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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Rockwell, Sep 2, 2011.
December 22, 2011 December 30, 2011
Our paperwork was organized and we were ready to cross the border. I wasnt sure what to expect because entering Mexico had been so easy but entering the motorcycle was a bit more complicated. We were given some documents and a receipt when we had crossed into Mexico, the documents were to allow the motorcycle to gain entry and the receipt was for a $400 deposit that we would get back once we left the country. I felt as though we were well prepared and I hoped that it wouldnt be a long complicated process.
The first stage of exit was to present our passports to the customs officer. After being cleared, I had to walk to the customs office. A long line of people stood outside under the hot sun waiting for their turn. It was difficult being fully geared, I was sweating a puddle. Once I was finally able to present all of the papers, I was told that I would have to go to a store a few blocks away to get photocopies of a few things. What? Luckily, a kind stranger was listening near by and told me that him and his family needed to do the same and offered to drive me. I would never had made it walking that far in the hot heat. With everything ready, I returned and had to wait in the long line up again. I was happy to finally be told that I had everything needed.
We then rode up to another booth a few hundred meters away so that we could purchase motorcycle insurance, it cost us $12 US for the day. We were warned that Belize cops loved to issue tickets to drivers without insurance. Slightly further up the road, there was another booth we had to stop at were we were told that any vehicles crossing the border needed to be sprayed with bug spray to prevent exposing different bugs into Belize. The guy told us that since we were on a motorcycle, we wouldnt be sprayed but we would still have to pay $6 US for it. None of it made any sense to us, so we told him that we wouldnt be paying for something we didnt need and we rode away. Another couple hundred meters up the road was the immigration office for Belize. I entered into the building and presented them with all the paperwork and paid $30 entrance fee into Belize. We were then to ride to a booth and get cleared to cross by a customs officer. Along with our ID, he told us we needed all the receipts but we were missing the one for bug spray and he asked us why we didnt have it. We explained to him that we were told we didnt need the spray and we thought it was odd that the man insisted we pay anyways, so we refused because we sincerely thought he was trying to scam us. The customs officer reacted as though we insulted him and he became really rude to us. I still dont think that it was wrong of us to assume that we were being scammed. Without choice, we turned around, paid for the receipt, went back to the customs officer and were finally allowed to enter Belize.
Just over a kilometer away from the border, a cop pulled us over to ask for proof of insurance. We were beginning to understand why people complain about traveling through Belize. The area we rode through seemed a bit boring but the people seemed really sweet, everybody waved as we rode past. We probably should have spent at least one night there, but we wanted to get to Petén, Guatemala as soon as possible. Christmas was around the corner and we were invited to share the holidays with a family we found on couchsurfing.org. We would also be sharing the holidays with Jonathan from San Cristóbal. He too had been welcomed to stay with the same family, in Petén.
We continued riding until we finally reached the border out of Belize and into Guatemala. Once again, I had all the paper work ready and Rocky waited outside with the bike as I went in. We then rode up to the Guatemalan immigration office, our passports got stamped and I paid $22 but when I presented all the paperwork I was told that Rocky needed to be present since that motorcycle was under his name. With all the paperwork ready, we were to go down a street to a store that sold photocopies. It was really frustrating that a customs office didnt provide themselves with photocopies. We always kept the original documents, they needed the photocopy. Why didnt they at least sell me the photocopies in the customs office?
It was getting late and we were finally into Guatemala. We traveled on a paved road for a while but it suddenly became a dirt road. Every few meters was a large pot hole. I couldnt help but feel uncomfortable. I was tired and we hadnt eaten in many hours. It was dark out, there were no street lights and we were surrounded by trees and thick bushes on either side. We continued on this creepy road until we eventually reached Petén. I remember feeling a sense of relief once we approached the city, almost as if the bright lights and traffic kept me safe. I was also excited to see a Pizza Hut. I felt comforted, by the familiarity and also the thought of eating something of substance.
After stuffing our faces with a large pizza, we got back on the road again and finally reached our destination. The family we were visiting lived on the outskirts of the city down a few dirt roads. There was a tall wall built of cinder blocks around the perimeter. We honked the horn a few times and I felt bad for arriving so late as we waited for someone to answer the door. Memo approached the gate and greeted us to come inside. The property was very large. We were asked immediately about our travels and lectured for riding in the dark. Apparently, the dirt road we had ridden on is known for its high crime rate and shady police officers that rob people. We were warned not to ride at night ever again.
The house was built on a beautiful piece of land, it had to have been at least 1/2 acre. A narrow stream ran through the middle of the property, I was told that it was full of eels and native fish that can live for 3 months without water. There was many flowers, hundreds of native jungle plants and trees throughout the property. The house was under construction but walls and ceilings had been built. To the left of the property was an area with walls and greenery that somewhat secluded that space for some hammocks. That is where Jonathan was sleeping. Beside there, was an outdoor sink and cement water tank. They are called Pila, it is common to see these. With the water shortage in these countries, it is important to have a cement tank filled with water. Just as we passed the kitchen, there was an outdoor sitting area and behind it was the childrens bedrooms, along with ours. There was also a shared bathroom and shower, and further down was the parents quarters.
It was nice to meet everyone in the morning, Memo was an American and he was married to Angelica, a Guatemalan Maya. They had 4 beautiful children together, Wilson, Reina, Perali and William. It was also really nice to see Jonathan again. We were given a proper tour under the sunlight and Memo gave us a little history of himself, his family and introduced us to Buenas Cosas. Buenas Cosas is a cooperative of Guatemalan women, an association of family, friends and neighbors who serve their community and nature. Their focus is eco-tourism and voluntourism with an emphasis on conversational Spanish & Qeqchi. They are a non profit organization, and every cent that enters Buenas Cosas goes directly to communities, programs and projects that cultivate Good Things, or as they say in Spanish, Buenas Cosas. We offered to help and volunteer but it was Christmas holidays and they were taking a break from providing for the community and concentrating on hosting their foreign visitors.
It was December 23 and we rode a few minutes through the city to go visit Flores, the capital of Petén. Floris is an island located on Lake Petén Itza, connected to the mainland by a short causeway. Just as we were getting near, I noticed Jonathan drinking his breakfast at a patio. Rocky pulled over and I sat with Jonathan and enjoyed a cold beer as well. We were going to do some exploring and invited him to come along. Rocky rode and met us across the bridge as Jonathan and I walked. Being the coffee snob he is, Jonathan led us to Cool Beans, a great restaurant/coffee shop that offered free WiFi. We would spend a lot of time at Cool Beans over the next few days.
The following morning was Christmas eve and I was invited to a Guatemalan tradition. Every Christmas eve, tamales are prepared and eaten. Corn was ground, chunks of chicken were marinated and plantain leaves were washed. First, I was to place a plantain leaf flat in front of me and put a spoonful of each, corn and chicken on the center of the leaf. I was then taught to wrap the leaf into a pouch and tie it together with string. A fire pit was lit and a large cauldron had a few rocks lining the bottom of it with some water. The tamales were placed inside and steamed all day long. It was a unique experience to be invited by Angelicas family, native Maya people, to help prepare for a feast that has been around since as early as the Pre-Classic period.
Once I was done helping, Rocky and I headed to a craft store and bought a few gifts for the kids. Small booths lined the streets of Petén and they were all selling fireworks. When we returned to the house we were told that another Guatemalan tradition was to light firecrackers at midnight to celebrate Christmas. Rocky, Jonathan and I took the kids to go buy some fireworks and after returning with bags full, the celebrations begun. Tamales were eaten and everybody sat around the fire pit and drank some beers. It was amazing how many firecrackers we could hear in the distance, but we all waited patiently until midnight to light ours. After a few walks trough the neighbourhood with beers in our hand, we visited some of the locals who were related to Angelica and her family. As midnight approached we all met back at the house and the fireworks began. Never in my life have I ever experienced or imagined experiencing such a display. The entire sky filled with explosions, the noise was intense. For at least an entire hour I could safely bet that all of Guatemala was lighting up fireworks. The energy during that long moment was incredible. It was a fantastic experience.
We woke up early Christmas morning and exchanged a few small gifts. Memo and his family were kind enough to give us some authentic Guatemalan hot sauce. It tasted delicious with our breakfast tamales. Jonathan had packed and was prepared to leave that morning, I wondered if we would see him again. Rocky and I rode into the city in search of a post office. We had arranged for a replacement credit card to be sent but we were having no luck receiving it. We kept checking for it every day but we expected the postal service to be no better than Mexicos had been.
We returned to the house with some groceries and planned to make dinner for the family. We prepared Penne Pasta with meat sauce. It was interesting to watch the childrens reaction as they ate a food theyve never tried. Memo giggled and said not to tell the kids that they were eating Penne, apparently the word means Penis in Spanish. We all giggled with him.
The next morning, Rocky and I planned on visiting Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Colombian Maya civilization. We rode for almost an hour and suddenly lost the clutch. We had to turn around and head back for some help. We stopped at a couple of places but it is difficult to find somebody who wasnt intimidated by such a large piece of machinery. The KTM 990 is definitely not a common bike to work on in the area. Just as we began losing hope, a guy from a local mechanic shop helped us. He said that the clutch lever piston was off and he adjusted it back in.
Since it would be too late to visit Tikal, we decided to get the bike washed. It had been a while since she was cleaned. We entered a washing garage and it was cute to see the excitement in the employees eyes to be able to wash her. I was surprised by his enjoyment and the detail that he placed on making her look new. He spoiled her with what i would consider a high end spa experience. We then decided to ride to Flores for a bite to eat and use WiFi to check the status of the credit card that was supposed to have been sent. To our surprise, we bumped into Jonathan and hung out with him until we headed back to the house for our last night in Petén. Early the next morning, we packed all of our belongings and once again said goodbye to our new friends. We were very grateful for the memories they had left us with during our stay in Petén Guatemala but we were ready to continue our journey through the country.
Guatemala City was our next destination and our ride there was one I will never forget. Rocky wasnt feeling well and the day was a difficult one to get through. Hours into the ride, we had to pull over so that Rocky could nap on a picnic table at a gas station. A few hours after that, we had to stop again for another long rest. The traffic in Guatemala was extremely stressful. The highways were only two lanes. Which means, when there are slow moving vehicles in either lane, which is usually the case, you inevitably get a line up of cars in both lanes, desperate to pass. We had to constantly move onto the shoulder as oncoming traffic including large transport trucks, were always in our lane coming at us head on.
I had contacted a family through couchsurfing.org for us to stay with them in Guatemala City. By the time we were near, it was already night. We could see the city lights in the distance but we were separated by a few mountains. Unfortunately, the highway through those mountains were under construction and the lack of street lights made it almost impossible to ride safely.
The roads were partially paved and the damage on them was barely visible in the dark. There were potholes along the way but more dangerously, there were large chunks of road missing. In Canada, any area of road too dangerous to travel on would have some sort of warning, a flashing sign or at least a few meters of pylons to warn us. In Guatemala, what we saw was, if there is a large hole in the road, a larger rock/boulder is place immediately before it as a warning. There were a few times that I thought we would die trying to avoid the dangers.
When we were finally near the house of the family we were about to visit, we had a difficult time locating the address. We stopped numerous times to ask for directions and every time that I showed anyone the address on Rockys iPhone, I was lectured to hide the phone to prevent being robbed. Theft seemed to be a large concern amongst the locals. When we eventually found Stevans home, the sense of relief I had felt is indescribable. Stevans father answered the door and explained that his son was at a local church for band practice, and he would be returning soon. By the time Stevan had shown up, we were shown to our room. Stevans family owned and rented the home next to theirs, and that is where we would be staying. It was late and we were exhausted, we immediately fell asleep the moment our bodies met the bed.
When we woke up the next morning, we were invited next door for breakfast. Tamales were served and they were prepared much differently than we had eaten just days before. They were made with potato, chicken, green olives and dates. A delicious combination. Stevan lived with his father Josue and his mother Zarai. He had a sister named Gioana and a brother Guillermo but we wouldnt meet the two of them until later. Josue was a soft spoken polite man with kind eyes. Beautiful artwork was hung on the walls, I was impressed to find out that it was Zarai who had created it. Stevan was also an artist, he belonged to a band named Wud Link and played the guitar. I love that we continue to meet amazing people along our journey.
With concerns over the condition of the motorcycle, we located a KTM shop not far from the house and rode to get a new clutch lever piston and seal. We thought it was best to have the mechanic install it, servicing it ourselves wasnt practical at this time. After spending the afternoon with the kind mechanic at KTM, the motorcycle was fixed and we returned to Stevans home. Stevan invited us to go walk around the mall with him his friend Jose. We gladly joined them. Guatemala City was huge and I thought it was a pretty city. The mall was much bigger than the one back in the city I grew up in but the population there was much bigger as well. It was nice to window shop and compare prices to what we would pay in Canada. I was surprised to see that although Canadians economy was better, everything there seemed more expensive. After a few hours of talking, walking and laughing together, the mall was about to close and we headed home.
We prepare for our departure in the morning by packing all of our belongings and sharing goodbyes. It was just a few days before New Years and we planned on spending the celebration at Lake Atitlán. We were back on the crazy roads of Guatemala.
We rode to meet Jonathan, who caught a tuk-tuk into town, and found him drinking his morning beer.
Paula snapped a shot of this guy down by the lake. I have no idea what he was drinking. Something tells me its not water.
Lake Peten Itza located near the town of Petén in northern Guatemala.
Two Guatemalan dudes on the island of Flores
Lago Petén Itza
Jonathan, Perali & Paula
We spent the afternoon at Buenas Cosas making tamales with Memos mother-in-law, Margarita, and enjoyed the native Guatemalan treat for Christmas Eve dinner.
Another Furry Friend
Perale was quite a little character, and a natural in front of the camera.
Jonathan left for Tikal on this rainy Christmas morning. This is the last we though wed see of Jonathan, but we ended up bumping into him again in the nearby island of Flores the following day.
We said goodbye to Stevan and his father, Josue before leaving Guatemala City and heading for Lake Atitlan.
Paula with Stevan, a tattoo artist, musician and our couchsurfing host in Guatemala City.
December 30, 2011 - January 3, 2012
We left Guatemala City and we planned on bringing in the new year at Lake Atitlan. Just as we got into the outskirts of the city, we found ourselves in an interesting town with many steep streets. I only realized that we were lost when the road became a big dirt path going uphill. We continued to ride around until we found our way back to the highway. The traffic wasn't too bad and the scenery was worth any stops we needed to make. Guatemala wasn't much different from Mexico, it was an incredibly beautiful country, filled with culture, breathtaking scenery and exotic natives.
We rode throughout many tall rolling hills and a thick sheet of fog greeted us every time we reached the top. Children formed groups on the edge of the highway and they would waive and chase after us as we rode past. We eventually noticed that the cars riding past would throw candies or treats at the children, if they waived. I wish we had known that before, we would have definitely gone prepared. After riding on a beautifully paved road for most of the day, it eventually turned to dirt. It was in such bad shape that I was excited once we were off of it. Rocky told me that Lake Atitlan was close by but since there is no road that circles the lake, we weren't able to catch a peek of it until we reached the top of the mountain.
It was a great introduction! The view was more enchanting than I could have ever imagined it to be. Lake Atitlan is large and recognized to be the deepest lake in Central America. It is ringed by volcanoes and shaped by deep escarpments that surround it. Volcano San Pedro is the oldest of the three, Volcano Tolimán began growing after San Pedro stopped erupting, and Volcano Atitlán remains active, with its most recent eruption having occurred in 1853. Freshly paved switchbacks lead the way down the mountain. They were very steep and the corners were extremely tight. I was kind of scared until large buses filled with passengers, zipped by and seemed to turn corners on two wheels. Traveling by bus seemed much more dangerous than the motorcycle.
We arrived safely in San Pedro, an extraordinary town. Since New Years was around the corner, we had planned on staying at a hostel. The streets were packed with tourists and as I got off the bike to find out some sort of direction, a local offered to help find us a place for cheap. I followed his lead and after a five minute walk he found us a room in one of many small hotels. It was three stories tall with open corridors that overlooked the entire lake. Decorated with a few hammocks, lawn chairs and a beautiful garden, it was more than awesome, especially for $14 per night.
After a nice hot shower, we planned on going for a walk. It's amazing how much a hot shower is appreciated, so much so that I even risked my life for it. Only cold water runs through the pipes, and in order to get hot water, an electrical shower head is used to heat the water. In hindsight, a hot shower was not that important.
San Pedro was a really awesome place to visit. I usually don't like tourist filled places but this was definitely an exception. Lake Atitlan is surrounded by many villages in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz'utujil and Kaqchikel. Often, when people of one culture assimilate to another culture, the traditional style of dressing can quickly become obsolete. This is certainly not the case with the descendants of the Mayans in Guatemala. These proud people boldly wear their traditions on their sleeves.
The native dress of the Mayans, which is called Traje, may vary by village and language group. But the intent of native dressing remains the same, to preserve the rich culture. To Guatemalans, their native costumes are their identity. The women honor their ancestors by wearing a Redcorte (skirt) held up by a woven Faja (belt or sash). The women also wear a Huipil (a traditional square-cut blouse) made with embroidered designs. A shawl drapes over one shoulder, which can be used to carry a baby around. I was very curious to dress this way and the kind ladies in one of the boutiques were also curious to dress me.
The following day was New Year's Eve and we had a few errands to run. We were in desperate need of clean laundry and Rocky's hair needed a cut. Laundry cleaning is a common business throughout Mexico and Central America but aside from a few dry cleaning items, I have always washed my own clothing. I don't know why I felt nervous, my clothing was cleaned so well that it smelled fresher than I've ever know possible. The extra pair of foreign underwear I found washed and folded amongst our belongings wasn't necessary but we got a good laugh from it.
As we walked down a few alleys, we read a sign that said Barber Shop. The barber was a hippy with long dreads and blood shot eyes, but he did own clippers and scissors and Rocky thought that was sufficient. We were invited into a room with a mirror, a chair, a small desk and some crazy paintings on the wall. As Rocky’s hair was being cut, the barber kept stopping to take a moment to run his fingers through Rocky's hair while constantly complimenting, "Wow man, your hair is so soft! I can't believe how silky it feels. Dude, do you know that your hair is like silk." It was obvious to me that the guy was very high on something and my thoughts were proven to be correct when he said, "Just so you know, I can get you anything you like. Do you like acid, man? I've got really good shit!" I have to admit, I was very impressed with the hippies’ ability to cut hair while ridiculously high. He did a great job.
We were ready for the celebrations and considered hitching a boat ride to a town across the lake but Rocky wasn't feeling too well. Instead, we decided to stay in San Pedro to attend a street party. We had grabbed a few of joints from the local who helped find us our hotel room and we stopped at a convenience store to buy a couple 40's of beer. A large stage was placed in the middle of a main street and huge speakers thumped bass. It was such a fun party that the MC even forgot the countdown and introduced midnight a little bit late. Everyone yelled Happy New Year, kissed, toasted and lit fireworks. Guatemalans love their fireworks!
We spent another two days admiring the culture of the town. We enjoyed the simple pleasures of playing a game of tag with the locals at a park and taking pictures of our memories at San Pedro La Laguna. We drank delicious coffee that was grown locally and ate inexpensive meals. Lake Atitlan was a wonderful place to visit but we were ready to continue our adventure and leave one of the most beautiful, colorful places I have ever seen on this earth.
Traveling from Guatemala City to San Pedro La Laguna, we stopped at the side of the road for a rest and some water.
Walking through the streets of San Pedro, we passed by this Guatemalan girl sitting amongst a pile of rubble with a huge smile on her face.
My little Guatemalan girl: Paula tried on one of the traditional ladies outfits. With nowhere to put it on the motorcycle, we didn't end up purchasing it.
We sat on street corner watching the spectacular scene of the townspeople walking by.
The ladies of San Pedro la Laguna and their traditional attire
These ladies were selling fruit and talking up a storm at the side fo the street.
We spotted this elderly lady on the rooftop of her home hanging her laundry out to dry.
I was in need of a haircut, and decided that this guy's shop looked interesting. Paula and I both soon realized that he was high on something as he switched between trimming my hair and sipping on his beer.
The sun went down in the town square as the New Year's Eve celebrations drew near.
A street corner at dusk in the town of San Pedro La Laguna
I saw this family sitting on the curb and, as awkward as it is taking photos of strangers, I just had to ask if I could take one.
Tall, medium and short
Night time on the streets of San Pedro
A corner shop in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
We saw this child sitting in a tuk tuk at the side of the road with his older brother. Paula handed him the flower.
Two sisters walk through the town square and turn heads.
Mother & Daughters
A family on the streets of San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
I tried to secretly take of a photo of this guy laying in his hammock. I guess he noticed.
The People of San Pedro la Laguna
A young girl standing with her mother on the street of San Pedro la Laguna. The guy in the doorway was either passed out from being drunk or just taking a nap.
Everywhere we went in this little town on the edge of Lake Atitlan, we saw interesting and friendly people.
The style of art in this region is filled with bright, beautiful colour.
A shop in San Pedro la Laguna - Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
I snuck to the top of The Primera Iglesia Bautista de San Pedro La Laguna, a Baptist church in the centre of town, to snap a few shots from above.
As we left San Pedro La Laguna the same way we had arrived, we stopped to take some photos of the spectacular view that we had seen when we first neared Lake Atitlan several days before.
December 30, 2011 - January 7, 2012
It was a really damp, cold ride through the mountains. We were on our way to El Salvador, but first, we had two quick stops to make. Antigua was a beautiful city and appeared to be upscale. It is a very popular tourist area because it is possible to take buses from Antigua to many parts of Guatemala, also, because many foreigners like to retire there, and it is one of the most popular and best recognized centers for Spanish language study by students from Europe, Asia and North America. We were going to stop for coffee and some lunch but we decided it was out of our budget. We continued riding until we reached Guatemala City. We were returning there because it was in the direction of El Salvador, but also because we were a bit bummed that we broke our GoPro video camera while we were at the Cenote in Tulum, so we agreed to look for a new one. We had no such luck though. The store was out of stock.
When we finally reached the border of Guatemala and El Salvador, our peaceful ride was interrupted by pure chaos. As we approached the immigration booth, we were bombarded by a handful of men trying desperately for our attention to sell us currency. Rocky stayed outside with the bike and his new friends as I went into the immigration office to present all the paperwork.
After crossing out of Guatemala, we rode a few hundred meters across a bridge until we reached the crossing into El Salvador. We arrived at the booth and the customs officer asked us to park the bike and go back to see him. He passed me a clipboard and asked me to fill in the blanks. I speak Portuguese, although it is very similar to Spanish, I am not experienced enough to prepare government documents. Not one English word was on that form. I pointed to the blank clipboard and handed him all the necessary papers and passports. I tried explaining to him that I didn't understand the language enough to read and write but he barely understood me. He then proceeded to walk away from me and sat at a table inside the booth and started stuffing his face with food. It was bizarre.
I stood their waiting, confused, watching sauce drip down his chin. Just then, his cell phone rag and he held up his finger to his lips before he took the call. He answered his phone and spoke to a person who I can only assume was his wife. "Hi dear, what are you doing today? Nothing. What are you having? I just ate, too...". This conversation continued for longer than necessary and he finally left the booth. As he walked past me, I tried asking him what we were supposed to do but he held up his finger to the air, asking me to wait. He acted annoyed that he had to do some sort of work.
We waited at least an hour for him to return. He handed me a few documents and pointed to an immigration office down the road. While Rocky waited outside with the bike, I stood in a line up for almost an hour. My passport was stamped and so were the papers for the bike. I asked them if it was possible for me to trade spots with Rocky so that he didn't have to wait in line to get his passport stamped as well and after begging for over a minute, they agreed to let me run out and grab his passport. I was obviously confused but didn't hesitate. I returned to the same officer, passed him Rocky's passport and they stamped it without even looking at him. I wasnt about to say anything. I gathered everything together and I asked them if I needed to do anything else. They reassured me that I was done and everything had been stamped and approved.
After a long day of border crossings, the sun was quickly dropping and I was worried that we would be driving at night. We rushed out the office and eagerly left the area. As we headed down a paved road for a few hundred meters we unexpectedly approached another booth and an officer asked to see our documents. How many booths does one border need? The officer told us that we were missing something and we would have to return to the immigration office, somebody there was expecting us. We were obviously annoyed but I had to re-enter the office. This time, instead of waiting in line, I was approached and told that a photocopy of the new stamped documents was needed and I would have to go down the street and around a corner to buy the copy. Now, I am known for having a lot of patience, but I felt my face burning and my eye twitching. I almost cried with frustration. There was no way that I was going on any mission in search of a store for a copy of anything, especially when there was a photocopy machine right behind the woman speaking to me. I was so confused that my facial expression must have communicated my thoughts because she finally made herself a copy and I gladly left the building.
It was almost completely dark out and we were finally well past the border crossing. Thankfully, we weren't too far from our next destination. I contacted a man on couchsurfing.org and we were welcomed to stay at his home. Attilio lived in a small town, not too far from the border, called Concepcion de Ataco. By the time we had finally arrived, we still had a difficult time locating his house. We rode up and down the cobblestone roads and we asked anybody we saw for help. We were grateful to be approached by an English-speaking woman who brought us to Attilio's house.
Attilio is a tall, built, and handsome older man with kind eyes. He welcomed us into his yard and showed us to our room. Since it was late and we were exhausted, we had an early night. It wasnt until morning when we were able to get a better idea of our surroundings. Attilios house was what I consider simply perfect. It was small but large enough for guests and comfort. I loved how every room was accessible from outside, the kitchen was open to the outdoors and the dining table was out on the patio. A large yard with beautiful flowers, fragrant herbs, fruit trees and coffee bushes embraced us. It was a very peaceful home.
Attilio walked us around and we were immediately charmed. Ataco is a small village in El Salvador's northern highlands surrounded by lush green hills and coffee farms. The streets were narrow and built of cobblestone, warped with age. One of the most interesting aspects of Ataco was its collection of brightly colored murals painted on homes and businesses throughout town. We visited a bunch of shops that sell a wide variety of crafts including sculptures, ornaments, weavings, embroidery, candles, key chains and coffee but the most interesting was a local craft shop were we could see and appreciate gorgeous fabric being made using Leaver Looms.
We visited the local market to get some chicken for dinner. While there, Attilio introduced us to fruit we were unfamiliar with. Jocotes (pronounced ho-coat-es), is a small red fruit with the consistency of a plum and the flavor of a tangerine, but my favorite was green mangoes. Mmm, they are delicious on their own, dipped in vinegar, lime juice or sprinkled with salt. I prepared lemon chicken for dinner that night, using fresh lemons picked from a tree in Attilios garden. We sat around relaxing, enjoying the sounds of Jazz music and learning of Attilio's days as a basketball player and Greyhound bus driver in the USA.
The following day, Rosario returned home from her visit in San Salvador and we were finally able to meet Attilio's other half. She was an incredibly sweet lady who smiled and giggled as much as myself. I was completely charmed by her. She brought a large Red Snapper back with her, and treated us to the best ceviche Rocky and I had ever tasted.
On our last night in Ataco, we invited Attilio and Rosario out for dinner. Once we were done eating, Attilio said we were going to pick up bread for breakfast and we followed them down a few roads and through a few alleyways. It was almost 9pm when we arrived at somebodys doorstep and waited in the entrance. After a few short minutes, a small door was opened at a large bricked area and to our surprise it was a large brick oven full of fresh baked bread. The smell was intoxicating. One dollar later, we were walking home with a bag of bread. Our stomachs were still full from dinner but that didn't stop our mouths from drooling. We couldn't help but stuff our faces. It was the softest, warmest, freshest bread. Half way back to the house, Rocky and I couldn't help but decided to turn around and go back for another bag full so that we had some for breakfast.
Attilio and Rosario are the sweetest couple, living in the cutest village I have ever visited. Ataco showed me all the beauty of a simple life. Attilio and Rosario introduced me to the purest form of living it. I am forever humbled. And with these memories, I will always be reminded of the path my life should follow.
We left Ataco and began our journey through El Salvador. What a beautiful, interesting country! Women walked around wearing colourful clothing with cute lace aprons and I was surprised to see that a lot of people had the most striking blue eyes to compliment their otherwise dark features. Everything was pretty, even the light posts and guard rails had flowers, birds and butterflies painted on them.
It was a warm sunny day and the weather was perfect for a gorgeous ride along the coast. We planned on spending some time at the beach and stopped when we reached El Zonte, a small beach town along the southern cost of El Salvador. The beach was a rock beach. There was no fine sand, just a lot of smooth rocks of many sizes. We walked around searching for a cheap place to stay and settled for a place for $15 per night. It seemed like a steal but the room was dingy. It had two twin beds and each where covered with a thin unfitted sheet. The ground was cement and was covered in more sand than the beach had. At least it had a shower in the bathroom, but unfortunately, somebody forgot to mention that it didn't function. We ended up only paying $10 for the room since the shower didnt work, which was still a generous amount.
We were a short distance from the beach and we took a walk to peek. It wasn't the greatest place I had been to, and Rocky must've agreed because he wasn't inspired to take any pictures. After a few minutes under the hot sun, we became thirsty and that gave us the perfect excuse for a beer. Luckily, the bartender told us that we could drink our beer up on the patio, attached to the second story of a really nice motel/hotel. The view of the ocean was awesome and so were the hammocks and swimming pool.
After an uncomfortable stay, I was looking forward to leaving in the morning. We packed up and planned on crossing into Honduras. The weather was perfect and Rocky was contemplating whether or not he should wear his full riding gear. I don't care how hot it is, jeans aren't sufficient when riding long distances, especially while riding through Central America. The road conditions were brutal. Most highways cut through towns and had only two lanes. If there was any slow moving traffic, large transport trucks would take any opportunity to pass, even if it meant moving into oncoming traffic. I can't count how many times Rocky had to dodge a transport truck that appeared in our lane, directly in front of us coming head-on. I was surprised to see most vehicles had window tint covering all glass including the windshield. The tint was so dark (illegal on any car window in Canada) that a thin strip on the windshield was bare at eye level in order to have some visibility, but I can't imagine that helped much.
It was late in the afternoon and we were getting close to the Honduras border. Having gotten stuck for hours at the border entering into El Salvador, Rocky was anxious to arrive in time so that we werent left riding in the dark of night. I could sense the tension on the road. The conditions were unsafe and full of distractions. I felt Rocky's frustration as he turned onto the shoulder of the road in order to go around a slow-moving vehicle. It all happened so quickly...CRASH!!!
We met Attilio on couchsurfing.org. Attilio lived in a small town in El Salvador's northern highlands called Concepcion de Ataco.
Attilio and Paula in front of Attilio's home
Many of Ataco's building were covered in brilliant, colourful murals.
Among the multitude of plants and flowers growing in Attilio's garden were the berries of the coffee plant.
There were many beautiful and exotic plants growing in Attilio's garden.
We visited a local craft shop in town were we could see and appreciate gorgeous fabric being made using Leaver Looms.
After shopping, we walked backed along the cobblestone streets to Attilio's to prepare dinner.
Paula in Ataco
We saw this interesting-looking old man sitting in the streets. He appeared to be homeless.
Attilio told us that he often saw this man and would help him with a few dollars whenever he met hm in the street.
The brightly-coloured murals on the town's buildings told the story of the region and the people who lived there.
We stopped at a local corner shop so that Attilio could buy some cigars. The shop owner was this beautiful little old lady.
Walking through town, we passed this interesting rammed-earth home.
On our way back to Attilio's, we saw this guy sleeping in the streets. He was outside what appeared to be a bar, and was likely drunk and had passed out on the concrete.
Rosario was Attilio's other half. We said so-long to both of them, and we left Ataco having glimpsed the beauty of a simple life.
San Vicente is a stratovolcano in central El Salvador. It is located next to the town of San Vicente and is the second highest volcano in El Salvador. -- Wikipedia
I knew this was coming sometime soon but was still taken by surprise. Thank goodness you both are okay! Paula and Rocky, your rr is wonderful and I'm hoping that the next phase of your journey is as full of joy and discovery...without the "crash!" bit!
Thanks! We're both ready to go. We had planned to head out on the second part of our trip tomorrow (June 1), but I had to have my main camera lens repaired, so we're going to be delayed by about a week or so. Can't wait!
what's the name of the new trip? I'll be lookinig for it every day!
Awesome. You two must be super excited. I'll be following along!
The name is still the same. We consider this part of the trip to be a continuation of the last. It's all one big journey, I guess.
Dude. We're both pretty excited. Picked up the lens today. Haven't had time to test the repair job out, but I am hoping it's good. We're pretty much set to go for this Saturday (June 8th). You should ship your bike over to Europe or Morocco and meet us there for some riding. I need someone to teach me how to really ride this thing!
January 7 - January 14, 2012
When we left the beach, our first mission was to ride through San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. It is known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world but it didn't feel scarier than any other city I have been to. We continued riding and planned on crossing the border into Honduras. It was really hot out and the stop and go traffic wasn't helping. It seemed that El Salvador had two types of drivers, very fast and aggressive, also, very slow and timid. I was told that obtaining a drivers license simply consisted of paying for it.
It was barely 4pm and we had already ridden through more than half the country. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America but it is the most densely populated. We were riding through a city named Santa Rosa de Lima, and we were approximately 15 minutes from reaching the Honduras border. Rocky was annoyed. He had fought with the traffic all day long and I could tell he was frustrated. We were riding on a two lane highway and everyone was weaving in and out of oncoming traffic to avoid slower vehicles. Reluctant to pass into oncoming traffic, Rocky attempted to pass using the shoulder. It was a mistake he would quickly regret. A truck in front of us failed to look onto the shoulder as it pulled over, and he rammed into the side of us as we were passing.
The bike wobbled when we were hit and Rocky struggled to keep control from falling into a long, 3-foot deep, manmade ditch that ran along the side of the highway. His efforts were in vain. We landed in the ditch, but it was a good thing we did because we avoided hitting a steel pole. Unable to stop in time, we smashed into the 3-foot rock and concrete wall at the end of the ditch. The bike hit head-on and we were thrown off onto the driveway in front of us. It all happened so quickly. We jumped to our feet to assess the damage. Luckily, we were ok. Thanks to Rev-it for creating fantastic riding protection. There wasn't even a scratch or mark on our gear. The truck that hit us was quick to leave the scene and the police that rode past felt they had no business stopping. A small crowd of people circled around us as we began removing our belongings from the motorcycle and from the stream of raw sewage.
The ditch was created to collect rain and sewage. It was filled with leaves and litter, and possibly urine and feces, causing a foul odour and making it really difficult for us to gather our things. I will never forget that smell. We had fire ants all over us and they were eating small chunks of our skin. I have never seen so many ants in my life. We were still in shock as we sadly stared at our broken motorcycle. A man, who I assume was my age but smaller than I, spoke out and asked the crowd to lift the bike from the ditch. It was beautiful to watch as everyone helping us. The man asked us to wait as he went up the road to get his pickup truck. With everyone's effort, we were able to get the motorcycle onto the truck and we rode down the street to a home. We were introduced to Evers, his wife Dilma and son David. Their other son, Enrique, lived next door with beautiful wife Yolii and their son Samuel. We were told that we could keep the bike parked at Evers' house and keep all of our gear at Yolii's house, and we were invited to stay at Yolii's mothers house.
Isabel is Yolii's mom and she lives a few blocks away with her son Didier and his wife Ximena who had just moved back home from living and working in the USA. We were glad they spoke English. It made things much easier. We arrived at their home and they did their best to accommodate us. We were offered everything from food, a hot shower and their own bed for us to sleep on. It was really kind how well we were treated and taken care of. We were completely exhausted but sleeping was almost impossible. My neck and back were sore and Rocky experienced an allergic reaction to all of the fire ant bites. He was ready to scratch his skin off. But complaints were far from our thoughts. We were happy to be alive and cared for.
Once morning came, our minds were racing. We were afraid to impose on our hosts, we were unsure of how to continue our trip and we wondered if we should ship the bike home or try to find a way to fix it, locally. Luckily, we weren't allowed to think too much about it because we were told that it was Sunday morning, and, when you live in El Salvador, Sunday is spent at the beach with family and friends. The invite placed a huge smile on my face. The beach was a perfect idea for the frame of mind I was in.
We packed up some things and had a family day at Playa Negra. Didier, his wife, Ximena, his mom Isabel and his sister, Yolii, with her son Samuel and Yolii's brother in-law, David, and his girlfriend, Milena, treated us to a day out. The sun was shining we were with good people. The ocean was warm and soothing on my muscles. We ate fresh ceviche, drank a few beers, swam in the ocean, relaxed on hammocks and played in the pool. On our drive home, we stopped in a city called La Union. The city center was packed with people. We all sat at a table and ate a variety of Pupusas. Pupusas are a thick, handmade corn or rice flour tortillas stuffed with cheese, refried bean and chicharron (cooked pork). There were also vegetarian options and some stuffed with shrimp or just cheese and salsa. They were very tasty. The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if Rocky wasn't so sad. He was devastated and there was nothing that could have helped his broken heart.
The following day, Evers invited us out for lunch. We joined him and his son at a restaurant named La Mariscada de Pema, where we were able to taste an award-winning soup called Sopa de Pema. It was a seafood chowder that tasted absolutely amazing. Evers told us stories of life in El Salvador. He said that we were very fortunate to have had been helped by the right people. Most neighborhoods in the area are run by gangs and had we crashed in sight of them, we may have been robbed or taken advantage of. He said that gang activity ran rampant and he expressed a lot of concern about extortion. If gang members believe that you have money, they would do anything to take it. Evers said that he would love if his sons could live in a place as safe as Canada and he respectfully mentioned that he would not be opposed to his son marrying a Canadian just for the purpose of citizenship. Sensing that it was a hint, Rocky was quick to say that gay marriage was legal in Canada and he wouldn't be opposed to helping out. That put an quick end to that conversation.
After a lot of thought, we decided it was best if we shipped the bike home by sea and take a flight home. It took days to make all of the arrangements. We had called many shipping companies and encountered many problems. Something as simple as receiving a call back was extremely difficult. But, what really made me frustrated was trying to obtain a police report. We went to the police station but we were told to return at different hours or different days, numerous times. Finally, I just about snapped and began taking names and recording all of the officers badge numbers. I told them I had all of their information and that since they were unwilling to help, I was given no choice but to visit the embassy. That worked quite well. We left that day with a police report and we were told that we would have to bring it to a police station in the city La Union to have the papers certified.
The following day, Rocky and I took a bus to La Union. This bus ride was the most unique experience of our entire trip. I wish we had brought the camera. La union was at least an hour away and the drama on this bus was fascinating. Hah! I don't even know where to start. Vendors kept walking in and out of the bus at each stop. There was a man dressed as a clown trying to collect tips for being dressed as a clown. There were adorable children with straps and belts that held goodie-bags and they were selling the candy. There were women wearing cute lace aprons with hot trays of food and they sang songs of what they were selling. A man, wearing a suit and tie, stood at the front of the bus talking about medical conditions for a very long time. He eventually walked up and down the aisle selling individual pills, that could have been anything, and people were actually buying them. We were so confused watching the craziness everyone else found normal.
Once we finally reached La Union, the police station was easy to find and the officers were helpful. One problem was solved and there were more to be addressed.
We finally came in contact with a company willing to ship the motorcycle. Still, it took a few days to get quotes and answers. It was a very stressful time but, during those days, Isabel, Ximena and a neighbour helped by hand washing all of our belongings so that we could travel home clean. Everything we owned looked better than new. They also helped us with phone calls and translations to make all the arrangements possible. The company that would be shipping our motorcycle was located in the city of San Salvador, and Didier found somebody who would rent us a pickup truck and take the motorcycle, Rocky and I into the city. I'm not sure what we would've done without this amazing family.
It was 4am and we were ready to head out into San Salvador. It took a few hours to finally reach Comca Shipping Company, but that was just the beginning of our day. We said goodbye to Didier, Isabel and Ximena and thanked them for everything. We will forever remember and be grateful of their friendship.
At Comca Shipping Company, Rocky and I spent most of the day taking the bike apart and making it as compact as possible for the crate that was going to be made for the shipment home. The employee we had dealt with told us not to bother removing the fluids from the bike. They offered to drain the bike at no cost if it was necessary. We provided photocopies of all the documents, the police report, permits, and the motorcycle ownership and we were given a receipt with a summary of expenses and told everything was ready and the motorcycle would be shipped within two weeks. Rocky and I had booked a room at the Sheraton and we were given a ride the employee of the shipping company whom we had dealt with. It was a bit past 5pm when we got to our room and as we sat to relax for a moment. I noticed the concern on Rocky's face as he stared at the receipt we had been given. The paper had no real information on it. The price had the word estimation printed beside it and a few things had been scratched off and penciled in. It wasn't very professional and Rocky thought it seemed questionable. We also had no proof of having left the motorcycle in the possession of the shipping company. We called a taxi and rushed back to Comca to get proper documentation. As we ran to the door, the building was closing for the night and we approached an employee on their way out. Luckily, he was the owner. He invited us in and was also surprised of the paper we were given. He expressed that it was odd and he would make sure to give us proper documents and a guaranteed price. This gave us comfort and we were able to leave with some peace of mind.
Our hotel room was beautiful and our bed was especially comfortable. It was a great place to stay but very boring in comparison to the places we had slept, in the past months.
Our flight was booked and we took a taxi to the airport early the next morning. Times were a bit tough at the airport. Our luggage wasn't practical for flying and we were asked to throw out all of our spare bottles of oil, lube, cleaners, and coolant. We gave it away to somebody dropping off their family. They were happy. We were also told to throw out our fuel tanks and camp-stove fuel container because they smelled of gas. I refused. They cost too much money to discard and they were empty anyway. I suggested cleaning them out in the washroom with soapy water instead. The lady told me I could try that, but I would have to run to avoid missing my flight. Rocky waited at the counter as I grabbed the fuel tanks and fuel canister. I ran through the airport ignoring everything but my current mission. As I opened the doors into the secured section before reaching the bathroom, six officers stood in front of me and stopped me from entering. It wasn't until I saw their expressions that I realized how crazy I must have appeared to everyone as I ran through the San Salvador airport hugging a bunch of gas tanks. I just stood there for a moment and I laughed. It was funny and a little awkward because I wasn't even sure of how to explain myself in Spanish. I began to speak but it was my smile, along with a good old fashioned wink that did the trick.
At last, we had everything ready, cleaned, packed, stowed and we were boarded. I was horribly sad how our trip came to an end but I was looking forward to everyone and everything I had missed while we were gone.
Anxious to get to the border before the dark of night, we were run off the road into a sewage ditch after attempting to go around a slow-moving vehicle. Attempting to pass on the shoulder of the road was my first mistake, and my second was assuming that the driver would check his mirrors before pulling off the road. The driver, once he realized that Paula and I were both OK, was quick to drive away and have nothing more to do with the situation.
Seeing the bike in the ditch, the police drove right by with little concern. Several of the townspeople helped us pull the motorcycle out of the ditch. One came with his pickup truck and took us to his friend's place, where we were given a place to stay. Never underestimate the goodwill of strangers.
The next day, we went back to the scene of the accident.
The family who gave us a place to stay took us to the beach the following day. It was Sunday, and Sundays in El Salvador were for lounging at the beach and swimming in the ocean.
Ximena, Didier and Paula enjoyed the coolness of the ocean water. Depressed over the previous day's events and the state of the motorcycle, I remained pensive, relaxed in the hammock and took photos.
Yolli & her son, Samuel, bathed in ocean.
Ximena was originally from Colombia. She had met and married Didier while they were both working in New Jersey.
Isabel was Didier's mother. She offered us her home in our time of need.
Isabel's husband had gone to New Jersey to work. She had not seen him in person for years. Unable to travel to The United States, she would talk to him on the internet every night.
Our extended family in Santa Rosa de Lima
In The Family Room
After peeking between its legs, Paula informed the family that their cat was actually a male, and not a female as they had thought.
After about a week of making arrangements, we found a shipping company that were willing to ship the motorcycle back to Canada. We rented a pick-up truck to take us to the shipping company in San Salvador, where were began disassembling the bike.
Paula, seen here, is pretending to work on the motorcycle.
Since the total shipping cost was based on both weight and volume, we disassembled the motorcycle in order to minimize the cost of shipping it home.
The bike was going to be shipped to New York by sea, and then trucked to Toronto.
The cost for the shipment, from San Salvador to Toronto, was roughly US$1,200.
So bummed about your accident. Thanks for the time to RR
Yikes... I just found this thread and am only on page 2 but thought I'd post how great it's been so far only to see on this page a crated-up bike eerily similar to the one I saw in mint condition on page 1! Glad you two are okay! I'll be following along.
Thanks for taking the time to do this very interesting RR. It's been a real joy reading it and I'm still not done.
Grampa’s Lake Superior Ride
Grampa’s National Monument Ride
The good thing about the accident is that neither of you were injured. You could have been badly hurt or even killed. It must have been sad and painful to have the trip end this way, so soon, after all the good adventures you had. Now you have passed through that time and are getting ready to set out again! Good for you! Looking forward to reading "Part 2", and thanks for posting the whole of "Part 1". Really enjoyed the writing and photos.
Thanks guys. Paula is really glad someone reads it. Most people we know only skim through and look at the pictures.
One day left to prepare, and we still have so much to do. If worst comes to worst, we will be leaving on Sunday, but the plan is still to head out on Saturday.
We'll continue to post in this thread since I consider this to be a continuation of the original trip.
Also reading your posts, please keep up the good work. Looking forward to you hitting the road again soon.
Hi R & P,
Can't speak for anyone else but I've read and enjoyed every word. The photos are excellent and both together make a fab RR. Wow, the next phase of this journey is about to start! Very cool! Glad to see you'll be continuing this thread....I think you have hit the nail on the head...this is the same journey. Looking forward.....
Don't want to "me too", but if you're wondering if anyone is reading, yeah definitely!
Looking forward to more of this one. You do a great job of telling the story through the lens as well storytelling. Travel far my friend!
Hey, all right! I'm all caught up just in time for part two of this adventure. That was a lot of reading.
I must admit being monetarily distracted from reading on page 9