeping bag for sale in one of the stalls!


Walking the wet streets of Coban

Our next riding day to Quetzaltenango was much dryer. Neda's GPS pointed to a 450 km round about way all the way south-east, through Guatemala City and then back west again. My GPS had a much shorter route, although it wasn't on a highway, was only 250 kms! Since we had good luck with my map on the way to Sayaxche, we decided to follow my GPS again.


Stuck in a religious parade in the streets of one of the villages we rode through


Neda's bike looks unbalanced without the right drybag

Not to spend too much time dwelling on the stolen drybag, since we've basically shrugged it off by now - there's a saying, "Don't bring anything that you can't afford to lose". However, there were two drybags on Neda's bike, one containing my sleeping bag and an old ratty pillow that Neda's been trying to get me throw out but I love it cause it's so comfortable. The other contains Neda's sleeping bag and a special orthopedic pillow that you can fill with water. This was given to us by a friend before we left. And of course, this was the one that was stolen...


The road is getting a bit gravelly... But the scenery rocks! I mean, there are a lot of rocks here...

The northern road through the mountains of the central highlands turns from broken asphalt to hard packed gravel, and then mud and loose stone. We have to make it to Quetzaltenango to meet our host family in the evening, and our estimated time of arrival is not looking very realistic given the terrain.


Steep drop on the left as we encounter wide traffic ahead


She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes!


Amazing views! We are glad we took this route instead of the highway, but it's taking a lot of time


"'Let's take the shortcut', he says.
'This'll save us some time', he says..."



Oh, and also mud. Next to sand, our favorite terrain...


Some really tiny villages


And then a bridge. Is that pavement at the other end?


Pavement!

We were going to be a couple of hours late, so at a restaurant in one of the villages we passed through, we borrowed a phone and called the school to let them know. We arrived in Quetzeltenango late in the evening, with the temperatures dropping to single digits. Shivering in the town square, we waited for our host family to arrive and take us to a warm home.
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  #139  
Old 26 Mar 2013
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Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
But more importantly we saw what kind of people go there, Not our crowd. If we wanted to hang out with people that looked like us, talked like us and ate the same food as us, then we never would have left home. Go where the locals go!
Oh so very well put :-)

I have been following your adventure from the outset. I continue to be amazed at the photos, maps and the commentary, simply exceptional. You guys have inspired me to a point where the house and all but the collectable items are on the market! Thank you and cheers Dave:-)
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  #140  
Old 27 Mar 2013
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You guys have inspired me to a point where the house and all but the collectable items are on the market!
That's awesome, Dave! Best of luck on your trip!
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  #141  
Old 3 Apr 2013
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Quetzeltenango is quite a mouthful, but the town is also known as Xela (Shay-La), its indigenous name. It's the second largest city in Guatemala, and it's where we're going to stay for the next week learning more Spanish. As in most Latin American towns, the main square, called Parque Central is where most of the people congregate, day and night, and after classes we take the opportunity to walk around and people-watch.


This church is called Iglesia del Espiritu Santu


Candles vendor outside the church


Intense lunch break at Parque Central


More leisurely lunch break, man's best friend in tow


Neda's Spanish teacher, Susanne. Hours of fun dialog everyday!


Our Spanish school has tables scattered all over the building, with teachers and students paired off one-on-one

Xela is quite a popular place for Spanish classes. Since it's a university town, there's an air of scholarliness everywhere, and it's not uncommon to see coffee shops and diners filled with students deep in study in a textbook. And the tuition fees are a fraction of what we paid in La Paz! We are amazed at the disparity in prices between the two countries. Mexico now seems like a such first-world country compared to Guatemala in terms of the modernity but also how expensive everything was!


Shopping in the market after classes, schoolbooks in hand


Street vendors having a yak and a laugh


Waiting for a bus


A couple of fellow students took us to their favorite Mennonite bakery. Yummy pastries here!

Spanish is still coming very slowly for me. The accent is a little different from Mexico (they say Guatemalans speak a purer form of Spanish, closer to Spain), and some words are bit different here. Plus I'm not a very scholarly person to begin with... I barely scraped by in school and had (still have) trouble sitting still for long periods of time and concentrating on a single task. Neda is the complete opposite and if she had her wish, she'd be a student for life.

What I really enjoyed about our Spanish school was that every evening, they had extra-curricular activities planned. One night we took some Salsa lessons, and another day, Mario, my Spanish teacher, took us sightseeing. We hiked to the top of a lava dome called El Baul, overlooking Xela to get a better view of the city.


The view was nice, but these slides at the top were way more fun! Neda may be a bright Spanish student, but she's a little slow at slides...


March beneath our school windows for International Women's Day

Another trivial comparison between Mexico and Guatemala are the size of the food portions. Both our homestay and restaurant meals were very modest-sized and made our Mexican meals seem Texas-Super-Sized. Because I lack self-control when it comes to eating, I'm very glad that the portions here are normal-size and I can feel myself losing the Taco-Gut I gained in Mexico.


Night-time brings out amazing colours in the old city


We passed by this vendor's stall every day on the way home from school


Buildings around Parque Central


Our school is located inside a beautiful colonial building called Pasaje Enriquez, right in the Parque Central. On the ground floor are several bars and restaurants

On another evening, our school organized a dinner for all the staff and students, and we spent the evening getting to know each other. This was such an amazing opportunity to hear stories very similar to our own. Travellers to Guatemala seem to share that very rare sense of adventure and we all nodded our heads to the familiar questions from back home: "Why on earth do you want to go to Guatemala/Central America/etc?" It was a question that none of us needed to answer, as we already knew.


Birds of a feather, flocking together over dinner


After dinner, we went out to enjoy Xela's very vibrant nightlife


Students and teachers mingle in a nightclub


Peruvian pan flute provides a soundtrack to our lively evening
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  #142  
Old 3 Apr 2013
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Wow ! what a fantastic ride report.

I managed last year to ride round the world but you pictures leave mine in the shadows !

What camera are you using for your shots ?

Thanks
Geordie aka Will
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  #143  
Old 3 Apr 2013
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What camera are you using for your shots?
Hi Geordie, we're using a Nikon D3000 primarily, and sometimes a Nikon D60 as backup. The on-board riding shots are done with a ruggedized Nikon AW100 and we also use the cameras on our iPhones - which are surprising good.
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  #144  
Old 5 Apr 2013
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During the middle of the week our Spanish teachers, Susanne and Mario, take us out on a field trip to a local town just outside of Xela called San Andres Xecul to practice our Espanol.


Waiting for our "bus" to fill up before heading out


And we're off! Transportation Guatemala-stylez!


View of San Andres Xecul from the top of the hill

San Andres Xecul is a quaint little town set against the mountainside of the Guatemalan highlands. It's famous for its brightly coloured yellow church. After the Spanish invaded Central America, there was much suspicion of the Catholic church, so as a peace offering, this church was painted in indigenous colours to entice them to attend.


Thursday is market day, so the town square was filled with women either selling or buying stuff. And children supervising the process...


Candles sold outside the church


Spanish hymns were softly sung at the front of the church, the devotion is palpable in the air.


Most of the women wore the colourful, traditional clothing of the indigenous Maya

My teacher, Mario, is very knowledgeable about the history of the Maya. He told us that to this day, the indigenous population is largely discriminated against by the rest of Guatemala and treated very poorly. The main differentiator between the Mayans and the rest of the society is their native clothing, and some modern Maya (mainly the men) have given up traditional garb in order escape discrimination and to secure jobs. The women face less pressure as they either work in the markets or look after the children, and are more able to display the clothing of their past with pride.


Rearranging the "storefront"


Personal grooming is very important in sales


Accompanying mom to the market


Brightly coloured church overlooks all market transactions


Trying to get a good deal...


So much character in the people and the streets of San Andres Xecul


San Simon - not your average Saint...

Mario took us to a private residence, and we walked through someone's living room, through their backyard into a shed where a shrine was set up to the Mayan god, San Simon. Worshiped by the ancient Mayans as a symbol of male sexual power, today he is depicted as a man dressed in 20th century clothing, smoking a cigarette with bottles of booze around his waist, sometimes carrying a rifle. I am not joking.

San Simon has been denounced by the Catholic church and he has been identified with Judas Iscariot. All this makes the "outlaw saint" even more popular with the indigenous population. Many shrines are set up in private houses hidden away from the authorities, and different coloured candles are sold to visitors so that they can be burned at his feet to bring success, wealth and power.


Our teacher Mario looks on, while Neda asks San Simon for his blessings in our travels

Different coloured candles signify different meanings. Blue is supposed to bring good luck for travel, white is for spiritual well-being, yellow is for personal protection and red is for luck in love. There are also black candles, and those are meant to wish ill will or harm to others! San Simon is not really a saint, but an amoral Mayan god that is supposed to grant all wishes, good or bad.

It's easy to see the allure of such a deity amongst the downtrodden indigenous population.


The "patron saint of drunkards and gamblers" looks on in satisfaction while our candles burn at his feet.


The ground is covered in melted wax from all the other visitors who have come here with candles in hand and prayers in their hearts.
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  #145  
Old 7 Apr 2013
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We met Craig and Chihiro at our Spanish school in Xela and got along really well. They're also two wandering souls who have travelled much of the world together and by themselves, so we had a great time comparing notes. They were going to visit Las Fuentes Georginas hot springs outside of Xela on the weekend, so they invited us to come along!


We boarded a Chicken Bus with a whole bunch of indigenous women!

The primary mode of public transportation in Guatemala is a Chicken Bus. Not Pollo Autobus, they actually call it a Chicken Bus. It's usually a retired American school bus that's failed safety and emissions tests. We play a game of Rate The Chicken Bus as we pass them. We boo and hiss at the ones that still have the yellow paint showing and very little decorations and cheer the buses that are multi-coloured and are blinged out with chrome and additional foglights.


This is actually a poor example of a Chicken Bus. Not decorated enough...

We're on our way to the town of Zunil, at the base of the hills where the hot springs are located. Along the way we pass many farms and workers in the field.


Patchwork of farmland outside the town of Zunil


Workers harvesting green onions

From Zunil, we negotiated a truck ride up to the hillside spa. It's a narrow, twisty road and we regretted not bringing the bikes, but we wanted to be social and spend the day with Craig and Chihiro. What started out as a simple trip to a hot springs actually turned out to be an agricultural tour.


Thoroughly enjoying riding in the back of a truck!


Taken from the back of the moving truck!


As we climbed higher, the farmland started to resemble a colourful quilt


Surprised to see how far up the tracts of farmland extend up the sides of the hill


Some of the tracts must have been almost vertical!


We weren't the only ones enjoying the view

I think we got a very skewed view of agriculture in Guatemala, because when I did some research later on, I was surprised to learn that the country cannot grow enough crops to feed their own population, having to import grains and other foods. Although we were travelling through fertile lands, there is a large swath of the country to the north called the Dry Corridor, which receives very little rainfall and is prone to chronic drought.


Arriving at Las Fuentes Georginas

The air up here is misty as we pay the foreigner prices (double what the locals pay) to enter what looks to be a very exclusive spa. Well-fed locals hang out at the pools that are fed by thermal springs from the Zunil volcano. They're joined by a busload of college kids from the US. Although it's a very picturesque site with relaxing hot waters, it's not probably something regular Guatemalans are able to visit. In Zunil, there are dirty bath houses with small concrete basins that are fed thermal hot water from hoses. These are types of luxuries that that the regular townsfolk treat themselves to.


Nice lookouts at the Fuentes Georginas spa


The main pool, temperature must be about 40C


Neda confirms it: 40C!


After a while you get used to the heat


Neda doesn't want to leave


Last look at Las Fuentes Georginas


Having a good time back in Xela. Having dinner in our new favorite restaurant owned by a Singaporean woman, specializing in all Asian cuisine!
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  #146  
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Updated from Mar 12 2013: Relaxing in Panajachel



After a week of Spanish classes in Xela, we get back on our motorcycles and explore Guatemala a bit more. Pananjachel is about an hour and a half outside of Xela, on a very entertaining twisty road up and through the mountains of the highlands.


Misty mountainside - temperatures got quite cold, dipping to single digits!


Passing by many fields covering the landscape of the Guatemalan Highlands


Cheers for the bling on this Chicken Bus!


Winner, Winner, Chicken (bus) Dinner!

We got a bit lost in Pana, looking for the hostel that the the folks in Xela recommended. It was quite a claustrophic adventure navigating the many tiny alleyways off the main Calle Santander, some of them small enough to only fit a Tuk Tuk or motorcycle - traffic has to wait at either end of the street until one vehicle has made it through!


Looking for our hostel


Uh oh, dead end. Believe or not, my 12GS did a 3-point turn to get out! No, actually, it was a 12-point turn...


Neda gets some helpful directions


So narrow!


Finally, we found our hostel and the parking lot is narrower than the streets!


The hostel employs a colourful security guard that yells out "Hola!" whenever anyone gets close to our bikes


Vendors selling clothing off Calle Santander, Panajachel's main street

Panajachel is mainly known for its street vendors and markets, and is a popular place to launch trips across Lake Atitlan to other locations, like San Pedro. We are only here for four days, so we just hang around town, walking around the stalls and sampling some of the delicious food.


Hanging out with Ling, the owner of Chinitas

While we were in Panajachel, Guatemala, we ate dinner at a fantastic Malaysian restaurant. The owner came out to greet us and was surprised and delighted to find out I was Malaysian as well. Free dessert for the Malaysian Customer of the Day -- cause there are so many that come in every single day...


Surrounded by volcanoes, Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America

The people walking around here are a curious mix of indigenous Maya vendors, typical gringo tourists and hippie residents that migrated here in the 60s. They left in droves after war broke out, but repopulated again in the mid-90s. In Xela, we talked with our teachers and they remembered the civil war vividly, about how families were torn apart, sons of the villages drafted by the military to kill their own townspeople or be killed themselves. It was such a sad history that is still remembered by anyone over the age of 30.


Tuk Tuks drafting through the streets of Panajachel


Hey, it's the same Chicken Bus we saw on the road to Pana!


Lorenzo's Land


Trying to find a nice wrap to go with his shoes


Getting my finger chewed on by a cute puppy


Neda does some chain maintenance with a little help from Ashley Heins---


Our hostel has a kitchen, so Neda whipped us up a great salad and we ate with our bikes
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  #147  
Old 10 Apr 2013
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We never wanted this trip to be a trek. We didn't want our blog to read "xx miles, xx countries in xx days" because that was like all our other motorcycle trips, rushing through exotic countries and only seeing the 200 feet on either side of the road as we sped towards the end of our allotted vacation days for the year.

Unfortunately, we had made an appointment many months ago, that at the time seemed to give us a lot of leeway to meander on our journey. Lately, the clock has started ticking down and we find ourselves running out of runway, as there are a couple thousand kms and 5 border crossings we have to make in the next 10 days. Impossible, given our current pace.

We've made the decision to come straight back to Central America after our appointment - there is just too much that we're missing. So I've condensed the next week and a half of travels into a single entry because it sucks too much to spend a lot of time on it. And also we didn't really see anything...

Here are some notes on our trip down the PanAmerican Highway:


Taking the dog out for a spin


Group ride out of Pana!

We left hastily out of Pana. In the rush, I lost a really good pair of earphones. I know, blah blah, first world problems... We feel like we're being torn away from Guatemala without having seen everything we wanted to see, so this is exactly where we're going to return to, to resume our Central American tour.


Accident on the PanAm in Guatemala

The PanAmerican Highway is not really one defined road, but a collection of routes that span from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska all the way to the southern tip of Argentina. Despite many detours along the way, we've basically followed the PanAm on our trip after criss-crossing Canada. Through Central America, it's a fairly well-maintained stretch of pavement with some interesting sections that pass through mountains and volcanoes, but on our return, it would be nice to see what else lies off this well-beaten path.


Aduana at the El Salvador border


Aduana is Spanish for "nap"


Finally, we're through!

Crossing into El Salvador, we are delayed because the Vehicle Importation Computer is down. We sit for four hours waiting for the system to come back up and by the time we get through the border, the sun is getting lower in the sky. We don't want to travel at night, so in desperation we book into an Auto Hotel just outside of San Salvador.

The infamous Auto Hotel in Central America is also called a Love Hotel, and is usually rented out by the hour, if you get what I mean... Each room has its own private garage with a door that closes. We thought it was for security, but it's really to hide the license plate of the car parked there for a few hours.

All communication with hotel staff is done through a small cupboard at one end of the room with doors inside the room and outside into the office. You never have to see or speak to staff, just deposit your money in the cupboard, close the door, they open it on the other side and deposit towels and soaps (and condoms) for you. Mirrors are strategically placed beside the bed and there is a paper towel dispenser within reach to clean up any messes.

I thought it was hilarious! Neda was kinda grossed out. We slept in the one remaining sleeping bag that wasn't stolen back in Guatemala...


Our most memorable crossing, and not for good reasons... Honduras

El Salvador came and went in a day, and I was battling fatigue because I didn't get a good night's sleep in the Love Hotel. I must have also picked up a flu overnight, but we forged ahead to the Honduras. Despite it being very early in the day, I wanted to stop and find a place to sleep before reaching the border to recuperate, but Neda was convinced we could cross two borders in one day and reach Nicaragua for the evening. I wasn't feeling up to it, but since Neda was doing all the work at the immigration and customs offices, my only duty was to stay conscious and keep the bike upright.

As we approached Honduras, we were swarmed by a mob of "helpers" offering to speed us through all the red tape for a fee. Most dropped away when they heard Neda's fluent Spanish, but one hung on despite our polite refusal, following us from office to office peppering us with helpful tips and hints, hoping to guilt us into paying him... Nice try...

Through my feverish haze, I saw Neda run back and forth through 3 or 4 different offices trying to get our bikes stamped into the country. Everytime I asked what she was doing, she replied, "Making photocopies!" Apparently, in this day and age when EVERYTHING is computerized, Central American governments have invested heavily in shares of Xerox and Domtar...

I was in charge of holding the documents as we biked from immigration to customs. When you carry everything you own on a motorcycle, every item has its place. Because we were changing our routine, I was now keeping our documents in my tankbag instead of in one of the lockable cases. Which meant that my motorcycle gloves, which I normally keep in my tankbag, were now in... I still have no idea...

Those were really good gloves, too.


Motoring through Honduras - elapsed time in the country: 2.5 hours

We raced through the tiny stretch of the PanAm in Honduras and reached the Nicaraguan border very late in the day and I was a bit upset that we would be riding through the dark to reach the hotel we had reserved. Throughout the last couple of days, we've been bickering at each other, especially at border crossings. It's a stressful time getting yourselves through, much less importing a vehicle into the country as well. I was dealing with a flu and feeling frustrated that I was unable to help because of my inadequate Spanish. Add to it that I'm not coping very well with the heat and humidity and Neda doesn't cope very well when she's hungry...

This is not fun for either of us. It's not even fun writing this down and I just want to end this entry but it's important to have a record of all this "not fun" later. Much later...


Aduana at Nicaragua

Some helpers approach us at the Nicaraguan border, but not as many as at the Honduras. It seems that the Honduran border is the most complicated process to negotiate in Central America, and the number of helpers reflect that. El Salvador was easy - no helpers there. So now when we approach a new border crossing, we can gauge how easy it will be by how many helpers swarm us! Useful, practical information!


Nicaragua. yay. *yawn*

Having knocked down 3 of 5 border crossings, we bought ourselves a little downtime - especially for me to get over my flu. We stopped for a few nights in Estelie, Nicaragua - actually for a couple of nights longer than we expected we would because I gave Neda my flu. So we were both bedridden at the same time. OMG, so much UnFUN, I can't handle it!


Motoring through Nicaragua


"Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, Here I am at..."


Perhaps the only picture we took of Granada. Didn't see a thing...


Next border, Costa Rica. Didn't see a thing. But it was the most expensive nothing we saw...


Somwhere along the way, it got cold and foggy on the PanAm


By this time, Neda is a pro at border crossings, so this was one of the easier ones

We arrived in Panama licking our wounds. So far over the last week and a half, we've both gotten sick, I've lost a pair of earphones and a pair of motorcycle gloves, left my credit card in a restaurant and had to have it couriered back to us while we were en route, saw nothing but road, took no pictures... All because we're rushing to meet a deadline. This was not why we left our jobs and sold everything! We vowed, no more booking stuff in advance, even if it's months away! Just one day at a time from now on. If that means missing out on some opportunities tomorrow, that's okay as long as we don't have to rush through today. It's just not worth it.

On an upbeat note, all these border-crossing ordeals have been good practice for when we return to see Central America properly! Neda is going to try to make a few bucks on the side being a helper...


Drummers practicing in Panama City

For the last few months, we've been in constant contact with Kari and Rose, the fellow Canadian bikers who we met in Oaxaca. They were also in Panama City, so we spent a few days comparing notes, exchanging GPS files and sharing a few meals together. It was nice having some familiar faces to hang out with.


Bikes get their first bath in months

While in Panama City, we took time to get everything sorted out - shopping for supplies and taking care of the motorcycles. We dropped into the local BMW dealership to replace the gloves I lost at the Honduran border. While we were there, we popped into the service centre to see if they had the plug for my headlight. They didn't have the part in stock, but the technician told me to bring the bike in anyway.

Less than an hour later, he had fixed the light, jury-rigging it with a couple of blade connectors! Best part, it was free of charge! So let's end this entry on a happy note! Yay!
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  #148  
Old 15 Apr 2013
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Update from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/87.html



We're here for our scheduled appointment.

Google Maps tells us that there is no way to get from North America to South America by road. The Darien Forest, or Darien Gap, starts at the southern tip of Panama and runs all the way to Colombia. Apparently, this a real life Forest of Despair, but instead of Rodents of Unusual Sizes, they have Poison Arrow Dart Frogs! And no fireswamp or lightning sand, but plenty of Marxist Guerillas with Gun of Unusual Sizes!


We turn off the PanAm Highway, and take a windy road through thick Panamanian rain forests

The PanAmerican Highway stops at the edge of the Darien Forest. Despite several construction attempts, no road connects the two continents because of the ecological damage it would cause to the indigenous tribes and wildlife that live there, and the governments involved do not want to create an easy path for drug smugglers to traffic narcotics from Colombia up to North America.

Interestingly, the Darien Gap has also prevented the spread of diseases from South America into Central and North America, like foot and mouth disease.


Everywhere in Central America, our GPSes fascinate the locals

There are only two ways to cross the Darien Gap, by sea or by air. We opt for the water option, so we have to travel a couple of hours from Panama City to a pier at the deserted Carti Airport, on the Caribbean coast of Panama. The road twists through miles of lush, green jungles and of course, because we washed the bikes in Panama City the day before, it rains on us...


Parked on the shores of Carti beach, our ride waiting in the distance


Talking with Cornelius, another moto-nomad from Australia

We're travelling with a lot of familiar faces on this leg of our journey. We met Trevor at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in California last October, and saw Cornelius there as well but didn't get a chance to speak to him. I had a feeling we would get to know everyone on board a lot better in the next few days!


The Stahlratte, German for "Steel Rat", is a pirate ship, capable of escaping FARC Insurgents and making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs

After a lot of research, we chose the Stahlratte to cross the Darien Gap. This is the appointment we were rushing through Central America to make. It started life 110 years ago as a fishing vessel and has lived many lives since then, from a Rainbow Warrior for Greenpeace till now, a Round-The-World sailboat that has gotten "stuck" in the Caribbean, living the sun-drenched dream and ferrying passengers between Panama, Colombia and the islands in between for the last 8 years to fund its voyage.


Dinghies and small boats carry supplies and our luggage from the shore to the Stahlratte

Because we have a small window of time reserved to use the pier to load the motorcycles, we use most of the morning to remove all the luggage off our bikes and transport them onboard, where we're treated to a quick lunch - the first of many famously delicious Stahlratte meals - before going back on shore and prepping the bikes.


Carb loading first, then bike loading next!


Our luggage arrives by dinghy and is brought into the hold of the ship


Back on shore, bikes are lined up on the pier ready to be brought on board


We lined up last. If anything went wrong, it'd be easier to back out that way!

There is no ramp to ride or push the motorcycles on-board. Everything has to be done off a narrow pier. We watched everyone else's motorcycles get winched up by a pulley off the pier and then over the edge of the deck of the ship. The hired hands seemed to be very experienced and capable and I felt a lot better when it came to our turn.


Watching the Stahlratte pull into the pier, ready to eat our motorcycles


Ludwig, our fearless captain supervises the loading


My baby is getting closer to the front of the line and she's getting nervous!


This is how it starts out...

In our haste to get back on shore to help line the bikes up for loading, we didn't notice that the only ones left on the ship were the women. So there were 12 guys on shore rolling the motorcycles on the pier and 4 women on the boat lifting the bikes over the side of the boat onto deck. They were the ones doing all the real work! We (nervously) cheered them on from the pier...


Then up goes my bike!


Had a little problem getting my big pig over the edge of the boat, so down it went and the rope was shortened...


All bikes on deck, we're ready to set sail!


Gene: "Second star to the right, and straight on till morning!?"
Ludwig: "No... we use a GPS on the Stahlratte."



Getting familiar with our home for the next few days


Big sigh of relief. The Master Planner gets a break for a few days!

Neda has been an absolute superstar over the last few months. She has planned pretty much all of our travels through Central America, doing extra duty handling the border crossings with her fluency in Spanish. For the next few days, our schedules are in the hands of the crew of the Stahlratte. Instead of having to plan for routes, search for accommodations and forage for food, we will be told when to eat and where to sleep, and all of a sudden, there is an absolute lack of responsibility for our lives. It's the best we've felt in over two weeks!


Stay tuned for the next entry on our adventures on the high seas!
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  #149  
Old 18 Apr 2013
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You will have a great time on this cruise......I was looking forward to this part but in the end had to turn back before reaching Panama......enjoying your blog and following Saralou's as well...surprised you have not crossed paths...They are also in the vicinity....
All the Best
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/88.html



Quote:
Logbuch (German for Logbook - duh!)
30.03.2013 coco bandero GUNA YALA
since yesterday we are ON TOUR again with a total of 25 souls on board plus 10
motorcycles! weather is great and the forecast for tomorrow for the sail over to cartagena
looks pretty good....HASTA LUEGO
"25 souls on board". I don't know why, but this sounds so nautical-speak, I LOVE IT!

So with all the bikes on board, we were off into the Caribbean Sea! First stop, the San Blas islands where we are offloaded to find accommodations for the evening, since we are not officially booked to stay on the ship till the day after.


Run off the ship, forced to fend for ourselves

The San Blas islands are populated by the Kuna indians, and we are put up for the night in their huts. Most of the islands are quite tiny, we could walk the length of ours in under a minute! Their primary means of transportation is by dugout canoe, which are works of art created from a single tree trunk.


Most of the Kuna women were wearing colourful dresses and legwear

We were a bit taken aback by all the flags with swastikas adorning the boats on the island and vehicles near the Carti pier the day before. But we found out that this was the flag of the Kuna Yala community that lives along the San Blas islands. It wasn't the first time we've seen non-Nazi swastikas in our travels, as our trip through India revealed their religious significance in that culture.


Island hopping by beautiful dugout canoe


The colourful material that the dresses are made from are called mola and are popular to tourists as well


Neda taking a stroll around our island. This is her third time around in the last 5 minutes...

We feel a bit abandoned on that tiny island, as we thought we were going to spend a night on the ship. We had to pay for our hut and we weren't able to sleep in the bed provided because Neda was allergic to all the sand fleas, so we opted to sleep in a double-hammock instead.
Not a comfortable sleeping arrangement for the entire night. It was the only mis-step in our entire Stahlratte experience.


Little Kuna girl with her puppy

The next morning, a dinghy picked us up and we sailed off on the Stahlratte in search of a more deserted island to lounge around in the sun and the warm waters of the Caribbean. This truly was a vacation from our regular trip, bikes bundled against the salt water spray for the duration and us frolicking and relaxing on the boat.


Beautiful breakfast spread on the Stahlratte, surrounded by crazy Australian bikers


Bikes are all wrapped up to protect against the corrosive sea spray - still going to hit a carwash after though!

We're sharing our boat with a mostly German crew, a bunch of wacky Australian bikers, and an assortment of European backpackers and bicyclists. Quite the international bunch! Ludwig was the perfect host, having adopted a very island attitude towards everything in his 8 years in the Caribbean. Everything he said was prefaced with: "No problem", "Don't worry". It was truly a stress-free experience.


In the afternoon, we find a nice isolated island to anchor next to. BBQ is being prepared for the evening!


The deserted islands here could have been templates for all those comic strips


Stahlratte anchored off the shore of our playground island


After a BBQ dinner on the island, a bonfire!


Feeling very Castaway at this point. Forgot my Wilson volleyball...


Chillin'


The next day, more watersports! Neda goes snorkeling


Beautiful starfish - the Germans on board called this a SeaStar.

After doing some snorkeling, Neda and I swim over to our own deserted island to explore a bit. It feels so wild, wide and open out here, we thought maybe we'd put up a bungalow on this island, get a dugout canoe to go grocery shopping at the Kuna Yala's next door...


Honey Ryder, GS Ryder?


"I think we'll put the swimming pool over here..."


Neda's shellphone seems to be getting excellent reception


Whiling the day away on our private deserted island - so cool!

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/wDEFXip8zno" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
On the Stahlratte, they don't make you walk the plank. Instead...


Climbing 20 metres above the deck to reach the crow's nest - picture by Remo Hug


Social time before our voyage

In the middle of the night, we heard the engines turn on and we prepared ourselves for the 30-hour journey to Cartagena. I was a bit worried about getting seasick, since my last experience on the ferry between La Paz and mainland Mexico ended very badly. So while we were in Panama, we stocked up on 100 Gravol pills and made sure we started our tablet diet before we boarded the ship.

We ended up both feeling ill anyway, this time it was Neda's turn to feed the fishes overboard while I ended up keeping my lunch where it belonged. The crew was very good in predicting what we needed, as the large breakfast we had the day before was replaced with a basket of bread and crackers on the kitchen table.

The rest of the passengers emerged from the hold, faces green and all talk on the deck was kept to a minimum: "Pass the crackers please", "I have to puke again, excuse me, pardon me..."


Beautiful sunsets from the deck of the Stahlratte

I think the point of having a rest day in San Blas was to get to know everyone socially before we all clammed up the next day due to sea-sickness. Ludwig told us that most people take 24-48 hours to get their sea-legs, which didn't help as our journey was only 30 hours long anyway.

Needless to say, not a lot of pictures from our actual voyage!
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