SF to Panama... eventually

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by stickfigure, Jan 25, 2008.

  1. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    Unfortunately I'm backfilling my story - I'm actually in Quetzltenango, Guatemala right now. Hopefully I'll catch you guys on the return trip! I've been following your trip report since you started and keeping notes on places to visit :thumb

    Jeff
  2. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
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    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=san+cristobal+de+las+casas,+mexico&ie=UTF8&ll=16.909684,-92.669678&spn=5.075323,7.89917&z=7"><img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2349/2635370454_032966e4c3.jpg"/></a>

    The race from Villahermosa to the Guatemalan border was a blur, but it was a pretty blur. The geography of Chiapas is radically different from anything else I've seen in Mexico. It's mountainous, lush, green, rainy, and slightly cold. The road was windy and steep and wet, but for the most part well-paved.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3187/2635541322_380dfc68d3.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3161/2634716307_cea00d8743.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3126/2635197759_5cf2089851.jpg"/></a>

    There are abandoned railroads in Chiapas too:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3178/2634706523_9f8f803206.jpg"/></a>

    I stumbled across this beautiful swimming hole and waterfall:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3180/2636023364_fc305ebdb9.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3179/2635538992_33ef6a3f9d.jpg"/></a>

    This "shortcut" didn't pan out and ended up being a (beautiful, but pointless) 45-minute detour.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3273/2635197387_f2fd050731.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3166/2636019530_995ab2209b.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3182/2636020658_8f493cea3d.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3159/2635195739_47a10e6a8f.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3049/2636019912_181ab6e0d5.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3089/2635193445_3f5bc7245e.jpg"/></a>

    I spent one night in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. I wish I could have stayed longer. It's very cute, with pretty architecture, bountiful restaurants, several hostels, and lots of fellow travelers. I only took one picture... of dinner:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3179/2635199921_d434dbd467.jpg"/></a>

    There were a few Zapatista-related signs off the road. You have to look at the fullsize image to read it:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3282/2636024086_cdd216372a.jpg"/></a>

    It reminded me that I need to get this printed onto tshirts:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/chiapas/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3182/2637235860_247faffe72.jpg"/></a>
  3. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
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    I crossed into Guatemala at La Mesilla. This was even easier than the US -> Mexico crossing. There were no lines, I was the only one there. Miracle of miracles, both the Mexican and Guatemalan offices had their own photocopy machines.

    I won't bore you with the process. It took about 10 minutes to "check out" of Mexico, and about 30 minutes to "check in" to Guatemala. The only surprise is that Guatemala wants to see the title of the vehicle rather than the registration. I brought color photocopies of my title for just such an eventuality.

    Looking back at the Mexico aduana:

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    This is what you see immediately after crossing into Guatemala:

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    First impressions of Guatemala:

    * WOW! It's even more stunningly beautiful than Chiapas. Tall, narrow canyons. Rivers. Waterfalls. High-mountain meadows. Rain, rain, rain. It's cold, like Seattle fall weather.

    * All Guatemalan money is faded and damp and feels like it's been run through the laundry several times.

    * If you just looked at the cars, Guatemala looks like a very wealthy country. Most are big and newish. Toyota 4x4s and SUVs are especially popular. In fact, 9 out of 10 cars on the road are Toyota products - no exaggeration, I counted out a pretty large sample.

    * Any illusion of wealth created by the traffic is immediately shattered by the architecture.

    * Motorcycles are everywhere! Mostly big-bore singles. I don't know how people ride them, Guatemalans are short.

    * Gasoline is sold by the gallon. Everything else in the country seems to be metric.

    * Guatemalan driving technique is inferior to Mexican driving technique. Either that, or the dotted line in the middle of the road means something different here than it does in the rest of the world.

    * Living here is *cheap*. It's rare to spend more than $10 on a room. It's rare to spend more than $5 on a meal.

    * Restaurants, when they can be found, are a disappointment. In Mexico, every residential block has at least two restaurants and folks are practically throwing prepared food at you on street corners and freeway offramps. Rural areas in Guatemala have - at best - a comedor that serves a couple chicken dishes. Even central Huehuetenango was dismal.

    * Outside of major cities, most Guatemalans speak Spanish as a second language (if at all). It's weird not understanding anything I overhear.

    * Women wear traditional clothes (traje). In a couple places, the men do too. The baggy outfits are not flattering by western standards.

    * I find that I'm much more cautious here than I was in Mexico. Mexico no longer feels like a foreign country to me. Guatemala does. I ride slower and feel less "at ease" when walking around cities.

    Some pictures around Huehuetenango, where I spent my first night:

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    Google misses wildly when placing a marker on Huehuetenango, so you get to find it yourself in the above picture. It's not that hard.
  4. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
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    [​IMG]

    I thought Gavin's bike would be fixed soon, so I looked for a place to kill a few days. The Lonely Planet spoke good things of a small mountain village off the beaten path, not too far from Huehuetenango. It sounded like a fun ride.

    My broken GPS cradle won't provide power and I (naturally) forgot to charge it in Huehuetenango. Not that it would have helped much; I don't have detail maps of Guatemala and the roads to Todos Santos aren't even in my massive Guia Roji book. This is what replaced my $700 GPS:

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    I stopped to ask directions a *lot*, and still ended up taking a few wrong turns.

    Here's some pictures from the ride there:

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    Somebody was moulding concrete sinks:

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    Piglets!

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    The town of Todos Santos has a lot more buildings than I expected but far fewer services than I expected. There are a handful of comedors in town, and the "menus" have at most two options (chicken or chicken). Worse, one month ago the town WENT DRY! There are a few signs promising cantinas but they lie; there is no beer to be had in Todos Santos. One cantina owner who dared defy the ban was thrown in jail and had his water lines cut with machetes. Bloody hell. I kicked myself for not trying Guatemalan beer in Huehue.

    I had a killer room one block from the town "square":

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    The view from my balcony:

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    The price? 35 quetzales per night, about $5USD. They claimed hot water, but the mechanism for this is a jury-rigged electric instant-heater that makes otherwise freezing water merely cold. I've heard these referred to as "widowmakers":

    [​IMG]

    There is one internet cafe in town, but it seems closed more often than open - at odd hours in the middle of the day, too.

    I spent one night watching a documentary film about what happened to Todos Santos in 1982, at the height of the civil war. The Guatemalan army, under Gral. Ríos Montt, razed several hundred indigenous villages and killed tens of thousands of unarmed farmers because he suspected them of sympathizing with the guerillas. Todos Santos got off easy, only losing about four thousand people, mostly from the surrounding rural area. The government then organized a "volunteer" civil guard, in which all men who did not wish to be suspected of treason must participate. Everyone was expected to keep an eye on their neighbor and to notify the army of any suspicious behavior, and there are numerous stories of folks being "disappeared" after jilting a particularly vindictive lover.

    The scariest part? Ríos Montt is making a political comeback. As a former evangelical preacher, he has considerable support from the near-half of Guatemalans that consider themselves protestant - including people from the villages that he terrorized during his last reign. Go figure.

    Here's some more pictures. The grungy town square:

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    Looking down the main street:

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    Some long exposures that turned out pretty well. It was foggy and rainy every evening.

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    Chicken soup! At least it was cheap.

    [​IMG]
  5. mookymoo

    mookymoo Mookish Mook

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2007
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
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    They should replace that on warranty. I had a very similar failure: The oxidisation and then finally, the +12v pin just parted company...
    This happened inside 3 months.
    And yup, that rubber cap is pooh.
    (though, its not meant to flap about in the breeze - the underside of the cradle has a magnet that should hold the cap firm when the zumo is in the cradle - but unless your photo has misled me, you've got it mounted so close to the dash, the rubber cap cant fit there :dunno)

    To stop that oxidisation, you need to apply a bit of dielectric grease - I will have to apply it to mine when they ship my warranty replacement cradle.
  6. TwistySV650

    TwistySV650 Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Montgomery Village, MD
    I'm not sure if they are exactly the same, but I have a Garmin 330C. Rather than using the cradle to power the unit I have a cigarette lighter plug and a cable that plugs into it and then into the mini-usb port on the GPS. That is the plug you use to charge the Zumo from your computer. They are available on Ebay for around $5-6. So, try looking around in any electronic stores you can find and hopefully you can find one. Oh yeah, the cigarette lighter plug is hooked to the battery with a fuse and only cost about $5-10 and you can use it for a tire pump too.

    Hope this helps and I have really been enjoying your report.
  7. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    Todos Santos was an interesting cultural experience, but Quetzaltenango (the locals call it Xela, short for the original Mayan name Xelajú) is the more traditional kind of fun. It's a cute town with a fair amount of colonial architecture and a young population of hipsters - many of them students from around the world. There are plenty of hostels and restaurants and at least one english-language monthly newspaper (XelaWho) that provides a full entertainment schedule, if you can keep up. Xela would be a great place to stay a few weeks to study Spanish.

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    (once again, google f's up the location)

    The ride was wet and foggy but always beautiful:

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    I have to admit that I got a great first impression. The first restaurant I walked into fed me the best caesar salad I've had in my life. Then I found Buena Vista Social Club playing in a local bar:

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    I made a few friends at the hostel but ultimately ended up spending most of my time in restaurants with WiFi catching up on my electronic life. It rained nearly every day, so hiking was not an option. Fortunately the restaurants in Xela are *fantastic*.

    I'm a foodie with San Francisco standards. It is not lightly that I say in Xela I found two of the best restaurants I've ever eaten in. I spent almost a week chowing through their menus and was continuously amazed for roughly $10 per entree. Expensive for Guatemala but a bargain nevertheless.

    Restaurant #1 is Balaliaka, run by a really cute and really friendly Guatemalan couple about my age. With free WiFi It became my 2nd home in Xela. The caesar salad is magnificent but even better is the tropical salad, with just a little bit of chipotle to make it slightly spicy:

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    This is lomita in a gorgonzola sauce:

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    Here's some asparagus, because the world needs more pictures of asparagus.

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    Here are crepes suzette:

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    The best thing on the menu, however - I am not kidding - is the cheeseburger. I ordered one randomly for lunch just as I left Xela. I didn't take a picture before I bit into it because (unlike asparagus) the world doesn't need more pictures of hamburgers. It didn't look special. BUT OH MY GOD. It was soaked in a thin but sweet teriyaki glaze and I think there might have even been sugar in the cheese. I've never had anything like it. I still daydream about it. When I die I wish someone could grind me up and make me into something that delicious.

    Since this is my blog, I'm going to take a slight detour and list the world's best hamburgers:

    #1 The Balalika burger in Xela
    #2 The Duke, from the Cool Cat Cafe in San Luis Obispo, CA (ask for extra BBQ!)
    #3 The gorgonzola burger from the (sadly defunct) Belltown Pub in Seattle
    #4 The teriyaki burger from Islands, a restaurant chain in Los Angeles (are they still around?)
    #5 The Tommy's chiliburger

    You are invited to offer your suggestions. Criticism of the tommyburger will be ignored from anyone that hasn't lived in LA and thus doesn't know what proper 2am food should taste like.

    Restaurant #2 is Royal Paris, a French restaurant a half-block away from Balaliaka. They also have free WiFi, and show French movies every Tuesday.

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    The star dish is the first item on the menu, "plato típico quetzalteco" but there was nothing typical about this pork stewed in a sweet sauce made from pure awesome:

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    They also had a similar meat in an amazing apple-based cream sauce (sorry no pic).

    Pinches de res with three amazing sauces:

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    This desert (banana flambé) was actually slightly disappointing. The house wine wasn't though.

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    Some dishes from other restaurants. Pollo Tikka Masala, the first Indian food I've had in seven months:

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    Stuffed fish, salad, and potatoes au-gratin at an Italian restaurant:

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    Here are some more pictures of Xela:

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    Bad news: The part Gavin needs is turning out to be hard to acquire, and his departure date from Mexico has become very vague. An additional complication is that Gavin must be in Italy for a conference on the 17th of July, so even if the bike is fixed before then he will not pick it up until he gets back. In the mean time he spent a few days in Chiapas and then flew back to Guanajuato to hang out with Sonia.

    Guille flies into Costa Rica to meet me on the 14th of July, so I left Xela on the 4th. This is back to being a solo motorcycle journey, for now. Gavin will either meet me in Costa Rica or at some point on the way back from Panama.

    The moral lesson is: Italian motorcycles may be pretty, but Teutonic motorcycles are tougher and like to get dirty. Ahem.
  8. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
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    Good idea with the <i>grasa dieléctrica</i>; it was on my list of "things to acquire" but it'll be a bit more urgent when I get the replacement unit. Guille is bringing it to me in Costa Rica, which is "just in time" because I really need something to listen to on the long highway stretches.

    BTW the rubber cap fell off when the unit it was attached to my other bike (an F650). I used the magnet; it never flapped in the breeze nor was the bike stored in the sun. I think they just made the flap out of super cheap rubber :(: The unit is over a year old and will be even older by the time I get back home, so I doubt I'll get Garmin to replace it.

    @TwistySV650: The Zumo is a really akward shape and needs the factory mount. While it might be possible to rig up something and power it via the USB connector, the audio outputs are on the cradle itself, so it still wouldn't get me tunes.

    ...oh, and my iPhone was lost/stolen in Mexico, so I have no backup source of music :(:

    All will be fixed in three days!
  9. mookymoo

    mookymoo Mookish Mook

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Fair enough.
    Dielectric grease... or ACF50 if you can get your hands on it...

    Food looks amazing! You have to try Peruvian food sometime :deal How much longer are you planning to spend travelling? :lol3
  10. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    I seriously need to try it in Peru... there are a few Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco and they are AWESOME. Lots of fish and ceviche. It's all super upscale so I really wonder what Peruvians normally eat on a daily basis. If the answer is "more ceviche" I'm ready to move now :tb

    How much longer, I don't know. I'll start my way back from Yaviza sometime in August. I'm planning to fill in a lot of the parts I missed on the way down (ie, the Carribean) but I burnt up most of my time in Mexico (it was worth it) so I might only spend a month getting back to Guanajuato. My current plan is to rent an apartment there and spend a couple months writing more code 'cause at some point I need to make a living. Of course there's a girl involved too :evil When I get back to the US? :dunno

    I miss San Francisco though.
  11. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=san+pedro+la+laguna,+guatemala&ie=UTF8&ll=14.81206,-90.983276&spn=2.155995,3.80127&z=8"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3070/2662329490_dbdf956469.jpg"/></a>

    Lago Atitlan is actually even more beautiful than it seems in pictures, which is hard to believe. It's an enormous lake, perched high in the mountains, with volcanoes on several sides. There are several super-cute (if perhaps a little touristy) pueblos on the shores that you can shuttle between on a water taxi. I have to drive.

    I left Xela pretty late (Atitlan is less than 2 hrs away) so I ended up in fog and rain for most of the way:

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    Between the goretex layers in my Rallye suit and my heated vest, I was perfectly comfortable - when I could see. The final part of the ride broke through the cloud layer and ran me through an endless series of switchbacks, over and over and over:

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    I rode around the lake until I reached San Pedro, apparently something of a "sister community" to Xela according to XelaWho magazine. There are two parts of the town; up on the hill is a more traditional Guatemalan town and down by the shore is a bizarre rastafarian expat community with cute hotels and bars and restaurants.

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    Nearly as soon as I got off the bike people with dreadlocks started coming up to me and offering me weed. There were studenty types and people my age everywhere. It was actually pretty cool.

    From my hotel door:

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    As it got dark:

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    I ate some pretty good food and stayed up till 3am talking and drinking with a med-student I met in the restaurant/bar. It started raining pretty heavily:

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    I woke up with a hangover and didn't get on the road till late. This actually turned out to be a good thing because I didn't go very far - I just rode around the lake until Panajachel, quite a bit bigger than San Pedro but still very cute.

    Incidentally, people say you're not supposed to drive around the lake - the risk of being robbed is high. I was a little nervous about it, but I'm not usually one to let a little danger spoil a good time. It turns out there is a short (couple miles) unpaved section (4x4-only in some parts) between San Pedro and Santiago where the trouble happens because vehicles must move slowly over the rough terrain. When I arrived at this section, three Guatemalan police officers were providing armed escort. They told me that the remainder of the route (which was all paved) was safe. I had no problems. Most of it was like this:

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    Panajachel has a *lot* of hotels and restaurants, and a virtually endless supply of Guatemalan crafts. I'm usually not impressed with the crap sold to tourists but the stuff there was remarkably well made, often combining leatherwork with brightly-colored weaving. I wanted a backpack but I simply have no place to store it; maybe I'll swing by on the return journey.

    My little hotel room (pricey at around $15 equiv):

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    The front door of my hotel room:

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    Some pictures of the lake as I rode up and over the mountains on the way to Guatemala City:

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  12. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=guatemala+city,+guatemala&ie=UTF8&ll=15.125159,-90.944824&spn=4.304992,7.602539&z=7"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3056/2661513951_3e918b6e94.jpg"/></a>

    I rode to Guatemala City, honestly, because it has a train museum. A tiny part of the back of my brain hoped that Guatemala City might be something like Mexico City (probably just because they both end in "City") but no, it isn't.

    I bypassed Antigua Guatemala entirely. I would have liked to ride through town but the train museum closed at 4:30pm and wasn't going to be open the following day (Monday). You thought I was joking about the train museum? Anyways, from all reports Antigua is just like Xela but with smog and more tourists, so I don't feel bad.

    I arrived in Guatemala City, got a room at a hotel two blocks from the train museum, and spent the next couple hours there.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3053/2662028218_98ef1e9551.jpg"/></a>

    They have trains.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3167/2662040092_8ce3fe70e6.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3168/2661225917_59ab654ff2.jpg"/></a>

    This was used for hauling around VIPs. It was powered by a 100hp inline-6 diesel:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3227/2661250379_4d52b1a69b.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3196/2662070290_f25e71b67c.jpg"/></a>

    Ever wonder what a relief map of Guatemala looks like?

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3046/2661253601_d41c010b58.jpg"/></a>

    Unfortunately I was disappointed with the exhibit. I wanted to know the history of railroads in Guatemala; where they go, when they ran, why they were built, who built them, where and why they stopped running. There was very little narrative available. There was not even the usual little shop selling history books and wooden train whistles. It was just a bunch of stuff with brief labels. Sadly, I've noticed this tends to be a problem with museums in Central America - they tend to assume you know the relevant history and present objects with insufficient context to appreciate them. The Sacramento Railroad Museum this was not.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3228/2662146630_ef30bea3dc.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3289/2662031066_2c92ed1a75.jpg"/></a>

    Shingle-builders take note: Guatemala is probably not going to be a good destination for your hobby. There's a lot of recently abandoned track, but it looks like most of the Guatemala railway was built narrow gauge (3' by eyeball) and at the rate the jungle grows, good luck finding it!

    One neat thing about the museum was a little room which contained pictures from a couple dozen other museums in Guatemala:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3018/2662081074_e11387da7c.jpg"/></a>

    Lest you get the impression that 3.1 million people all live in a train museum, here's Guatemala City... it's not especially pretty:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3147/2662132550_d7a26e723b.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3256/2662094678_761f3913cb.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3198/2662109644_619790474d.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3176/2662090430_4769b9216a.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemalacity/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3023/2661289489_ce81d0d94b.jpg"/></a>
  13. mookymoo

    mookymoo Mookish Mook

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2007
    Oddometer:
    4,400
    Location:
    Either UK or Australia ...
    Peruvian food is amazing for its variety. You have coastal, Andean & jungle cultures - each with their own speciality foods. Sadly, not many of these dishes travel well outside of peru - you really need the local ingredients.
    (I have made excellent, excellent cebiche in Peru - and similar efforts outside have been merely adequate).

    Cebiche & Cuzqueña .. for lunch ... cant beat it :deal (its pretty much a staple lunch menu item ...)

    Apartment. Wifi. Guapa. Mexican food. You could do a lot worse... :wink:
  14. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Oddometer:
    524
    Location:
    Please don't call it 'Frisco
    Heading for El Salvador, my GPS took me along the Interamericana Highway (CA-1). I think the Garmin basemap of Guatemala is a little confused because this is what it quickly became:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemala/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3200/2661526289_4f603276d0.jpg"/></a>

    I was going roughly the right direction so I pressed on. After 10-20 miles of dirt the road eventually reunited with the more clearly paved official CA-1, but not before it took me by this gem of a park:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemala/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3252/2661563173_9b2c6aedff.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemala/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3132/2662384588_1a9dbf61b2.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemala/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3184/2661554409_4b0cd8dccc.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemala/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3207/2661533645_8aee6459d0.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/guatemala/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3156/2662355724_a31355f116.jpg"/></a>

    It's called Parque Nacional Laguna El Pino. Something about this kind of place makes me hungry for a salad.
  15. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Oddometer:
    524
    Location:
    Please don't call it 'Frisco
    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=&ie=UTF8&ll=13.83808,-88.912354&spn=2.165372,3.80127&z=8"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3133/2661794681_243d2dca8e.jpg"/></a>

    My main impression from the first 12 hours in El Salvador:

    <b>I do not understand why this country isn't overrun with tourists.</b>

    Seriously, picture this:

    * Majestic cliffs abutting the ocean.
    * Lush, tropical green foliage.
    * Black sand beaches, great surf.
    * Hot weather but without the overwhelming humidity of the Gulf of Mexico.
    * Friendly, smiling population.
    * Perfectly-manicured roads.
    * The national currency is the US dollar.
    * Prices on par with Guatemala (ie, dirt cheap).
    * The people actually *like* norteamericanos (!)

    Nevermind, stop picturing it and look at pictures instead!

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3020/2662510070_6de16e413f.jpg"/></a>

    Look closer at the quality of the road surface. El Salvador is a <a href="http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=13.498476,-89.487762&spn=0.287768,0.475159&z=11">sportbike paradise</a>:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3096/2661687803_e774f3beac.jpg"/></a>

    I stayed on a tiny beach called Playa La Perla, at the only operating guesthouse and restaurant. They had one room (total) for $10. La Perla is west of La Libertad, just beyond the farthest beach mentioned in the Lonely Planet. I would go back in a heartbeat.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3036/2662534568_3be202228b.jpg"/></a>

    Looking down the beach one direction:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3251/2661740269_64e603aafb.jpg"/></a>

    The other direction:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3263/2662537890_bba1a0bc4b.jpg"/></a>

    Down the beach and looking back upriver towards the road:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3205/2661720929_7fcd002610.jpg"/></a>

    The short road down to the hotel was actually somewhat exciting:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3003/2662568136_aea429c70c.jpg"/></a>

    The wife of the couple that owned the place made amazing seafood, all of which was caught there in the cove. Jumbo shrimp al ajo:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3225/2661723717_090cc30f3e.jpg"/></a>

    Oysters on the half-shell:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3182/2662551380_d37a1c48a0.jpg"/></a>

    Crema mariscado:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3187/2661729719_7657a715fc.jpg"/></a>

    Four beers from El Salvador, arranged left-to-right in order of my preference:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3107/2661733089_2b73ba0c8b.jpg"/></a>

    Cóctel de concha (breakfast!):

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3019/2661736513_c4e6fd6f66.jpg"/></a>

    I'm not saying that Mexico and Guatemala aren't beautiful countries. They are, and everyone knows it. Why haven't I heard of anyone going to El Salvador for a vacation? It seems the perfect getaway. Even the border crossing was easy.

    On a serious note: Unlike in Guatemala, you would never know from visiting that El Salvador is recovering from a bloody civil war that ended just a decade ago. The giveaway is (apparently) what you don't see: nearly all salvadoreños are mestizo. According to Lonely Planet, most of the indigenous population was killed off in the war. Ghastly.

    After three days in El Salvador (including an inadvertent ride through the center of San Salvador due to a bridge outage on the coast), my enthusiasm for the country is slightly tempered but still high. The beaches on the northern coast are more attractive and less populated than the beaches on the southern coast. El Salvador lacks a cute urban beach town or even a significant port. But still it seems like an amazing place to just get away and hang out someplace pretty.

    La Perla is a particular gem and I was lucky to stop there. Most of the beaches with surf camps look like this:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3099/2662571380_26de6b488e.jpg"/></a>

    Here are a few pictures from La Union, which is a grungy port town:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3139/2662583436_3fb7d07b31.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3173/2662592768_2b039e1855.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3199/2662595770_d02fda035d.jpg"/></a>

    Want a banana?

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/elsalvador/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3278/2662574840_8c2c078a4e.jpg"/></a>
  16. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Oddometer:
    524
    Location:
    Please don't call it 'Frisco
    [This was written the day before yesterday in Honduras]

    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=cede%C3%B1o,+honduras&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=59.512696,107.226562&ie=UTF8&ll=13.231925,-87.62146&spn=1.160352,1.675415&z=9"><img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2269/2662723820_14af04c871.jpg"/></a>

    I'm not in love with the Honduras experience, at least not yet.

    I really wish that, during the various territorial wars in Central America, El Salvador or Nicaragua had faired slightly better in the Pacific Campaign. Honduras has a tiny stretch of coastline on the Pacific, about 150 km along the Golfo de Fonseca. Unfortunately this means anyone driving south through Central America must spend at least four hours in Honduras - two to drive plus another two (or more) at the border fighting with customs. There may be another couple hours involved in the egress.

    It's not that I don't want to explore Honduras. I do. It's just that I want to explore it on the way back, and right now I'm in a hurry south.

    The Honduras border experience is the nightmare that everyone says it is. It wasn't even that busy. I paid a helper, which probably cut the amount of time down from six hours to two because he muscled his way to the front of every line and practically stood over all the officials and they performed their typing and stamping. The process is byzantine. It required three separate trips to the photocopy "store" to get copies of my papers and the ones they are stamping and preparing, plus another to have them type a document. It cost me about $50 to get into the country, and I don't even want to be here!

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/honduras/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3036/2661842441_29407cca07.jpg"/></a>

    A couple miles from the border was the first police checkpoint. Here was the first clear, unmistakeable police shakedown I've experienced on the trip. The officer tried to tell me that I'm missing a receipt for a $20 dollars for "using the highway" that I needed to pay at the bank (beyond the receipts I already had from the bank). When I said I will ride back to the bank and ask them about it, he hemmed and hawed and eventually just said to go on. Duh. Aside from the fact that my helper was very thorough, the bank doesn't take dollars for official transactions. As I was leaving he half-heartedly asked for a "propina"; I just smiled and rode off. What bothers me most about the experience is that he was one guy in a group of several officers at the checkpoint - it's not one rogue cop, the corruption is an institutional problem.

    I had made up my mind to stay one night in Honduras, but I realize now that it was a mistake. There is nothing of value in the Honduran Pacific experience. There are two towns on the coast big enough to cause a mark on a map; San Lorenzo is on the Interamericana and gets a poor review from the Lonely Planet ("hot, sleepy, and largely unattractive...with a few seedy bars and hotels" and the fatal phrase "If you get stuck...") and Cedeño, which is about 30km off the highway and goes entirely unmentioned. I gambled on the unknown and lost.

    Cedeño is little more than a series of bars and comedores adjacent to some kind of shrimp hatchery. Pigs and dogs roam the beach in packs. I found one hotel in town, with electricity but no running water. There are bugs here. A fan is pointed at my bed, but it's placed only a short distance away from the lightbulb. About every thirty seconds some poor unfortunate flying creature wanders just a little too far from the light and gets sprayed all over me.

    The hotel:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/cedena/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3035/2662701058_bcb1d47d1f.jpg"/></a>

    My shower:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/cedena/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3260/2662695624_ecb7bc5761.jpg"/></a>

    Something prettier to look at:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/cedena/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3104/2662674214_c7ab37dd36.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/cedena/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3022/2662691384_0c8b743e0a.jpg"/></a>

    Hondurans, I have discovered, do not speak Spanish. They speak a language that sounds vaguely like Spanish but is clearly evolving into something that future Hungarian anthropologists will likely consider novel and unique. They seem to understand me just fine though.

    Tomorrow I will be in Nicaragua.
  17. header

    header Chris

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,749
    Location:
    Salt Lake City
    hey im really enjoying your thread, actually im a little jelous i wish i could be there doing what your doing. how does a person do something like this. did you like save up alot of money that could hold you over untill you get done or do you do some really nice computer job that you are doing at the same time.
    if you dont want to answer these questions i would understand completly. and again, loving the thread, nice pics and even better bike! ride on!
  18. 00SS

    00SS Always a vicious cycle

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,728
    Location:
    Keller, Texas
    I just got back from honduras on Saturday, and i must say you were on the wrong side. I didn't allow enough time and would have loved to see the copa ruins.. but spent most of my time on Roatan. It truely is a beautiful island and I will def return and bring the whole family. It has some of the best diving / snorkeling i've done. Anyway, I found the people to be very friendly for the most part and they did understand my limited spanish.. but most people on the island spoke english anyway.

    Just wanted to chime in as Honduras was a spot I will def go back to.. I was surprised to read that you didn't care to much for it, but again.. i was on the other side of the country.

    really enjoy following along.. thanks for sharing. (and the food pics) :beer
  19. ChurnDog

    ChurnDog Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2008
    Oddometer:
    82
    Location:
    Indianapolis
    I know I'm late to the party to say this, but this is an awesome story! I have lurked here for a week, but this story made me register! Can't wait to hear the next bit :clap
  20. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Oddometer:
    524
    Location:
    Please don't call it 'Frisco
    @christopher miller: I just saved up some money. I don't have a lot of expenses "at home"; no mortgage, no car payments, pretty much just rent and food and the occasional toy. I rented out my apartment to friends so this experience is costing me less than what I would spend just to live in SF. This trip could be a lot cheaper too - even though I go for cheap hostels, I've been eating a lot of relatively expensive meals (almost always more than I spend for lodging). It really doesn't take as much as it seems... although the price of gas is crazy south of Mexico (close to $5/gal in a lot of places).

    Theoretically I'm working on a couple software projects that will become my next source of income, but I haven't been working very fast. It's a lot harder to work on the road than I expected. When I get back to Guanajuato I intend to get an apartment and make my life a lot more boring.

    @00SS: I'm sure you're right, and I plan to find out on the way back :nod The Pacific side of Honduras is basically just a couple truckstops for traffic on the short stretch of the Interamericana. I have high expectations for the Caribbean side!

    @ChurnDog: Thanks man. My friends and family read my blog, but sometimes it's hard to know if anyone here likes this stuff.

    I still need to write up my 3 days in Nicaragua, but it will have to wait a bit... I'm in San José, Costa Rica. Guille just flew in and we have, ummm, some tourist things to do :feelgood

    :D

    Jeff