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Old 08-02-2011, 02:13 PM   #106
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Greetings

Hey Guys,
I'm still enjoying your adventures and glad you are staying safe. Just got back from a trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the air show. Long trip from Atlanta and back but worth the drive.
Eric
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Old 08-03-2011, 11:33 AM   #107
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Wow!!!

What an amazing journey so far!!! I'm glad I found the thread once again.

Subscribed!!!!!!!

Safe travels
John
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Old 08-04-2011, 03:29 PM   #108
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DougInKY - glad that you´ve enjoyed the journey so far, and that you got a kick out of our toilet adventures. Part of the fun of being a WASH engineer is that I get to talk shit for a living.

Poolman and Eagletalon - glad to have you along for the ride as well!

Eric - good to hear from you. I bet the OshKosh trip was worth it, I´ve only heard good things about that airshow. Hope you keep finding good excuses to get out and ride.
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Old 08-08-2011, 08:46 AM   #109
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gordojordo View Post
double holler from a fellow South American Peace Corps volunteer
Hey gordojordo! Thanks for the positive comments earlier. PM on it´s way to cover some important details, like how open to visitors you are... Hope you´re enjoying your assignment in Paraguay!

Mike & Jill
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Old 08-08-2011, 05:58 PM   #110
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Enjoying the ride

I just wanted to say that I'm enjoying the ride. Keep up the posts. One of the reasons that your ride is appealing to me is that I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Guatemala and also have an interest in development work. I'm enjoying the cultural commentary as well. Have a safe journey.

I'll be on the road next month making my way south. Maybe we'll cross paths.
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Old 08-12-2011, 03:14 PM   #111
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San Cristóbal de las Turistas

After our fantastic stay in Tuxtla, we headed on over to San Cristóbal de las Casas. The drive was enjoyable, as far as the road goes (sweeping mountain curves, not too much traffic), but downright scary as for the weather. Massive, dark greyness awaited us on top of the mountains above Tuxtla, with bright flashes of lightning that were luckily moving away from our direction of travel. Sadly, we weren´t able to capture the full effect, nor did we feel like stopping in the downpour, but here´s a glimpse.





after awhile the sky relaxed some for an enjoyable ride...


A noticeable change along the way was the shift to a much more indigenous feel in the area. People walking on the highway wore brightly colored traditional dress, all those working in the fields as well. The towns and ejidos seemed more consistently impoverished than many we had passed up to this point. And I have never seen corn fields as difficult to farm as some that were visible along this route - literally quarter-acre patches on a 45 deg slope up at the top of a mountain with nothing but cliffs below some of them.


(Note: this picture is actually from the road to Palenque, but only decent example of a surprisingly located farm field we had)

San Cristóbal has a very nice center of town. It also has a rougher side around the edges, where the majority of inhabitants live that we passed through when entering/leaving town, as well as while walking a couple of days. Right near the plaza, we started asking around for rooms. Many small hotels were willing to come down in price, but we kept looking for cheaper. Eventually we found a nice hotel a few blocks away from the plaza that gave us a simple double room for M$X 200 a night. They even let us drive through their lobby to a parking spot, since the road to the garage had a massive trench in it. With a board set from the street to the top step (about 3 high), Mike pulled in from the street. WOW, that board flexed a lot! Sorry no photos of that shoddy ramp.

Food was easy to find throughout town, of all varieties. We chose to eat some Comida Ecónimica for M$X 30 a piece and it was fantastic! (However, our next comida ecónomica experience was far less successful...)

All throughout, we felt safe walking around, and enjoyed all parts of the city. Common sights included indigenous women carrying crafts and flowers for sale, brightly colored buildings, and, ya know, pigs waiting for phone calls. Pretty much all the usual.









One day we went to the Museum of Traditional Mayan medicine, which was really interesting, and sells medicines to the public. Worth a stop if you're into plants at all.



Due to our first stop of the morning, we were not welcome in this bar (uniforms, drugs, and guns prohibited for some reason)



There are some streets within town that feel European, in part for the nicely appointed cafes and shops, and also because the majority of people that we saw seemed to be European.



The market was bustling every day we walked through. It had a big mix of clothes, electronics, food, but not necessarily the best selection of any of those items.


(women selling live upside-down roosters by the handful)


(a little less lively form of poultry)


(Rambutan is a bright red fruit about the size of a racquetball, with soft spiky looking things that prevented Mike from wanting to bite into one for the longest time, with a large seed in the middle surrounded by a white jelly-like fruit that is quite tasty)

...and sometimes not so bustling around the market



For some reason, the nighttime market in front of the cathedral has the best selection of woven goods, carved wood, and other souvenirs. You've got to be willing to buy it based on how it looks in the light of a match (or battery powered equivalent).



Immediately before Mike's stomach turned into a black void of rejection (he will spare you any more details of the food poisoning acquired during our second comida ecónomica experience, which, by the way, was bad enough to keep us in San Cristóbal 2 more days than expected) we ate at a great little vegetarian restaurant.



But once rested and back to health, off to PALENQUE!!


(Pulling the TA out of it's spot. Rocks to support the ramp seemed like a much better idea than testing the somewhat low ground clearance.)
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Old 08-12-2011, 04:28 PM   #112
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Palenque

Driving through Chiapas is beautiful - lots of farmland, curvy mountain roads, and small towns (sadly including plenty of topes, or speedbumps).



Also very interesting to see so much support for the EZLN, or the Zapatista Army. This area of Chiapas includes the cities overtaken by the EZLN back in 1994, including San Cristóbal and Ocosingo, and has had horrible instances of violence carried out by the military and paramilitary groups since. Currently the situation is calm, but the poor people of the area still feel that the government owes them better services.


("Land recovered in 1995 with the help of the EZLN and independent farmers. The land belongs to those who work it. Zapata Lives. The Fight Continues.")


(vendors along the roadside)

We had a reservation at Hostal Yaxkín in the Eco-turistica zone of the town of Palenque. Location was ideal - away from the hustle of the main streets of downtown (and "hustle" was selected intentionally, and no, not for everyone`s favorite dance), as well as easy walking access to downtown, a commercial street, and the corner of town closest to the National Park, where it's easy to catch combis. However, the hostel staff was not at all accomodating to our change in nights, even though we had called to inform them that we would be arriving two days later. We only lost M$X 40 from our deposit, but their attitude left us bitter (combined with the fact that we lost 40 pesos! For reference and full disclosure, yes, that is only US$3.30.). I suppose that's what we deserve for trying to make a reservation.

The next morning we caught a combi out to the ruins of Palenque to not have to worry about the bike or anything attached to it. We bought our entries (M$X 51 each) and had a fine breakfast of empanadas at a stand beside the parking lot. The owner`s son of about 7 years old entertained us the whole time with his very polite (formal, in fact) questions and mannerisms - quite the little salesman! We opted to not shell out the US$40-60 for a guide, and instead just wandered through the ruins with a map. I'm sure we could've learned more than we did, but as our next step, we still probably would have opted to just take a guidebook with us that explained the ruins, instead of forking out so much for the guided tour.

Entering the ruins, we realized exactly how many tour buses had dropped off loads of passengers in the hour that the park had already been open - a LOT. We were gladly able to break free from the crowds at ruins that were just a short walk away from the main areas.

Temple of Inscriptions was one of the first we came across. Here is where the tomb of King Pacal was found, and until 10 (or so) years ago, you could go down hundreds of feet into the temple and see his tomb, but sadly, we were only able to see a replica in the museum (actually in 2 museums - many of the original artifacts from his tomb are displayed at the Musuem of Anthropolgy in Mexico (jade mask, red gown, offerings - example pic of King Pacal´s goods (hehehe) seen in our Mexico City blog)).



Other buildings are not as well preserved, but still magnificent, especially seated in their jungle surroundings.





You can even walk through some of the passageways of the palace




(Temple of Inscriptions at left, Palace with tower at right)




(ball court)



Paths through the jungle were interesting to walk along, with plenty of plants and animals to watch.


(blue dragonflies were everywhere)


(GI-normous!)







What´s crazy is that all morning long there was this eerie high-pitched screechy squeely sound that I`m pretty sure was the inspiration for all of Alfred Hithcock´s sound effects. Too bad we don´t have a way to record/upload sounds, but just believe us that it added to the ambience, especially in some of the tucked away ruins that were empty, except for us. Turns out it was an insect, and they just make that noise. But those chicharrines (or something like that...) are definitely more eerie than any other insect we´ve ever heard before.



We arrived at the musuem after walking through the ruins for 3-4 hours.



Both of us have enough trouble studying Spanish, we can´t imagine what Mayan must be like to learn!

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Old 08-12-2011, 04:40 PM   #113
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Agua Morena

Close to Palenque on our way back south, we went to two other tourist sites, Misol-Ha and Agua Azul. Misol-Ha is a 115+ foot waterfall. It was a pretty cool stop and the area around the falls is very chill, with casual vendors selling souvenirs, food, and drink (the bathrooms were out of service, though, so food and drink intake were avoided). There was also a cave you can hire a guide to take you into behind the waterfall.


(Not sure what was going on with Jill's hair that day...)



After Misol-Ha we went to Agua Azul, "blue water" in spanish, and apparantly the water is in fact blue at times (we´ve even seen it in pictures!). But, our experience was much more morena (brown) than azul. Due to rainy season, the water had a lot of debris and sediment moving through it. Despite the somewhat misleading name, the falls were still very impressive. We had read and heard from fellow travelers that the area was a bit sketchy with reports of peoples bags getting stolen while they swam, but we had no problems at all (likely in part to us being cheapo´s and not bringing a single peso with us to buy souvenirs/food, but also becuase the area seemed to be about as safe as any other. For instance, we didn´t leave our camera on shore...).

A small restaurant in the parking lot provided us with some amazing chicken tacos, and the family who owned the restaurant kept an eye on the bike while we played at the falls. The highlight for us was stopping in an area to swim and rope swing with a rather jolly (in the rotundest sense of the word) Mexican who was absolutely loving it.







After a fun day of swimming in beautiful falls, we spent the night in downtown Ocosingo. We were able to find a hotel for 200 pesos with cable tv and pizza across the street, so we got some pizza to go and vegged out in front of the tv watching American movies. It was a perfect ending to the day.
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Old 08-12-2011, 04:57 PM   #114
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Comitán, our own little Shangri-La

With only a couple of days left to spend in Mexico (we had to be in Xela by August 1st for language school), we headed south but decided to spend a night in Comitán. To our pleasant surprise, this little city turned out to be a gem. We were able to find a posada with hot water for 120 pesos, our cheapest yet in Mexico, and enjoyed exploring the town for the rest of the day.


(not bad for the price)

Although the town is rather large, with over 100,000 people, it is very mellow and clean. There are also very few tourists, so we were not accosted to buy something on every other block.




(all public parks had lots of modern sculptures like the one in the foreground)


(main cathedral)


(Medical consultations for just over $1)

One of the highlights was finding the Shangri-La, a sweet bar that served about 50 different kinds of delicious mixed drinks that came with one appetizer per drink. What better way to eat dinner and spend the pesos we needed to get rid of anyway before leaving Mexico? (exchanging pesos seemed so silly at the time, especially while admiring their drink/appetizer menu)


("Mariachi - Keep your distance!" This was much funnier after spending a couple of hours in Shangri-La. If you are not amused, I think you know what you need to do.)

In the morning, we found a torta shop on the end of our block that also served amazing banana milkshakes ("licuados").


(Mike at possibly our favorite restaurant in Mexico)

Jill was even able to satisfy her craving for elote (corn on the cob with lemon and chile) by buying some from an extemely nice street vendor. I guess we will remember the town more for our gluttonous attack on it than anything else, but trust us, it is a nice place to spend a day or two.
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Old 08-12-2011, 05:53 PM   #115
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Brilliantly Hued

We had heard from a couple of friends that the Lagos de Montebello, on the border of Mexico and Guatemala, were gorgeous. After skimming a friend´s Lonely Planet and finding out just how brilliantly "hued" the were (I think "hued" was used like 83 times in the description), we were happy to spend our last day in Mexico there. The drive from Comitán was about an hour through typical Chiapas. As usual, several vehicles were as loaded as possible.


(hopefully no bridges coming up)

We arrived in the national park and paid our 25 pesos each to get in. We kept going straight and immediately found a small parking area and about 5 guys wanting to be our tour guide (if you were so inclined, you could tell the guards that you were just traveling towards Palenque and not pay anything here, but I wouldn´t recommend that. It´s only 25 pesos. However, I do wish we would have actually traveled to Palenque along that road. Maybe on our way back north...).

Unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy all day. Fortunately we didn´t get rained on until after we were done exploring the lakes. Unfortunately (again), at this point (about 2 weeks after visiting the lakes) we can´t remember the names of all the lakes for certain. But, we parked the bike in the small parking space and walked about 500 meters to the 1st lake, possibly called Agua Tinta. A guy followed us there and explained that there are 56 lakes in the area.



After paying the guide 10 pesos for his explanations we walked on to the second and third lakes, we´ll call them Encantada and Ensueao. The parking lot there was huge with lots of tour buses, vendors and guides of all ages.





Across the street, sat the 3rd lake, which was most brilliantly hued. The sign says no swimming because the water is used for human consumption.



These were the only lakes right there, so we walked back to the bike and ended up paying another guy another 10 pesos for kindly watching our bike for us (without our asking). We drove about 1-2 km further up the road to a lake where there was supposed to be a visitor center. There was not. There were, however, a massive quantity of children hoping to be our guide. The lake near this parking lot didn´t seem all that spectacular, so we went back out towards the entrance station and turned left on the road that takes the long way to Palenque, along the border of Mexico. Along this route there are 5 other lakes that you have to pay an additional 15 pesos to visit. The road was a lot more relaxed, with fewer tour guides, tours, people, etc. If you are pressed for time, we would recommend skipping the first road we took and turning immediately. These lakes along this road are certainly more beautifully hued, as well.

The first was Lake Montebello. This is apparantly the best lake to swim in, although we didn´t find out because it was way too cold that day. We enjoyed our view while drinking some fine Chiapan coffee.





Next on the road was 5 lakes. One of our favorite hues so far:







Across the street was either one of the 5 lakes, or a seperately named lake, not sure, but yet a different brilliant hue:





Further down the road, we hit Lake Pojoj, where plenty of people were taking the opportunity to take a balsa raft ride.



There were 2 vantage points of Lake Tziscao. From this side, things were a little more deserted (maybe because of an apparent rise in tide?):



You have to drive through the town of Tziscao to arrive at the other vantage point, which is where we ended up camping. Before that, though, we had to catch a glimpse of International Lake. We hired a (very) young man to show us our last lake of the day, International Lake, since he offered to do it for M$X 5. He proudly led us up a hill and at the top of the hill was International Lake and the border between Mexico and Guatemala.



He took us over to Guatemala and led us through the market, which strangely seemed pretty similar to Mexico, except mariachis were replaced with marimbas. And that concluded our wonderful tour of International Lake and Guatemala. (Note-you really don´t need a guide for any of these lakes for any reason. If you really want a guide, look for a cute kid and go with them.) There is absolutely no border control at this crossing and anyone pretty much comes and goes as they please. We are not quite sure where the road in Guatemala leads to, but we decided to take a more legal crossing.






(Guatemala market)

There were some cabins and camping at Lake Tziscao. The cabins cost 700 pesos and we wanted to camp anyway. Camping was still 200 pesos (!!!), after talking him down. He did have a point that there were lights and a bathroom. Plus, the spot was absolutely beautiful and we had the camping to ourselves. I´m sure we could have found cheaper or poached a spot close to a lake, but we were tired and happy to be somewhere.



Once we got our site set up, the sky unloaded, so we ran back over to the Guatemala border and had our first Gallo (the national beer of Guatemala). We were a little disappointed with the flavor and only give it an average on our drinkability scale. But, that´s not going to keep us from it.





With our first pass at the Guatemalan border crossing already under our belt, it was about time for the real deal.
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Old 08-12-2011, 06:30 PM   #116
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Entering Guatemala

We woke up early, broke down our extremely wet tent and slightly wet sleeping bags, and headed towards Ciudad Cuauhtemóc at the Mexico-Guatemala border. Being that it was Sunday, there was some concern that the Banjército office would not be open. That´s the place you have to go to cancel the temporary vehicle import permit. That´s the step that Mike did not do the last time he was in Mexico on a motorcycle (thanks again to a new passport and a different motorcycle, no troubles with the TVIP). But this time it was definitely going to happen, and luckily we were able to do it on Sunday.

Pulling into Ciudad Cuauhtemóc, the Banjército and aduana offices are to the left, directly past a large road sign spanning the highway and across the highway from an elevated plaza. As of this post, the Banjército office is open with the following schedule:
  • 8am - 10pm Mon - Fri
  • 8am - 5pm Sat
  • 9am - 4pm Sun
Checking out of Mexico was an absolute breeze! The official behind the counter asked for my TVIP, went out to the bike with a camera, double checked the VIN about 4 times, took a picture of the VIN plate, and then went back inside to finish the paperwork. I waited for less than 5 minutes while he double checked the VIN numbers on the documents another 4 times, and then signed and stamped the cancelation receipt. Done and done. The aduana office is the next building over (if you turn into the parking lot following the painted arrows, you will actually come to the aduana office first, but we all know that painted arrows don´t mean that much). He took our passports, tourist cards, AND the printed receipt for payment of our entry. Don´t lose any of those things if you can help it. But with that, he stamped our passports and wished us well. To Guatemala we go...

This is the view as soon as you cross the signed border into La Mesilla, Guatemala:



You gotta stop in those yellow hashed lines to get fumigated by the agropecuaria. Thankfully, they let you get off the bike before they start spraying. Also thankfully, it only cost 12 quetzales (Q12, exchange rate is about Q8 = US$1).


(after her chem-bath)

We exchanged money with some money changers on the street to be able to pay for that and for the bike import. The banks were closed, so there was no choice. We only got Q7 to US$1, but we only changed over US$40, so didn´t lose too much in the process. Why did we change over US currency in Guatemala, you might ask? Because we were extremely successful in spending all of the pesos that we had (thanks, Shangri-La!), leaving us a random stash of $40 that was in Mike´s jacket since June.

After that, we went to the next building up, Migración. The officer was extremely nice, curious about our trip, enjoyed pretending like he was riding a motorcycle, making motions, noises, and all, and gave us the full 90 day visa for the 4 Central American countries. Free. That´s the best!

Next to the aduana to temporarily import the bike into Guatemala. They required the following documents:
  • Canceled TVIP from Mexico (a good control for idiots like Mike)
  • Motorcycle registration (or title, or whatever document you choose to show ownership)
  • Driver´s license
  • Passport
The aduana filled out all of the papers for us, handed us a stack and told us to go pay at the bank next door, which was closed. The fee is Q160 (US$20). After a knock on the door, a guard opened it, took my papers, my money, and left me standing outside, again locking the door. He returned a few minutes later with the receipt. Back to the aduana to finish the paperwork and get the sticker. We are good until the end of October! Easy! All of the Guatemalan entry process took about 30 minutes.

He let us know that when leaving Guatemala, if you cancel the permit that you cannot return with the bike for 90 days. It is, however, possible to leave the country and tell them that you plan on traveling back through before the permit expires. They will not cancel it when you leave, but rather it will just cancel automatically when it expires without penalty. Unless you need to cancel your permit to start the 90 day interval so that you can return as desired, it seems to make sense to leave it open when exiting Guatemala just in case.

Once we were in Guatemala, things changed a bit. La Mesilla had a different vibe to it. Landscape was similar to Chiapas, the road followed a river flowing between mountains.



The two things that we noticed initially were that Guatemalans seemed to be into people-moving and selling gas out of jerry cans on the side of the road. I´m not sure how either of those opportunities sustain themselves, as there is an excess of both, but somehow it works. And where are all of those people going?





Also, we noticed that the cops seemed pretty nice. There were a lot of them traveling along this highway (is that good, or bad?). But they would always slow down, smile, wave, and honk at us. Cool that they were on our side.

We pulled into Xela fairly early in the afternoon, and had quite the welcoming parade. More on Xela and our couple of weeks in Guatemala soon...
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Old 08-14-2011, 09:10 AM   #117
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Great stuff guys Thanks for the update!
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Old 08-15-2011, 08:23 PM   #118
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Super updates! I have really enjoyed your report. Thanks for all of the extra effort.

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Old 08-22-2011, 04:06 PM   #119
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Supa12 Pilot and aDave - glad you´re following along and enjoying the ride. We certainly are! Stay tuned for some more updates (sorry that they come in droves)
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Old 08-22-2011, 04:07 PM   #120
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Job on the Horizon

As some of you may know, Jill was in the Peace Corps in Suriname, S. America from 2004-2006. Recently, there was a Peace Corps Response position that came up for a Business-NGO Development Advisor, which matches pretty well to her background. After a Skype interview and some negotiations concerning logistics, she has accepted the position. She is due to start on December 1st, giving us enough time to enjoy Central America and still arrive in Suriname by motorcycle on time. She still needs to get through a couple of bureaucratic steps with the Peace Corps, but it shouldn´t be too difficult. She is very excited for the opportunity to live in Suriname and in the jungle again.

She is glad that Mike is willing to live in Suriname for the 6 month assignment. He will begin talks with an organization in Suriname soon to try to work out a job as a water and sanitation engineer in the village. We will be living in New Aurora, a larger Saramaccan village about 8 hours south of Paramaribo. Jill´s job description is to set up strong cooperatives with the women living in two communities and address their needs concerning the collective procurement of materials and services and collective marketing for their handicrafts. It should be a good challenge and a great opportunity to get hands on experience working with coops.
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