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Old 08-22-2011, 05:11 PM   #121
csustewy OP
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Xela, aka Quetzaltenango

The day we arrived, we were supposed to meet the owner of the school to go to our family. We got to the main plaza early so decided to go to a restaurant-bar on the plaza. The Guatemalan under 20 team happened to be playing their first game of the World Cup and it started right when we sat down. After a good meal we decided to have a couple more beers and watch the game. We noticed a crowd starting to gather in the plaza but didn´t think much of it. Until a huge parade passed through right in front of us. The bike was trapped in the middle of the crowd, so we had no choice but to enjoy the parade and be late for our meeting. The parade consisted of a princess on a car and then lots of marching bands playing all kinds of random tunes.








Jill had researched language schools in Guatemala and decided on El Quetzal in Xela because it was cheap and had good reviews. (If anyone is planning on going there, do not worry about pre-registering because they will have room for you, and you can save the registration costs.) We stayed with a host family that has been hosting for over 14 years. Our host mom Estel was great, as was the rest of the family, whom we seemed to meet more and more of every day we were there. We got 3 meals a day with our mom, always good and almost always with beans and fried plantains. No matter how often we eat them, we still are yet to get sick of beans (and fried plaintains). The school was as advertised and was everything a spanish school should be. Classes were from 8am - 1pm with 1 on 1 instruction. Jill really liked her teacher Heber, and felt that she learned a lot in 2 weeks. Classes increased her understanding significantly and she was able to learn verb tenses so she is making more sense to other people too. Mike´s Spanish was already pretty good and he hoped a week of class would help with his conversational Spanish. It helped bring some rules back into his head, but he´s convinced that practicing at cantinas may help to improve his vocabulary even more than any school possibly can.


(Jill with her teacher Heber at school)

After class, there were free activities like lectures about popular expressions and the civil war. On Thursdays there was a cooking class all the students and teachers regularly attended and was a good way for us to get to know each other outside of class. The school also offers an opportunity to visit a neighboring community every week. In Salcajá, we saw one of the oldest churches in C. America, a textile loom, and got to sample some caldo de fruta ("fruit soup"), basically moonshine in fruit form.







We also went to Zunil, with a 99.9% indigenous population. Their market was throughout the town and had the largest carrots I have ever seen. They also had a saint of vices that we visited. No picture attached because you have to pay 10 quetzals to take a picture of him. He smokes and drinks and has an American flag on his back usually.







Spanish class consumed a majority of our time, but we did do some exploring of the city. Xela is rather large - Xelaites are proud that it is the 2nd largest city in Guatemala, larger than Antigua and don´t forget it. It is rather cold because it is at a pretty high elevation and it has only two seasons, cool and dry ("verano") and cooler and rainy ("invierno"). Initially we were confused how we were in Xela in winter even though we visited in August, but then the rains helped us figure it out. The city is rather concrety - even parks have very little green space. There is an ex-pat and language school presence, but not overwhelmingly so. For all its lack of charm, it was still somehow a bit charming.

We even met a couple from Jill´s hometown area (which is surprising because her hometown is very small) who are running a cafe called Aeropagus. We stopped in one afternoon and really enjoyed their cinnamon rolls. The rest of our time was largely spent at the internet (although you wouldn´t know it from our lack of blogs), doing homework and running random errands to get us ready to travel again.










(obligitory chicken bus shot)

Mike took the second week off from school to do some motorcycle maintenance. I visited a shop that I heard about on Horizons Unlimited to see about getting some parts and work done. Alex the mechanic was very helpful on the whole, and we basically split the work, allowing me to get even more familiar with the TA. It was time to check the bearings, check the valve clearance, sync the carbs, change the plugs, clean the air filter (a new one is waiting for me in El Salvador), service the radiator, and change the oil.

We took things apart during the morning hours on Tuesday, draining the radiator, and then fully cleaning the carbs which was absolutely necessary - the pilot jets were both almost completely clogged with sediment. (Getting the carbs back on the TA was a task in and of itself.) The wheel bearings all seemed to be in good shape, so we greased them back up and let ´em roll. The plugs had burned decently, showing a slightly lean condition which is not surprising given the condition of the pilot jets and the original factory jetting. Luckily I was splitting the work with Alex, or we would only have received 2 new plugs, instead of the needed 4. I guess that shows that it pays to do it yourself. But it makes it a whole lot easier to have access to good tools.

It was a decent experience working with Alex at the shop. The downsides were the following:
  • we did not check valve clearance. Alex, another mechanic, and myself just listened to the motor when I arrived and didn´t hear any valve noise. Based on that, he didn´t want to do any adjustments. There has not been any power loss or changes in performance, so he didn´t want to fix something that´s not broken. I suppose I could´ve demanded it done, but left it at that.
  • we did not fully flush the radiator. All that was done was drain, rinse, and fill. The rinse did not show any rust or deposits coming out, so all in all the radiator is in good shape. But it still would´ve been better to fully clean before refilling.
  • we did not sync the carbs. They did not have a Twin Max, or carb sticks, or apparently any other way to measure vacuum difference between the carbs. Thankfully, I dropped in another shop that I found out about on Horizons Unlimited and was able to borrow his Twin Max. All it took was a part to be turned down for the vacuum access on the front cylinder. He charged me Q75, which was greatly marked up, but he did all the running around town for it, so still not too bad of a deal at US$9.
The best part about working there is that they charged me for a major service for a 500-1000cc bike - Q250. That´s around $32. Both Alex and I worked on the bike for all of Tuesday, and then I took up a part of their service bay on Wednesday morning to button everything back up. I will gladly pay $32 to use their ratchets and lift instead of hacking at all of this maintenance with my on-board tools.

The final task was to change the oil, but I took off and did that at a small shop near our place. That´s easier to do with my small set of tools, and I already had a couple liters of oil from the last service. I borrowed an oil pan, got it drained and filled back up, and even got a washer from those guys. I asked if I could chip in anything for that, and they said no. But I gave them Q5 for their space. It´s at least enough for a Coke later.

Roberto, at the shop where I was able to use the Twin Max, knew of a good metal worker who was willing to take a look at our side racks, which were in need of some basic repairs and reinforcement. It turns out his connection was perfect - Carlos Wilberth González at Taller San Carlos (Diag 11 7-63, Zona 1 in Xela, tel: 7765-3557 y 4117-6834). He was smart, creative, able to address the issue correctly, and does excellent work! He re-fabbed our saddle bag racks for Q300. Not bad given that new racks cost much more than that, often US$200. Basically he started from scratch, using our old GIVI soft bag supports as a guide, but then extending the new racks lower and giving them more support. The finished product looks fantastic and is holding up well so far (even through our "road testing").

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Old 08-22-2011, 05:42 PM   #122
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el Lago

On our first weekend in Xela, we decided to go to Lake Atitlan, about 2 hours away. The drive was highway most of the distance, but once we turned off the highway we hit a couple of small towns and the road was pretty eaten up with a large elevation drop and lots of switchbacks. At one point, you go around yet another bland mountainous curve and suddenly catch a view of the beautiful lake.




(evidence of the eutrophication of Lago de Atitlan in the foreground. Recent years have brought about a lot of cleaning efforts, which have been very helpful, but you still have to wonder what´s being dumped into the water and if the cycle will repeat. Vamos a ver)



(lots of people carry wood and other things this way)


(de facto local trash dump)

The lake is a big tourist draw and has small towns surrounding it. A lot of people either go to Panachel, the largest town, or San Pedro, an ex-pat and traveler haven. We had arranged another stay through couchsurfing and were supposed to call when we got to San Juan. When we called, we learned that Petra, our host, was on the lake with some boat trouble. So we ate in the very small town. When we came outside, a very excited older gentleman wanted to know everything about the bike, including if we would sell it to him. This drew a good portion of the town to come watch.


(in San Juan, where there was also a political rally)

After talking to Petra again, we agreed to meet up in San Pedro, where we found a bar with cheap rum to wait. After a couple of rounds, Petra showed up and we went to her wonderful house just outside of San Pedro.

Petra and her husband had moved to the area 7 years ago after meeting in Seattle and traveling by motorcycle from there. Jack is currently in the states working on a chicken farm. They also lead tours into Petén. Petra is from Czechoslovakia and Jack is from Zimbabwe. They have a 3 year old daughter, who we got to meet the next morning. Emilie was a little shy at first, but soon took a strong liking to Jill (she never quite started to like Mike. Probably the beard). Jill specifically won her heart when they played on the trampoline in the front yard, Emilie´s favorite spot. She was such a cute, energetic, extremely smart little girl, already with a three language repetoire.


(playing on the trampoline)


(view from Petra´s porch)




(Mike making sure we were in good with the guard)

On our first day in town, we went to San Pedro and rented a kayak to play on the water. We paddled over to San Marcos, which has a 10m high platform you can jump off. As soon as we paddled up to shore, a teenage boy began insistently demanding that we pay to tie the kayak to shore and that we pay to jump off the platform. After refusing to pay, Mike took a couple jumps while Jill manned the kayak offshore to avoid the annoying kid.





After a couple hours on the lake and then exploring San Pedro, we went back to Petra´s, where she cooked an awesome avocado-basil pasta and salad dinner.


(Petra, Emilie and Jill)

The next day we took a boat over to San Marcos and walked to the neighboring indigenous town, Tzununá. We stopped for ice cream outside of town at Las Lomas de Tzununá ( a super swanky hotel - you can tell when you can flush toilet paper down the toilet) and were warned by the waitress not to continue walking to the next town as planned because people were being robbed on that stretch on a regular basis, especially on the weekends, and it was Sunday. So, we caught a boat back instead and brought falafels home for lunch.


(soccer game in Tzununá - note, the tuk tuk is both on the road and in-bounds)

We had parked the bike close to Petra´s house at a health center where she parks her car. We discovered during the first day that our sunglasses had been stolen out of a small front pocket. No big loss because they were cheap and easy to replace. When we were leaving we discovered that someone had tried to steal the mirror unsuccessfully, but went through an awful lot of effort to remove the weather cover and loosen one of the mounting bolts, and had tried to remove the gas cover, also unsuccessfully, because it was locked.

Overall, we really enjoyed hanging out with Petra and Emilie and thought the lake was beautiful, but we thought San Pedro wasn´t as cool as its rep.



On the way out of town back to the highway, we had very low visability due to fog and rain and arrived back to Xela very wet and cold.

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Old 08-22-2011, 05:53 PM   #123
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Volcán Santa María

Jill´s teacher in Xela is also a tour guide and we decided to go with him to climb Santa Maria volcano. We left at 4am to try to catch sunrise at the top. Although we didn´t make it all the way to the top, we did have a nice view.



The hike is pretty strenuous, taking us almost 3 hours of constant incline to get to the top. We were the only people there and the view was definitely worth it. You can see Xela on one side, surrounded by mountains. You can even catch a small glimpse of Lake Atitlán.









On the other side is a wonderful view of Santiaguito, a volcano that was made during the 1902 eruption of Santa María. It has been in constant eruption since 1922 and is considered among the 10 most dangerous volcanos in the world. Usually, the volcano erupts at least every hour, every day. We sat and watched, hoping for an eruption, but we were not so lucky, only catching the constant plume of ash.







The morning´s weather was perfect for us as normally the view of the volcano is covered with clouds. On the way down we passed a couple groups of indigenous women in their hot clothes and dress shoes. Apparantly, some evangelical churches demand that their worshippers go on a 3 day fast and then climb to the top of the volcano to worship. These women were most likely participating in the fast.






(doesn´t look so tall from down here)



The hike downhill was much less strenous and we stopped in the small town at the base of the mountain to celebrate the hike.



One beer led to another and when we finally left the tienda we decided to get one more right by the bus stop. We entered into a shady cantina, the only place selling beer near the bus stop. Mike immediately hit it off with a man who had obviously had a few too many, as evident by the wet spot he had in the front crotch section of his jeans. He was also named Mike. He wasn´t making much sense, plus he was trying to speak English, so Mike just started repeating the noises he was making. The drunk guys loved it, with lots of hysterical laughter. Strangely, Mike and Mike got along quite well. Probably wisely, Heber (our guide) suggested that we needed to get on the bus.
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Old 08-22-2011, 05:59 PM   #124
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"the pilot jets were both almost completely clogged with sediment"

Is there a place that you can put an inline fuel filter (glass if possible so you can see) ?



That should reduce the crap getting to the jets.
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Old 08-23-2011, 03:34 AM   #125
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Hi Csustewy,
Still enjoying your RR, you are certainly a dab hand with the camera...keep it coming.

Re inline filter.....fitted inline filters to my TA's; plastic but see through and some supports for the soft lugguage and other stuff see link.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/potski-...in/photostream

http://www.flickr.com/photos/potski-...57615982129592


Cheers
Potski
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Old 08-28-2011, 04:24 PM   #126
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Quote:
Originally Posted by orbiker View Post
Is there a place that you can put an inline fuel filter (glass if possible so you can see) ?
That should reduce the crap getting to the jets.
KEN
Quote:
Originally Posted by potski View Post
Re inline filter.....fitted inline filters to my TA's; plastic but see through and some supports for the soft lugguage and other stuff see link.

Potski
Thanks for the fuel filter ideas. I thought I had read that they obstructed flow too much for use on the gravity fed TA's, but I'm glad to hear that your experience has been good. That certainly is an easier thing to inspect/clean/replace than the carbs! I will look more into that next major service stop.

Also, Potski - that set up looks sweet! Perfect for soft bags, and I like the raised GIVI rack storage space. Maybe I will meet some more welders along the way...

Quote:
Originally Posted by potski View Post
Still enjoying your RR, you are certainly a dab hand with the camera...keep it coming.

Cheers
Potski
And thanks for the photo compliment. We know a few shots are sub par (but still great memories for us), but we are doing what we can, happy when a few turn out lookin' good, and hope to keep improving!

Thanks again for all the input, guys
Mike & Jill
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Old 09-05-2011, 06:44 PM   #127
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Semuc say what?

On the way out of Xela, we went straight up towards Chichicastenango, a place known for its market. It definitely had a market. The whole town was a market. Which was good for us, since Mike needed some tall socks to ride in... soccer socks. Only 1 pair of socks in those tall leather boots just doesn't cut it. Jill decided to get some too, which turned out to be great, because the ones that Mike picked out were somehow only big enough for a 6 year old. So Mike stole the ones that Jill picked out, justifying it by the grand benefit that she will receive of not having to smell his single pair of riding socks over and over again.




(average height of tarps in the market: 5'6")


(where we parked for lunch, not where we ate it)

Our next stop was Uspantan, making it there just as the rains unleashed that evening. There are a few hotels in town, we ended up staying in one for Q60, and pretty much laying low. A pizza dinner and some soccer watching pulled us through the evening.

One of the highlights for many traveling through Guatemala is Semuc Champuey, a natural area that is a perfect place to go relax, swim, and play outside. We happen to agree with them. Semuc Champuey is amazing! The trip towards Lanquín is smooth sailing, save a few minor detours for the Sunday markets going on in all the towns along the way...


(clearest path through San Pedro Carcha)


(overview of San Pedro Carcha)

...also there were a few other minor detours around landslides, starting small...



...and turning into multiple kilometer stretches.





(the community in the area had set up a fence before and after this section, asking for a few quetzales from all vehicles passing. Which if they did all the work to make this stretch look like a road again, they certainly deserve the toll. They seemed to like us, though. They just gave us huge smiles, thumbs up, and let us right on through.)

The last stretch into Lanquin takes about 10 km of big bike friendly dual sporting, and about 10 km on the way past town to Semuc Champuey itself.




(random road-side band)


(relatively steep, rocky downhill section, turning out to be our nemesis on the way back up...)


(around the corner from our hostel and park entrance)



Thankfully, we didn’t have to pass any vehicles on the narrowest stretches (at least on the way there…), and the trail adjustment made to the forks during the service in Xela seemed to make the dirt riding an easier task than before.

We passed a few really nice hotels on the way (like El Recreo), there are lodging options in Lanquin itself, but we kept on to El Portal – a hotel/hostel/camping set up right at the entrance to the park. Clean bathrooms, good food at reasonable prices, and super easy access to the park made this place a hit. Camping was Q15 a person (less than US$2). There were no dorm beds available the night we were there, private room with private bath was available for Q200.


(riverside camping)



We met a couple from Guatemala City who were leaving that evening, but super friendly, and he happens to own a motorcycle shop in Guatemala. Juan Olyslager is his name - he offered any assistance needed, and was a really nice guy. But we stuck with our plan of avoiding Guatemala City. If you need something on your way through, you can reach him at jpolyslager - AT - gmail - DOT - com, or check out his website at ogrismoto.com

That night we signed up for a tour of Semuc Champuey through the lodge. The all day tour included the park, then tubing down the river, then a cave walk. Since we were leaving the next day, we just signed up for the tour through the park, not the afternoon activities. Man, we kind of wished we didn’t. The guide was nice, but we were with a group of around 15 people, which is not how Jill or I would normally choose to visit a natural area. First stop was a good vantage point of the waters of Semuc Champuey.



There are actually 2 distinct rivers – the one flowing from above has nothing to do with the pools, which are formed by groundwater runoff from the surrounding mountains. The upper river goes rushing into an underground tunnel, exiting a few hundred meters downstream, and joining the 2nd river.






A benefit of the guide was that he showed us good places to jump into the pools, which are beautiful shades (or "hues" if you prefer the Lonely Planet description) of blue-green water.



He also showed us some natural rock slides, which were fun for us, but much less so for some members of our traveling circus. Apparently bikini bottoms and rock slides are not very compatible. But some of the faces and reactions we saw where absolutely hysterical. That may have made the tour worth it.









We had a blast playing in the water! The tour lasted from 10am to 2pm, so we did not join the masses for the tubing expedition (even though Mike absolutely loves tubing), but rather had a snack and hit the road.

We also passed a delivery truck on a steep section of road, one where concrete had been poured on the 2 tracks to maintain traction even during wet times. Thankfully, the truck didn’t mind jumping off the concrete to pass us, cause it would have been a real hassle on the fully loaded TA.


(2 track with no drop off on each side, sometimes it looked much hairier)


(Mike starting over again on the uphill stretch. Coming to a stop on this stretch was not smart. With 2 feet down, the front brake was not enough to hold us on the hill. Sliding backwards we set the bike down sideways. Picking it up again, the right mirror took a hit. Once again. We eventually got the bike back down to a good point for traction and made it up no problem. I've still gotta learn. More throttle. Less brake.)



Back in Lanquin we passed another rider from Canada on a BMW F800GS, looking for lodging there, but we were only able to shake hands in passing. Maybe a beer down the road...



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Old 09-05-2011, 06:46 PM   #128
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Sustainable living in San Jose

Leaving Lanquín in the late afternoon, we pulled into Cobán fairly late, but found a fairly good hostel (Luna, or de Luna, or something like that) just a few blocks from the parque principal, thanks in part to our friend we met while Jill was on the phone. So many people we run into like to practice English, and love motorcycles. However, as it turned dark while we were at the parque, we were more than ready to get ourselves and the bike to a hotel.



The next morning, we headed north towards Flores, a few hours away. We even got to ride a ferry!







We pulled into Santa Elena, just south of the island of Flores, and gave Federico a call, a contact from couchsurfing.org. Federico is Salvadorian, had lived in the States for over 15 years (leaving El Salvador in the 80s due to the war), and has been on Lago de Petén Itza for 8 years now. He his full of positive energy and has a wealth of knowledge of sustainable living that he’s more than happy to share. We had a blast getting to know him while camping in his backyard.



He prides himself on reusing all sorts of discarded goods. One of the most noticeable features is his use of old fridges as worm bins. Those little critters turn already good compost into absolute gold! The soil after earthworms work it is incredibly rich.




On our full day with Federico, we helped create a huge compost pile from horse manure, grass clippings, soil, and some nasty sludge that he was pulling out of a failed biodigester. It actually felt really good to be off the bike for a day and help out with some work around Federico’s place.





There was also a couple from Vancouver staying with Federico for a week. In their disgustingly topical new-age way, they were also looking to learn about sustainable living. But I tell you what, they were bad luck. With no experience ever riding a scooter or motorcycle, they rented a scooter in Mexico, crashing it on the 2nd day of their trip – they had some nasty road rash they were still working on healing up. (I am sorry that they went down, and am glad that all of their injuries were already healing nicely.) Jill and I ended up laying the TA down on a ride into town, because some random dog had a serious vendetta against our front tire. We were cruising on the mellow 2 lane highway when a dog came running out of his front yard, which is a normal occurrence on any road in Central America. This dog was different though. He locked onto our motorcycle like a missile and wanted desperately to head butt it for some reason (new-age, bad luck witch spell is the only reason we can think of). Instead of continuing to cross the road, or doubling back to the shoulder, he seriously ran straight at our front tire, stopping in its path, maintaining eye contact with Mike, letting him know that he meant it. Mike got the bike slowed down to 5-10 mph from 40 or so, when he tried to release the brakes and control a swerve around the kamikaze attacker, avoiding oncoming traffic and a huge shoulder drop off just a meter behind the dog. The front tire caught the be-spelled mutt with enough force to push the front of the TA to the side, quickly putting Jill and Mike on the pavement. We slid a couple of meters (visible in road photo below), but fared ok overall. Thankfully a fairly soft put-down. The oncoming truck (our other, less-forgiving option to crash into besides the canine) happened to be 2 firemen in their pick-up, who pulled over to help divert traffic and to check on us to make sure we were good. They were nice, asked a lot of questions, and repeated one of Jill’s comments in the best Guatemalan accent ever: Fucking DOG!





We bent a couple of brackets (passenger foot peg and chain guard bracket), so got the bike in riding condition and met up with Federico and the not-so-deep, yet-for-some-reason-dark, space cadets at a restaurant. We washed our wounds and drowned the experience with a couple of Gallos. It was also our chance to meet Federico’s daughters who are super smart and cute, and managed to brighten Federico up even more than his usual self, which I would’ve thought impossible before witnessing it.



In the next 24 hours, Federico, who has a ton of experience on bikes and currently has a little 100cc around town machine, had 2 run-ins with dogs, clipping one with his footpeg. That was his first and only instances since living there over the past 8 years. Bad luck, they were. Bad luck, I tell you.

(Note:  Mike does take full responsibility for the accident.  But potential sorcery makes such a better story.)

Aside from that bit of fun, our time in San Jose was absolutely enjoyable. Swimming at the dock in the clear, warm waters of Lago Petén was a perfect way to recover from our work day. In fact, we both jumped in with all of our clothes on, shoes an all, doing our best to keep some of the horse manure out of our saddlebag. The jury is still out on the success of that effort…
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Old 09-05-2011, 06:46 PM   #129
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Tikal

We took the dirt road around Lago Petén to get to El Remate for a burger overlooking the water. That fuel cost us about Q25 each, but tasted great.





From there, Tikal National Park is only about a half hour away.

>




(not quite the jaguar the road sign promised, but coati's count for something. Even though they're like the raccoons of Latin America)

Planning on camping at the ruins, we got there mid afternoon to give us plenty of time to check it out. One camping area had concrete pads with roofs over them, perfect for camping in rainy season. But no one was around to watch/protect the camping area. So we asked at the Jaguar Inn if they had camping. For Q25 (around US$3) a person, we set up our tent in a nice grassy spot in their parking lot, and had access to a decent toilet and shower house, as well as their lobby. Being cheapskates, we didn’t splurge on any of their expensive food options, but I’m sure they served fine food, if you’re into that sort of thing.



While we had some interest in getting into the ruins for sunrise, we opted not to do that, mostly for cost. It turned out to be a good decision after all, because the morning was socked in with clouds and would not have provided any sort of view of sunrise. The park opens to the general public at 6am. Entry costs Q150 each. To enter the park at 4am to catch sunrise requires an extra Q100 per person for the entry. Additionally, you must pay the guide for a few hour tour of the park, an extra fee of Q200 each. There was of course some flexibility in the guide pricing, but nonetheless, that would have been around US$50 per person for the day. No, thanks.

We set the alarm early, entering the park around 6:15am and had much of the ruins to ourselves, or at the most, shared areas with a couple of other small groups. Major tours didn’t seem to arrive until closer to 10am.

Temples I and II are on the way back to Temple IV, where the sunrise tours usually head to immediately. Tikal is amazing for the height and immensity of the ruins.


(Temple II sticking out above it all)


(Temple I, but just barely...)


(...a little better view. Also known as the Jaguar Temple)


(I think this guy´s name is Larry. He´s a quiet one.)

There are also many low-lying ruins found throughout the jungle, some with more of the structure visible than others. The jungle has an incredible capacity to take over these massive stone structures in just a few hundred years.




(not the best example of an overrun temple, but you can see that the sloped backside of this one has been taken over too)

We made it to Temple IV and climbed the stairs in a light mist to catch a glimpse over the entire site of Tikal. And sure enough, a glimpse is all we were able to get. The view was socked in with clouds.


(tops of Temples I (left) and II (right) in the haze)



We hung out for almost an hour, waiting for a break in the clouds, but eventually decided to go check out some other areas of the site.


(7 Temples)


(Palace, we think...)


(characteristic steps in the temple construction)

Aside from major temples, there were interesting trees, constructed caves, muddy jungle paths, weird jungle growths, and, yes, more huge temples.













After touring for a couple of hours, the day was brighter and the clouds had lifted some. Back up to the top of Temple IV we went. And it was worth the climb. The expansive view of jungle, with towering stone pyramids was impressive.





We hadn’t seen many scorpions since our time in Mexico, but this bad boy set a record for size.



This little guy seemed friendlier (and faster), but we still didn't touch him.



We also heard the screams of howler monkeys from the top of Temple IV, which is a startling sound. Jill was familiar with it from her time in Suriname, but Mike had never heard anything like it before. It’s crazy that these little funny creatures can make such a threatening sound with such volume. Before climbing back down, we were able to catch sight of a few of the monkeys in a tree in the distance.


(black dots at center of image)

So we went on a monkey-hunt. One thing that a sign at the entrance to the park warned us about, in-line with any slapstick movie containing a scene at a zoo, is that monkeys enjoy targeting people with their feces.

(evidence of monkey bombs on the pathway)

Following their screams, we found a vantage point where we watched around 10 howler monkeys move about in the trees above us. It was a highlight for both of us!


(I know, I know. Impossible to see still. Wait for it.. Wait for it....)

(and a king vulture in the neighboring tree)

We also saw a couple of big groups of spider monkeys, which we watched for awhile too. As far as we knew, no monkey bombs were lobbed at us, so that’s cool.


(The best monkey shot we got)

On our way back to camp, we realized how many more groups had entered the park in large tour groups. We were happy to be heading out. We got showered, packed up by noon and headed on to Rio Dulce.
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Old 09-05-2011, 06:47 PM   #130
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Rio Dulce

The road south from Tikal to Rio Dulce is fast and easy. We pulled into Rio Dulce hoping to find a good cheap room to dry out our camping gear and recover for a day or two. The hotels we saw first off seemed either really seedy or really expensive. We crossed the huge bridge to the slow side of town to ask about a hotel. It was Q160, not willing to come down. She sent us to the Backpackers Hotel for something a bit more económico. Turns out it was. Dorm beds are Q30, we got a private room with shared bath for Q60. Private room with private bath was Q200 and not nearly as nice as the other place, if that helps your Rio Dulce future planning. The Backpacker is literally right on the water, with most of the dorm rooms built onto old docks.



A restaurant serves up good food, but at high prices. At least the extra money is used for a program to help orphaned kids learn skills at the restaurant and hotel. Cheaper and tasty food is available at the many comedores surrounding the hostel, which we tended towards. We figured our lodging expenses were our contribution to their social program.



The next morning, Mike had a fever and was in no condition to drive, so a low key day at Rio Dulce was had. Constant napping for Mike, constant exploring and Spanish practice for Jill. All in all, not so bad. At least for one of us.



The following day was a Monday, so a visit to the clinic was possible, and travel still seemed like a bad idea. Internet and clinic day in Rio Dulce. The clinic got the wax mountain out of Mike’s ears (I guess the Arai is kinda noisy after all...) so he could hear again, but with his temperature back to normal, plenty of water, food, and licuados helped the sicko recover. In the meantime, Jill caught up on some internetting at the computer hospital in town. That is the one spot where you can find all of the gringo expats that live in Rio Dulce. They all seem to have some issue with their computers, and come to this one guy to fix it. He seemed good at what he does, speaks perfect English, but sadly has to deal with some unhappy people on occasion. One guy lectured him on how gringos act as consumers – that he will call up a manager of the company, call up the owner, and get 'er done. The computer technician had clearly been trying to get in touch with the other company, but in a usual Latin American way, had difficulty in getting a part sent immediately. The gringo did not want to hear that. That gringo needed to let it go. We felt bad for the computer tech having to deal with that. He was doing what he could. Some Americans do not make the best ambassadors for our country, often insisting that the American way is the only way to do things.



The good news is that we are now certain that licuados are our absolute favoritest food ever. Available in almost any fruit flavor, it’s a blended drink based on either water or milk. Around US$1 will get you a fresh licuado, usually US$1.50 or so for the thicker milk versions. Licuados are the best. Refreshing and filling all at once. Most importantly to us, cheap and yummy.
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Old 09-12-2011, 05:25 PM   #131
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Copán, the Paris of old, well-constructed piles of rock

We had picked out Jocotán, Guatemala as our destination based on its proximity to the border with Honduras. It had some initial charm, as it was a market filled city, with a lot of people around, all with lots of curious looks. For some reason, many people in Jocotán had a real hard time understanding Mike´s spanish, so Jill got more entertainment than usual by watching their facial expressions. But we had a chance to wander around and catch a harcut...






(yes, that´s a straight edge razor and some short hair, but whose head is that?)


(a new, improved Jill ´do! Even though it was fairly short before, this #6 blade shave is super easy and noticeably cooler)

We opted to stay in Jocotán for 2 nights, allowing us to leave the TA in a garage while we bussed across the border to Copán ruins for a day trip. We looked into riding the TA, but that would´ve cost us $35 to import it temporarily, which we would have had to pay again after our upcoming visit to El Salvador. The day trip on busses across the border made us really appreciate having our own mode of transportation. It was easy to catch a bus to the border, at a (mostly) agreed upon price of Q16. A short ride later, we deboarded to cross on foot. Even though our CA-4 visa should not require any payments within the 4 Central American countries (Guate, Hond, El Sal, Nica), we seem to keep having small payments pop up. To leave Guatemala, migración required a payment of around US$3. To enter Honduras, another payment of US$2 was required. All of these payments were at the official window, received a receipt in return, and no amount of questioning changed the official´s mind. We luckily asked some tourism officials what the expected rate for the bus to Copán ruins should be - around 20-25 lempiras each (just over US$1). The microbus driver across the border was used to hustling tourists, telling us that Q150 would get us to the ruins. We said no, that the price should be more like 40-50 lempiras (or Q15-20), and he immediately came down to Q100 (not much help as that´s still around US$12). We started to walk, but finally agreed on Q20 for the both of us. The driver didn´t seem happy, but some boss type guy told him to do it. But it turned out to be doorfront service, through town, right to the ruins themselves. The driver´s son even shared his ciruelas with us. We covered the US$15 entry fee, pocketed the money we knew we needed to return by bus, and had about US$6 left over for lunch. Perfect! (it turns out there is an ATM at the ruins, and Copán the town has banks/ATMs, but what fun would that have been?)

Copán ruins are incredible! There has been so much work done to improve and maintain the grounds, which is appropriate given the level of detail found in the carvings all throughout the ruins. There are many stellae all around the grounds, especially at the main plaza, which at this time of year is a lush, green, grass covered meadow.




(noticeable differences in door/hallway architecture from other ruins)


(features such as these were literally covering the temples of Copán)

One of the most well known features of Copán was the Escalinata de los Jeroglíficos (Heiroglyphic Stairway), 62 steps with over 2000 glyphs forming the longest known Mayan text. It was in poor condition when rediscovered around 1900, somewhat reconstructed, then visitors were allowed to walk on it until the mid 80´s. The intricate detail is overwhelming and cannot be captured on film. (So here´s a digital attempt...)



Climbing the temple next to the staircase provided a good view of the main plaza. The stairs we climbed were used as a vantage point for the ball court. Without the tree in the way (it ain´t that old...), you´d have box seats up there.




(another example of types of features carved into walls)


(Heisman trophy model jaguar)

Walking out from the main plaza, there are many more examples of ruins. Immediately behind the grandstands is an area assumed to be the residence area of royalty.






(water drainage for most of plaza, or maybe a doggy door)





We had a good chance to see some nature while there too. There is a big program to release macaws into the wild, located right at the entrance to the ruins.



And on the walk back to the town of Copán (no bus for us, gotta eat with that U$S 6), the ruins tour continued. There is evidence of the Mayans all up and down the valley around Copán. Horse tours and hikes are available to check out more sites, but we headed on back to town.



There we happened to run into Manny, a guy from California who was at our language school in Xela. We had a great lunch with him, then toured Copán for a minute. The town was quite nice, with plenty of hotel options, a nice market, lots of food options ranging from street stands to a nice looking steak house and other foreign fare. We jumped back on the bus to the border though, catching the last one leaving for the day at about 3:30 (after missing the one that was supposed to leave at 3).

Jocotán provided us some food, an uncomfortably filthy bed and room, but at least a place to rest before heading to El Salvador the next day.
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Old 09-12-2011, 06:02 PM   #132
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Pupusas, playas, and Perquín, El Salvador

We entered El Salvador at the La Ceiba crossing. We had been told that that was where all the truckers pass and that was pretty much right on. Make sure to pass all of them and go to the front of the line. Otherwise, you may be there for a very long time like the rest of the truckers seem to be. We pulled right up to the gate where the first official looked at our motorcycle paperwork and sent Mike to get copies (14 quetzales total) for both Guatemala exit and El Salvador entrance. He was also told by the official that he should permanently instead of temporarily close the paperwork (in Spanish, cancelar en vez de salir), since we did not plan on reentering Guatemala within our 90 day interval, which was not what they had said when we entered the country.

Once he had copies he was sent to the aduana to close out the paperwork. The aduana only temporarily closed him out so when he took the paperwork back to the first official he told us to make sure to go back to the aduana and officially close. Back at the aduana he was about to officially get re-closed out when the system went down. So, we waited about 45 minutes for the system to come up, which it never did, at which point the guy just hand wrote on the exit paper that it was ´cancelado´, so we have no idea what our current status in Guatemala is. It didn´t cost anything to get out of Guate. On the Salvador side, there was no line but it still took about 45 minutes due to pure slowness on the part of the official. No cost for us or the bike to enter.

We soon learned that the roads are pretty great and there are signs for most relatively major turns, although the signs are right at the turn with no advance notice. We also found that the entire contry is full of people, towns and animals with little break inbetween, and very little space between the highway and all of the people, towns, and animals. This makes sense as the country is about the size of Massachussetts with a population of over 6 million.



A few hours after entering the country we made it to La Libertad. We asked on hotel prices around town but the cheapest we could find was $20 so headed back out of town to try to find a smaller beach. We saw a sign for San Blas so decided to try there since we had enjoyed San Blas, Mexico so much. We found El Coral Hotel (followed signs for Hotel, Museo, Restaurant off the highway between La Libertad and Tunco) with a beachfront room for $20. It was a really nice place, run by a Dutch lady and her Salvadorian surfer husband with their two small children. We just hung out watching the water, drinking beer and occasionally motivating for a dip in the ocean. The food there was also pretty good and we basically had the beach to ourselves.

)



We also tried the infamous papusas for the first time and resolved to eat them at least once a day, which if you count the days we ate them for two meals, we may have accomplished that goal. Pupusas are fried tortillas with various cheese, meat and bean combos on the inside. They are delicious and cheap at around 50 cents each, making them a definite one of our favorites.




(check out the papusa wagon on the right side)

We had to get on the road again though because we wanted to catch our friend Daniel before he went on vacation to the states. Jill met both Daniel and another friend, KC, in grad school in Denver. They all had the same course of study (Int´l Administration) and had several classes together. It just so happens that both Daniel and KC joined the Peace Corps and were both assigned to El Salvador, both arrived at the same time, were assigned to the same region, and now live together in the same house in Perquín. They have a pretty sweet setup and seem to be doing very well after having lived there for the past 1.5 years. Daniel is working with a school in a nearby community and KC is working with the business association and womens group in town.



During our week stay, we took some cool hikes in the area, enjoyed some of the locally available refreshments, saw one of their friend´s fincas (=small farm), and got to see the communities in which they work.





Unfortunately KC got giardia early in the week so she was hurting and layed pretty low for a couple of days. Which was perfect for us as we caught up on laundry, including washing our riding gear for the first time (nearing the point of Mike´s old hockey gear), lots of hammock time, and Jill was even able to read two books.




(coffee plant at Prudencio´s finca)


(31m deep, hand-dug well under construction)

The state of Morazán and the town of Perquín in particular were the most affected by the civil war in the early 1980s. They were bombed consistently and many people became refugees to Honduras. The people who stayed led the guerillas in the fight against the US-backed military. The war is still very fresh in the minds of the people living there, as they were all profoundly affected by it. However, many of them are more than willing to talk about it with strangers like us, much different than the code of silence that seems to exist in Guatemala. The guerillas are actually in power in El Salvador now, so perhaps their openness is because their struggle was a winning one.

We visited the museum about the war, where everyone who enters is led by an ex-guerilla fighter and invited to ask any questions you want. Next door is a campamento, showing examples of living conditions and a collection of artifacts. Both are cheap, interesting and worth a visit.


(our guide in front of the guerilla radio station, the radio station equipment was used during the war, but only broadcast for a couple of hours a day, then was packed up and relocated)


(us in front of a US-made bomb, similar to one that caused...)


(this huge crater that Mike is standing in)


(entrance to the campemento)


(example shelter used during the war)


(notice the shrapnel still embedded in the tree)


(this carton was on the side of the road during one of our walks. When the peace accords were signed, both sides filled several of these trailers with arms.)

In Pequín we were also able to sample arguably the best papusas in Salvador at KC´s host mom´s pupusería.



On our last night in town we went with KC to a party thrown by her association of business owners celebrating their becoming a legal entity. Many of the group own restaurants and the quality and quantity of meat was impressive. It was also amazing how much booze everyone put down and that the women seemed to be able to drink just as much as the men. There was a good singer/guitarist there as entertainment and we were quite entertained by the all night sing along and clapping. A fun night for sure.

On our map it looks like a relatively major road goes north into Honduras from Perquín so we were hoping to cross there. People in town thought there was an aduana, but we drove to the border a few days before we wanted to cross to make sure. This was also to confirm what some other travelers had experienced and shared on the HUBB. We learned that there is immigration, but no customs for bike import. They hope to open the aduana in a month, for what that is worth. The only crossing on the eastern side of El Salvador is El Amatillo, which we have read is a big hassle with lots of police stops on the way to Nicaragua.

So, we decided to go back to the western border and cross into Honduras at El Poy partly to avoid the hassle of El Amatillo and partly to drive through more of el Salvador and Honduras. We lucked out in that a Peace Corps volunteer who is good friends with Daniel and KC lives about 30 minutes from the border near La Palma. So, we took off from Perquín around noon after recovering a bit and scarfing down some awesome oat patties KC made.

We got to Jessica´s at 6:30, just in time to go with her to her counterpart´s house for arguably the best papusas in el Salvador. (I know, I know...KC´s host mom was supposed to have the best, but I´d have to say, this lady´s were better.) Jessica is working with a womens coop that makes handicrafts and also sells chickens. It was very kind of Jessica to let us crash at her house for the night. We enjoyed our visit plus we were in perfect position to hit the border early.
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Old 10-10-2011, 02:47 PM   #133
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3 days in Honduras

El Poy also seemed to be a trucker´s crossing as there were a lot of trucks, but no line at the aduana to check out of El Salvador. Also absent was anyone in the office to check us out. Once someone made it back from their meeting/coffee/smoke/nap break, it was quick and painless to check the bike out of El Salvador. Immigration was also very quick on the Salvadorean side. Next up was immigration into Honduras, taking only a couple of minutes and $3 each.

The aduana for Honduras is a bit down the road, an obvious newer building on the left hand side (if you hit the gate you went a couple of meters too far). We were told we had to wait 20 minutes until the person got there to handle the motorcycle paperwork. And sure enough, she got there right on time and took our paperwork right away. Things were stamped and paperwork was filled out within 10 minutes...... and then she took about 2 hours staring at the computer to get the paperwork finalized. After that, Mike had to get copies (doesn't really help to get ahead of time because they need a copy of recently stamped documents, $1 total for 12 copies) then return to the aduana with copies where they collated and stapled, then back to the bank. There are 3 banks at the border, none with an ATM or that accept or exchange dollars and you must pay the fee in lempiras. The fee for paperwork was 500 lempiras and the bank charged 135 lempiras, totaling around $35 US. At least for all of this walking and time spent Mike got to see a snake being killed with a rock. Jill got to watch border traffic all morning and thinks a local taxi with no passengers would be a great way to smuggle drugs.


(almost out of El Salvador, kind of)


(Mike isn´t really that tall)

The first major town in Honduras was Ocototepeque, where we found an ATM and a wonderful restaurant called Hot Food. We had not eaten yet and it was already noon, so the buffet ("comida a la vista") was just what we needed.





We drove for the rest of the day, ending up in Gracias. The views were beautiful through the mountains but the major roads were in worse shape than we have seen yet, with lots of potholes and surprising, unannounced transitions to loose gravel found midturn. In the worst spots there are also children yelling at you to give them money.





Gracias had a nice feel to it and we found a nice hotel downtown for 200 lempiras (about $10). It had a tourist feel, but almost entirely Honduran tourism, lots of activity, seemed safe at night and we found good food for cheap. That´s a good combination in our book! And for some reason, Mike got priceless looks of confusion when he spoke to people here in Gracias.







We headed out pretty early to go towards Esperanza, which on our map is a secondary road. But until about 20k from Esperanza it was better than the primary road. We hit a police checkpoint right away. At first the officer was pretty stern, but then he saw our sticker of Romero (archbishop of the Catholic Church in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980, one day after a sermon where he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights.) we had picked up in Perquín. Then he just wanted to talk about reading boods and organizations in the Catholic church similar to the FBI. He did look at our moto papers and Mike's license, but Romero had already won him over and we were free to go. The last 20 km to Esperanza was a mix of packed gravel into mud-with-construction.



We stopped in Esperanza to ask directions to Marcala when we were approached by 2 cops who were happy to give us directions and wanted to ask a lot of questions about our trip. Eventually we were able to get out of there (they really wanted to talk. And they were nice about it. Never any consideration given to bribing, issues, troubles, nothin) and once we were almost out of town we got stopped by another police checkpoint. Again needed to show moto paperwork. He was impressed with the 600cc and said, I bet once you hit the open road this bike goes really fast, with a huge smile on his face, and then let us go. After asking several more people where the road to Marcala was, we finally found it. The 36 km started with a well packed dirt road, which quickly led into huge slabs of bumpy rock road, where a semi was stuck (after seeing what some of the turns further down this road looked like, I´m not sure why he choose this route) and the road kept transitioning into gravel and washed out sections. Coming into Marcala we were surprised to see a major paved highway coming from Esperanza that we joined for the last few km. Although the old mountain road was definitely slower, it was well worth it.







In Marcala we found a Chinese restaurant that we thought was pretty expensive at $10 per plate so we only ordered one. Come to find out it was a huge amount of food and we were both able to eat it for lunch and dinner.



Leaving Marcala we hit another checkpoint where we again had to show papers and license. At all three checkpoints they were not stopping many people besides us, but they were very friendly and seemed like they just wanted to check out the bike. We stopped at La Paz for the night and found a sweet place called BSF Hotel for 250 lempiras. They owner was extremely nice and gave Jill a bracelet from her shop made by the local indigenous people. We would highly recommend the place.



The next day we drove to Danli, passing several more checkpoints, but only having to stop once. Again, just a look at the moto papers and license and we were on our way. Danli was a bigger town than we expected and we spent probably an hour looking for a cheap hotel. We didn't find anything as cheap as we wanted, but ended up at a nice place called La Esperanza. About a half block north from the hotel we ran into a small restaurant that had a sign out front for American food. Turns out the owner, Billy Peters, is from S. Carolina, moved to Danli in 1998 and is now married with a son. Super nice southern guy. We got salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and corn for a good price and then he told us he would have breakfast waiting for us at 8, so we went back for bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes. All tasted a lot like home.

We stayed in Danli because it is about 40 km from the Las Manos border crossing. We got to the border around 9. This border had a lot more helpers and other random people standing around. With Mike´s Spanish and Jill watching the bike, we really don´t see a need to hire any help. Getting the bike checked out of Honduras took about 5 minutes, free, immigration out was also about 5 minutes and also free. As soon as we crossed into Nicaragua, the insurance guy led us to fumigation (free), and then to buy mandatory insurance (300 córdobas or $13), but while the insurance was getting done we somehow picked up a helper who had said he was aduana and the insurance guy handed him our papers directly. Immigration was fast, but expensive as we had to pay $10 US per person for a tourist card and an extra 88 córdobas for some kind of paperwork, for a total of 560 córdobas. Probably rip offs involved there but he was the only immigration officer present and he gave us receipts for everything. Since we had the helper, he worked on the moto immigration while we were at immigration and the moto was free. Make sure to check paperwork before taking off from any borders - its easy to transpose VIN digits or mess up the license number and those simple mistakes can be a real big hassle later on (luckily we´ve caught most at the borders, and an aduana official just laughed another one off when leaving Guatemala). We tipped the helper 50 córdobas (around US$2) as he was actually helpful and saved some time.









While all the official stuff was happening, a crazy Indian guy (Indian, as in, from India) kept insisting on drawing a portrait of Mike. Then he followed us from office to office insisting that he needed to finish and that we pay him. However he was somewhat unintelligible in both English and Spanish and we really didn´t feel like dealing with him since there was a lot more going on at this border. We refused to give him money and he refused cigarettes and candy. He even complained to immigration officials about us. When we finally were able to leave the border, after getting our paperwork checked twice and having to pay $1 each to the alcaldía before we could leave, we passed the same crazy drawing guy on the highway with his eyes bugged out, staring us down, likely wishing us badness. He was a weirdo. Even with that, things worked out pretty well for us our first day (and all others) in Nicaragua...
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Old 10-10-2011, 02:48 PM   #134
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Meeting the Walters

We pulled into Ocotal late morning on the 17th of September. An internet stop did more than help us plan our visit to Jalapa, it also connected us with Paul, a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Ocotal. During a fantastic lunch of enchiladas Nicaraguan style (fried, filled, yum-ness at only US$1 a pop), we found out a bit about the area and also learned that Paul hopes to take a motorcycle trip sometime in the future too. It was a great run-in!

News of the area was related to upcoming elections in Nicaragua. The party in power was issuing cédulas, or voter identification cards, to members of their party, but making it prohibitively expensive for other voters to receive these necessary credentials. So a road blocking strike was being held on the way out to Jalapa. We didn't expect it to be violent, especially since we weren't planning on blasting through it if the protesters didn't want us to, but still, we were wondering if we would make it to see our friends in Jalapa. We heard news that government talks brought an end to the block around 2 that afternoon, so we headed on down the paving stone road...



...where we saw evidence of the protest. I don't think we woulda made it past.



We also crossed a classic rope trap in Santa Clara. Two kids hold a rope (sometime string, sometimes thicker) across the road, forcing you to come to a stop. Then they ask you for money. This time they wanted money for a new church roof. I gave 'em a couple of coins out of my pocket because it was super hot and they needed a roof. Or a fan. But something that offers shade and/or moving air.

Pulling into Jalapa, we asked for directions to the Hospedaje Jonathon, which was actually a pretty nice place for the US$7 price. Jalapa was a nice little town.



The best part about Jalapa, though, was running into a buddy of Mike's from grad school, Jeff. Jeff and his wife, Jessica, have been living there for a few months working on a clean water project and with the women's shelter in town. It was great to see them! We got a good tour of their little town, enjoyed some meals with them, and then joined them for a weekend vacation in Estelí.
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Old 10-10-2011, 02:51 PM   #135
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Habanas in Nicaragua

Our very loose plan to see Jeff and Jess in Estelí worked out famously - we saw them walking on the street as we pulled into town. Ironically, we unexpectedly ran into Paul again, who stayed at the same hostel as Jeff and Jess.


(Paul, Jessica, Jeff, and Jill enjoying the cafe next to their hostel)

Estelí is known for its cigar production, so that afternoon we took a tour of a cigar factory. They produce all sorts of labels using tobaco from the states, Cuba, Nicaragua and other regions, keeping it all sorted by region, color, texture, aroma, and taste.


(laying it out to dry)


(sorting the goods)


(puffin on the goods)


(Jill enjoying a Habana, wrapped up in Nicaragua)


(cigarbox stamping equipment, definitely not OSHA approved)


(all labels made it this one factory)

We returned to the cafe at the hostel to discuss the finer points of cigar production, Nicaraguan rum, and the importance of those two.



Some drum beating street dancers performed just outside the bar, a 2-stroke motorcycle started cold just outside the door and filled the bar with smoke, and the electricity went out about 1am. It was time to go home after a pretty standard evening out in Nicaragua.

The next day we planned to drive on to León. When we rolled the bike out of the hotel's garage, the front tire was flat. Flat flat. Not kinda flat. Rim on the ground flat. We put air into it just to get 3 blocks to a llantera. It seemed to hold alright for a few minutes, and made it that far, but had already lost air. Front tube fixing time.

The first place we stopped was well-shaded and on a pot-holed, rocky dirt road parallel to the highway. There was not a good spot for the centerstand, and while looking for a good way to get the bike up, a truck wanted to park in the shade that we had. We told him we had some work to do there and he finally left us alone. Just thereafter Mike managed to push the TA right on over when checking to see if the ground was level enough...turns out it wasn't. So we picked it up and decided to cross the street. Shade was available at the gas station, and they have air. At least generally, gas stations have shade and air. Not this one.





As usual across Central America, a lot of people offer help. Super nice. The best help that we got, though, was from the ice cream vendor. He lent us a huge umbrella. That shade made life bearable.



We got the tube swapped, hoping to patch the old one when we had more time in the day without a lot of driving left to do. When it was time to air the tube up, we found out that the air compressor was broken. This made it the second time that day that Mike filled a motorcycle tire using an emergency bike pump. Unfun. Even worse was thinking about filling the tire for the 3rd time when the bouncy test ride showed that the bead was not seated properly. Thankfully a stop at a llantera took care of that in less than 3 minutes. Free. Well, I tipped the 2 guys a $1 a piece for their help. I will spend $2 to keep from having to pump the tire up with a bike pump anyday.

Finally, we hit the road to León. It's known for being a beautiful colonial city, popular with tourists.



We found a cool hostel for US$6 per person for a private room, shared bath. They didn't have parking for the TA, but told us that the gas station down the street had guards 24 hours a day that would watch it for us. So we unloaded everything and talked to the guard, who was happy to keep an eye on it for the night for just a couple of bucks. And he had a shotgun. That's the best security system we've had yet.

We had a great dinner in a small outdoor parrilla area, but then took it easy that evening. Walking around the next morning gave us a chance to see a lot more of the city, find some more ear plugs, and grab a cheap burger off the street from one of the rolling chain restaurants.



León was a fine city, but it didn't have such a draw that we really wanted to stay for extra days. And we had a sweet set-up waiting for us in Managua, thanks to salcar!
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