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Old 11-22-2012, 10:20 PM   #211
AnjinSan OP
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The other Guatemala: 26-28 Octomber
Flores got us puzzled. Nature and its proximity to the impressive Mayan ruins made it a wonderful place but it’s hard to relax when you are welcomed and treated in the most touristy possible way. We could give many examples, unfortunately, but there is no use to mention them here. It’s enough to say that you need some time to get used to the fact that to many of the people there you are just a walking dollar. And once you realize this you can either get annoyed and start looking for “justice” that might be really hard to find anyway or enjoy the most you can under the given circumstances. I admit that I had a lot of “fun” all the time when at the same neighbourhood store and the same vendor, products had totally different price every time I stopped by. It’s a shame I couldn’t film the dialogues we had every time. The good part is that if you don’t get angry and are always relaxed when approaching them about it, the local “slicks” get pretty confused. It’s a shame that the location is so beautiful, a coquette island on an of lake that mirrors the jungle and sunsets…

And still, Guatemala cannot be only this. There must be something more beyond the “touristy places”. We feel we have to leave Flores and discover the Other Guatemala, one that gives us back a name and identity different than Benjamin Franklin. Therefore we plot a route that will take us South of the country, towards Course de Guatemala, Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Gunnar barely starts rolling and I sense us feeling better. After 3 days of sitting in one place, we missed being back in the saddle. On the side of the road the people are out working. Some cut the grass with their machetes…

… some do their laundry.

We reach Sayakche, where we have to take a “ferry” to cross the river. I think this is our second river crossing on this trip, after more the 30.000 km and 4 months into the trip

Luckily we get a spot on the first one, next to other local motorcycles. We have a few moments to relax and watch the way people live on both sides of the river.


It’s also interesting where they put the engines of our “ferry”: they are in 4 barrels strapped on the corners of the ferry. This way the engine can spin freely 180 degrees. Simple and ingenous.

On the other side we are greeted by the mountains and a lot of green. What a beautiful day!


Guatemala is called “The country of eternal spring” and it’s not hard to figure out why. Everything around us is bright green! We notice something else: there are very few cars on this road, one of the main ones in Guatemala. And the few cars we meet are functional ones. Trucks and buses. No small vehicles. Here’s an example, “Rapido del Norte” speeding in the opposite direction.

We pass small cities and they are all the same: noisy, agitated and full of life. People going from one place to another.

You can find and you can buy everything on the side of the road. I feel like I landed in an oriental bazar.


Everything calms down once we are out of the small cities. We meet fewer people, travellung by bus or by… foot.

People, especially women, wear their traditional clothes. And they do it every day not just during the holidays. Statistics say that more than 40% of the population of Guatemala is Mayan, living in the hills and mountainous area and belonging to more tribes (over 15), each having their own dialect, costumes and traditions. A fascinating world. And somehow it doesn’t feel weird to see the beautiful girls carrying things on their heads, the way they do it for hundreds of years.

We stop on the side of the road to buy some oranges and we don’t feel the “mercantile pressure” anymore. Things seem to be normal here. We get our oranges that we pay with a few coins (probably the price for locals not for foreigners) and we get smiles also. It hard to tell though what’s behind those smiles. People here have been through a terrible civil war that ended not long ago. The war started in 1960 and ended in 1996 with a peace armistice that many considered a wonder. All this horrible war took place in these mountains that now seem so serene.

One of the reasons it started was due to big differences between the richness of the elite and the poor majority of the population, forced to work the lands that were no longer theirs but owned by the big corporations from other countries. The fight was tough and many innocent civilians were involved. Many of them are still trying to rebuild their life.

Just recently more information was reveled on the genocide committed by the government army troops (apparently more than 200 000 Mayans and peasants were killed) and on the involvement of foreign agencies (US) that were defending the interests of the corporations owning profitable businesses in Guatemala. For example, United Fruit Company- from US, of course- owned 42% of the Guatemalan land, that’s right, the fertile one, without paying any kind of tax for this thanks to the “settlement” made with the country’s “democratic” leaders. No wonder US was trying to keep unchanged the status quo of the matter opposing what they called a “communist” movement.

Things are not that simple, of course, there is never only black and white and what I wrote here are just a few pieces found out while travelling in Guatemala. But for sure many of the things that happened made no sense and should not have taken place. 36 years of blind fight, years of hardship for most of the population, forced to live in a country trapped between an ugly past and a never coming future. If you have some time it is worth to learn more about these events. They are unfortunately more actual that we would like. Just change some of the actors and… but I digress!

I would like to have the same approach as some of the people I’ve talked to on this topic. I noticed not only the reluctance to talk about what happened but also optimism and pride about what will happen from now on. They might be coming from a dark place but more important is that it’s all clear now. Now they can rest peacefully looking towards a future where they hope the sun will rise.

This seemed to me a healthy attitude. Maybe more spread among the older ones while the young ones have a “hot blood”. But I think sometimes is better to channel your energy on what you cn do from now on.

We were glad the ugly times seem to have came to past and today two Romanian travellers can freely discover Guatemala.

And children are now busy handling kites instead of guns.

As for us, we enjoyed discovering Guatemala day by day, “the other Guatemala” where it is easier to interact with the locals based on honesty and not on a currency. Whether it is dollar or something else.
We spent lazy afternoons in old Antigua,

eating chocolate in the same room it has been produced.

Then we went to San Pedro la Laguna, a village set between Lake Atitlan and San Pedro volcano, “racing” (and losing) with the famous “Chicken buses” (old American school buses, now transformed into commuting buses).

And to get to San Pedro we left behind the 4 lanes intercontinental road for more narrow roads that lost their pavement at a certain point but not the traffic, heavy one, from the opposite direction…

Or… coming the same way as us…

hmm should we try to pass? Luckily we are on a motorcycle and we can squeeze through!

But its worth it to pass the big bus. The landscape just opens up and we have a great view on Lake Atitlan, guarded by a fortress of volcanoes. Wonderful!

In San Pedro we found a place to stay towards the end of the village where we decided to spend a week. Our own bungalow with a hammock, view of the volcano and beautiful garden. Yeah, it is time to spend more time in one place.

It was end of October and we found out that the first available boat to cross the Darien Gap was only on the 8th of December. Late… very late but we couldn’t find a spot for Gunnar earlier. We book the 8th of December.
This means we will have a whole month, November, to explore Central America.
But this also means that we will have less time to reach the South of Argentina, in Ushuaia, if we want to get there before winter.
And this also means that our plan to get back home on the 4th of February is no longer feasable. With God’s help, our trip will take more than 7 months.
And a new thought starts to take shape. What if Ushuaia is not our last stop? Can’t we just go further? Hmmmm…
Here’s the route map for this post:
View Larger Map
Next time we meet old friends and try to solve a very “serious” issue: where to find a quiet place by the ocean to spend a few days out of the remaining ones until the 8th of December? Stay stunned!
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Old 11-22-2012, 10:32 PM   #212
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnjinSan View Post
- of course avoid trouble areas (should we skip El Salvador and/or parts of Honduras?) and trouble border crossings
To answer your question, no, no, and no.

If I could make one suggestion, forget about what you "know" and what you have been told. Enter these countries with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised I think.


Good job, and really fantastic photos, incredible actually! Keep up the great ride report!

Saludos! Vin
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Old 11-23-2012, 07:24 AM   #213
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Alex and Andreea

Another outstanding write-up and another outstanding photo. I want a print of this photo! And I want a copy of the book you will write when you get home.

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Old 11-24-2012, 04:25 AM   #214
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Excelente informe! Muchas gracias
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Old 11-24-2012, 05:00 AM   #215
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@crashmaster: in the end we decided to go in El Salvador as well and we had a great time. And the borders in and out were quite easy and professional. When we wil reach Panama I am thinking to write a "About crossing Central America borders". Until now we never used helpers... hope to keep it that way.

@Tom: hmm if I only knew how to make prints from the road and send them in the US... you would for sure receive one :)
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Old 11-25-2012, 10:23 PM   #216
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Goodbye Guatemala: October 28 – November 13
San Pedro la Laguna is one of the many villages, smaller or larger, on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We stopped there for a week, we decided that it is a good place to wait for a new motorcycle chain and sprockets that were supposed to arrive via courier from the States. And indeed what a setting! The lake, the deepest one in Central America, is basically guarded by volcanoes!

A bungalow outside the city center of the village, in a quiet area with a view of the above mountain and close to the lake makes life switch gears and slow down in the heat of the dry season debut. Days go by slowly and lazy. Our main occupation is walking the narrow streets, going to the market and learning a little bit of Spanish (good opportunity to learn more interesting things about Guatemala from my Mayan teacher). After my previous posting, Julio, a Guatemalan friend, drew my attention that I might have a too romantic image of the internal war that Guatemala struggled with for 36 years. Maybe he is right, maybe it is easy to get an incomplete picture when you look at things from the outside. But I don’t think there is anything romantic about armed conflicts. And I confess war is one of the things I fear the most. Apart from “who started” and “who was right” there will always remain the horrible actions taken by both parties. I think that now it is more important that Guatemala is moving forward and leave all this behind. I hope from all my heart that they will succeed and we are happy to see places, like Lake Atitlan, which was a scene of the conflict, are now calm, quiet and inviting for tourists to take a walk to discover the details hidden on the narrow streets.

And the small village is full of bright colored surprises. For instance, the 3 wheeled Tuc- Tucs, used as taxis. Normally they are red-white and look like this:

But who says you need a super expensive car to tune it properly? Here’s a real work of art, way above the tuned Romanian cars.

Well, if you really want to go for a ride in a tuc- tuc, at least do it with a properly pimped one! We didn’t go for a ride with it, probability the guy was really popular and had lots of orders. We prefer walking anyway when we are not on the motorcycle. And when you are walking you notice more details that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Working hands!

I am dizzy! There is too much people here!

You only do the laundry in the family!

Do you remember our Vancouver visit when we spent a few days with Mihaela and Traian? And there was a car in their back yard ready to go to South America also? Well, the guys kept their promise and one of the days we were in San Pedro they showed up! 4×4 and same passion for long travels! Now that’s one tricked up car! They even have a tent on the roof that can unfold right there, high and mighty!

And because world is not that big, we meet Bogdan just like that, on the street, another Romanian traveling the opposite direction, backpacking from South to North. Only from one bus to the other, and more flexible than all of us, no car, no motorcycle to worry about. The next few days… San Pedro was now speaking Romanian. What were the chances for 5 Romanian travelers to meet in a small village in Guatemala? We were happy and spend a lot of hours talking…

We say “goodbye” to the guys. Bogdan was going up North, as last part of his journey and Traian and Razvan had to hurry down South. They want to get to Ushuaia and back in 6 months. We shake hands and promise to meet again, if possible, somewhere in South America. As they come back up and we go down. Until then… safe trip, guys!

We stay some more in San Pedro and we are there when Guatemala, as well as many other Latin countries, celebrate Dia de los Muertos. There are interesting customs but we were intrigued by the high degree of mixture between the Mayan traditions and the “newer” rules brought in by the catholic religion. And indeed, many of the locals either Catholics or protestants kept their old traditions from one generation to the other.

The lake is a wonder also. It’s an endorheic volcanic lake with no link to the sea so water is not going anywhere. So when it rains a lot the water level increases significantly. That is why today many of the places that were once “by the lake” are now part of it.

Nothing was spared, old shops and hotels are now abandoned structures or in the best case, parking for the boats.


Internet you say? Sure we have, we even have wifi, right in the middle of the lake….

We take a boat for a short ride on the lake, to the neighbour village, Santiago Atitlan. The newly built deck sits above the old streets. We can see the old benches and fences under the water. It is a little bit strange.

Once we are on the boat we admire the landscape created by the lake and we understand why Atitlan is compared with Lake Como in Italy.


And maybe even better! As Lake Como is not surrounded by volcanoes like Lake Atitlan.


We think, though, that the lake is a little bit “overused”. There are many areas where water is really dirty. Lots of trash is thrown into the lake and for sure there are sewage systems from the villages that end up in the lake also.

And in the same lake women do their laundry or give the children a bath. Detergent, soap, shampoo, all into the lake (and the water of the lake is not going anywhere….).


And day by day fishermen paddle their boats to catch some fish in the same lake. This makes a pretty picture if you take your mind off what’s in those waters.


We leave San Pedro after a quiet and pleasant period we spent there. We considered ourselves lucky for being able to see the things behind the “touristic” curtain. Andres and his dog, Chato are waiting for us in Guatemala City, we are supposed to stay with them in the capital. We will also meet Richard there who is helping us with the spare parts for the motorcycle. We feel lucky again to meet people that we connect to on the spot. Not too many words, not too many explanations.
Andres and Richard prove to be extraordinary people. Without trying to flatter no one I confess that we spent more days than planned with Andres, because of his way of making people people feel welcomed. OK, I confess, it’s Chato’s “fault” also, for being the dog with the most “effiecient” puppy eyes I’ve ever seen.

Richard shows us the city and it’s surroundings and helps us with the spare parts we need. And when it’s time to go we accompanies us outside the city to make sure we don’t take the wrong road.

We leave Guatemala City – a city that many tourists avoid- with new friends, a very positive impression of the city and warm memories. We’re sorry that Luisa and Julio are not home yet to meet them too. But we are excited about their trip and wish them to get home safe, whenever that will be!
As for us…. we still have some time to spend in Central America, the boat that will take us from Panama to Columbia is leaving in a month. We don’t feel any pressure to leave Guatemala and as we like it here we decide to find a quiet place by the ocean to spend few more days. Richard told us about a place place like that. A small hostel, in a fishermen village, not yet on the touristic “radar” reachable only via a sandy road. That doesn’t sound to good for me, a beginner on a loaded motorcycle. But let’s try it.

Doesn’t seem that bad. But from time to time there is someone strongly pulling my handlebars and the motorcycle becomes unstable. There are places where the sand gets deeper. Hmmm, this is not fun at all. We are not going that fast but all of the sudden we end up….in the sand. And there you go, my first motorcycle fall while riding…. first one with Gunnar… after 50 000 km, in deep sand. We are fine and the motorcycle too but it really gets to me. We hurry up to pick it up and forget to take a picture…. But we take one with it standing. Sand was deep enough to keep the loaded motorcycle free standing without the side stand.

OK, we get the sand off our clothes and Gunnar and ride on. We dance through the sand the whole 12 km but without other incidents.

And get to a place… looking right out of an exotic postcard. Few huts built on wooden pillons, close to the beach, all facing the ocean (ours will be the first one on the right).

Reed roofs, hammocks by the beach. Great waves, deserted beach.



It’s great. For the following week we were to stay close to the ocean, moving one time from these hammocks to other ones few kilometers South East, in Monterrico. We were planning to cross into El Salvador in a few days. But for now… we are trapped on the beaches with volcanic sand, where crabs and turtles walk freely and sunsets are spectacular each time. There couldn’t have been a better way to say “goodbye” to Guatemala. Time stood still with us….




Route map for this story:
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Next time we find the courage to leave Guatemala and we press onwards to explore El Salvador and Honduras. Stay tunned!
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Old 11-28-2012, 07:50 PM   #217
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I have been following the crumbs of your trail- i saw your magnet at el ceibo, then again when i met the wonderful Andres in guate city just after you left. And I hear we will be on the same boat to columbia. I look forward to meeting you both in person then. Enjoy the ride. Deb
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Old 11-29-2012, 06:49 AM   #218
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@Hewby: Looking forward to meet you too! I was reading things on your ride report as well and then Andres told be that you will pass by as well. I was thinking to write you PM these days to see how you are doing and how are you progressing... it is quite wet here and I hope we all make it in sunnier weather to the boat and then to Colombia.
Until then... rainy days provide some time to catch up with the RR:

El Salvador: 13-16 November
We wake up very early. Mainly because we want to be few steps ahead of the heat…. once it gets hotter we might delay again our departure with “just one more day” and go back in the hammocks. We even have a theory about it. Many of the foreigners that now have businesses here by the beach, were at the beginning tourists like us, just visiting. Then they stayed “just one more day” until they became… locals. As for us… we still have a long way to go to reach Argentina so we don’t give in! It’s 7 AM and we are outside our room with luggage and everything. It’s already hot!!! On the hallway, our neighbor looks at us motionless, as if he is feeling sorry for us that we will get into the sun soon.
We are not feeling sorry for leaving him there,o n the wall and we speed up the process of loading everything on the motorcycle. Everybody is still sleeping at the hostel so there is not much people to say “goodbye” to. Only the owner’s parrot who keeps telling us “Ola! Ola!”.
Our wheels don’t spin too much, if we want to cross into El Salvador we have to take a ferry that will take us 30 kilometers up the river where we can meet the road again. So we are arriving at the “deck”.
But we don’t see any ferry. We are trying to ask around, what is the procedure, is there a schedule, when is the next ferry and how much is a ticket, these kind of small details. It’s all quiet on the bank. “What ferry… this is the ferry, this boat” answers one of the boys there pulling to the shore a wooden raft…
Hmmm, should we get on or not?
The only alternative is more than 100 kilometers detour and we want to get to El Salvador today. Then let’s get on!
Meanwhile our man goes to bring the engine that was supposed to push us up the river.
The wooden boat moves heavily leaving behind the village that’s slowly waking up.
We had some more kilometers to go until the border but we feel like this is the place where we are saying “Goodbye” to Guatemala, here on a wooden raft, floating among the mangroves….
On the stills waters the locals are out fishing and the volcano outlines itself in the background.
Goodbye Guatemala! Thank you for all you’ve offered us, thank you for your lessons!
Hmm, once we get off the boat we feel like we are in another country although there are few more kilometers to the border.
We can tell that the border is close when we start passing trucks. A lot of trucks parked on both sides of the road (yes, everybody was driving on the opposite side of the road).
And when we get there… the whole place is packed. And still this is not the main border crossing, the PanaAmerican one.
Central America is famous for the border crossing bureaucracy. We think this statement is unfair.We agree, it is not a regular border crossing, like crossing 2 E.U. countries. OK, sometimes time passes by differently when waiting here and it is sometimes hard to find the logic of certain actions.

The bureaucracy at the frontiers of Central America is the famous. We could say that this reputation is unjustly gained. Yes, it is not an usual crossing, as between 2 countries of European Union. OK, time flows differently in these borders and it is quite difficult to find the logic behind some of the actions you have to take there. Even between the same 2 countries, if you use different border crossings, things that have to be done and the order in which they have to be done can differ radically. However, with a little patience and kindness we have managed up to now to cross without problems and without “helpers” (people who make a living by acting as guides for foreigners at the borders). We hope that from now on to be the same. But, this border was much more agitated and, inevitably, I found odd things. For example the office where motor vehicles need to be “de-registered” out of the country is located… on the “incoming” side of the Border buildings (where vehicles go in the country) And there was no sign to indicate that. Therefore one has to walk around a bit until things are revealed
Our motorcycle jackets have a lot of flows and shortcomings but at least, nobody can say that they don’t have the hi-reflecting strips working properly.
Then, of course that you will need to copy all kinds of documents so you better find “that” copy machine near the border (preferably one that is working and has also someone to work it – don’t ask….)
With the formalities on the Guatemalan side over, we hop on the bike and head down the road to the El Salvador’s border navigating between tons of trucks. In the below picture, you can notice that we “upgraded” from driving in the opposing traffic lane to driving on the opposite side’s shoulder, on the far side of the road… and that is because the opposing traffic lane was already “occupied” as well by trucks. Fun!!
Then another hour or so of paperwork and ta daaaa! we are in El Salvador!
So here we roll, on the roads of a new country from Central America, the smallest country in fact, but the most densely populated. We try to stay away from the crowds and pick a road that goes near the coast.
Before getting in El Salvador, I didn’t know much about this country. With a history as cloudy and intense as pretty much all other countries in the area, it is only in recent years that tourism started to take off with all that is implied by this. And if in the `90 more than 90% of forests area was deforested, after 2000 it has been reported a 20% increase in the forested area (how many countries in the world can brag with an increase in the woodland areas? ).
We stop, purely at random, in one of the small surfing spots on the Pacific coast. We will stay here for a few days, relaxing and trying to surf as well. El Salvador will be good to us…
Unfortunately I didn’t do that well on the surf board, being for the first time on it. But let me tell you, the few seconds that I was able to stand on my feet on the board, boy those were awesome! Well, after the “heroic” tries, I’ve settled on the beach, watching others do it properly..
And because surely you need a picture with girls in swim suits in order to have a successful ride report, here it goes!!!
Well, joking aside, the life at the ocean’s shore was slaw and relaxing, with long hot days and evening full of magic.
But after 3 days it was time to move, yet again, and start the next chapter of our journey.
But in order to reach that, we first needed to pass through San Salvador, country’s capital. Having no GPS and entering the concrete jungle we surely enough get lost pretty soon. At a stop light we ask some people in a car next to us for directions. The driver pulls to the right, get’s out of the car, shakes our hands, asks where are we coming from and where are we going and so on. We feel like some important guests, not like some helpless lost travelers…. Then the guy tells us to just follow his car, he will drive us to the correct exit of the town. Wow, really? I am sure he had other plans for that morning that didn’t include driving through rush hour just the help us but here we are… following a green BMW out of San Salvador
So we exit the city in no time and after saying good bye to our new friends in the green BMW, we find ourselves on the road to the mountains. Beyond them, Honduras awaits.
A new border crossing is in store for us, and after that a new country from Central America. I wonder how Honduras will be like? A lot of people just try to pass quickly from El Salvador to Nicaragua, spending just half a day in Honduras. We will try to explore for a few days, taking the long way through it.
Map with the route from this post:

View Larger Map
Next time we meet Honduran roads and on them other travelers that are heading to South America. Stay tuned!
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Old 11-29-2012, 12:02 PM   #219
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I didn't know BMW made cars.
Thanks for the photos and the great write up. Can't wait to hear about the next crossing.
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Old 11-29-2012, 01:17 PM   #220
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Very nice!!! I'm glad you managed to see past the bad comments and went to El Salvador. Great pics.
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Old 11-30-2012, 11:33 AM   #221
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National day of Romania!

OK, we will take a break from the normal posts of this ride report for a special contribution from friends of MICADU



1st of December is the national day of Romania. We are far away from home but since we started, we never felt alone. We met friends along the way that made us feel at home and made us wanting to discover more.


So, for our National Day, we thought to kindly ask some of them to send a message for Romania. And… they did! Canada, Alaska, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela and many onthers teamed up to wish. “La multi ani Romania”.


A lot of the super-stars actors are from right here, they areADVriders. I didn't used any "screen names" from ADV (using instead their real names) so I wonder if somebody will be able to identify any (or all) of the them and call them out with the ADV name.



The movie that follows is the result of their excellent acting talents and my lousy editing talents (first time when I try making a movie) So here we go:


http://youtu.be/KeU2a8-qeX4

Later edit: seems I am not able to embed the youtube movie here, so only the link :(
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Old 11-30-2012, 01:42 PM   #222
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You did good Alex. Thanks
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Old 12-01-2012, 03:49 AM   #223
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So, I read a lot of RRs and sometimes forget things like who speaks Spanish and who doesn't. In what language did you ask the BMW driver for directions? What is your fluency level with the Spanish language?
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Old 12-01-2012, 04:43 AM   #224
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:38 AM   #225
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merlin III View Post
So, I read a lot of RRs and sometimes forget things like who speaks Spanish and who doesn't. In what language did you ask the BMW driver for directions? What is your fluency level with the Spanish language?
We are not native Spanish speakers and we did not have proper hours of Spanish "learning". Andreea is speaking better than me and I had basically close to 0 Spanish knowledge before this trip.
I did however took 20 hours of Spanish in San Pedro so I am able to have basic conversations!

But we get by and it is always fun to try and communicate in Spanish. And... we actually really try to avoid English and speak, as best as we can, in the language of the places we are traveling through (Spanish in this case) as I think it is a matter of respect and politeness. Not to mention that even if you are lousy at it, the locals usually appreciate very much your tries.
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