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Old 09-08-2013, 05:52 PM   #1306
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"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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Old 09-08-2013, 06:06 PM   #1307
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Wishing Future Gene and Neda more great adventures more great reports
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Old 09-08-2013, 09:15 PM   #1308
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I'm so glad you are catching up with FutureGene. I can't wait to see where your adventure goes next. Thanks for all of the great stories and photos.
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Old 09-09-2013, 02:53 AM   #1309
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Yo Gene and Neda

Great to see that you are back in CA again and I'm sure you'll enjoy great riding ahead. Looking forward to your reports.
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Old 09-09-2013, 08:36 AM   #1310
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I am always interested in the effect that long journeys have on riders, so I'm finding your comments about FutureGene very interesting. Sounds like you were kind of burned out by the time you decamped to Canada. Sometimes it seems travel fatigue is more a function of time than of distance, so that a year on the road can result in the same amount of "worn out" regardless of the distance one has ridden. The person is still away from "home" and the things and people that they are most comfortable with. Add to that spending quite a long time in a place where you cannot freely converse with the locals. That has to wear you down after a while. Sounds like you and Neda have talked this over and concluded that maintaining or even slowing the pace is okay, rather than say just taking off and putting 1000 miles behind you fast to try and put a sense of "newness" and movement back into the trip. Best wishes, always! I'll look forward to your posts whenever they come and from wherever!
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Old 09-09-2013, 01:01 PM   #1311
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Gene, any idea how many photos you have posted and how many words you have written?

As for you Spanish abandoning you, don't feel bad. I have been in Mexico for 5 1/2 years and every morning i have to relearn to speak. Lately both English and Spanish.

Neda has the advantage of having learned a 2nd language. Doing so preps your brain for learning more languages. When you get Spanish down, you can learn Norwegian.
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Old 09-09-2013, 07:51 PM   #1312
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Fantastic thread. Really enjoy checking in, both the photos and the writing.
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Old 09-10-2013, 06:26 AM   #1313
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
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.
Great news being back, welcome to your world again!:

Ouwh and if you guys wonna catch up we are busy

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Seemed all the liquid had boiled off and had to be topped up with distilled water. Not good.
Your batteries will have lost their umph and a fair bit of it too Gene, you will only find this out the hard way in a hollow or cold place, might be worth proactively seeking a replacement.

There is a big Beema place in Medellin, don't know about pricing but you will be able to get what ever you want in Medellin.
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Old 09-10-2013, 08:47 AM   #1314
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Gene, any idea how many photos you have posted and how many words you have written?
You got me curious, so I found a program that would give me an accurate count instead of me just guesstimating: 85,464 words and SmugMug tells me I've got 1,711 pictures (not including videos and the map at the start of each entry). Wordy mo-fo!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Two Moto Kiwis View Post
Your batteries will have lost their umph and a fair bit of it too Gene, you will only find this out the hard way in a hollow or cold place, might be worth proactively seeking a replacement.
I agree with you, better safe than sorry. Right now I'm researching replacements, Shorai Lithium, Odyssey, hi-cap Yuasas and will probably buy the one model they sell at the one store in Guatemala City...
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Old 09-15-2013, 03:18 PM   #1315
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Ok, enough writing, let's do some riding.

We are leaving Antigua on a road trip! Leaving behind our tent, sleeping bags and half our clothing behind in the B&B, we are setting off for the Guatemalan highlands. Before the trip, I installed a new rear tire - I'm trying out a Heidenau K60 Scout, which is supposed to be better for dirt/gravel roads. They didn't have Neda's size in stock, so we ordered one from the US and we're going to install it next week when it arrives in the country. In the meantime, she's going to ride around the muddy rainy season on a half-bald tire because she's hardcore that way!


Leaving Antigua before sunrise... *yawn*

We are awake at 5AM to try to beat both the rush hour towards Guatemala City and also to try to get some riding done before the rains catch up to us in the afternoon. We fail on both counts. We depart in an unusual morning shower, and the 45km commute towards the capital city takes us over 2 hours! And this is even with splitting lanes and taking to the shoulder, while dodging trucks, chicken buses and other motorists.


Part of our journey takes us through Coban, where Neda's sleeping bag got stolen off her motorcycle a few months ago. Here she dives into a crowded market, hoping to find the thief that stole her sleeping bag...


Neda really liked riding through these tall cornfields


Fire burning at the side of the road in a small village

Past Coban, we are treated to beautiful twisty roads through the mountains of the Alta Verapaz department. The rain has let up a bit, but the light fog sometimes darken so we don our rainsuits just in case. And as all motorcyclists know, if you put your rainsuit on early, it will never rain. The warm humid temperature creates a mini-sauna inside our rainsuits and we are as wet inside with perspiration as if it rained anyway - the stench from weeks of built-up sweat on our riding suits is becoming unbearable...





Beautiful views of the valley below and layers of mountains in the distance


The gravelly road to Lanquin

We turn off from the blacktop of the main highway towards Lanquin. The road turns into a loose gravel path that leads down into the valley. The views are amazing, but the descent is unnervingly steep. Neda seems to be negotiating just fine with her old rear tire and my bike feels good as well - but I think it has more to do with the excess luggage I jettisoned in Antigua than the new rear tire.


Lush green valleys just a steep drop away


Lots of logging in the area, we had to squeeze past some logging trucks.

The road to Lanquin is too narrow at most points for two trucks to pass by each other, so either one has to wait or reverse to a wider spot to give each other space to pass. Squeezing past one with the steep drop on the right is very nerve-wracking! After about an hour of gravel, we reach the small town and book a dorm room at El Retiro, a nice camp/hostel by the river.


Neda is lounging around at El Retiro

The next morning we book a tour of Semuc Champey, which is the primary reason why tourists come to visit this area. It turned out to be quite a full days worth of sights and activities, visiting different sites around Lanquin.


Our guide took us to the head of the river where we inner-tubed down the rapids


Then we all lit candles and hiked into the pitch black darkness of an underwater cave


Guy behind me is checking to see if he has signal underground. Answer: "Nope"

This cave totally reminded me of the horror movie "The Descent". Our guide painted all our faces native-style with grease from the cave-walls. The hike becomes quite claustrophobic at times, the walls sometimes narrowing so you have to squeeze yourself through to the next cavern. The water in here comes from a subterranean spring and there are many elevation changes as we climb up to meet the source, battling through mini waterfalls and sometimes swimming through deep pools, trying to keep your candle above the water.


Candles were often extinguished by the hike/swim, so we took many stops to relight our candles from the ones that were still lit.


There is absolutely no other light besides our candles...


Hikers become swimmers, our candles are our most prized possession


A cave monster

At the end of the cave, we reach the mouth of the underwater spring. It's a powerful waterfall that flows back down and it's a dead-end so we hike/wade/swim with the current back to the entrance of the cave. We spent over an hour in the total darkness and it was such a wonderful caveman-like experience!


Grace... is not my middle name...

Outside, more water activities awaited us, inner-tubing and swinging out into the river. We were really impressed with how organized everything was. Our tour group was made up of many Israeli tourists and we made fast friends with them, joking around and getting to know them as we hiked to a scenic viewpoint high atop Semuc Champey. Apparently September is when all of Israel goes on vacation and Guatemala seems to be quite a popular destination. Most of the Israelis did not know each other prior to this trip. And every single one of them was on their honeymoon!


Semuc Champey is a series of stepped pools of turquoise waters


The Guatemalans boast that this is the "Eighth Wonder of the World”. You can see people swimming in the pools, to give you an idea of the scale.


Waterfalls of all sizes spill water from one step to another


Lizard watches us hike back down to the river


Happy tourists


Swimming in Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey means "The water hides beneath the earth" in Mayan. The steps that we are swimming in are actually part of a limestone bridge where the Cahabon river is running underneath us. A little bit of the river makes it above the limestone bridge and that's what forms the turquoise pools and mini waterfalls. The Semuc Champey "bridge" is about 300m long, and our guide takes us swimming the entire length of it, gliding down natural stone slides worn smooth by the running water. At the end of Semuc Champey, a huge waterfall falls off the limestone shelf to meet the Cahabon river underneath it.

So glad that we saw this, it's one of the highlights of our time in Guatemala!


Yael, one of our new friends gives us a gift to remember our experience

Apart from the wonderful scenery and amazing tour and activities around Semuc Champey, we are really glad to have met our Israeli friends. We spent a couple of days with them, sharing travel stories, and I learned a little bit of their culture and some Hebrew as well, so now I can butcher a brand new language! Such an enriching experience all around!

Tomorrow is September 15th, which is the Guatemalan Independence Day. So we say goodbye to our new friends, as we're heading back to Coban to see if we can catch some of the festivities!
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Old 09-15-2013, 07:33 PM   #1316
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Wonderful updates. The cave experience looks epic!
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Old 09-15-2013, 08:03 PM   #1317
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WOW....what fun you guys are having!!!
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Old 09-16-2013, 06:02 AM   #1318
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Saludos

Hi Neda and Gene.

I have been following your trip report and I hope they come for Argentina.
I would like to show them the best places of my country

Your photos are spectacular and the report learn and draw conclusions as my intention is to go to alaska next year

Cheers and good luck
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Old 09-16-2013, 12:01 PM   #1319
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"Grace... is not my middle name..."


Haha. Probably not mine either.

I regret not doing Semuc Champey when I spent a few days in Coban.
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Old 09-17-2013, 12:05 AM   #1320
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We are headed back to the town of Coban to see if we can catch some Independence Day celebrations!


Flag features the national bird, a Quetzal, holding a scroll with the date of independence from Spain

It's a funny thing trying to time motorcycle travel in the Central American rainy season. Because the rain falls in the early afternoon and overnight, you can't leave too early in the morning or the roads will still be wet. But you can't leave too late or you risk run into developing rain clouds.

So we're timing our departure from Lanquin late enough that the dirt roads will be dry from the morning sun, but we'll still have time to arrive in Coban before rains start up again.


Gene: "What happened?"
Neda: "Dunno. I just found it like this..."



Impromptu Guatemalan group ride!


These guys were all going into town to celebrate. Lots of honking and waving from every truck we passed!


The old and the new in Coban: Cathedral and a... um, flying saucer...


Preparing for the 2248 Winter Olympics

Every year, on September 14th - the day before Independence Day - a torch is lit in Antigua, the old capital city of Guatemala. Runners from all over Guatemala light their own torches from this one and begin running back to their home town, passing the torch to other runners who continue until they reach their destination by the 15th. It's a pretty cool Independence Day tradition and I'm glad we caught a glimpse of it!


I have a big sign on my photographic equipment that reads, "HamCam"...


Drummers dressed in the national colours


Locals checking out the festivities


Women's parade celebrating Independence Day


El Calvario church, popular tourist spot in Coban

130 steps above the city sits El Cavario church, where we caught a great view of Coban from up high. Most of the religious ceremonies in the city are performed here. Legend has it that a Mayan hunter saw two jaguars sleeping in this spot. He didn't kill them, but left them alone and when he returned the next day, he saw a vision of Christ at the same spot.


Church staff prepare for the fiesta with an old-fashioned smoke machine


Virgin Mary and child inside El Calvario


These girls were all dressed the same, they were getting ready to carry a parade float down all 130 steps to the city.


Devotion candles lit outside the church


Takin' a break...

The Guatemalans know how to carry on having a party. We only lasted a couple of hours walking around town listening to marching bands and watching dancers and seeing religious ceremonies being performed. When we got back to our hotel, the afternoon rains kicked in, but that didn't stop the party - music, cars honking and fireworks carried on until the late hours of the night. Awesome!
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