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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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  #166  
Old 21 Jul 2013
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Updated from May 16 2013: Last days in Cuba



After almost a month on the island, our time in Cuba was coming to an end. From Vinales, we doubled back on the main Autopista past Havana towards Playa Giron on the south coast. There were some nice beaches that were a lot cheaper than the resorts at Varadero and Cayo Coco, but we were really here to see the Bahia de Cochinos - The Bay of Pigs.


Bikes take a break

We rode through the swamplands of Zapata, the largest wetlands in the world and home to crocodiles, lilypads and marshes. There, we found an all-inclusive resort (first one of this trip) right on the beaches of Playa Giron, and immediately gorged ourselves sick on several rounds of complimentary cocktails that were more sugar than alcohol.

The resorts was filled with locals and backpackers, and after we left the bikes parked outside our cabin, we were relatively unmolested and enjoyed sunsets and mojitos at the rustic, 2-star budget resort.


Poolside at Playa Giron


The infamous Bay of Pigs, a lot more peaceful than it was in 1961!

Just outside the resort is the Bay of Pigs museum, which housed military vehicles from the period of the invasion as well as a photographic history of the ill-fated attempt of US-backed Cuban exiles to wrest control away from Fidel Castro after La Revolucion.


Outside the Bay of Pigs museum

The failed Bay of Pigs invasion was important for a number of reasons. Successfully resisting the US-backed attack made Castro a folk hero to communist nations all over the world. It's also rumoured amongst conspiracy theorists that Kennedy's assassination was linked to his wavering support of the military operation, pulling critical air-support at the last minute and dooming the invasion to failure while costing lives on the ground. Fingers point to angry high-level US military officials orchestrating the enigmatic assassination.

It was very interesting walking through the exhibits of the museum and seeing the invasion from Cuba's point of view: the deification of Castro's military expertise and the bumbling incompetence of the "insolent Yankee invaders". To see history retold from two different sides really gave perspective into how our beliefs and attitudes are so easily influenced and shaped by textbooks, museums and propaganda. At the end of the tour, even I wanted to shout out to world, "Viva La Revolucion!"


Musicians practice in Cienfuegos

After a couple of days at Playa Giron, we took a short two hour ride to Cienfuegos, the port town where we would meet up with the Stahlratte again to take us back to the mainland. A month in Cuba was more time than we needed, and the lack of Internet access made us feel very isolated from our friends and family that we normally kept in touch with via Skype and social networking.

Now we were on the opposite side of the dreaded "schedule" - trying to find ways to pass the time and dodging the hustlers at every street corner, while waiting for the ship to take us off this prison island! Honestly, we did feel a bit trapped, not able to leave when we wanted to, and I understood now the plight of many on the island, not having the resources to leave the country. Never did we look so forward to throwing up our lunches overboard!


"In every neighbourhood: Revolution!"

Over 50 years have passed since La Revolucion, and the politics of the country is still defined by it, using the resistance as both a solidarity cry and a means to control the population.


Canadians are the primary visitors to Cuba, and our flag is ceremoniously decorated all over the place

Most of the Canadian tourists are from Quebec, as French and Spanish are close enough to get by. Many of them spend much of their time and social security cheques in Cuba. We saw lots of older Canadian men in the company of young Cuban JineterAs (female hustlers), exchanging their companionship for gifts, meals in tourist restaurants and accommodations in resorts and hotels. In Cuba, Canadians have a bad reputation for being sex predators, targeting child prostitutes. Very sad.


"What kind of bikes? How many ccs? How much? How fast?"
Cienfuegos means "100 Questions" en espanol...


The buildings and culture in Cienfuegos are supposed to have a very French flavour to it - residents from Louisiana and Haiti immigrated to this part of the island at the turn of the century to become rich sugar barons. Not knowing anything about French architecture, I just took a few pictures and said, "Oui, oui!" to the French Canadian tourists milling around the area. And tried to keep small children away from them as well...


Main plaza in Cienfuegos


YuTong tour bus bought from fellow comrades in China


Who let these dogs out?!?


Cobblestone streets of Trinidad

We arrived a few days before the Stahlratte was scheduled to leave, so we had some time to explore the area. The main attraction in this region is the town of Trinidad, about an hour away. We rode along the road hugging the south shore, not doing a very good job dodging the tiny crabs that were sunning themselves on the hot asphalt. The air was pungent with smushed crab from all the vehicles going back and forth, which made me a bit hungry.


Trindad was just meh. This is my meh face.

Trinidad is a tourist trap. It's supposed to be a well-preserved slice of Spanish colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. In reality, it's a bunch of restaurants and souvenir shops with tons of foreign tourists that invade the town in long Chinese luxury tour buses from Cienfuegos. The buildings were nice-looking though...

I dunno. I think we're just getting Cuba'd out at this point.


Riding through the cobblestone streets of Trinidad


Neda picks up some fresh fruit on the ride back from Trinidad


We got our hair cut at the local hairdresser. Our final souvenir of our time in Cuba

In retrospect Cuba was both fascinating and frustrating. It was definitely the most different place, politically, that I've visited, and the whole communist brain-washing, police-state, inform-on-your-neighbour, control-the-news-and-Internet thing was something I loved to see in person. Neda lived through it, so I don't think it was that interesting to her. We learned a lot more about the pivotal role Cuba played in the history of world and its status as a pawn between the superpowers, and got to experience this education from their point of view. We visited Miami years ago, and Cuba gave us new insight into the Cuban-American community there - something we were embarrassingly ignorant of.

Having spent almost a month on the island (more time than we needed), I'm not sure if we'd ever go back again. I don't feel like we travelled through the country as complete outsiders and I do find myself deeply interested in anything Cuban that pops up in the news, now that we can actually read the news again.

Next up: Escape from Cuba!
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  #167  
Old 8 Aug 2013
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We were in such a rush to leave the country that we left our boots in Cuba.

Somewhere in the haste of packing on our last day, we rode to the marina in Cienfuegos (just a short ride from our casa) in our hiking shoes and didn't realize until much later that we had left our riding boots behind. A very aggravating and probably costly oversight!


Watching the bikes get loaded onto the Stahlratte for the journey back to the mainland

While we've been motoring across Cuba for the last month or so, the Stahlratte has been lazily sailing from the east side of the island to eventually pick us up here. From hereon, it's a 4-day journey with its sails unfurled to Isla Mujeres, a small island just off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. Yes, Mexico! We're headed back to our favorite country on this trip!


Before leaving Cuba, Neda makes friends with a drug-sniffing cocker spaniel

The journey by sea is uneventful. If you call being green in the face for the first 48 hours uneventful. Thankfully, I didn't throw up on this leg of the sailing, something Neda can't boast about! HA HA! But in the last couple of months, after spending a total of 15 days on the open waters sailing from Panama -> Colombia -> Jamaica -> Cuba -> Mexico, I've decided that being out at sea is a very unnatural act for me. Previously, Neda and I discussed shipping our motorcycles by container across the Atlantic and spending half a month with the crew on the ship. We thought it would be a very romantic way to travel across the ocean. Now, I'm not too sure that would be a very enjoyable option...


Watching dolphins swim alongside the Stahlratte

Despite the seasickness, our time on the Stahlratte is always relaxing and the journey to Mexico was no different. Neda did some reading on the deck, I'd be strumming on a guitar somewhere, we were eating lots of great food and all the passengers on the ship traded stories about their time in Cuba. It always amazes me how different peoples experiences are, despite us all having pretty much the same itinerary. Things that fascinated us, annoyed others and vice versa.


Watching storms in the distance. The closeup is of lightning hitting the water. So cool seeing that!


If I did this, I'd be cleaning upchuck off my Kindle...

Four days later, the skyline of Cancun greeted us with such a change from the decaying buildings of Cuba. It was like returning to civilization again! We spent quite a bit of time scrambling around the ship looking for our boots before realizing we had left them behind. This made us very late for the ferry from Isla Mujeres to Cancun, so there was a last-minute mad dash to make it back to the mainland. Seems like our travels are a series of Hurry-Up-And-Waits (and then Hurry-Up again)...


Leaving the dock at Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Sans boots...


*phew* made it onto the ferry. Last on the boat!


Pirates?

In a scene straight out of an action movie, a couple of crew members from the Stahlratte (you can see it in the distance) fly towards our ferry in their dinghy. It seems they forgot to give us some travel documents for Mexico and had to do a daring sea-to-sea exchange to get the documents to us. LOL!


Happily tooling around Mexico

Cancun was glorious! Mexico is awesome! We had to spend the first couple of days getting all of our import papers in order, TVIP, etc. All very familiar procedures. Everyone here is friendly and helpful and not after our money. Everything is familiar again, from the OXOs (convenience stores), Chedrauis (grocery stores) to the Pemexs (gas stations). We know how much everything should cost and where to go to get stuff. When we walk into a store, there is so much selection and variety, in stark contrast to the single brands the government of Cuba allows in the stores. Being in Mexico felt like being able to breathe again! Figuratively, of course... since there are no air pollution laws here...


One of the things we replaced was our Point-And-Shoot camera. Here it is in action.

We took some time to stock up on supplies and replace a few things that we broke or lost in our time in the Caribbean. I couldn't find the old waterproof Nikon camera that we drowned in Jamaica (waterproof, go figure...), so I bought a Fuji FinePix XP150. Ironically, we didn't take one picture of Cancun, despite being there for 3 days. We visited the local BMW dealership trying to find a replacement for my All-Round Boots, which I loved, but damn my dainty, elven feet, they didn't have my size in stock...

I did see the new R1200GS Liquid-Cooled version, and I liked what I saw. It's wonderfully ugly, just like mine! I want one!


Riding through Chiapas, Mexico

When we first booked our Cuba detour, the plan was to return to Central America and tour through it again unrushed, seeing how we had to scramble to meet the Stahlratte the first time. Unfortunately, right now there was a bit of a time-table to leave Mexico, as our Central America visa was nearing expiration and if we didn't re-enter Guatemala before the end of the week, the expired 90-day visa meant that we could not re-enter any of the CA4 (Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras) countries for another 90 days.


Just outside of Palenque, Chiapas

It felt good to be in Trek-Mode again. Unfortunately we were riding in our hiking shoes, which made us feel very exposed. We really have to get proper riding boots before we attempt any gnarlier terrain. Our destination is Guatemala, to the very spot where we left off before our mad dash to meet the Stahlratte. Our route took us through the same places we travelled initially, we rode the same roads (shortest route) and stayed in the same places, eating in the same restaurants we had visited the first time through. It's very time-consuming finding restaurants and hotels, and frequenting the same places saved a lot of time and headaches. And stomach-aches as well...

Felt redundant taking pictures of the same places we had visited. But I did manage to try out the new camera en route. I'm not that happy with it. I like my old Nikon better.


The automatic light sensor on the Fuji is not very intuitive and takes some getting used to to get the best contrast. Most of the riding pictures turned out too dark to use.

While taking a break at a Pemex, I was approached by one of the gasoline tanker drivers who was delivering petrol to the station. He seemed curious about our motorcycles and started asking me questions. I had flashbacks of Cuba and initially viewed him with suspicion. What did he really want? Then he flipped out his cell phone and started thumbing through it, showing me pictures of his own Suzuki sportbike he had at home. We then had a great conversation about sport vs touring bikes and he was curious about how the BMW bikes handled.

But it struck me how scarred I was from our time in Cuba and how it's so difficult relating to others when there's little socio-economic common ground. When I look back at all the places we've bookmarked as potential places to live, like La Paz in the Baja Peninsula, I realize that they're all very middle-class cities where the residents were less concerned about putting food on the table and spent their time pursuing more self-actualized pursuits like music, dance and the arts. And motorcycling for pleasure travel...


Waiting for Neda to do her thing at the Mexico/Guatemla border


Dodging chicken buses in the hills of Guatemala


Weaving through the Tuk Tuks on the rainy roads of Guatemala

Our primary adversary on this trip has been the weather. First, outrunning the bitter Arctic winter as it chased us from Alaska all the way to the Mexican border, and now we are riding straight into the infamous rainy season in Central America. We encountered a few washed out roads and landslides. I know how badly our bikes do with all the weight of our luggage up high and running street-tires, and I'm a bit worried about how we'll manage.


Slip, slidin' away
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  #168  
Old 8 Aug 2013
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Well I can't comment on the comparison between the new and old cameras but I'm glad you've got one, are taking photo's and allowing us to see places I dream about!
Its funny with new gadgets - I get attached to the old ones - they're comfortable,friendly,easy and have character. Then this new interloper comes in and its a learning curve, a bother, another thing to do but then over time they become the best friend! ( well I hope they do!).
Love your reports - Thanks spending all the time and hassle of doing them.
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  #169  
Old 9 Aug 2013
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Wow, one of the best Ride Reports i have ever read !! I have read from the beginning to the end over the last few days (while trying to work) and the reports are fantastic and the photos even better so keep up the great work and thank you for sharing such an incredible trip.

Thanks

Steve
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  #170  
Old 12 Aug 2013
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/100.html



We re-entered Guatemala through the Mexican state of Chiapas, and followed the Pan American highway to Quetzeltenango (Xela), where we had taken Spanish lessons just three months ago. It had rained off and on ever since crossing the border, but as we rolled into town, the skies opened up and we were forced to navigate the slick narrow cobblestone streets of historic Xela, trying to find suitable shelter for the night. After knocking on a couple of doors, we booked into a hostel that was incredibly cheap and not entirely rundown to wait out the storm till the next morning.

It felt kind of nice being in a familiar town, but we were eager to see something new. After crossing the border, all of our schedules and time-tables fell by the way-side and it felt very good being able to dawdle again. I often look at the route we've taken around the Americas and it looks like the path of a drunken sailor - lots of loops, meanderings and detours... which is exactly what we were intending when we first set out!


Dodging tourists in the historic town of Antigua

As we were now in the central highlands of Guatemala, even summer temperatures can dip into the low teens overnight, and this coupled with the rain made for some cold temperatures. Because we were without our waterproof riding boots, for the next morning's ride I wrapped plastic bags over my socked feet and then wore my hiking shoes over this. And as everybody knows, the more prepared you are for wet weather, the drier the ride it will be. It was only a couple of hours riding eastwards, but I felt very dorkey having those white plastic bag sockies peek over the tops of my shoes...


Cobblestone streets and painted buildings

Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala before earthquakes decimated most of the city in late 1700s. It's a beautiful city that's managed to preserve a lot of the Spanish colonial architecture, and there is a high concentration of ex-pats that have made this place their home. We've been feeling burnt out from travel for a couple of months now, and now that we don't have anything scheduled ahead of us, we've decided to settle down in this quaint town for a little bit of time to recharge our batteries, and also to do some exploring.


Our first B&B in Antigua was home to cats! Because I was allergic, I had to use my zoom lens for this shot!

We wanted to find an apartment or residence for a few weeks, but didn't want to rush into anything so we booked into a B&B and scoured the city for more permanent accommodations. It only took us a couple of days to find an apartment right in the heart of the city. Short-term rentals are very easy to find in Antigua as there are a lot of tourists that visit and vacation in this scenic town.


Arch of Santa Catalina - Antigua's most famous architectural landmark


Antigua is surrounded by three large volcanoes - one of which is currently active!


We found a place! This is our driveway.


Courtyard parking - we shared it with a KTM from California, but never met the rider!


Feels so good to have a kitchen and fridge again!


World-famous delicious NedaBurgers!

It is so amazing having a home-base to dump all our stuff in and just relax without having to worry about foraging for food and shelter. Stocking up the fridge means not having to grocery shop everyday, and with a hot stove, spices and cookware, we're able to make meals that were not possible while we were on the road. Being nomadic is a great lifestyle for us, but we still need some kind of sedentary life to balance the intensity of all the new things we're seeing and experiencing.


Indigenous women selling their wares are a familiar site


The ruins of the El Carmen church are right across the street from our apartment.
Tourists flock to the little market that springs to life in front of it every weekend



Homemade handbags for sale. I had to pull Neda away...


Arch of Santa Catalina at night

My idea of relaxing is to hibernate like a bear, and I stayed inside the apartment for the first week, not even venturing out once. Neda explored the town and showed me pictures she took of what life was like outside the cave. Her idea of relaxation was to book herself for a month of Spanish lessons. I believe at this point she is actually teaching Spanish, not learning it...

After the wi-fi Internet got installed in our apartment, that sealed the deal. I was not leaving this place. Ever.

I gorged myself on downloaded TV shows and motorcycle races, and wondered when they kicked out all the non-Spanish riders out of MotoGP...?


We relaxed. The bikes relaxed. It was very relaxing for the whole RideDOT.com family...


Arch de Santa Catalina after a rainfall

The Central America rainy season is fascinating to experience first-hand. Here in Antigua, it rains every single afternoon like clockwork. Everyone in town wakes up early and gets their errands done and by 2PM, they've scurried themselves indoors somewhere to wait out the afternoon storm. Sometime around 6-7PM, the rains stops and the street life resumes once again until the overnight rains return. I've never seen such regular weather patterns before in my life. Especially coming from Canada where the weather predictions are as unreliable as a KTM motorcycle.


Neda tinkers away on her bike


Felt great to catch up with family and friends after being disconnected for a month in Cuba


Antigua is full of wonderful architecture and scenic volcanoes everywhere you look!


Volcane de Agua (Water Volcano) just outside our apartment
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  #171  
Old 20 Aug 2013
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Updated from Jun 14 2013: Guatemalan Socialites



First things first: We're celebrating ONE YEAR ON THE ROAD!!!


Nothing says Party-Time like coconut cream cake. Mmmm...!

I think the cliched thing to say is that "It's hard to believe we've been traveling for a whole year", but it's not that hard to believe at all. We've seen and experienced so many different things in the last 12 months that it's quite the opposite - it's hard to imagine that it all fit in a year! Especially compared to our lives before, where larger-than-life adventures had to be shoehorned into 2-3 week boxes between the crates of sedentary working existence.

Marking the passage of time while outrunning the changing seasons also contributed to this very concrete feeling of time being a rushing wave that we were constantly trying to ride on top of or ahead of. I imagine if we were just traveling through somewhere tropical, our temporal senses may have been more subdued.


Ride all day, drink all night

Central America is a funnel. While travelers roam across the north or south continents, they may occasionally bump into each other at nexuses like motorcycle meets. But when the land narrows like an hourglass to the thinnest point in Panama, right in the centre, these traveling grains of sand start bumping into each other as they line up single file to hoist their bikes onto sailboats or pack them into cargo containers to fly between one side of the hourglass to the other.

We've been keeping in contact with other travelers online and while we were in Antigua, we met up again with Andi and Ellen, the Two Moto Kiwis from New Zealand. We originally met at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in California last October. We also spent the evening with Phil and Jayne, from The Ultimate Ride, the brother and sister motorcycle duo whose goal is to play Ultimate Frisbee everywhere they travel. We ran into them briefly last December in La Paz, Mexico at the ferry docks crossing to the mainland. Also with us that evening was Julio, AKA GauteRider, an Austrian ex-pat who now lives just outside of Antigua and plays host to pretty much all the motorcycle traveling grains of sand that trickle by his front yard.

Having dinner with Andi, Ellen, Phil and Jayne was a riot of a time, comparing stories of our adventures. We all started about the same time last year, taking very similar treks from north to south and while other riders race towards the Antarctic for December 2013, we joked that our three teams were in a much different competition against each other: To see who could ride the slowest down to South America! Poor Andi and Ellen have been besieged with breakdowns and injuries and Andi was actually laid up in Antigua mending a broken rib. As for Phil and Jayne, they meander and dawdle worse than we do! All of them accused us of cheating because we had actually made it to South America, but then took a detour through the Caribbean to end up back in CA again! I guess you don't technically lead a slow race if you lap someone...!


Ellen and Andi on the right teaching a local restaurant owner how to make sushi


Ellen's sushi is famous amongst motorcycle travelers, she makes it everywhere they stop for hosts and friends

While Phil and Jayne didn't stay too long in Antigua, Andi and Ellen are spending a month here so we hung out quite a bit, getting to know them. They are a very friendly and genuine couple, and it was really nice to be able to celebrate and commiserate with folks going through the exact same things we were going through.


Two Moto Canucks!

Other than trying to reach certain destinations, we've been without a true quest our entire trip. But Andi gave one to us. Fetch his motorcycle from Guatemala City, where he left it after his crash last month. He couldn't ride it back himself because of his broken ribs. GC is only 45 minutes away, and we needed to get Neda's bike serviced anyway, so with a little help from Julio, we managed to do all this in a single trip.

Andi and Ellen have got a beautiful KTM 950SE that they've nicknamed Maya. I make fun of KTMs all the time, but I used to have a KTM dirtbike and Neda and I spent many weekends on the trails around Ontario, roosting each other and crashing into trees. Thankfully the road between GC and Guatemala is very twisty and I got a chance to test out the 950SE. It's comparable to the F800GS, similar weight and power but the SE sounds a heck of a lot nicer and felt more flickable than the Beemer. It's very much a hooligan bike, I liked it a lot!


Que es el problema, Maya? No se...

I know from personal experience that KTMs are very finicky and maintenance-intensive. So it wasn't too much of a surprise when riding back from GC, Maya's rear brake seized, forcing us to pull over in heavy traffic. We couldn't pull over safely for quite a distance and when we finally stopped, the rear pads were smoking more than Neda did in Cuba.

I txted Andi to ask him if this was normal. There was a bit of confusion over the phone. Apparently, New Zealand English and Canadian English are not the same, so I pulled out my Google Translate and sent him a Canuck-to-Kiwi translation:

Quote:
Croikey dick, the rear brake's done near knackered! I give the old gal a bit of a kick and whadayaknow, Bob's yer uncle and everything's a box of budgies! I'm feeling pretty chuffed and Neda piped up with an ole, "Good on ya, mate!" so hooray to Guatemala City! We spent a few moments dodging lorries on the roadway, had to tella few to "NAFF OFF" but we got to Antigua all home'n hosed and just in time for tea! Phew, I could really go for a vegemite sarnie, right about now!
To my surprise, Andi understood that perfectly!


Wheeling in Maya into Andi and Ellen's hostel


We had Andi, Ellen, Julio and his wife Luisa over for dinner where Neda cooked up some yummy Croatian dishes.

Something happens when you stay a while in one place: you start growing roots. Our social calendar was getting booked up with people that we met, dinner with a Japanese couple, Miwa and Kohei, who opened up a B&B in Antigua, and hanging out with Andi & Ellen and Julio & Luisa, who hosted quite a few get-togethers in their beautiful home just outside of town.


Julio use to be a chef and cooked up some amazing plantain flambe


Luisa is an amazing hostess and quite the avid gardener


Chilling at Julio & Luisa's
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Old 28 Aug 2013
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Updated from Jun 30 2013: Vacation-time!



Living on the road for an extended period brings up a unique set of issues, mainly around the issue of residency and citizenship. By now we've figured out the monthly duties like paying credit card bills, but annual chores like filing taxes and renewing licenses and passports present new challenges as we've got to figure out how to do all this while being out of Canada.


Maya and I made a friend outside the Canadian Embassy

Neda's passport was due to expire, so when we picked up Andi's bike In Guatemala City, we also paid a visit to the Canadian Embassy to renew her documents. During our time in Antigua, we would regularly travel back and forth on the scenic and twisty road to the capital city. And all of this before 2PM, as we try to complete all our errands before the daily afternoon tropical rain showers.


Well traveled (and divided) road between Antigua and Guatemala City! W00T!

We've been feeling burnt out from our travels for quite some time now. The month-long Internet-isolation in Cuba exacerbated our weariness and half-way through our stay in Antigua, we decided to take a short vacation from our travels to visit family and friends back in Toronto. Our spur-of-the-moment decision complicates things a bit - Neda's passport is in transit somewhere between Ottawa and Guatemala, so we've got to wait for it to be processed before we can empty our Air Miles piggybank for the flight back.

To add to it, our month-long rental came to a close and we are once again semi-nomadic.


Breakfast at our temporary B&B accommodations

Guatemala belongs to the CA4 (Central America-4) Border Control Agreement, a recent act which allows free travel for visitors between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica on the same Tourist Permit without having to apply or renew at each border. This added a bit of a complication because we wanted to visit Toronto right near the expiry period of our current permit. Which meant we had to renew our CA4 permit *AND* our vehicle permit before we left Guatemala. Otherwise our expired permit prohibited us from entering the CA-4 zone for 90 days.

However Neda's passport still had not arrived from Ottawa...

Every step required time - 21 days for the passport, 4 days for the tourist permit renewal, and a separate trip for the vehicle permit. And we had already booked our plane tickets! Uh oh. Because of our lack of planning, if everything went according to the official timeline, we would not get our tourist and vehicle permits renewed until after our flight departure date, which meant delaying our plane ticket ($$$), or we could bypass the the 4-day Tourist Permit processing by riding to the Guatemala/Mexico border, getting a Mexican TVIP again (more $$$), spending a night at the border, canceling the TVIP and then re-entering Guatemala.

My head hurt thinking about the logistics of that one. So in the meantime, we went for a ride with Julio, Luisa and Andi. No passport or tourist permits required for this!


Andi and Maya on the left, Julio and Luisa on the right


Group ride through some of the small towns around Antigua


Morning fog hugging the hills, lush scenery all around us

The early morning weather felt a bit cold and iffy, but we decided to chance it and braved the damp roads and ominous clouds overhead. We were still without riding boots, which made me a bit nervous! Julio took us through some very scenic routes through the hills surrounding Antigua, capped off with an brunch with a great view of the volcanoes and rolling hills around the area. We scurried back home to escape the looming afternoon rains.


Brunch and a view


Trying to beat the rain home


Twisty mountain roads on the way back

Things fell into place for us in the end. Ottawa sent Neda's passport back earlier and we had plenty of time to make another trip to GC to extend our tourist visas and vehicle permits. We were allowed in the CA-4 zone till November! Wow! When we asked Julio for some storage facilities in the area, he graciously offered his own garage for the time we were away. We are constantly blown away by the kindness of people we are meeting along the way.


Julio and Luisa took us out for our farewell dinner in Antigua. So nice!

And we're off on summer vacation!
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  #173  
Old 30 Aug 2013
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Here's something a bit different.

Neda had taken a whole bunch of videos on her iPhone, and I wanted to learn how to do some video-editing, so here's a trailer for our next couple of blog posts.

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  #174  
Old 2 Sep 2013
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Update from Jul 10 2013: Tourists in Toronto



We are thoroughly enjoying summer in Toronto, catching up with family and friends, lots of eating, laughing, eating, being wide-eyed tourists, fighting traffic and eating. Over meals, we recounted our travels to our friends, and by far, the most common question they asked us was, "What has been the best part of your trip?"

Before we answer that, let's start from the beginning.


30-40 foot high geyser of drainage water spews above the Don Valley Parkway

We left rainy Guatemala hoping to catch the sunny season in Toronto. However, not a week after we arrived, we found ourselves stuck in the car on the highway during the worst rainstorm the city has ever seen. We normally get 75mm of rain the entire *MONTH* of July, but during a *TWO-HOUR* period, 123mm of rain fell down around us! Cars were stranded on the highway as water levels rose past their windows, city streets were flooded as people waded out of submerged subways and underwater parking garages. Power went out for hours throughout most of the city and as we watched the news from a safe place uptown, suddenly Guatemala didn't seem that wet and gloomy anymore...


Our ride for the summer in Toronto - picture by Neda's dad, Vjeko

Thankfully the rains only lasted a week and we were able to get some riding done.

We have amazing friends! So many of them have been so generous, offering us motorcycles, cars, accommodations and taking us out for dinners and cooking us meals. We're thankful to my parents who let us crash in their basement for a few days while we looked for a place to stay for the summer. Our friends Dave and Dee basically gave us a V-Strom as well as their car while they were away on vacation. Our other friends Jeff and Ed also lent us their cars for the weekend and I can't count the number of two-wheeled offers we got! If you're reading this, thank you all so much!!!


Big Shitty traffic

So what's it like coming back to Toronto after a year on the road?

It's like we never left. When my parents picked us up from the airport, we hit a traffic jam on the highway and it was such a familiar feeling, like we had just left a week ago. They say when you've been gone for a long time, everything looks and feels different, you even feel different in your old environment. I don't think we were gone long enough, though. We'll have to work on that...

I think the biggest change is how bad traffic has become. Toronto is now the 4th largest city in North America and has the congestion to match. I used to be able to judge exactly how long it would take me to get from any point in the city to another at any time of the day, arriving within 2-3 minutes of my appointment. Now I'm either 15 minutes late, or 30 minutes early - the traffic patterns have changed drastically in the last year.


Our condo was so high up, we could see outer space from our window!

While I was looking through the pictures Neda had taken on the contact sheet, this one looked like the earth from outer space. It's actually the sunset over the skyline taken from our condo. The shutter button on iPhone is on the right, but since she's a lefty all her pictures are displayed upside-down! So I warped the edges of the skyline a bit and got this cool spacey-looking shot.

We're on the 48th-floor of a condominium right downtown overlooking the western part of the city. Having never lived in the heart of the city before, it was great walking everywhere and being tourists in our old hometown.


Neda blames this injury on her being a lefty

We got our first serious casualty since the start of the trip. Neda had a major altercation with a can opener and sliced her finger very deeply. She blames the fact that the can opener was made for righties and not southpaws... uh huh... We had to take her to the hospital where they put 6 stitches in to close the wound. Unfortunately, there is a risk of tendon damage, and since it's her clutch hand, she's off motorcycles for the duration of our time in Toronto.

A friend commented, "You traveled around the world for a whole year on motorcycles and the only time you injure yourself is back home in the kitchen..."


Neda's Davy Jones impression

OMG, we really miss the food in Toronto! I think this city is the most cosmopolitan place in terms of food. While I enjoyed the Mexican and Central American cuisine, it's all so homogenous! And after months of rice, beans, tortillas and fried meats, we really craved soft-shell crab rolls, lamb vindaloo, curried goat, all washed down with some ice-cold Hobgoblin ale. We really miss all the varieties of food you can sample in Toronto, and I've got the extra 15 lbs around the midsection to prove it!


I competed in a Moto Gymkhana competition


Gymkhana is an ancient Japanese sport involving motorycles, swords and ninjas. Or in this case they are CBR250s...


I didn't do too well. But because this is Canada, everybody is a winner and gets a medal!


The Skydome is Toronto's baseball stadium. A few years ago Roger's Communications paid a lot of money to rename the building to, um... the Skydome...


Watched some local artists in action


The intersection of Yonge St and Dundas St is Toronto's mini Times Square


Cruisin' the streets of Toronto is a popular pastime for urban riders


In Toronto, green means go. In Toronto, red also means go... True story.


Fishing in Algonquin Park

Every weekend in the summer, tens of thousands (or at least it seems like) of Torontonians sit for hours in traffic on a Friday afternoon to engage in an activity called Cottaging, which I don't even believe is a real word. Then they'll sit for hours in traffic on Sunday afternoon to get back to the city. Minus the time spent sleeping, these urbanites will spend more time during the weekend Trafficking than Cottaging.


"We made it to Algonquin Park! Time to leave soon..."

So anyway... What *HAS* been the best part of our trip so far?

Reaching the Arctic Ocean in Alaska may have been the most rewarding achievement of our trip. Utah may have been the most scenic place we have visited. Mexico may have had the friendliest people in our travels. Crossing the Darien Gap by sailboat with our motorcycles may have been the most interesting part of our journey. But both Neda and I agree, the best part of our trip has been "Freedom" - the ability to go anywhere we wanted, staying as long or as short as we desired and not having any destination, plan or schedule to map out or stick to. *THAT* has been the most amazing feeling in the last 12 months!
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  #175  
Old 2 Sep 2013
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Thanks for sharing your adventure..........have you considered attending the HUBB meeting at Mckeller Sept 12th through to the 15th......we wantabees would enjoy hearing your story.....Susan and Grant would be happy to have you as presenters....
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
So anyway... What *HAS* been the best part of our trip so far?

Reaching the Arctic Ocean in Alaska may have been the most rewarding achievement of our trip. Utah may have been the most scenic place we have visited. Mexico may have had the friendliest people in our travels. Crossing the Darien Gap by sailboat with our motorcycles may have been the most interesting part of our journey. But both Neda and I agree, the best part of our trip has been "Freedom" - the ability to go anywhere we wanted, staying as long or as short as we desired and not having any destination, plan or schedule to map out or stick to. *THAT* has been the most amazing feeling in the last 12 months!
Brilliant!

So I don't see your names on the presenters list for the Hubb meeting . If you're still in town will you be attending?
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  #177  
Old 3 Sep 2013
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Unfortunately, we are leaving in a few days to continue our trip. We met so many cool folks at the HU meet in Cambria last fall, it would have been great to attend this month. Have fun!
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  #178  
Old 5 Sep 2013
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/105.html



We're hosting a couple from Belgium who contacted us through our blog! After traveling through Northern Europe by motorcycles, they're now backpacking through North America starting in Toronto. When they originally e-mailed us back in April, we were just getting ready to enter Cuba and had no plans to to be back in Toronto, so it was quite a coincidence that we were here at the same time.


The Belgians take a boat ride

We loved hosting Eva and Thomas in Toronto, it gave us the motivation to actually get out and see all the touristy places in Toronto that we wouldn't normally have visited. If it wasn't for them, we probably would have stayed in our apartment the entire summer! The Belgians are vegetarians and nature-lovers - cut from the same cloth as Neda! So I had to hide a packet of beef jerky under my bed for the week...


View of Toronto from Centre Island

It was great seeing Toronto from a tourists' pair of eyes. Eva and Thomas told us that the skyline looked very futuristic. I never thought about it, but I guess coming from the Old Continent, everything must look so shiny and new here. The CN Tower and Skydome do look kinda spacey, even though the tower was built 40 years ago! Nowadays, the view of the skyline from the waterfront is being quickly disfigured by a forest of high-rise condominiums which is a real shame.


Toronto's Flatiron building


Fake Canadian Geese hanging inside the Eaton Centre

While taking the Belgians around town, I realized that I really miss being an expert on something. In the entire year that we've been traveling, we were in Input-Only Mode, taking in sights, sounds and information, not having any prior background and not being able to express any opinions with any depth of knowledge. Now we were entirely in our element. Being around friends, we talked with conviction about all things Toronto: our train-wreck of a mayor, the condofication of the city, real-estate bubbles, bubble tea, the proposed casino and island airport expansion, etc.

It felt good to be entrenched in the issues and politics of a place, instead of always merely passing through and scooping up an inch-full of surface knowledge, a snippet of sound-bites.


Eva sports the latest in Toronto baseball fashion apparel

One thing I am *NOT* knowledgeable about is baseball, so I had to be quick on my feet, both with the pocket Google and the MSUs (Making Shit Up). The Belgians peppered me with questions up in the nose-bleed seats of the Skydome, all the while we watched the Jays gets murdelized by the Oakland A's. When they go back home and explain baseball to other Belgians, I hope my name doesn't come up when they talk about foul-plays and fly-runs...

The Belgians told us that our baseball fans are very tame and well-behaved. They said in European sports, when the home team loses, there is always a chance of a riot! I told them that when our home team(s) loses *ALL THE TIME*, you simply run out of energy...


Bautista is famous Toronto T-shirt designer


Sunset against the open Skydome


CN Tower looks like the warp trail of a rocket when lit up!


So cliched, but we took the Belgians to Nigara Falls. Maid of the Mist earns its name.


I forget how fascinating it is for someone who has never seen the Falls


The Canadian Horseshoe Falls flows 2.2 million liters of water *PER SECOND*!


Add this picture to our, Take-Our-Tourist-Friends-To-Niagara-Fall collection...


Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara


A case of mistaken identity for Eva's hairclip


After a long day, Thomas relaxes in our apartment. Great picture taken by Eva!


Toronto's version of Grand Central Station - Union Station

We had such an amazing time with Eva and Thomas! We recognized the same joy of travel in their eyes, and there was always lots to talk about between the four of us. They continued their journey to Western Canada by train and we wished them a fond farewell, and I really believe we will be seeing our new-found friends again soon. You can read all about Eva and Thomas' adventures on their blog, Life is a Journey!


Look and Point - Part 1 of 2


Look and Point - Part 2 of 2

The Canadian National Exhibition is a 3-week long fair held in Toronto and it traditionally marks the end of the summer. It also marks the end of our vacation in the city, and since we lived so close, I met up with some friends to take in the sights.


At the Ex, you take your life in your own hands with the dodgy rides and dodgier food

Actually, the real reason why I went to the Ex was to try the infamous Cronut: half-croissant, half-donut, with a burger in the middle. There was an incident the week before when the maple-bacon jam topping the Cronut caused over 100 people to contract severe food poisoning. So after hearing that, I *HAD* to try it! But sadly, the Cronut was taken off the menu for good after the incident.


These swings are iconic - they've been in every TV commercial for the Ex for decades!


"Carnival, the wheels fly and the colours spin through alcohol..."


Betting on a good time

Our friends have been such a joy to hang out with this summer. They surrounded us like a warm blanket on a cold winter morning, and it was much more difficult leaving them this time around than it was last year. But there's still so much to see out there so we're suiting up for the next exciting season of RideDOT.com!

Stay tuned!
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  #179  
Old 7 Sep 2013
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Great ride report! I`ve actually finished reading page 4 and can`t stop reading. The pictures and your writing is awesome. It gives the daily glimpse of Canada (and more) to me. Love this country!
Always keep safe riding!

Cheers
Joerg
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/106.html



"Are you sure you want to go back?", I asked Neda. "Yes. Are you sure?", she replied. "Yes. Really sure?", I asked again.

The answer was moot because at that moment United Airlines Flight 1502 was readying for a late night landing in Guatemala City. Water streaked past the airplane's window as I looked down at the city lights blinking through the fog and heavy clouds covering the capital city.

During the cab ride to Antigua, I experienced a bit of culture shock. All the Spanish I had very slowly built up over our trip had quickly dissolved in the past two months in Toronto. Neda appeared not to have skipped even a beat, conversing with the cab driver as fluently as if she had never left. I sank lower into my seat and watched more light rain collect on my window.


Back in Antigua again!

We had arranged a stay with Miwa and Kohei, the Japanese couple we met in Antigua before we left. The first day back, the rain poured and poured and we played e-mail tag with Julio, to arrange to pick up our motorcycles from his place. While he was away in Guatemala City, we decided to break out of our listlessness and book a guided hike up to the Volcan de Pacaya, a very active volcano just outside of town.


Pacaya behind us. Sometimes there is lava pouring out the side, but today it was just taking a smoke break

From the base of the volcano, it was a strenuous 770m, 2.5 hour uphill hike to the top. Strenuous for me because I was carrying all the excess vacation weight I had gained back in Toronto. Enterprising locals with horses followed the large tour group up the path to the volcano, hoping to sell a ride to the old, weak and tired. From the way they kept eyeing me, I apparently fit all three categories...

In my defense, since we didn't have our hiking gear and shoes yet (they were on the bike), I had to do all this in my jeans and motorcycle boots. Yes, we finally got new motorcycles boots while in Toronto. And Neda got new blisters hiking up in her new boots...


In the distance, the Fuego volcano near Antigua is having a bit of an eruption

Over the course of the next 2.5 hours, the horses were slowly occupied by other more weary hikers and I was forced to finish the climb by myself. The view from the top was amazing, but I felt better about reaching the top without assistance, even if it was by default, not by choice... Also, this is probably the first time we've gone sightseeing around Antigua, despite living in town for a whole month before our summer vacation! I'm hoping our two month vacation will continue to keep us recharged and that we can keep the Travel fatigue at bay by moving a bit slower, although at our current pace, that would have to be reverse gear...


Made it to the top. And no horses were involved!

Given my poor performance on the hike up to Pacaya, I've made a few resolutions for our trip. My resolution for this week is to eat more healthily and try to lose some weight.


"What's for dinner, Neda?" "A Guatemalan dish called Pepian!"

My resolution for next week is to eat more healthily and to try to lose some weight. Pepian is a chicken dish served with a chili sauce similar to Mexican mole but with added squash and sesame seeds. It was delicious!

Outside in the streets of Antigua, we saw stalls being set up while performers played indigenous instruments on a stage. All over town, people are practicing playing music and performing with batons and there are fireworks every night. The whole country is preparing for the Guatemalan Independence Day - September 15th. Can't wait to see that!


Performer bangs away on tortoise-shell drums

Mother Nature also decided to join the celebrations by throwing us a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that evening! I was lying in bed reading my Kindle (World War Z - terrific book!) when suddenly the mattress started to shake like it was made of jello. I immediately knew it was an earthquake, but I was so stupid not to get up and go somewhere safe, namely outside where there wasn't any roof or walls to crush me. The quake lasted 45 seconds and it felt like it was never going to stop. In nearby San Marcos, closer to the epicentre, dozens of people were injured in traffic accidents as they fled their homes.

Mental note: don't run out into traffic as I'm trying to escape an earthquake.

Seems we are magnets for natural disasters everywhere we go: Hurricanes in Alaska, earthquakes in California, torrential flooding in Toronto. We'll be posting our itinerary for the next little while so everyone can plan where *NOT* to go for their future vacations.


A joyful reunion!

The next evening, we dropped by Julio and Luisa's house to pick up our motorcycles. After getting everything packed on the motorcycles and all our gear on, we turned the key and... no lights. No ignition. Our batteries were completely dead.

Then it came back to me. Back in June, while storing the bikes away, I asked myself, "Should I disconnect the batteries? Pffft! That's FutureGene's problem".


FutureGene is pissed at how many screws it takes to get to the F650GS's battery!

We had to abandon the bikes again. The next day, we walked to El Gato, a local mechanic who recharged both our batteries. Seemed all the liquid had boiled off and had to be topped up with distilled water. Not good.


Not a good picture of El Gato, but he looks like a Guatemalan Charles Bronson. Only he smiles more.

So the batteries are charged, installed and the bikes turn over with a bit of an old man's cough. Julio points out that our rear tires have no tread left and are unsuited for Central America's rainy season roads.

I had a whole month in June to change them out, but again... FutureGene's problem.


The family is back together!

At least we have our bikes back. Despite the long prep time it's going to take before we can set off, I'm actually feeling a lot better than when I first did when we got here. This morning, I did a walkaround about our motorcycles and I was reminded of all the places that they've taken us. I'm looking forward to our travels.


"What's for dinner, Neda?" "Homemade mac and cheese!" *sigh* My resolution for next month is to...
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