SF to Panama... eventually

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

  1. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

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    "Unlimited" time on your hands :bow
    I wish I could do that...
    Keep the reports coming, this is very interesting.
    #21
  2. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [Originally posted January 18, 2008]

    I rushed south from the peak of the Mazatlán faro. I wasn't sure where I would stop but I wanted to stay someplace cute. The only place south of me that I recognized was Sayultia, just north of Puerto Vallarta, where Lesley and I spent a lovely-but-crowded long weekend about six months ago. It was a little too far for my late start, though.

    Fortunately my motorcycle seems to be a social magnet; I had two different conversations with other residents of the Hotel Belmont while I was parked in the (once glamourous but now crumbling) courtyard. One of them casually mentioned the delicious seafood in San Blas so that immediately became my obsession. Still, it was a stretch, especially after a little detour that involved getting stuck in sand and rescued by two kids that happened to motor by on a panga.

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    I don't like to ride at night in Mexico. The cows and burros and dogs (and other things) like to sit on the asphalt at night because it's warm - and there are no fences to keep them off the highways. Plus, it's DARK here. Every guidebook I've read says in big bold letters "DON'T DRIVE AT NIGHT" as if Federico Krueger is sitting around the corner waiting for a gringo in a hurry. Honestly, the warning is fair - only people with a death wish drive at night in Mexico both because of the free-range livestock and the questionably sober opposing traffic. But there is a secret.

    The road to San Blas is the worst kind of Mexican road. It's twisty, potholed, and rural. Dogs and burros hovered near the tarmac just waiting to throw themselves in front of a passing vehicle. Combined with the hours-away destination and the late hour, everything was lined up to crunch our humble narrator into a little pile of Austrian metal, Mexican cattle, and Norteamericano driver. However, the Coca-Cola Company came to my rescue.

    After dark I had been following a small Toyota driving at absurdly (read: sanely) slow speeds, nearly stopping for every pothole in the road as if to inspect for pungi sticks. It was driving me crazy but like any surviving Vietnam-era soldier I sure as hell wasn't going to volunteer for point duty. Then, the "flow of traffic" finally caught up to us - a red truck painted with the Coca-Cola logo, clearly delivering an emergency supply of sugary liquid to a desperately thirsty neighboring community. I ditched the Tercel for the Kenworth, which took me on a road rally at 70mph (at the slow points - I'm not kidding, I had a hard time keeping up on my freaking MOTORCYCLE) nearly the entire way to San Blas. From behind, I watched little furry animals dive out of the way - something I feel confident they would not have done had the driver not been Mexicano, driving a big truck, and a representative of the Coca-Cola Corporation.

    San Blas is cute. It's the kind of cute that Mazatlán isn't; I liked it immediately, even in the dark. I stopped at the Hotel Bucanero (recommended by my lonely planet guide) and when the desk clerk offered me a discount on two nights I didn't hesitate. 150 pesos each.

    Then it got crazier. I went to dinner and found myself drinking with two Canadian girls (Linsey and Terri), a colorful local (Donberto), an Australian (Tom), and a Brit (Dave). Tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour at 7am the seven of us are getting breakfast (read: beer), getting on a boat, and doing some weird combination of deep-sea fishing and whale watching. I have no idea what this will actually entail abut I'm certain it will be fun, mostly because of the first item on the agenda (read: beer).

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    #22
  3. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [Originally posted January 18, 2008]

    San Blas is exactly what I hoped to find in Mexico. I stayed for three nights and I wonder if I shouldn't stay more.

    I met cool people.

    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2313/2202154090_7921f59e0a.jpg"/>

    I went whale watching. There were dozens of Blue Whales. They got quite close to the boat, some less than 10 meters.

    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2377/2202133944_bac7b6eae8.jpg"/>

    I met more cool people, including a guy (Robert) who is riding his KLR south. The couple (<a href="http://theburbadventure.blogspot.com/">Chad and Erin</a>) are headed to Costa Rica with an old suburban loaded up with surfboards.

    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2212/2201366979_9d171822b4.jpg"/>

    I went on a crazy jungle boat ride. I thought this might be fun-but-silly tourist crap but it turned out to be AMAZING. 10-foot crocodiles, countless species of strange birds, mangroves, turtles, fish, leafcutter ants, strange lemur-like creatures... and of course cerveza.

    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2173/2201412205_7e97228fb5.jpg"/>

    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2317/2202268940_92e6b0b9b2.jpg"/>

    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2002/2201509387_38e2c9c481.jpg"/>

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    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2241/2202379838_41383a7792.jpg"/>

    To top it off, we visited an old stone fort from the 1700s perched above the city.

    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2083/2201628449_2172f41364.jpg"/>
    #23
  4. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [Originally posted January 20, 2008]

    Heading south from San Blas with my newly acquired riding buddy (Robert), we rode by this abandoned hotel. Someone in San Blas told me that it was a magnificent place in the 50s, popular with Hollywood moviestars including Humphrey Bogart and Liz Taylor. It was ravaged by a hurricane and never rebuilt.

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    We stopped in a beach town and had tea with some friends of Robert's family who were wintering in Mexico. I noticed this seems to be a common pattern among Canadians. Robert headed inland; he only had a few weeks and was on a pretty tight schedule.

    Next I spent a couple uneventful days in Sayulita, a cute surf town that Lesley [a girl from Seattle that I dated for a while] and I spent a lovely but crowded weekend about a year ago. We had inadvertently arrived in the middle of the town's major annual festival, so it was full of tourists. It's still full of tourists, but I had internet access in my hotel room so I stuck around to read documentation about Facebook applications. I have a plan.
    #24
  5. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [Originally posted January 20, 2008]

    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&time=&date=&ttype=&q=puerto+vallarta,+mexico&ie=UTF8&ll=20.623627,-105.228424&spn=19.69531,29.882812&z=5&om=0"><img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2099/2218880087_e5e4c0dc9f.jpg"/></a>

    Puerto Vallarta is hard to wrap my mind around.

    For one thing, it's huge. The "main drag" through town goes on for kilometers, cute little restaurants and shops everywhere. The main drag is also several streets wide. The sheer number of eating options is staggering and makes San Francisco look only slightly more sophisticated than Dillon, Montana. I'm serious.

    Puerto Vallarta has civilization, at least what would be recognized as such by a San Franciscan. There are martini bars. There are raves. There are gay clubs, complete with rainbow flags. There is a goth club with elaborately-dressed (and extraordinarily hot) goth latinas making out in the doorway, which nearly compensated for the blaring industrial music of exactly the type I find irritating. I even walked past a drag queen on the way back to my room, just like home!

    Puerto Vallarta's civilization is not an artifice created for tourists. Almost all the clubs and bars were filled with fashionably dressed spanish-speaking people in their 20s and 30s.

    It probably helps that I'm in the southern district, where the hotels <i>económica</i> and (apparently) all the cool people are. Still, despite the proliferation of megahotels and condos along the (very well maintained) beachfront, Puerto Vallarta feels like a modern, vibrant urban community. This is in sharp contrast to Cabo San Lucas, where tourists go to die.

    I wasn't expecting to like PV but it's one of the few Mexican cities that I would both enjoy living in and remain entertained for more than a few months.

    Nevertheless, I'm leaving after one night. I'm headed inland towards Guadalajara, which has a KTM dealer that can service my bike. The maintenance interval on the LC4 is short, only about 3k miles. This may become a problem later in the trip.
    #25
  6. SaMo_moto

    SaMo_moto n00b

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    What a great diary of your trip! Keep the story and pix coming. Safe travels to you.
    #26
  7. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [I screwed up the order - this should have been posted just before "Puerto Vallarta"]

    One of the nice things about riding a pretty, somewhat-exotic motorcycle is that it makes friends for me. I rode into Puerto Vallarta and pulled over under a tree to flip through my Lonely Planet, looking for my home for the evening. Within five minutes a guy about my age with a helmet under his arm walked up to me and started a conversation. It turns out that Eduardo is a long-time enduro rider, currently saving his pesos for - you guessed it - a KTM 640 Adventure. In the mean time he's riding a Yammie 125.

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    The conversation turned from motorcycles to rides in the area and the next thing I knew we're speeding into the hills to an old mining town called San Sebastián de Oeste.

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    San Sebastián is the cutest town I have ever seen. It's nestled in a valley with perfectly preserved 400-year-old buildings and twisty narrow cobblestone streets. The tourists haven't discovered it yet, but they will.

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    We arrived on the afternoon of their biggest festival of the year, celebrating "the virgin". Eduardo explained the history to me: The spaniards were very clever, taking the name of the local pagan goddess and changing the meaning of her name to "virgin". So the festival procession starts with dancers in native garb, followed by the catholics, followed by the people:

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    We rode a mixed dirt-and-cobblestone road up to a place called La Bufa, at 7500ft. This is a view of San Sebastián below:

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    #27
  8. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [Originally posted January 22, 2008]

    The KTM LC4 (the engine used in my 640A) has an irritatingly short service interval, 5,000 km (about 3100 miles). I'm a couple hundred miles over that now, so it's time to find a KTM shop. The nearest one is in Guadalajara, a couple hundred kilometers inland.

    Eduardo had recommended a dualsport ride along the Rio Cuale (the river that bisects Puerto Vallarta) to a town called Talpa de Allende. No road showed on any of my maps (including the one in the GPS). I did find Talpa and verified that a good road does go east from there to Guadalajara... so what the hell, it sounds like fun. I set an "off road" (ie, straight-line) route to Talpa and set off down the road that parallels the river.

    Christ, what a road. It turned out to be 60 miles of dirt and sand that went up, down, up, down, 1000 meters at a time. The switchbacks were often steep on the turn and covered with deep, soft sand. There were ruts that could swallow the entire bike (no joke). There were water crossings. There were tiny ranches and livestock (cows, goats, pigs, chickens, burros, horses) all over the road. There were no cars in either direction... if something went wrong, I'd probably be out there overnight.

    It took all day. It was fun.

    Deep, powdery sand:
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    Adobe building in the middle of nowhere:
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    Water crossing:
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    Nice road, eh?
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    Mexican cattle guards:
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    A log cabin at altitude. Note the pine trees:
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    #28
  9. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [Originally posted January 22, 2008]

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    I rolled into Talpa around dusk. The first thing I noticed about Talpa de Allende is that every third building is a hotel, most with dozens of rooms. This place is not on any of the tourist maps and isn't even in the index of the Lonely Planet, yet this town could seemingly house half the population of Guadalajara. Talpa is clearly a destination for Mexicano tourists, but there are no beaches or lakes or even attractive scenery to be found. However, Talpa has an enormous and ancient-looking church:

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    Apparently Talpa de Allende is a destination for Católico-tourism, and this is off-season. The town was cheerful but placid. However, it provided me with my favorite hotel experience on the trip yet.

    A short digression on The Perfect Hotel Room. The perfect hotel room has the trifecta of:

    * Less than $20 per night
    * Agua caliente
    * Internet access in the room

    I have yet to find The Perfect Hotel Room. I'm lucky to find just one of the three, and hot water has been the most rare - even in $80 rooms. Mexicanos apparently enjoy tepid showers.​

    My room at the Hotel Chuyita was priced at 100 pesos (about $9) and for the first time ever, produced nearly scalding-hot water.

    Mine was the top-right room:
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    The view of "downtown":
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    The room itself is little more than a door, a bed, and a combined bathroom/shower. Perfect:
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    The vendors were more interesting than the usual tourist-bait of zapaterias, electronics, and beachwear:

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    In line with family-oriented tourism, most stores seemed to make and sell candy. The yellowish bottles on the shelves contain rompope, Mexican eggnogg. It usually contains rum and Claudia once told me that it is very popular with the kids in Mexico.

    [Claudia is an ex-girlfriend, her father is from Mexico City]
    #29
  10. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    Well, caught up as much as the blog is. I have yet to log my three days in Guadalajara or my time in Zihuatanejo, where I sit now.

    Time for more cerveza!
    #30
  11. haggeo

    haggeo Been here awhile

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    wow, nice trip report. keep it up....
    #31
  12. pistol777

    pistol777 Freedom Seeker

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    Man you are hitting every turn. Excellent report. :1drink
    #32
  13. Moto One

    Moto One Been here awhile

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    Great report :clap . Now off to your blog.
    #33
  14. 93-610

    93-610 I'm a tard

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    great stuff - really feeling good about sitting in New Jersey working 6 days a week :puke1 I'm just jealous, keep going! :1drink
    #34
  15. gasandasphalt

    gasandasphalt Been here awhile

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    Super report!!! will continue to follow, will be crossing into Mexico on Feb. 03-08, for a 6 to 8 week adventure to Yucatan, Belize and back, will look for some of the places you have pointed out.... Have a safe fun trip..:1drink
    #35
  16. Quetzal

    Quetzal Guatemalan Import

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    :lurk
    #36
  17. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    Thanks all! I have a backlog of posts because it's hard to find an internet connection good enough to upload all the pictures to flickr.
    #37
  18. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    [​IMG]

    Did I say that Puerto Vallarta was big? Guadalajara is staggering. Yes, I've been to Mexico City, but not long enough to appreciate it. I'm sure I will come up with some new superlatives when I get there.

    Guadalajara is Mexico's second largest city. It takes a long time to get anywhere here. Partly this is because the city is big, and partly because of the (predictably) INSANE TRAFFIC. It's so bad that when I first rode into the centro to find lodging, I fled back towards a hotel I saw previously in a more easily navigated part of town. I continued on this route for about ten minutes before I stopped, kicked myself in the ass for being a pussy, and dove back into the centro with renewed determination.

    [This is where I should insert a pic of the traffic, but I didn't take one - oops]

    I came to Guadalajara seeking the KTM dealer. Like any good quest, I had was a cryptic direction obtained by sacrificing a virgin chicken on their website: "Av. Patria Pte No. 2128 int. A. Colonia Colomos Patria" WTF?!? The GPS refused to help me so I had to ask directions from two guys who kept going on about golondrinas. Eventually I figured out that the actual address is Patria #2128, but I still have no idea what the other words mean.

    The next two days were a blur. I have been unable to piece them into a coherent narrative, so I'll just race through my impressions just as I experienced the city.

    Guadalajara is WAY COOL.

    * The KTM dealer is awesome. They knew the LC4 well and performed the service in one day with no advance notice for less than $100 (most of that was parts). They even washed the bike! Finding it is the hard part: Patria #2128, cross street Acueducto. It's on this block, just a short distance from the BMW dealership.

    Yeay, pretty again!
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    * Guadalajara is as modern a city as anywhere in the world. In the United States there is a gross tendency to think of Mexico (especially when debates about immigration come up) as a third-world slum full of wannabe Americans, with isolated citidels of tourism where brown-skinned people survive by groveling for your American Dollars (in San Francisco, this is followed by ", you rich white multinational corporate oppressor!"). Yes, there is poverty in Mexico, but it's easy to overlook the homeless people in every city of the US. I also don't think that campesino life would seem all that strange to anyone who has driven through Appalachia or, for that matter, Montana. Guadalajara has technology parks and universities and skyscrapers and fancy hotels and malls and cineplexes and hip, urban young people and fancy cars and expressways and traffic and everything else you would find in, say, San Jose (California). It's just assembled with the traditional amount of Mexican chaos - road rules are more or less optional, trash pickup is erratic, and graffiti is disappointingly common.

    * Taxis are *everywhere*. I never needed to wait, even outside the town centers. Cab rides are cheap and exciting.

    * Guadalajara has a huge english-language bookstore, Sandi Bookstore. I finally acquired the Lonely Planet for all of Mexico. It was a terrible mistake leaving the US without this book (or the impossible-to-find Footprint guide, which is reported to be better). I also acquired a book of short stories with spanish on one page, english on the other, which I am slowly plodding through.

    * The Hostel de María is a great place to stay. It was the first time I've ever stayed in a hostel, and something I wish to do more of. Cute place, friendly staff, close to the centro, cheap, and many fellow travelers with interesting stories. They have bunks (with lockers) for 160 pesos and private rooms for twice that. I was sorely tempted to stay several extra days.

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    * The tendency for the same kind of store to group together on the same block is taken to a radical extreme by Tapatíos (as Guadalajarans call themselves). There is the printing district, with dozens and dozens of typesetters. There were several blocks with nothing but stores selling toilet fixtures. Here is a whole plaza (and a couple blocks beyond) composed entirely of stores selling wedding apparel:

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    Of course, shoe stores are consuming the city like a tumor. I am concerned that Guadalajara may be approaching the Shoe Event Horizon.

    It would be a fun project to map these districts out on Wikimapia.

    * Guadalajara centro reminds me an awful lot of a dirtier version of Prague. There are plazas and cobblestone streets and 300-year-old buildings and fountains and statues and throngs of shoppers on foot - everywhere! I walked for hours and barely scratched the surface. How many 300-year-old churches does one city need??

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    This is the public library, sadly "closed for inventory" for the week:
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    * It's hard to get a good picture of Guadalajara. There are plenty of giant open plazas with fountains and beautiful buildings, but the plazas are full of tall trees. The only great place to take a picture way to get a good picture would be from a roof.

    * The Palacio de Gobierno has some spectacular murals painted by José Clemente Orozco. This one is of Miguel Hidalgo looming down at you as you climb a set of stairs; it covers the ceiling and the walls so it's impossible to get perspective without a fisheye lens. I will try valiantly anyways:

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    * There is a huge population of Chinese immigrants in Guadalajara. Chinese food restaurants (especially of the all-you-can-eat buffet variety) nearly outnumbered taquerias in the centro.

    * The Museo Regional de Guadalajara and Mercado Libertad warrant their own journal entries.
    #38
  19. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    I stumbled randomly into the Mercado Libertad, the world's craziest shopping mall. I've never seen anything like it.

    There is no way to capture the size of it with my camera, so I will resort to satellite imagery.

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    The building is three stories tall and packed *densely* with shops selling nearly anything you can imagine as long as it's cheap and 500 of them can be stacked against a wall. Thousands of shops, some no wider than an arm's length. The corridors would give Noreteamericano fire marshalls coronary attacks; rarely were they wide enough two walk two abreast and so wandering around involved a lot of stopping at intersections to let people pass.

    It was hard to photograph. Remember, the open area was less than half of the total area of the building.

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    The food court occupied most of the second level and had at least a hundred options... although it was pretty much all "Mexican food". Go figure.

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    The rows of butcher shops were the most amusing. This, I think, captures the whole experience:

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    #39
  20. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    The Museo Regional de Guadalajara has remarkable artifacts relating to Jalisco dating from prehistoric ages (including a Mastadon skeleton), through the colonial period, into the founding of Mexico and the modern day.

    Odd typewriters:
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    Multi-hundred-year-old globes are always amusing:
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    I was surprised to discover that I could read most of the placards, only occasionally looking up words in my startrek translator.

    This painting from the colonial period I found especially amusing:
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    Here is the placard:
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    Translated, more-or-less this says "San Antonio de Padua. Anonymous. Oil on canvas. Religious franciscan from Portugal. He is always represented with the child Jesus in his arms, the staff of white lilies signifies chastity. He lived from 1195 to 1231."

    I like how they went out of their way to point out that no, the priest is not sodomizing the baby Jesus!
    #40