And so it begins...

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Malindi, May 2, 2012.

  1. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 8, 2012 - We've landed in Antigua, a town famed for its architecture and authentic feel. It's located close to an active volcano, visible from most places downtown.

    At first blush the town felt like a more refined version of San Cristobal de las Casas, in Mexico. That feeling vanished as time went on.

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    The town is laid out in a grid pattern, with cobblestone streets and very little to no commercial signage to speak of. Even the menus displayed on small tripods in restaurant doorways seem to be burdened by legislation. Despite that, it is possible to find McDonalds, Burger King and Ralph Lauren perfume within a stone's throw from the main square.

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    Antigua is mostly made up of low-slung buildings and surprisingly few churches or other larger structures. It gives the place a bit of a medieval prison like feel, certainly because the inhabitants have a penchant for locking down everything at night to prepare for a siege. Even during the day, business is transacted through gated protection. Not only by pharmacists and banks, but even the local "panaderia" (baker) fears a hold up mid-day. Guards with pump action shotguns linger around most stores.

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    Below is picture of an old centralized laundry area, now no longer in use.

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    A random street shot.

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    The best part for me on this stay were the photo opportunities during the Miss Guatemala elections which were being held the weekend we were there. Since there wasn't a single SLR-wielding lunatic scurrying between the various participants to snap pictures, I felt it my duty to jump in and act the part.

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    I never quite figured out if the ladies in the horse and carriage combos were finalists or representing the various regions in Guatemala.

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    They certainly didn't seem to mind the attention though.

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    At the end of the day, the best picture I took was one of a girl in the park.

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    We even saw some other overlanders in Antigua.

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    Antigua was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. The atmosphere was distinctly focused on tourists and not laid back at all. Although the architecture was certainly impressive, it was very much the same all over, to the point that getting lost in Antigua was more the rule than the exception. The central area of Antigua is beautifully restored, for a purpose.

    It all felt a bit too made up, like movie sets, with expensive restaurants and stores wedged in what once were rustic courtyards where people lived their lives and chickens ran amok. If you want "pretty", then Antigua will not disappoint, but if you want genuine, San Cristobal de las Casas is my clear favorite.
    #81
  2. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    What do you mean burdened by legislation?
    #82
  3. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    They were all small, without screaming ads. Mostly in small type fonts. It was very odd.
    #83
  4. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    the law there demands small menus?
    #84
  5. joenuclear

    joenuclear Planning.....

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    Small signs, like in Vail Co.
    #85
  6. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 11, 2012 - On the 9th we left for Tikal via Coban. The roads were lovely and just at the end of day one to Tikal, my bike died.

    We'd decided to break up the ride in two days as it was just too far. Coban was our place of choice to stop. The roads in the interior were fantastic. Riding through lush green forests on perfect tarmac.

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    All along the way we passed through small villages with their usual blend of "tiendas", little mom and pop shops and new advertising for the local cell phone monopoly. Kids, dogs and the odd cow meander through the streets at will. The remarkable thing the last few years is that no matter where you go in the world, people are mesmerized by their mobile device screens, deep in thought as to what to reply next to their Facebook friends. More often than not, we rolled past police check points where three or four officers were too engaged with their LCD screens to notice us until the last minute, at which point we'd already rolled past and weren't volunteering to stop.

    I did manage to snap a picture of some kids playing the old fashioned way.

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    A day ride in Guatemala would not be complete without a landslide.

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    This was a lot more precarious than the picture reflects.

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    In the afternoon of our first day north, we stopped in Coban at the central square looking for a place to stay when my bike refused to start again. A few minutes later I'd figured out it was either the ignition module or the timing sensor. We found a hotel and I pushed the bike around the block. All my fastidious archiving of old BMW trivia came in handy and shortly thereafter I'd figured out what the issue was. Luckily I had a spare ignition module with me and I was rolling again an hour afterwards.

    We arrived early on the second day in Flores, a small town on an artificial island an hour outside of Tikal. It was very laid back, but with a decent amount of tourists.

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    The next day we visited Tikal, a "de rigueur" stop in Guatemala. We took a tourist minivan and left the bikes at the hotel. It was way too hot to ride and then walk around in gear at the site. Unfortunately, the guy managing tourists in the minivan said: "And today, my friends, I will speak to you about Tikal ... our history very important, because I want to practice my Engrish with you". And so started an hour long monologue about Tikal, religion and who knows what else. We were reminded again as to why we never use organized travel options.

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    There are more pictures of Tikal from the "Slideshows" tab.

    The next day, we headed out to Honduras.
    #86
  7. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 12, 2012 - Our next stop was Honduras. Despite all the warnings I'd heard about lengthy border crossings, things went pretty smooth, if a bit drawn out.

    Our only true stop in Honduras was Copan Ruinas, right across the border from Guatemala. The cobble stones were gigantic and the streets improbably steep. Copan Ruinas is the town right next to the Copan ruins, our goal for the next day.

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    Fresh fruit shakes prepared from the back of a truck.

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    The town is small and a few tourist spots are compressed around the main square.

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    I finally found the statue called "why is there so much noise?", expressing a desire for silence in a country rife with competing boom boxes from clapped out cars and nonsensical blaring stereos in empty establishments trying to attract tourists. Causality is not well understood in most of Central America I think.

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    The first thing we spotted at the Copan ruins were these guys.

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    The Copan ruins are a lot smaller than Tikal, but in a lot of ways far more enjoyable. There were masks and faces, larger statues as well as monumental structures. Tikal is grander, less refined but maybe more impressive at first sight. Although it's hard to compare, the Copan ruins felt like Banteay Srei, a smaller set of temples in the Angkor Wat set. Exquisite and intricate without trying to dominate in size.

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    From Copan Ruinas, we went to Comayagua, a nice little town where we arrived too late in the day. We enjoyed the main square briefly and were then urged by the hotel to park our bikes in a gated compound down the street. At night there wasn't a single vehicle to be seen in town, which gave pause. In the hotel rankings, the place we stayed in here ranked at the bottom of the list so far on this trip.

    The next day we headed into Nicaragua.
    #87
  8. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 14, 2012 - Nicaragua was the next country on the list. Not much planned here, mainly we're treating it as a transit country.











    In Costa Rica we'll slow down again and start to seriously focus on crossing the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia. The border crossing into Nicaragua again was a sleepy affair, the last in the series, as crossing from Nicaragua into Costa Rica is your classical border nightmare, with hours long lineups, a convoluted process to say the least and "helpers" besieging you from all sides.

    As in Guatemala, our bikes needed to go through "fumigation".

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    Clearly spraying half a tire and a few bits of the bike is not really going to do the job, but I guess it's steady employment to fight a mystery ailment.

    We pushed on to a place called Sebaco. We ended up in a love motel, found all over Central America. People take their infidelity serious here. The love motels are all shielded from the main road, in that you need to drive into one to see any cars parked. Most of these places have a garage right next to the room you are renting, so you never need to be seen outside. It was somewhat comical and we embarrassed one younger couple by showing up.

    The next day, I got up early and pushed on to Costa Rica. Jan was taking it easier and was going to Managua.
    #88
  9. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    I wonder if it's infidelity or virginity. AFAIK, the area is still serious Catholic and thus, if my speculation is correct, a bride is worth a good deal less if non-virginal. So any sex she may wish to do cannot be done where it may be discovered.

    If the people there were young, that reinforces my hypothesis. An infidelity motel would have older folks.
    #89
  10. nopantsflyer

    nopantsflyer Adventurer

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    i am refering to post #3, is this an austrian number plate by any chance? beiing that i am austrian myself!:freaky
    #90
  11. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    It is ... It was an Australian (Chris Addison) on an Austrian licensed KTM bike he got from the factory as a demo.
    #91
  12. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 15, 2012 - Costa Rica, the most civilized of the Central American countries was the hardest to get into. With Nicaragua being exceptionally hard to get out of, this was a day to forget.

    The border was a mix of confusion, hawkers, lineups, conflicting documentation requirements and other nonsense. After all was said and done, three and a half hours had passed before I was rolling towards Liberia. In hindsight, Liberia was the wrong place to stop and the next day I moved on to Playas del Coco, a mere thirty or so kilometers away. Once there, I lucked out and found a place right on the beach. This was my office for a few days.

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    This part of the trip was promising to be quite different as compared to the last few months. My friend Illa planned to meet me here for a week or so and as such the bike got parked and a car was rented. The car was a tad dusty when I returned it nine days later. The roads in Costa Rica are nothing to sniff at and even the main road to the Tambor airport near Santa Teresa is a dirt road. I am sure the oil pan was volumetrically somewhat diminished when I returned it.

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    The immediate side effect of having Illa here was an upgrade to my level of accommodations.

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    We had no real plans as to what to see or in what order, but in the end we covered everything and more, as well as building in some beach time and lounge time in the various places we stayed at.
    #92
  13. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 20, 2012 - Our first stop after a night at Playa Ocotal was San Jose. As one of the local resort owners told us later, there are only three things to avoid in Costa Rica. The first one is San Jose, the second is San Jose... You get the idea.

    We got out of there after spending a night in hotel Barcelo San Jose Palacio. One of the fanciest places in town, booked for a fraction of the price through Priceline. She knows all the tricks.

    Our next destination was Tortuguero, or rather, a parking lot at the end of a thirty kilometer dirt road, at which point you need to take a "ferry" for another hour packed with locals and a few tourists to the town of Tortuguero.

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    Tortuguero is the jumping off point for a number of tours, such as a two hour boat ride through the jungle during which you spot everything alive in its natural setting.

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    Swimming is not encouraged.

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    If the crocs don't get you, these little guys will.

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    Despite the pictures and obvious natural beauty you are surrounded by 24/7, it does not compare to what we considered the highlight of our two days there. We took a night tour of the local beaches, with a guide and strictly controlled by "spotters" to see giant sea turtles come on shore to lay their eggs. It was amazing to watch these huge creatures having lumbered a few hundred feet up the beach to dig a hole and then lay around a hundred eggs before camouflaging the lot and returning to sea. In total, we observed three turtles in various stages of egg laying, hiding their nests and returning to the ocean. As it was pitch dark, cameras and flashlights were not allowed. We got to within three feet of the turtles and their eggs at one point.
    #93
  14. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 23, 2012 - The next installment of our itinerary was the Arenal volcano, a popular stop on the Costa Rica tourist circuit.

    The car seemed to not have suffered too much damage from our race to make the 1 PM ferry the other day, so we casually made our way to the Arenal volcano, having booked a spot at Volcano Lodge. Sadly, the weather was such we didn't get a single peak of the volcano and we also found out that the thing had gone silent a few years ago, sapping our desire for a hike to the top.

    The patio of our room bordered on a garden with a wild variety of flowers which turned out to be a feeding ground for dozens of hummingbirds. We sat very quietly on the deck and watched the air-to-air combat of the humming birds, cameras at the ready.

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    Our next stop proved to be the most challenging but the most rewarding.
    #94
  15. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 24, 2012 - GPS's are wonderful things, unless they lead you astray due to faulty roadmaps. A nice solid line on the screen does not mean there is actually anything resembling a road nearby in some instances.

    On the way to Santa Teresa, we turned off on a nice hard-packed road with lots of traffic. We knew the roads on the peninsula were sometimes of dubious quality, but all was well for now. As we got closer and closer to Santa Teresa, the road started to shift into mud, slippery bridges and at some point we ended in a field with no road to possibly carry us any further. This was after numerous very steep uphill tracks we struggled up. The way down was far more treacherous. We decided to detour but to no avail. Even the main road to Santa Teresa is all mud and gravel, so too the road to Tambor Airport. At 6 pm, right at sunset, we set out to cover the 58 kilometer dirt track to Santa Teresa. Never again.

    We made our hotel at 9 PM, and thankfully the trek to Santa Teresa turned out well worth the struggle.

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    The town is part beachbum surf town, part high-end resorts and part secluded Yoga retreats. A smattering of fabulous restaurants rounds out the lot. We could not figure out why the roads were so decrepit, but later we were told it was part on purpose, as Santa Teresa believes in "bad roads bring good people and good roads bring bad people".

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    Playa Cielo was our favorite hang out, for obvious reasons.

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    It was a very relaxing three days with good food, some beach time and naps in the hammock while Illa went for a massage. We were very sad to leave this little paradise. We took the easy way out. Only 10 kilometers of dirt and ruts to the ferry at Paquera to the mainland.
    #95
  16. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 27, 2012 - With Illa's visit coming to a close, we made out way back to Playas del Coco, but this time we had our eye on the top-end resort there, Rancho Armadillo.

    On the way back, we stopped at Las Pumas, a refuge for local wildlife. Started as a wild cat sanctuary, it now houses about eighty different species of pelted and feathered wildlife.

    This little guy used to be a pet and really wanted a cuddle, but his beak just looked a tad too sharp.

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    Rancho Armadillo was amazing and we had the place to ourselves.

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    From the hammocks on the overlook, we could see the ocean and hear howler monkeys all around us.

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    A nice dinner at Villa Italia that evening rounded out a fabulous week.

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    #96
  17. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    Oh, and just in case any of your wonder why I abandoned my bike and riding buddy for a week .... :-)

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    #97
  18. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    I was wondering when we'd get a pic of Illa. Worth the wait.
    #98
  19. NCK

    NCK Been here awhile

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    Well that certainly make sense. Take your time, brotha. :wink:
    #99
  20. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 30, 2012 - I caught up with Jan in Dominical, a small beach town built around a dirt road and a few hippies. The beach was not much compared to Santa Teresa and the best accommodation in town had no windows, just mosquito netting. This is what traveling is all about.

    After a day or so of catching up on email, pictures and generally hanging around contemplating life, I sent a casual email to Tea, our contact with Evergreen to let her know we were getting closer to Panama and we'd be looking for a container to share in the next week or so, if one was available.

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    After looking around at the various options of crossing the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia (no, there is no road connecting Central and South America), we decided a shared container was the best of the available options.

    Tea's reply was instantaneous and urgent. She had a container with two cars and some space for two bikes. The trouble was we were 700 kms away, still in Costa Rica and crossing from Costa Rica into Panama is fraught with all sorts of problems. After some discussion and weighing of options, we decided to be foolish and try to cross a border and cover 700 kms in a day to get there in time. And so ended our hammock time with the hippies.

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    At 5:00 AM the next morning, we were ready to roll.