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Old 09-08-2013, 09:15 PM   #1306
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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   #1307
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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   #1308
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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   #1309
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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   #1310
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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   #1311
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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

Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
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   #1312
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Originally Posted by Turkeycreek View Post
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!

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   #1313
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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   #1314
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Wonderful updates. The cave experience looks epic!
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Old 09-15-2013, 08:03 PM   #1315
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WOW....what fun you guys are having!!!
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Old 09-16-2013, 06:02 AM   #1316
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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   #1317
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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   #1318
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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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Old 09-17-2013, 09:39 AM   #1319
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"Awesome" doesn't even begin to describe your travels!
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Old 09-19-2013, 07:56 AM   #1320
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From Coban, we are going to be journeying westwards through the mountainous department of Quiche - not named after the food, it's pronounced Kee-Chay after the Mayan dialect Ki'Che' so popular in this region. And there's no quiche in this entry either...

No drybag and topcase means less weight on the back of the bike. Mac and Cheese and Huevos con Salsa means more weight in the middle of the bike...

Single-lane construction zone, uphill in the dirt, facing an oncoming bus too large to squeeze past...

...So we pull off into the shoulder and my bike is so wide I have to lean it to the right to give the bus 2 inches to pass *gahhh*

Half of the roads we are doing are unpaved, good chance to try out my new Heidenau rear

Neda threads her way through a road carved out of the mountainside

The Quiche department is dominated by the Sierra de los Cuchamatanes - the largest non-volcanic moutain-range in Central America

Making trax...

We are climbing up twisty roads towards Nebaj

The paved roads towards Nebaj are heavenly, first-gear switchbacks climbing high into the mountains. However, we are puzzled by two different kinds of logos painted on rocks, mountainsides and everywhere along the side of the road - blue "Todos" and red "Lider". We find out later that it's two political parties and there's either an election coming up or one has just passed.

Asking for directions to Acul - Neda trys out her Ki'Che'

Speaking of languages, I have a new Spanish teacher - Neda. We do lessons over the communicator while riding. Along with verb conjugation I am also learning how to swear at Chicken Buses en Espanol. In these roads up here in the mountains, it's best not to ride too close to the centre line while apexing, as oncoming cars and buses regularly cross the line.

Moo-ving right along...

The scenery here becomes very European-alpine-countryside

Pulling into our destination for the next couple of nights

Bungalows in the background - ours is the one in the middle

As per Julio's recommendation, we're relaxing in a great little cheese farm outside of Acul called Mil Amores (Spanish for a Thousand Loves). It's such a bucolic setting, very quiet save for the soft ka-tunkle of the bells tied around the cows and goats. A nice place to just kick back, relax and enjoy the surroundings, and the food is fresh from the farm - cheese and beans served during every meal. Did I mention we are both a little bit lactose intolerant? After every meal, our little bungalow rocks with the sounds of two-stroke motorcycles... *BRAAAAP*

I never thought Guatemala could look like this - everything is so lush from the Guatemalan winter rains

The region around Nebaj and Acul is like the Guatemalan version of the Alps. In fact, the farm was settled in the 1930s by a family of Italian artisan cheese makers who honed their craft in the Swiss alps, and searched the Americas for a similar place - high altitudes, eternal green grass. Looks like they found it.

Wine, and a little fuel for our two-strokes

Afternoon rains give our bikes a bit of a wash

We are timing our travels well during the rainy season

Warm and dry inside the kitchen with a Kindle, a candle and a hot cup of tea

Outside, the farm's dog guards our motos - his snoring is louder than our two-strokes

Neda contemplating Blue Angels

It was such a great relaxing couple of days and we're now ready to hit the road again!
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