|03-25-2013, 07:58 PM||#16|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
On the road again
It looks like I am finally ok to ride again (hopefully). Turned out that not only I had the chest and muscle pain from the shock, but I also had whiplash. The chest pain got a lot better after about two weeks, so I should have been ready to ride, but my neck was killing me. I had really sharp pain in my neck and shoulders, headaches, and I was getting dizzy quite often. I ended up going back to the clinic. They prescribed me some Diclofenac and Naproxen, and they recommended me to wear a cervical collar, to immobilize the neck until the swelling and irritation go away. So I wore the collar for 4 days, and took the pills, and boy, it made a difference! I could actually sleep, and during the day the pain was absolutely manageable, so I could see an immediate improvement. I should have done this from the beginning, not after 10 days! Now obviously these pills have pain killer ingredients in them as well, so as soon as I stopped them, some of the pain was back, so once in a while I still have to take one.
I have just been very disappointed with my travel insurance company,as they considered all my expenses ineligible. Why, I will never understand.
But leaving this aside, we finally hit the road again after three weeks of break. I was still quite weak, but I was well enough to get on the saddle again. I was so nervous, I felt like I was about to start a very important exam. Matt and Robin came back to ride with us for a few days.We packed up all our stuff (boy, I did not realize how much stuff we had!), got on our bikes, and headed towards Ensenada. The plan was to take it easy, since it was my first day on the bike after my accident. Ensenada is about 2-3 hours ride from San Felipe, so it was perfect. Robin knew this orphanage about 40 km south of Ensenada, so we decided to go there and have a glimpse of these kids’ lives.
We left around 10 am, had a break about two hours later just to hydrate ourselves and for me to stretch my neck and then we hit the road again.
The scenery was unbelievable: big boulders in the middle of the desert on both sides of the road. I am wondering how they got there.
The road was in pretty good condition; we had some twisties at some point too which made it more fun. By the time we got to Ensenada, I was already feeling quite week and tired, and my neck was not feeling too good at all. But we had to go through the city though to find a bank and get some cash. Ensenada is the second biggest city in Baja California after Mexicali. The traffic was pretty crazy, and after a while we realized that we had taken the wrong turn too, so we were not going to find the bank. We decided to stop and eat, since we were – at least I was – about to faint, while Vasile was going to go and find the bank by himself (we got better instructions in the meantime). After a well deserved break and food, I was ok now to keep going. We jumped on the bikes again and we headed out of the city. It was getting dark and chilly (I know, I did not think I would ever say that here!). By the time we got out of the city, it got dark, and all we had for map were some hand written directions given by phone to Robin by her friend. So here we are looking for “Caso Bogan” (later on we found out it was actually "Casa Hogar"), that was supposed to be over a bridge. We managed to find the village, but now we had to find the orphanage, and at this time in the day, there weren’t many people out in the streets. We stopped and we asked someone for directions, and we were wondering why no one knew about any “puente” (bridge). We finally got on the right way, and we crossed a little passage over a puddle (that was “the bridge”), and then when there were no signs anymore, we stopped by this building, thinking that this was the orphanage. No lights, no signs, no one to ask. Oh, and by the way, when I stopped my bike and I put my foot down, my food sank about 10 cm deep in sand!!! That was not at all what I had planned for that day. I wasn't planning to do any gravel roads for a while, due to my physical condition now (plus the fear I got of sand now and gravel now), let alone sand! But thank God it was dark and I only realized there was sand when I stopped.
After walking around the building, we were not sure if that was the orphanage or not. I was so tired I did not want to ride any more on that road to see if it was any further or not, so we were looking for a place to pitch our tents. Luckily a white SUV passed by, and we tried to stop it. When I waved at them, they did not stop, which is quite natural, since you are not supposed to stop for strangers in the dark here. But our friend Robin, who was a bit further down, jumped in front of the car and she stopped them. We asked them about the orphanage, and they were so nice to actually escort us there. Turned out we were only a mile and a half away from it. We got to the orphanage, where a bunch of kids playing outside greeted us with a loud “Hola!” full of joy.
Then Darrel, the director of the orphanage came and invited us inside, where we met Maureen, his wife. We had a great dinner (Maureen is an incredible cook!), a nice chat about the orphanage and the kids, and then we went to bed, to a well deserved rest and sleep.
|03-27-2013, 04:39 PM||#17|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
Mount of Olives orphanage
You know there is still hope in this world when you see people who do well financially, giving up on all they have in order to help others. And some of these people are Darrel and Maureen Graham, from Southern California (originally from Lower Mainland, Canada), who started going to Mexico just to help people over there in 2001, and then in 2005 built an orphanage in Urapan, Baja. In 2010 they moved there so they can give hundred percent of their time and dedication to those kids.
The things they've done here are beyond imagination. They've built a whole orphanage from scratch, with all the amenities (as much as the geography allowed).
They now have 21 kids here – little balls of energy, smiles, and need for affection. Here's Darrel, helping the girls to build a castle.
It looks like they liked our bikes, even though they were a bit bigger than theirs.
I was impressed how well educated the kids were, how they were cleaning their own clothes and shoes at that age, how polite and caring to each other they were. This proves someone really spends time with these kids, and prepares them for life.
And now they are trying to expand. So while Robin and I were playing with the kids, Vasile and Matt did some real work:)
Talking to Darrel and Maureen, it’s amazing to see how their hearts are filled with so much happiness and contentment just to see the progress of their “grand children” as they call them. They dedicate their whole time to making sure the kids have everything they need, and most importantly that they feel loved. And we can see the results in the kids’ faces: smiley happy faces. The stories behind these kids are very touching: most of them come from broken families or parents on drugs. Here they find the family they are missing. And everything is based on volunteer work and donations.
And not only they help the orphanage, but they help the whole community, by providing food, or scholarship opportunities to those in need.
While we are complaining about the internet not being fast enough or about not being able to cut on sweets, others need food on the table. And I can only imagine what it is in the heart of a mom who cannot provide for her kids!
Feel free to visit their website below for more details, and if you can help in any way, I am sure they will be more than grateful.
|03-27-2013, 04:49 PM||#18|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
Ensenada to Bahia de los Angeles
After our short and wonderful stay at Mount of Olives Orphanage, where we came as strangers and left as friends, we were ready to hit the road again. Matt and Robin headed back to Canada, and Vasile and I headed South to...wherever
The landscape was unbelievable: forests of cactus trees in the desert.
The road had a lot of washout sections under construction, sign that the Hurricane Paul damaged it quite a bit. But other than that, it was pretty good, so we did over 400 km that day. Since we heard from a lot of people that Bahia de los Angeles is a beautiful place, we decided to go there and stay for a day, even though it was not quite on our way. And here is Bahia de los Angeles from the distance:
We found a campsite on the beach, apparently the best one in the area, for $10 a night. Beautiful view, but soon enough, as it got dark, I freaked out when I saw the huge cockroaches running around on the beach and in the toilets! I’ve never seen such big cockroaches. And those who know me know about my passion for bugs and arachnids. Thank God I haven’t seen any spiders yet!
But I guess this would compensate for my little friends’ presence:
As it was the first night sleeping only on my tiny self inflating mattress since my accident, I have to admit it was not very comfortable, so I did not sleep much. The next day early in the morning Vasile got up and took some picture of the sunrise. According to him, best sunrise he has ever seen, better even than the one we’ve seen on the Himalayas. I let you be the judge.
The water was incredibly nice and warm, so we could go for a swim. When I was about to get in the water, I saw a little sting fish darting away from my foot. I thought I was mistaking, but then people on the beach told me to be careful not to step on the sting fish, since their sting hurts like hell. I stopped and looked around, and I realized there were lots of them. I almost stepped on one, I touched it with my foot as I was walking in the water. That kinda freaked me out now, once I realized that they really were sting fish! But at the same time it was kind of neat to see these creature in front of me, not on TV. Then I almost stepped on a huge crab! I only saw it when it started running sideways away from my foot. These creatures are so well camouflaged; you can hardly see them in the water.
One more time, Sea of Cortes impressed me! One day of rest well spent.
|03-27-2013, 05:04 PM||#19|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
Last days in Baja
We left Bahia de los Angeles at 7:30 am heading south. We rode through deserty canyons*until Mulege, where it seemed as though we entered a different world. It was like a little oasis in the middle of the desert: luxuriant vegetation and crossing rivers. I realized now how much I missed the green!
We decided to stop and camp at Playa Santispac. Best decision! The beach was really beautiful and the water very nice and clear.
In the evening I went to walk on the beach, with my feet in the water, and I felt something nibbling on my feet. I thought it would be little fish, since they do that, but guess what: it was little crabs! And as soon as I would move my feet, they would hide in the sand in a second. That was so cute!
Vasile kept teasing me that I found this cute, but I freak out if I see a bug on me:)
The next day at 7 am we were on the road again, heading to La Paz. This time we went to a hotel, since we needed internet and to do some laundry. Vasile went into town to find a bank and to buy some oil for my bike. Found the bank, but no oil. Apparently La Paz is really beautiful, with some nice seawalls.
The next day we left La Paz, to go south and do a loop to see the tip of the Baja Peninsula. We stopped in Todos Santos, and we found the Hotel California, the place that inspired Eagles to write the Hotel California song. Really beautiful and original place. Everything looked custom made and with a lot of good taste. We had the best coffee we had so far over there and a good lunch. Prices comparable to a regular restaurant in Canada, just that this was not a regular restaurant, it was so much more! I totally recommend anyone to go there.
Then we rode to Cabos, where for the first time in Mexico we did not feel very safe. We found a place to camp, called Club Cabos Inn, about 3 km on a gravel road from the city's seawall/ downtown area. The place looked alright at a first glance. We paid 20$ for one night, and were thinking to maybe stay there for two nights, since we wanted to do a hike somewhere not too far from Cabos. The owner gave us a remote spot to camp by the fence. Got there, parked the bikes, changed in lighter clothes, and we were ready to walk to town to have a bite to eat, when Vasile started chatting with one of our neighbours, who was staying in a "cabana". They chatted about all kinds of stuff, one thing led to another until the guy (Greg was his name), mentioned that he got robbed in that same campsite, a few days earlier. Apparently he was locking his door every day, but one day he forgot the door unlocked for about 4 hours and he fell asleep. *When he got up, his stuff were missing: computer, passport and other stuff. So it looks like someone had been watching him, otherwise it would be too much of a coincidence. When we heard that, we decided to keep going, since in a tent we cannot even lock anything up, so we could not leave the bikes and go to town or anywhere. Since we did not want to make the owner feel bad, we made up an excuse that we decided to meet a friend in La Paz, so we had to leave, and we would need the money back. She just yelled at us that there were no refunds, and she shut the door on us. We found this so ugly and sketchy at the *same time, that now we really decided it was unsafe for us to stay there, so we jumped on the bikes and left, leaving the $20 behind. Definitely do not recommend that place!
So we rode to El Barrel, and we found a beautiful place on the beach to camp for free! It looks like it was an "arroyo" (a washout from the hurricane) and anyone can camp for free, since it's no one's land. The only downside for me was that I had to do again *a few km of sandy road, to get to the beach. And since it was close to the beach, it was pretty sandy. In Baja there is sand everywhere! But it was well worth it: on one hand, I am starting to break the ice on sand again after my accident, and on the other hand, the pictures will speak for themselves.
The next day we woke up early again and headed back to La Paz. We spent hours riding around town, trying to find some oil for my bike, but in vain. Eventually I got tired, so we decided to go and camp somewhere outside La Paz, on the Tecolote Beach. We got there; it was really beautiful, but very windy, and the food very expensive.
While we were debating what to do, a Mexican guy (Hugo), who was working at the tourist information point there, recommended us a good place in La Paz, a Guest House, very safe, and only 280 pesos a night (a bit over $20). He even recommended us a good place to eat, with good prices and good food. And we totally agree: the food was incredible, and right on the seawall! The guest house was really nice too, and the owner, a really nice guy. Here is their facebook page:
If you are ever in La Paz and you need a safe, decent, inexpensive place, feel free to contact them.
They are motorcycle friendly, so we could take our motorcycles inside, to the interior patio. It was more challenging to get them out of there:)
We loved La Paz - beautiful city, and we felt incredibly safe there.
The next day we took the ferry to Mazatlan - 15 hours on the ferry. We got to Mazatlan the next day, around 11 am. Nothing special about this city, but we did not go to the tourist area though. Vasile and I were hardly waiting to get out of it. But we had to do the oil change for my bike. So as we were riding around and we kind of got lost in this residential area (we had no GPS and no map with us), an old man directed us towards a motorcycle dealership. So we got there, and Vasile managed to do the oil change on my bike right there. We did not find BMW's 10w-40 mineral oil, but Vasile decided that the Mobil 20w-50 mineral oil was ok for my bike. Nobody uses 10w-40 in Mexico since it's so hot.
Then we rode to Tepic and we found a pretty nice hotel here for 260 pesos a night.
|03-27-2013, 05:18 PM||#20|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
We left from Tepic in the morning heading south towards Puerto Vallarta. The road was unbelievable! Switchbacks on the mountains with great luscious vegetation.
It made us feel like in Nepal, just with way better roads. By the way, the road was unexpectedly good - nice and smooth asphalt. Just the traffic changed. In Baja we have been spoiled, the traffic was pretty good. Busy in the bigger cities, but still decent. As soon as we hit Mazatlan, we got to know the real Mexican traffic: impatient people, honking at you for wasting a second, not letting you change lanes in front of them, cutting you off etc. We have to be way more alert here. But we are getting used to it, we're originally from Europe
The only downside of this road was that is was quite busy, with lots of commercial trucks that were slowing down the traffic (since it was a one lane road), so we had to keep overtaking them.
We got to Puerto Vallarta and we were planning to spend maybe an hour driving around to see what's all about, thinking that it was just another gringos' resort. Well, we got to love it even just from the bikes' seats, so we decided to stay at least for the night, if not for another day. A nice policeman started chatting with us and he kind of discouraged us telling us that all lodging in Vallarta was quite expensive, and we wouldn't be able to find something affordable. We were almost on our way out of town, when we stopped to gas up, and I asked the guy there if he knows of any decent economic motel or something. There was one, just one minute walk from us And they even let us bring the bikes in the interior patio. When Vasile was trying to bring his bike in, he had to ride on the sidewalk for about 5 metres. And here's a police agent stopping him to give him a ticket for that. After a long discussion around it, we got away with buying him a bottle of water and giving him a pack of Canadian Spearmint gum
The hotel was very nice (Hotel Hacienda de Vallarta) and biker friendly, and it is right in the center of the Old Vallarta. But the air was so hot and humid!
After we took a shower we went for a walk in town, and we just got to like it even more. I have to admit, I've been very nicely surprised by this resort.
La Corona de Nuestra Senora Church
And then passing *by these guys, we were looking at them and we were thinking "Hey, what's it called what they are doing? Oh yeah, work. We almost forgot"
And then in the plaza by the seawall there was an art exhibition of chalk painting:
Then we went and had a couple of beers at a bar on the seawall (the Old Vallarta), called Day Off Bar. Nice atmosphere, good beer.
The next day, we went for a walk in the residential area of the Old Vallarta. Amazingly beautiful, loved it!!! We even saw Elizabeth Taylor's house, but unfortunately we have no pics of it, since we ran out of battery.
Very interesting trees around here:)
I wouldn't mind renting one of those little mexican houses and spend a whole vacation there.
Here is a beautiful traditional Mexican costume:
And this is how you make tortillas:
We just found out that the time here changes, which means we will have to wake up earlier now
|03-27-2013, 05:29 PM||#21|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
Acapulco and not only
The ride from Puerto Vallarta south was more than we could have ever imagined. Amazingly beautiful views, incredible switchbacks through really high, rich, green vegetation! It was even better than the ride in California. The difference here was that there were no signs to warn you about the turns, especially no recommended speed, so we had to be way more alert and rely on our good judgement to make the right decisions before the turns. But anyway, there must be very few other roads out there that can bit this one! From far the best riding we've done so far! Too bad we could not take pictures, since the roads here don't have shoulders, so you have to stop in the middle of the road if you want to take pictures, which would have been very unsafe in this situation.
We stopped to have lunch at a very nice restaurant in the middle of the jungle.
The food was delicious, as usual. We had chorizo and grilled chicken. I loved the plates the food came in.
We stopped for the night in San Juan de Alima, a gorgeous little village on the beach. Of course Vasile had to play in the sand a bit, as soon as we got there
We found a very inexpensive motel right on the beach, with really friendly people. We jumped in the ocean right away to cool down, and we were surprised how warm the water was, considering it was the Pacific. This is the view from our room:
The owner had a funny parrot, that he was talking to. The bird was so funny responding and flirting back with the owner, when he was saying "give me a besito" (give me a kiss).
We left in the morning and we stopped by Ixtapilla beach, where we were told there would be giant turtles hatching on the beach. We could see the traces in the sand, as well as lots of egg pieces (sign that most of them have hatched*already), but no turtles. Apparently they only come out at night. So we kept going, planning to stop on another beach that would have the giant turtles.
We left the next day and rode through a tunel*of vegetation again.
As we were riding, we noticed along the way that there were lots of motorcycles in every village we passed. As we needed to gas up, we were looking for a gas station. Vasile stopped and bought a gallon of regular from a local, just as a temporary solution. We kept riding, until we saw this guy, in the middle of the road, next to a gas station, diverting all the motorcycles into the gas station. So we followed. We pulled the bikes closed to the pump waiting for the guy in front of us to move the bike so we can fill up. As nobody was moving the bikes, we realised there was actually no gas there, it was just an abandoned gas station, and we were in the middle of a "Mexican Hell's Angels" meeting . So we decided that was no place for us, and we left.
Next stop for the night was at Pina Beach. We camped on the beach, between palm trees.
And here is dinner....before
Then on the road again. We went through Acapulco. Incredibly beautiful location, on the cliffs, right by the sea. I can totally understand where its fame comes from.
The touristic area is very beautiful, but the residential area for locals was the worst I've seen in Mexico so far. Also, the traffic was more than crazy. We had done a long day, since 9:30 am untill 6:30 PM, with only one 20 min break to drink some water, use the washroom, gas up and have an ice cream. We were tired, exhausted from the heat, dehydrated, and the traffic topped it off. I could hardly wait to get out of the city and stop somewhere. I wanted to get to Barra Vieja, since everybody told me that there was a beach there where the giant sea turtles come and hatch, and I wanted to see them.
We got to Barra Vieja, and I could not believe the prices! All hotels/ motels were asking Whistler prices - over $100 a night. We finally found a place at 600 pesos a night (around $50) and it was the worst place I've stayed in so far, except that it had a pool, so I could refresh a bit . Barely had a bed to sleep in, and that's it. Oh, and they claimed they had air conditioning, but they forgot to mention that at 11 pm they would cut off the electricity, therefore no air conditioning.
But it was still worth it, since I had an experience that I don't think I would have again any time soon. When we got there, the owner of the motel was just releasing some baby turtles that just hatched in the sea. It was the most amazing feeling to hold those little creatures in my hand!
At 7 pm we realised that everyone had left, so we could not even have a bottle of water anymore, and we were running out of water. We went for a walk on the beach, but we did not see any of the giant turtles unfortunately. We probably didn't know the exact place, and where we were it was too much traffic, so I doubt the turtles would come where there are too many humans around.
Next day we rode back to Acapulco and we stopped at a McDonalds, since we needed internet, so Vasile could look for some tires for his KTM. We spent some time there, so we decided it would be a short day ride. We stopped in Copala, at Piccolino hotel, where we were *lucky enough for 250 pesos to have internet and air conditioning. On top of that, we got to chat for a couple of hours with Cristina, a very friendly and funny receptionist here, who told us how good the oysters are, not just because they are tasty, but they are good Viagra too And she was very serious about it
|03-27-2013, 05:37 PM||#22|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
It seems like finding a tire for a KTM here is not easy. Vasile looked online to find a KTM dealer, and we found one in Villahermosa, which is not too close to us, but they did not have the tire he needed. They were supposed to email us with an answer whether they can order it for us or not, and a price. In the meantime, our friend Matt put a lot of effort in finding a way to ship us a tire, using the discount he gets as a pilot. Thanks Matt!
So while waiting for the email from the KTM dealership, we headed towards Puerto Escondido, since we heard a lot of good things about it.
We stopped for lunch at a really cool place, right passed the National Park Lagunas de Chacahua.
The food was incredible and the people really friendly. And here I am waiting for the food:
And the food comes:
Pescado al ajo (Garlic Fish)
Camaron a la diabla (Spicy Shrimp)
The owner showed us an add for some eco-tours in the area. The one that caught our attention was the one to the Lagunas where they had "lagartos" (crocs). That would have been interesting to see. But as we passed it, we decided not to turn back. I am sure we will have plenty of other occasions to see them, as we saw plenty of swamps in Mexico.
We kept riding in 36 C plus humidity, and we got to Puerto Escondido. And we were most impressed with it!
Funny enough, I've never heard of it before. The prices are very decent for a resort (not if you book it online though), and it is incredibly beautiful. It looks like it is a surfer's resort, and I can understand why. I've seen the biggest waves here.
In the evening we went for a walk on the beach and we stopped to have some drinks very romantically on the beach, at candlelight
The next day we called again the KTM dealership and we managed to order the tire we needed. So after Puerto Escondido, we will head towards Villahermosa to pick up the tire. It will probably take us about 4 days to get there, since we are planning to stop by Playa Escobillo as well, since apparently that's the place where most sea turtles come to lay their eggs. Maybe we will be lucky enough to see one.
|03-27-2013, 05:58 PM||#23|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
To Ventanilla y Villahermosa
Things are not always coming along the way we plan them. We left Puerto Escondido to go to Playa Escobilla the next day. And on the way we see these cool guys going surfing. They were awesome!
Nice support for the surf boards
We barely made about 5 km when the traffic stopped. We asked people what was going on, and we found out there was a road block due to some demonstrations of the teachers and teachers' union. We got different answers as to how long it would last: till 6pm, 4pm, 2 hours, whole day. We decided that we did not want to stay in that heat not even for 2 hours, so we went back to our hotel in Puerto Escondido, and jumped in the pool. And now people are telling us that it could actually take the whole week if they don't get what they want. We will have to make a phone call tomorrow and see if it cleared, hopefully we can move on.
The next day we left Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido again, heading towards Playa Escobilla, just about 20 min away, where apparently it is the sanctuary of the sea turtles. The road block was cleared so we could go through. We got to Escobilla, but the guy at the Eco Centre told us there were no turtles nesting at this time of the month, because it was full moon, and they don't like the light.
So we decided to keep going to *Mazunte where there is a Turtles Aquarium. When we got close to Mazunte we saw a sign for Ventanilla, where we heard they had a tour to see crocodiles. We decided to go there first so we have enough time to do the tour, and to go to Mazunte after. We got to Ventanilla, a beautiful little village, and we stopped at the tour centre.
The tour was starting in 15 min, so we changed quickly and got ready. Our guide was Sergio, a really cool, smart guy from Mexico City, who has studied Psychology, but ended up in Ventanilla as a volunteer guide, since he loves nature and wants to help preserve it. Vasile and I were impressed with his knowledge of animal species and plants, and all the details about them that he gave us. He explained to us how they are trying to preserve and protect the endangered species of turtles and crocodiles, as well as some species of plants. They do not get any funds from the government, and their only funding is tourists. The whole village has been destroyed by hurricane Carlotta in June this year, and now they are trying to recover from it.
They went through very tough times, since the road to the village has been completely destroyed, so there were no tourists coming to the village for a while, not to mention no help from anyone could get there, so they have been completely on their own for a good while, struggling to survive.
The tour started with a walk on the beach to see the rock like a window (ventanilla) that gave the name to the village.
Then we got to the swamp, where we were told not to get too close to the water under any circumstances. And I was like "c'mon, it's not like we're really going to see any crocodiles in the wild". Five seconds later, Sergio goes "there it is!" OMG, a huge crocodile just stuck*his head out of the water watching us. Needless to say, going forward I took Sergio's advice very seriously.
When we got into the boat to float through the swamp, Sergio told me that the safety vest was not mandatory, but "it would help us find the remaining*of your body faster in case you fall, since you would have no chance of surviving in this water full of crocodiles". That sounded very encouraging. So you can imagine how put I stayed all the way in the boat
We floated through the forest of mangroves. Sergio explained us that 70% of the mangroves were destroyed by the hurricane, and now it will take a long time for them to regrow.
Then he told us the story of the "flor del amor" (flower of love). This is a flower that is yellow during the day, and it turns orange or red at night, and it grows in the waters of the swamp.
The tradition is for men to swim in the water and get the flower for the women they love (I'd rather stay bachelor for the rest of my life!). They give the flower to their women before they make love for the first time. And if the flower is still yellow the next day, that means she's the one. If it turns red, they separate. And then he added that last year they somehow did a count of the crocodiles in the swamp and they counted 350 on a 2km stretch! And there is 16 km of swamp.
We finally got to the little island where they have a few species of animals that they rescued in different situations, and they are helping them to get better, so they can return to their natural habitat. Every year on June 5th, the international day of the animals (I just found out from Sergio) they release them all into the wild.
Here is a Spider Monkey that they have rescued when he was a baby, and they cannot release here, since this is not his natural habitat, therefore he does not know how to defend himself from the crocs, and he would be an easy prey. They are trying to get the funds to send him back to the state of Chiapas, where he is from. Unfortunately, it is very hard to get funds.
He is so funny: since he was raised among humans, he walks just like a human.
We also saw a male iguana, which apparently is rare to see.
At some point Vasile got very close to the water to take a picture of a Jesus lizard running on the water. Two minutes later, this is what came out of the water in the exact same place.
They are incredibly fast when they are coming out of the water, it only takes them a couple of seconds. Now I totally understand why they warned us to stay away from the water.
The guides had to chase it back to the water, so we can be safe. Apparently the only vulnerable point that the crocs have is their nose. It's the only part of their body that is not covered and protected by bones or hard structures. So if you hit them on the nose with a stick, they will back off. In this village all the kids know how to defend themselves against crocs, since there are high chances to run into them on a daily basis.
Here are some little baby crocs that they raise here:
And then we saw (thank god not alive!) a few species of venomous snakes, among which the deadliest snake in the world, scorpions, and a venomous huge centipede. When I asked "Are these guys living here?" I was told "Hell yeah, they could be right above you" (the scorpion or the centipede).
Then we returned to the village, and in the boat, Sergio told us a story of one of his tourists, a*lady from US who fell off the boat, and he had to jump in and rescue her. And while he was pushing her to the boat he saw the croc leaving the opposite shore to swim towards them. Meanwhile the husband was killing himself laughing (I guess she had good life insurance)
Once back to the village, we decided to go Mazunte to see the turtle aquarium. It was an unbelievable experience to see all the different species of giant sea turtles, most of them endangered species.
When we came back, we asked Sergio if he knew any economic motels or camp sites in the area. But he actually offered us something better: to camp on his land, right next to his kitchen. We gladly accepted, and we had an awesome time. Elisa, Sergio's wife, cooked dinner for us, and we had candlelight dinner (since they had no electricity). Very romantic!
One of the kids in the neighborhood caught a scorpion, and apparently if you put the scorpion in mezcate (the very traditional Mexican drink, even more so than the tequila) it make is stronger. So Sergio did that, and we all tried it (a sip, of course). We didn't really see the difference, but we didn't drink enough.
And here's another catch of the kids: a baby Jesus lizard. But they tore its tail
Around 10pm we decided to go for a walk on the beach and see if we are lucky enough to see any sea turtles nesting. Well, we did see four nests, but the turtles were gone already. One of the guys in the village told us the next day that one of the nests was of a leather-back turtles, the biggest turtle in the world, and the most rare. It was about 700 kg! I cannot believe I just missed that! It would have been an unforgettable experience, since this is not something you see every day. Oh well, next time.
So they rescued the eggs (from other people who want to either sell them, or eat them). They create a nest very similar to the one that the turtle leaves them in, wait for 45 to 60 days, and when the eggs hatch, they release the baby turtles in the water.
On the way back to the village in the dark, we stopped by the swamp, to see the crocs'*red eyes in our headlights light. We could not believe how many of them there were! Tens and tens, one next to the other!
Once back to our tent, we prepared to slip. But it was hard to forget all the stories that I heard earlier about the neighbour's baby pig that got eaten by a croc in their front yard the day before, or another neighbour's son who told us how that morning, when he woke up, he found a croc in front of their house. I thought they were not going far from the water!! Obviously I was wrong. But once Sergio assured me the place was fenced (the next day I realized it was the kind of fence that would totally allow a croc to pass under), I slept like a baby. I just woke up once in a while to watch the stars above me and realize how fortunate I was to live this experience.
Next day in the morning, we had coffee, and we said goodbye to our friends.
We started riding towards Villahermosa, to pick up Vasile's tire. The temperatures cooled down a bit during the day, so it was more bearable. The whole day we rode in a terrible wind. Many times I thought I would be pushed off the road. I could hardly keep my bike on the road. There were times where I was riding at a 70 degree angle, but I was going straight, that's how bad the winds were. When we were riding towards Ventosa, we were wondering if the winds have anything to do with the name of the village (in Spanish "ventoso" means windy). When we got there and we saw the hundreds of wind mills, we knew they did. We stopped in Piedra Blanca at a motel on the side of the road for the night, *and we celebrated Vasile's birthday with some pollo asado and Corona.
The next day we rode all the way to Villahermosa and we managed to find the KTM dealership. A real one!!!
It was so well worth it to ride all the way there. We were more than impressed with how friendly and helpful the people at the dealership were. Vasile found his tire, got some oil for his bike (this guys had everything in the store!), a filter and chain lube. Then they showed us all the KTM bikes they had, and they let me test drive a KTM Duke 200. This bike was incredibly easy to handle and extremely light!
And when we were almost ready to leave, one of the owners/partners, Juan Jose, came to ask us if we found everything we needed, and he offered us a coffee and to look for a hotel for us online. We chatted about the things we could see in the area, and he recommended us an awesome ride from here to San Cristobal de las Casas, so I think this is what we are going to do tomorrow. And then he offered Vasile to test drive a Ducati Multistrada 1200. Vasile was happy as a kid, and he came back even more excited. It looks like it's a great bike: very light but with a lot of power!
Then they sent a guy from the dealership to show us the way to the hotel. A big thanks to all the KTM team!
We went to the hotel, changed and then we went for a walk in town and to get some dinner (we realized we only had some eggs for breakfast in the whole day). The town is really nice and clean and the people seem very relaxed and friendly. Overall, we had a great experience here in Villahermosa.
|03-27-2013, 06:14 PM||#24|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque
We left Villahermosa the next day heading to San Cristobal de las Casas. The road was just as we were told: beautiful winding road, through jungle-like vegetation. It was humid, misty and very cold. By that I mean it got down to 12 C at some point, so we had to put the jackets on. Here they have a different definition of "cold".
The road goes winding pretty high up in Sierra Madre de Chiapas, to over 2000 m altitude, therefore the different temperatures and mist.
While stopped here to take some pics we saw a couple of military trucks that stopped and started to check out the area for marijuana grow ups. It appears to be lots of them in the area:) And it seems like Canadian have a good reputation in this sense: every time we are offered marijuana and we turn it down, they are like "and you are from Canada???". They can't really believe that a Canadian can turn down something like that
The only annoying thing on this road, just like in the rest of the whole mexico, were these:
These are speed bumps that you can find everywhere! I have to admit they are the only thing that's really efficient in slowing down traffic, since everyone is ignoring the signs. We were in a construction zone, with a 20 km an hour limit, and everyone was doing 100 km. But these "vibradores" make cars slow down to 5 km an hour, since they cannot go over them faster. On the bikes we can go a lot faster, so that's the time for us to overtake heavy traffic.
We stopped in Tapilula for the night, a beautiful little village, San Francisco number two - the streets were so steep in all directions.
We saw a "hair salon" so we decided to have a haircut I have to admit, for 5.5 CAD for the two of us, the lady did a great job.
The next day we left and on the road there was a block again. They were claiming that this was an "accion voluntaria" but they ended up asking us for money so they let us pass. As we saw everyone was holding bats in their hands, we figured it was not a good idea to argue with them, so we just gave them $2 worth in pesos and they let us go.
We got to San Cristobal de las Casas and we were very pleasantly surprised. It was a nice old town, with narrow streets, despite the crazy traffic at those hours. This town was built in 1528 and it was one of the first Spanish settlements on this continent. We checked in at a hotel, and then we went for a walk in town.
Church of Santa Lucia
View from the church of Guadalupe
Catedral de San Cristobal
People here are so different, you can tell there are a lot of native people leaving here (20% of the population here is native - the dominant native group is Tzotzil). In Mexico, besides Spanish, there are 62 native languages and more than 100 dialects. A lot of the people leaving here don't even speak Spanish, they only speak their own language. I wanted to buy a fruit (something that looks like a cactus fruit) and the women was not speaking Spanish at all, but she was so nice. We understood each other just fine: apparently she asked 10 pesos for the whole pile, and I was offering her 5 pesos for just one fruit. From here you can see how good I am at negotiating too
I also bought here a very tasty drink made of corn, sugar cane and wheat, and flavoured with blackberries.
Up there it came in handy,since it was very cold, and the drink warmed us up. But I don't think I will have any more of this until we get to Bolivia.
The next day we stopped for lunch at a "loncheria" on the side of the road, and we saw how they wash the grill where they make the "pollo asado - grilled chicken"
The owner of the restaurant told us about the Waterfalls Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, so we decided to go and see them.
Agua Azul was the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen.
And then the Misol-Ha waterfall:
Another little 3 m waterfall in the cave, behind the Misol-Ha waterfall.
The next day we left everything at the hotel and we went two up to the archeological site, so we don't have to worry about the bikes and the luggage. The site was impressive:
We spent half a day visiting the ruins and the museum, and it was half a day well spent. It is amazing to see how a village that was flourishing around 700 AD was abandoned 150 years later. It looks like Palenque had a population of about 8000 people, which means a density of 4 people per square meter!
Around noon we left Palenque with half a tank of gas, planning to do about 100 km towards Chetumal. We were used to doing very twisty roads, so 100 km would have been reasonable, considering that we left after noon, after the site seeing. But the road turned out to be very straight, so without realising we were well over the 100 km. Soon the KTM's light came on. We sopped at a gas station, but they did not have Premium gas (our bikes are quite fussy) and the guy over there told us that 7 km further there was another gas station that had premium gas. Well, we've done way more than 20 km, and no gas station. At some point, Vasile's bike died. Meanwhile my light came on too, so I didn't have many km left either. So here we are, in the middle of nowhere, not knowing how far the next gas station was, trying to stop someone to give us some gas.
There was this truck from Us that we passed at some point, and we figured they must have some extra gas, so we were thinking to wait for them and ask them. When they passed by, we waved and they stopped. But unfortunately they had no extra gas. So now we had no other option but to stop someone to get some gas, or for me to go on my bike, and try to find a gas station, risking to run out of gas too and get stuck somewhere else by myself. I must say it was right before dark, so this option did not look like the best option.
I guess we were not good-looking enough, since for a while no one stopped. We were about to go for plan B, when one more time Mexico proved us that it has some awesome people. A guy in a Volkswagen stopped, and was willing to give us gas from his car. Now we needed a hose. We had a very short one, but we could not doo much with it. So now we had to stop someone to borrow a hose. The guy was so nice and trying so hard to help us, he was waving at cars himself, until he stopped a big truck who gave us a hose.
And here are the guys trying to syphon some gas out of the car into our jerycan.
As this was not working too well (they barely made to take out a few drops of gas), our new friend offered to drive me to the closest gas station, apparently about 25 km away, and back. We went to the gas station and came back with a full jerycan of Premium gas. He didn't want to accept any kind of compensation, not even for the gas that he spent to drive me there and back. Very nice guy!
In the meantime, 2 minutes after I left, the US guys in the truck came back with 2 l of gas. They did not have any extra gas when we stopped them, but without saying anything they drove to the gas station and came back with some gas. More and more awesome people we meet in this trip. They did not want to accept any compensation either.
This helped us to get to the gas station and to fill up. We stopped for the night at a hotel in the next village, and then next day we made it to Chetumal.
|03-27-2013, 06:31 PM||#25|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
Chetumal and Mexico overall
We got to Chetumal and we did a round tour to see the city. Beautiful city, very nice, clean and civilized, and it looks like even economically they are doing better than many other Mexican cities. We stopped in front of a hotel to see what the prices for a room were, and we almost decided to stay there, when a guy asked us if we had a pen. We lent him the pen, and chatting about what’s nice to see in the area, he recommended us to go to Laguna Milagros, at Gringo Dave’s, about 20 km from Chetumal. Turned out he was one of the owners of the place. He also gave us a lot of tips as to what to see in our way South. We told him we will think about it and make a decision. As soon as he left, a police guy on a motorcycle showed up. We were stopped in a bus station. We were like “Oh, no, not a fine! Darn!” I jump right up and I tell him “We were just about to leave; we just stopped to make a decision as to where to go now”. And he goes “To go for good? I hope not. I hope you liked it here and you’ll be back” (the whole conversation was in Spanish, of course). And then he goes “What are you looking for, hotel, restaurants, interest points? I can give you directions.” Now this was another cool policeman we met in our trip. He did not even mention a fine; he just told us that we should not be stopped there, in case the bus comes. He was all friendly and smiley. I don’t want to talk too early, but so far the police in Mexico was totally different from what we expected. I don’t know if we’ve just been lucky, or as Dave and Al, the owners of Gringo Dave told us, it’s because of the re-elections that just took place last Sunday, and they were playing safe, but we found them very nice and friendly so far.
Vasile and I decided to go and see what that lagoon was all about, thinking that if we didn’t like it, we could always come back to the hotel.
We got to Laguna Milagros, we found Gringo Dave’s place and guess what: it was more than we expected. A beautiful green place with lots of palm trees by the green water lagoon.
The owners were very friendly. They came and greeted us and showed us the place where we could pitch our tent, where we could swim in the perfectly clear and still water, and they told us we can use the kayaks for free! They also gave us access to wi-fi, so we can do our research about the Belizean border. What more can one desire?
We went for a kayak tour on the lake right away. It was so nice and quiet!
The next day they made a great breakfast for us: Mexican eggs, coffee, and orange juice. Then Vasile went to Chatumal to find batteries for our Spot unit and a new light bulb for his bike, as his died. Found bulb, no batteries. It's almost impossible to find AAA lithium here, and that's the only kind of batteries we can use in our Spot device without ruining it.
The next day we had a great breakfast and we headed to the border. We were 10 minutes away, so we got there quite early. The first stop at the border, we presented the passports and the tourist cards that we were supposed to have cancelled now and we had an argument with the border officer there, since he was asking us to pay about $25 USD each as exit fees. We have read about how at this border many times they are asking for this fee, even though it is not a legit fee. When we told him that we know there is no exit fee required, he showed us a paper in Spanish where apparently is said that we have to pay that fee. But surprise, I read Spanish, and that paper was talking about the Tourist card that you have to buy when you enter the country if you plan to stay for more than 7 days. *When I told him that I read Spanish and I understand what that is he backed off. So we didn't pay any exit fee. Then we went to the Banjercito office, that is very conveniently located right there, before the customs. We cancelled out temporary import permit for the bikes and then we exited Mexico. On the Belizean side we stopped to get insurance for the bikes, since it is mandatory here. *When we got there, a guy came, who we thought it was an official, and took our licence plates, and explained to us that after getting the insurance we have to*go to have our bikes fumigated, which apparently is a requirement in order to cross the border. We have read about this online as well. So we bought insurance for a week (15 USD per bike, liability only). When we came out, the guy who took our licence plates was waiting for us and he was asking us for money, since he said he paid for the fumigation of our bikes already, and he was showing us the receipt of 5 USD. Turned out he was just a fixer. We read online that the fumigation was only 1.5 USD, so we did not trust the guy, especially that we did not ask him to do anything for us, and he did not tell us he would do this for us. When we got to the fumigation place, they told us they are out of power, so they cannot fumigate the bikes, but that we do need the receipt in order to cross the border (funny, no?).They had on their desk the receipt that we turned down from that guy, so apparently they work together. So now we had no option but to pay for it and keep going. Then we went to immigration and customs, which was *very easy and quite fast. The temporary import permit for the vehicles did not cost us anything here. And then we crossed the border!! The whole thing (exiting Mexico and entering Belize) took us about an hour. And it was nice to see, especially for Vasile, that on the Belize side they speak English.
So overall we had an incredible experience in Mexico, more than we expected. Most people were very nice and friendly, the police was not as bad as described to us by most people; so far nothing was stolen from us, but we have to admit we never left our bikes with luggage on them unattended, except in a couple of situations where we felt extremely safe. The traffic was alright-ish: better in some, crazier in other cities. The roads were pretty good overall, we cannot complain. There were very few roads that had lots of potholes or some highways that had sections of gravel in the middle of the highway with no warning signs. But most of the times the roads were good.
When you travel through Mexico that are a few common sense rules that you have to abide by: to be very aware all the time of everything around you, do not travel at night (ok, we did that a couple of times, when we didn’t have much of a choice), stay away from busy areas, do not show signs of affluence and mind your own business, and you’ll be safe. And believe me, Mexico it’s so worth visiting, there is so much to see and explore!
|03-27-2013, 06:40 PM||#26|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
Belize City and Caye Caulker Island
We crossed the border into Belize and we stopped in the first town, Corozal, just to get some Belizean currency at the bank and to eat something. We did not see any restaurants in our way, so we thought we would get out of town and stop at the first one we see. But we were surprised to realize that there were no more restaurants outside of town. We got spoiled in Mexico, where there *were restaurants or loncherias everywhere. In Belize we could not see anything, not even in the coming villages. I guess people don't eat out here. We were lucky we had some crisp tortillas with us, so that was our lunch. Then we kept going, while it started to rain. Rain! We haven't seen it in the past two months!
Belize looks quite different. The houses are bigger and seem to be more solid. But the vegetation is the same.
A couple of hours later we got to Belize City. I have to admit we have been a bit disappointed. The city was not exactly what we were expecting. It could have been that we set too high expectations, since we heard incredible things about Belize before we got here, so I guess we set the standards high.
We drove around to find a decent place to eat, but all the restaurants we've seen on the way were closed. We managed to find a reasonable hotel and a Chinese restaurant right next to it, so we checked in and went for dinner. Didn't have Chinese food in a while! *And it was actually pretty good. In Belize there is a mix of Spanish, Caucasian, Black, indigenous (Mayan) and Asian people. Overall people seemed to be very friendly and laid back, Rasta style (especially on the islands).
Now the next challenge was to find a safe place for us to leave the bikes so we can go to the Islands. A local guy we met at the Chinese restaurant recommended us not to leave them anywhere else but maybe at a Motorcycle dealership. According to him that would have been the only safe place to leave them. He told us there was a Harley Davidson dealership in town, "Black Pearl", so Vasile went and talked to them. They were incredibly nice and they promised to keep the bikes for us in the showroom until we get back from the islands. *And here are our dirty bikes in the nice Harley Davidson show room. Hey, I didn't know they sell BMWs and KTMs
We took the Water Taxi to Caye Caulker Island, a small limestone coral island about 45 min (30 km) away from Belize City in the Caribbean Sea. This Island is awesome! It is about 8 km long and only 1.5 wide. There are no paved roads, just some sandy rustic roads, no cars, just some carts used for transportation. And people are fabulous here: happy, smiley, laid back and friendly! I understand now why the motto of the island is "Go slow". I could totally live here for a while.
We checked in at a hotel, and then we went for a swim by "the split". The locals say that this island has been split in two by Hurricane Hattie which devastated the island in 1961.
The water is clear turquoise, perfect for swimming. I guess that's why the Caribbean is so famous.
In the evening we walked around the island and we ended up in the Pizzeria Caulker. The owner, Greg, a Canadian who lives in Belize now, was making a great atmosphere there, so we stopped for a couple of drinks and we met some great people.
The next day we went on a snorkel tour. We had to go on a speed boat for about 25 min.The weather didn't seem to be on our side,since it started pouring at some point and we were all worried that our snorkeling for the day wouldn't be too good in the cold and big waves.
The first stop was by the reef barrier, which is the second largest in the world, after the Australian one. We've seen huge eels, over 2 m long with big teeth; marine turtles eating and swimming around us, beautiful spotted eagle rays, all kinds of colourful exotic fish and lots of corals.It was amazing to see all these fish so close to me, I could almost touch them!
The next stop was on the Sharks and Rays avenue, so we had a chance to swim with the sharks! And in the meantime the sun has come out. The nurse sharks don't seem to be too*aggressive animals.When Vasile jumped from the boat in the water, the wave actually pushed him right into a shark. And he still has all limbs intact, I checked
Note the shark in the background:)
I even had the chance to hold a stingray in my arms. Incredible sensation, they are such beautiful animals!
It was a great day and a great experience. It will be hard to leave the island.But we have to, since we cannot inconvenience the guys at Harley Davidson too much. They were so nice to us, but we don't want to exaggerate now.
|03-27-2013, 06:47 PM||#27|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
San Ignacio and Belize overall
We came back from Caye Caulker Island, and went to pick up the bikes at the Harley Davidson dealership. The bikes were still there, just as we left them. The deal was that we would buy two T-shirts in exchange for the storage. So when we looked for T-shirts, they were all well over $50 CAD each!* But we had a deal, and they kept their promise, so we had to keep ours. It just turned out to be a pretty expensive storage for our bikes for 3 days. But it was well worth it, the Belizean Islands are beautiful!
We drove toward the border with Guatemala, and we stopped for the night in San Ignacio, about 10 min from the border.
We found a decent hotel right in the center, Mallorca, where two very friendly ladies (the owner and the receptionist/manager/etc) took care of us.
We went to see a local archeological site, Cahal Pech, at walking distance from our hotel. Just that it was steep uphill walking. *But it was worth it, we found it quite impressive.
We went to eat and we tried some local food, very tasty, and a lot cheaper. We noticed that it is a trend for women to wear one hand’s nails very, very long. I have never seen such long nails in my life! (they were fake I guess).
The next day we woke up early, had some good breakfast and headed toward the Guatemala border. The border crossing was pretty straight forward: cancel temporary import permit for the bikes in Belize, exit stamp in the passport, and fumigate the bikes when entering Guatemala, stamp the passport, and get temporary import permit for the bikes (160 gqt each). No mandatory insurance for the vehicles here. We kind of got into the routine of it by now, and at this border everything went pretty smoothly.
Overall thoughts about Belize:
First off, we were very relieved that they were speaking English (mostly Vasile). It felt like a totally different world in the middle of Central America just for that.
We found the people very friendly and laid back, including cops. All they wanted when they stopped us at the check points was to chat with us. (kind of like "wassup dude, where are you going?")
The roads were quite poor, not signaled at all. It was hard to know where it was one way road (people on the side of the road would make signs to us which way we should go), who has the right of way etc. They actually only have three paved highways in the whole country, even those ones, I would not really call them highways. No dividing lines on them, no shoulders and quite narrow. But considering it was a small country, it was not too big of an inconvenient to us.
As landscape, inland Belize it’s probably not the best destination for a vacation, but the Islands are a tropical paradise!!!
|03-27-2013, 06:55 PM||#28|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
As soon as we crossed to Guatemala, the first impression about their roads was not too great. Big potholes in the road everywhere, we had to slow down a lot and ride in zig-zag. But that was a short stretch, and then they got a lot better. But the traffic got worse. More impatient people honking everywhere, passing like crazy, sharing lanes. There is no such thing as personal space here. At some point we were riding through the mountains, admiring the beautiful landscape, when suddenly after a turn we see a herd of cows running toward us, on our lane. On the other lane there was a big commercial truck. So I guess both Vasile and I had the same thought: the truck driver might have more common sense if he sees us on his lane, and he might slow down, as the cows won’t for sure. As we changed lanes and we saw the truck approaching, we realized that so far drivers in Guatemala didn’t impress us with their common sense, so maybe it was not a good idea to count on the driver's common sense. Then I see Vasile going onto the left hand side shoulder (thank God there was a shoulder!) and I am thinking we can stop there. But as I get onto the shoulder, I realize the shoulder is very inclined, which for a person short-legged like me who barely touches the ground means a real challenge to stop and put the feet down. So I start praying “Vasile please don’t stop, please don’t stop”. Since I was right behind him, if he stopped I would have been forced to stop as well, and chances are I would have dropped the bike in the deep ditch. But looks like Vasile and I were on the same page; as he got onto the shoulder him too realized it would have been hard for me to stop there, so he kept going, until we passed the truck and the kettle herd, and then we went back onto our lane. We were both like “What the hell was that?”
We stopped for the night in Rio Dulce, by the Lake Izabal. It was very hard to find a hotel with internet, so we had to settle for one without, but with pool The downside of it was that the neighbours were some very active people at night, so all night long they were hammering something, and killed our sleep. (I guess they feel active at night-time, since during the day it seems like everyone is in a continuous siesta all over Central America)
The next day we went to find another hotel, left my bike at the hotel and we went two up to find El Paraiso, a place with thermal water. We were asking locals for directions, but they all have different definitions for distances and directions: one would say “it’s about 1 km from here”, another one would say “well, about 8-9 km from here” or “well, it’s not too far, just one km, about 10 min on the bike”. Are you kidding me? One km in 10 min on the bike? Anyway, if you want a piece of advice: don’t rely on directions from locals here. And as we kept traveling this just got more and more obvious.
As we were riding back and forth to find El Paraiso, we ended up in a place where there was a nice canyon. We negotiated a canoe ride with a young guy, and it was well worth it; the canyon was gorgeous.
The Mayan Ritual
The Mayan face (on the rock, to the left)
After riding tons of km extra looking for El Paraiso, my neck got really sore and we did quite a lot of gravel that day. We were ready to go back to the hotel, when we saw a washed out sign with El Paraiso. We found it! This was the most incredible thermal water place I’ve been to. The hot water was actually a waterfall, which was falling into a little cold water pool. It was unbelievable! We enjoyed it thoroughly. We could stand right underneath the hot waterfall and get a nice water massage. We did not have the camera with us to take pictures, but here is a link to a picture online, just to give you a taste of it.
We went back to town and we walked through all the “tiendas” to find AAA Litium and a sticker with the Guatemalan flag. Both inexistent in that town.
Next day we were hitting the Honduras border through Champas Corrientes. Details about the border crossing in the next report.
|03-27-2013, 07:56 PM||#29|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
We got to the border to exit Guatemala, got the stamp in the passport, and when we asked them where we cancel the bikes, first they said we don’t need to do that, but as we insisted (as we know we DO have to do that if we don’t want to have problems later), they told us that the Customs is back about ... 1 km according to one of them, 8 km according to another officer. We were having a bad feeling about this when we turned around, and we were right. We drove back and forth looking for SAT, the Customs. Since it is a government building, we were looking for some big sign on the building, but nothing. We were riding again toward the border, when we see this big barrel in the middle o the road with a handwritten SAT on it. There it was, we found it! No big signs on the building or anything, just that. We cancelled the temporary import permits for our bikes and then we exited Guatemala. There is an 8 km stretch between the Guatemalan border and the Honduras border. When we got to Honduras, we went to get the same temporary permits for the bikes and they charged us $35 USD per bike. So far, this was the most expensive we have paid for these permits. As we were not expecting them to be this expensive, we did not get more cash before the border and at the border they did not have Credit Card machines. We paid for the permits, and we were left with $5 USD, out of which $2 we paid to make copies of all our paperwork, for the lady at the customs. We were just hoping that we did not need to pay anything else. Once this done, we went to Immigration to get the stamp in our passport, and Vasile and I went to two kiosks next to each other. And guess what: we had to pay $3 USD each for some entry fee. We started explaining to the lady that Vasile was dealing with and the old guy that I was dealing with that we have no more cash, but we are willing to pay with Credit card. No, they had no credit card machines, we had to pay in cash. The lady who was dealing with Vasile’s paperwork seemed to be nicer and she wanted to let him get away without paying, but my old guy was very strict, and he said “No, you don’t pay, you don’t get into the country”. We were in a weird situation now: we could have tried to go back to Guatemala, and go to a bank, but we could not guarantee that we wouldn't have run into trouble, since we had cancelled the import permits for the bikes, and we had the exit stamps already. The other solution was for one of us to pay (since we only had enough money for one of us) and to go into Honduras to the closest bank, which was at about 40 min ride, according to the nice lady officer. Riding 40 min there and back for $3 USD!!! Turned out the lady officer was nicer than we could have ever expected. She pulled out of her own purse 60 lempiras ($3) and gave to Vasile so he can pay, without the old guy seeing. She just saved us, and we were total strangers to her! Plus, I am imagining the $3 for her did not have the same value that it does to us, it’s probably worth a lot more. This was unbelievably nice of her! And due to her, we started our trip to Honduras on a totally positive note, and we started loving Honduras already!
And we kept loving it! Honduras is a beautiful country and it looks like it’s quite developed. The roads were very good, the buildings seem bigger and stronger, the cities have pretty much everything you find in a Canadian or US city: all the brands and all the store chains.
We stopped first in Puerto Cortes, about 50km after the border, planning to stay there for the night. But when we got there we realized there was not much to see there. Plus, we were told there was no Scotiabank there, but that we would find one in San Pedro Sula. So off we go to San Pedro Sula. But we got there, and no Scotiabank. On top of that, the traffic was crazy. We were moving with 5 km / hr through the city, honking, cutting off, sharing lanes again, in one word very tiring. And we were hungry too. So because of that, we decided to get cash at any ATM, get out of the city and then find a hotel.
It seems as we go south the traffic gets worse every day. In Honduras the traffic has been the worst so far. I’ve been almost ridden over by big trucks or cars many times, and yet they were honking at me for not getting out of their way, even though I had the right of way. At some point we were riding on a big highway, and we had two lanes on our direction. Suddenly I see a big commercial truck coming towards me, from behind a turn, on my lane, and I was just overtaking a truck on my right. For a split second I thought I did’t see well, but soon I realized my eyes were not mistaking. Then hearing Vasile yelling at me on my Sena device “Go, go, go!” confirmed for me that I was right. So I pulled the throttle as hard as I could and I finished passing the truck on my right, swerved and changed lanes in the last minute to get out of the way. Soon I realized this was happening a lot. I have never seen cars overtaking on the opposite lanes on a highway with multiple lanes and double yellow line! So basically we were keeping on the right lane, and only got onto the left one if we had to pass, and even so we had to be very careful not to run into an oncoming vehicle. We have seen many many times big commercial trucks showing up from behind a turn, on our lane. We are lucky that bikes are smaller, so we can swerve towards the side of the road or the shoulder and get out of their way, but I cannot imagine how this feels in a car, or another truck. I guess the rule of “the bigger goes first” applies here. Also, the rule "slower traffic keep right" does not apply. They go at whatever speed they want in any lane, so you have to keep changing lanes if you want to go faster. Anyway, bottom line, here you have to be very aware and focused on the road. A full day of riding can be very tiring here.
As we were getting out of San Pedro Sula we were looking for a hotel, but it seemed as if they all disappeared. There were no hotels in our way. So we kept riding. Around 4:30 we saw a sign for a Motel, so we went to check it out. The rooms were looking pretty good, but the girls there said they cannot give us the key for the room. As we wanted to go out and have dinner, we insisted we wanted to have the key for the room. They told us that they have to wait for their father for that. The father arrived 5 minutes later. A very nice old guy; he told us he can give us the key, including the key for the garage. Then he showed us the room again, and he mentioned that we have the porn channel on tv. Turns out this was a place where they were renting the rooms per hour, for ...certain clientele and that’s why they were not usually giving away the key of the room. *In Central America a lot of hotels sell the rooms per hour. Now I understand why they were sometimes surprised that we wanted the room for the whole night
As we wanted to stay for the whole night again, the price went up. So Vasile and I decided that maybe it was not a good idea to stay there, since we found it a bit suspicious too, and we kept riding to find another hotel. But again, no more hotels on our way, and it was starting to get dark. And Honduras is not a place where I want to ride at night, considering that they have the highest homicide rate in Central and South America.
Eventually we saw a sign for a hotel by a lake, but the hotel was supposed to be 6 km from the main road. We decided to go there, and stay no matter how good or bad it was now. So we turned right onto a little road, and we kept riding, but we did not see any hotels. We were about to turn around, when we saw some people walking; we stopped and I asked them if there was any hotel in that area. Turned out we were 1 km away from it. Very happy, we kept riding and we got to Brisas Hotel, by the lake. Very nice location, big hotel, pool etc. A bit expensive for our budget, but as it was dark already, we had no choice. But it was worth it. It was very comfortable and quiet. For the first time I could sleep without my ear plugs.
So well rested, the next day we hit the road again. We stopped in Tegucigalpa at a big mall, and while I used some internet at a MacDonalds, Vasile tried to find AAA lithium batteries, but in vain again. So now our only hope is that our friends are going to help us. Ehren, one of our good friends told us that he has a colleague who will be spending his New Year’s in Costa Rica, and he could bring us some batteries. So I guess at this time, this is our only solution. For now, our Spot is dead, so you cannot track us anymore.
Then we kept riding until we got to Danli, just a few km from the Nicaraguan border. Danli reminds me a lot of San Cristobal de las Casas. A little town, with narrow streets and old houses, very nice. We found a hotel, and then we went for dinner. We found this very nice restaurant, that seemed to be very expensive. We were the only people in the whole restaurant. Well, it was not as expensive as we thought. With less than $10 CAD we both ate a lot, and very good food! And there was still a lot of food left. While we were eating we kept thinking of two good friends of ours, Cristian and Matt, and how they would have done some damage if they were there Food in Honduras is very tasty, and very inexpensive. So far it was the cheapest of all the countries we’ve been through. And it’s surprising, since the country seems more developed than other Central American countries we visited so far.
Honduras seems a country with a lot of potential. I am sure if the government invested more in security and tourism a lot of tourist would come here, and they would not regret it. We have seen very few tourists here, almost none. And it’s too bad. We have seen a lot of armed people around here (not soldiers or police). Regular guards are all carrying guns and there must be a reason why. Even at Walmart in Tegucicalpa, the guys at the entrance were armed.
Another thing we noticed (in Belize and Guatemala as well, but not in Mexico) were a lot of stores that were selling through rod iron fences. But despite this, we had a great experience here, and the people we interacted with seemed very nice and friendly.
|03-27-2013, 08:10 PM||#30|
Joined: Feb 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
The border crossing into Nicaragua was the most frustrating one so far. Firstly, we got to the border and we saw this huge line up of *commercial trucks.
We had to actually squeeze through to get to immigration. We finally made it there and surprise: we met with two other riders from Vancouver, Kurt and Cory, that we had initially met in Mexico, in San Felipe, right after my accident. After a long chat and catch up on how their trip was so far and how ours was, we finally went to immigration.
Apparently there is a C-4 agreement that says that Canadian tourists who travel through Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua can travel freely through all these countries for 90 days without having to do any immigration formalities anymore. So basically you only have to do them once you enter any of the four countries, and when you exit, but in between we should be able to travel in any of these countries for 90 days. Well, that's in theory. In practice, they do not apply it. In every single one of these countries they made us go through immigration, and even though they do not put any stamp in your passport, since you have the C-4 stamp, they make you pay all kinds of entry and exit fees, and you cannot do anything about it, it's like arguing with the walls.
So at entering in Nicaragua, they asked us to pay $10 USD each as entry fee (besides other kind of fees like administrative, municipal etc). As we only had local currency (we had just exchanged it before exiting Honduras), I asked them how much would that be in cordobas. I did not ask them because I couldn't convert myself but I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page, and I don't just give them what I think it's right. And they told me 8-900 cordobas!! Thank God I used to be pretty good in math in my young days, so I realized that was a big scam. $20 USD should have been 480 cordobas. So when I told them, they said "Well then you pay in USD" "Why do I have to pay in USD if I am in Nicaragua, I should be able to pay in local currency, just give me the correct amount" "No, you are a foreigner, you have to pay in USD, it's the law" "Well, could you please show me the law that states I have to pay in USD? I do not have USD on me, I can pay in Cordobas" "If you don't like it, then turn around and go back to Honduras" and he threw*the passports at me. So we had to exchange money into USD at the exchange guys that are there, at the border, at whatever rate they wanted. This was very frustrating. The guy who talked to us like that wasn't even sitting at the desk, he was just standing around there, and he looked like the janitor. When I asked him who he was, he said he was an official. I asked him for his identification number (since he did not look like an official at all) and he refused to show it to me. In these countries it's so funny cause at the border you get stopped by all kinds of people and they ask for your passport, and they walk away with it, and you have no idea whom you just gave your passport to.
Anyway, long story short, this was the most time-consuming and frustrating border crossing. So far we did not have any major problems, but this one was very frustrating. I can deal with poverty, with misery, with lack of comfort, with anything, but what kills me is when I feel powerless like in these situations. There is nothing you can do. You either do what they want, and pay what they ask, even though you know that it is a total rip-off, and you should not pay anything, or you don't enter the country. To be honest, when he told me to turn around to Honduras, I was very tempted to do it. Now I understand why there are not too many tourists in these countries.
The incident at the border put a negative spin-off on my first day in Nicaragua (well, what was left of it, since we got out of there after noon).
We rode to Esteli that day where we stopped for the night.
The next day we drove to Granada, by Nicaragua lake. Granada is a nice old town, that has a lot of history behind it (about 500 years old). It was the first European city in mainland America.
In Nicaragua we started seeing carriages pulled by horses.
Lots of really old cathedrals and churches.
La Merced Cathedral
View of Mombacho Volcano from the cathedral's tower
Cathedral de Guadalupe
Blind man making hammocks
In the evening we went for dinner to a nice restaurant. It seems like Canadians are everywhere. The owner was a Canadian from Quebec, married to a Nicaraguan women.
As we were walking back, I felt something falling on my head. Initially I freaked out as I didn't know what it was, but it was just a tiny scared geico lizard who fell on my head from some building. As Vasile was trying to take it off my hair, it started running around on Vasile's T-shirt. That was so cute.
The next day we went to see the famous Granada islets. And this is how we got to the boat.
The wheels were so crooked that we were almost going in zig-zag.
The islets were beautiful. We saw lots of colorful birds, and the Spider Monkey. Most of them are private islets, with nice big houses, owned by the rich people in Nicaragua.
I saw an Ara Macaw on the fence. This is a bird that I've been wanting to see since I was little.
The Spider Monkey
The white head capuchin monkey
Montezuma Oropendola birds and nests
The next day we left Granada planning to go to Omopete Island, on Nicaragua lake. We went to the ferry around noon, we bought the ticket, and then we waited until 2 PM for the ferry.
But after a two and a half hours wait, when they loaded the ferry, turned out they had no room for us. They load the trucks first, then the cars, and bikes at the end. So we watched very frustrated as the ferry left without us. "But don't worry, there's another one that leaves at 4 pm" "So then can we put the bikes on now, to make sure we have room?", "No, bakes are last". So we realized that even if we waited until 4 pm, chances were we*still wouldn't have had room on the ferry, and it would have been too late in the day to do anything else after that, so we gave up and we left. Of course we made sure they gave us back the money we paid for the ticket.
This is La Conception volcano on the island that we were planning to hike the next day. Well, too bad, there will be other volcanoes. I have to admit, this would have been a hell of a hike in this scorching heat.
So we left the ferry terminal and we rode to San Juan del Sur, a little surfing village on the Pacific.
Here we met a guy who took the same boat that we are supposed to take to cross from Panama to Cartagena, Independence, about a year ago. He told us some horror stories about his experience with this boat, so he made us thinking. I've heard from everyone that the seas are very rough in that area, but apparently they had 10 m waves!
The next day Vasile changed his rear tire.
Then we celebrated my birthday by going to a surfer's beach, having a good swim and then a good dinner and some beers.
And as I promised, I made progress. This is the spider I found in our room, and I, MYSELF, killed with cold blood I could keep my cool while I took the picture, but once I tried to kill it, and I didn't aim properly, it started running around and that's when I freaked out. But I still managed to kill it eventually. This was the bigger spider I have seen in my life. But I guess I should wait and see how big they are in Costa Rica.
One thing that we could not help not noticing in Nicaragua was the garbage dumped everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE! In the city, outside the city, on the road, on the side of the road, on the beach, in the water, EVERYWHERE! And many drunk people before 4 PM I guess they have a good life. Other than that, Nicaragua is a beautiful country, worth visiting.
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