South America and back on a 250 Super Sherpa Minimalist Adventure

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by JDowns, Oct 2, 2012.

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  1. Catours

    Catours Guatemala Tourer

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    We're enjoying the report from Guatemala! Thanks, John.

    If you make it to Antigua, be sure to come by Moto Cafe and share some stories with fellow motorcyclists, join us for a ride, or just have a beer!

    Always great to meet ADV'rs.

    Moto Cafe
    6a Calle Oriente #14
    Antigua, Guatemala
    14°33'19.50"N
    90°43'52.43"W

    Safe travels!

    Chris
  2. rockohlic

    rockohlic Been here awhile

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    great ride. payed foreward a day or two. Regarding currency exchange, do we need to know which country you are actually in? ginger.(my dogs name)
  3. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Buenos noches muchachos,

    Just got in to San Cristobal de las Casas after another great and interesting day of riding. Stories and pictures coming soon. The internet is a little slow in Oaxaca and Chiapas and I need to go eat something.

    Hasta luego,
    Juanito
  4. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    I left Salina Cruz down on the Pacific coast this morning at dawn. I have been through this town several times before and it is kryptonite for me. I always seem to spend a couple hours wandering around this silly city trying to get out. This morning was no different.

    I vaguely remembered you needed to go north to go south which is actually east when you get this far down the coast. So I headed towards the rising sun and hit a dead end on an overlook. Salina Cruz is a major oil offloading point so the oil tankers were all lined up far out to sea:

    [​IMG]

    And the view down the coast to the oil storage facilities on the hillside:


    [​IMG]


    Beautiful morning but I was trying to get out of this place. The downtown area where I stayed was actually a vibrant and lively place for being an industrial town and fairly clean with friendly working class people.

    So I tried a second tactic on my next attempt to get out of town. I followed a taxi with Tehuantepec written on the trunk since that was the next big town towards where I was needing to go. No such luck. He wasn't going back to Tehuantepec. He was going to a large oil refinery to dump off some workers. I finally found a sign to Tehuantepec and headed straight north to get out of town. I stopped for breakfast here:

    [​IMG]

    to bulk up and step up to my A game for the next 50 miles.
    I liked the way they used sewer pipe as forms for the vertical columns and the place was wired Mexicanada style:

    [​IMG]

    One of the windiest places on earth is the ithsmus of Tehuantepec. The Oaxacan mountains end and there is a large flat plain about 50 miles wide before the Chiapas mountains rise up. Through this gap the wind can be fierce. Every time I have been through here it has been howling. Except once. Coming back from Panama last time I came through here in the early morning and it was relatively calm. So I had a working theory that the wind builds in the afternoon and by evening like when I headed south last time it is howling, head snapping gusts.

    Alas, my theory was dashed. I made the turn at Juchitan where it usually starts and saw the first row of windmills was standing still:

    [​IMG]

    They obviously were waiting for the wind to die down because it was howling. When you pass a bus stop and the business man is standing there and his tie is pointing horizontal, you know its windy.

    So I practiced my Spanish slang while getting blown sideways. Mierda! and getting my helmet snapped by the gusts. Chinga! until I finally reached the same overpass in the middle of the windfarm area that I stopped under last time to get out of the gusts and take a break. The wind wasn't quite as bad today as that night because the hum from the wind hitting the girders wasn't as deafening. I finally made it to the protection of the Chiapas mountains and took a break at a Taller de Vulcanizadora (tire shop) located under a big shady Monkeypod tree. I got to watch Jose Luis finish changing a semi trailer tire cave man style. Here he is getting ready to reef on the lug nuts with his handy cheater bar:

    [​IMG]

    Air tools are for wimps:

    [​IMG]

    Jose Luis said it takes him about media hora ( half an hour) to jack up the trailer, undo the bolts, switch out the blown tire for the spare and tighten everything back up. He gets 100 pesos ($8.00) which is pretty good wages for Mexico. Here is his 10 ton bottle jack and 6x6 wood block that is his hydraulic semi trailer lift:

    [​IMG]

    Check out the nasty cracks in the sidewall of the spare he just installed. You should have seen the tire he took off!

    The guy driving the truck came back from lunch and paid his 100 pesos and was off down the road with his 18,000 kilos of corn. Probably going to a milling company to make cornmeal for my breakfast tortillas.

    It was quite hot down in the coastal plain. Probably mid 90s. So I decided to head into the mountains of Chiapas and turned up 190 libre. What a great winding road for the first 30 miles or so:

    [​IMG]


    Fresh pavement, nothing but curves. It eventually flatened and straightened off into the distance:

    [​IMG]

    I hit the large city of Tuxtla Gutierrez (Toost-la Goo-tee-air-ez) and got on the free road to San Cristobal de las Casas up in the mountains. Towards the edge of the Toostla town I saw a sign pointing up the mountain to Cañon del Sumidero. Ever heard of it? There was a road you could see zig-zagging up the mountain.

    As you may know by now I love canyons and am a sucker for switchbacks, so I hung an izquierda and headed up the way. After a couple miles there was a Caseta de Cobra (toll booth). It turns out this is a national park and there is a 27 peso entry fee. No problema.

    The road winds straight up the mountain quite high with beautiful vistas out over the valley below. I stopped at every mirador (vista point) on the 22 kilometer ride to the top. Here is a shot from the first mirador looking at the mouth of the canyon:

    [​IMG]

    I won't bore you with all the pics. This was the best mirador. The next to the last one that had a stone retaining wall that dropped straight down 1000 vertical feet when you looked over the side. You better not suffer from vertigo if you want to hang over the edge and get this picture. That is a tour boat down there with ten rows of seats 4 wide so probably 30 0r 40 feet long with twin outboards cutting the wake down there. You have to squint to see it. It gives some perspective as to how honking big this canyon is:

    [​IMG]

    There was a foot wide ledge where the weeds are coming from in the bottom of the picture and someone had to stand there with a 1000 foot drop behind him and finish the joints on the stone retaining wall. I hope Jose de los Brass Huevos was wearing a safety harness and not just holding his cousin Roderigo's sweaty palm while he hung off that ledge.

    Anyway, like the Grand Canyon, pictures of scenery this big don't do it justice. You'll just have to check it out for yourself. Cranking up and down the newly paved switchbacks was worth the 27 pesos. The stunning views were icing on the cake:

    [​IMG]

    Up at the last mirador they were enlarging the visitors center. These boys were laying tongue and groove pine flooring. Low man on the totem pole was hand planing down the rough spots:

    [​IMG]

    the others were staining the beams a rustic dark walnut. Pine is like candy for termites in the tropics so I don't think this place has much chance. The boys couldn't talk much because the foreman was over at his card table makeshift desk off to the right scribbling down numbers with a serious look on his face and making like he was busy.

    Not sure what the story is here:

    [​IMG]

    but not far down the road I felt the rear end go away in a hairpin and had a similar story at sunset:

    [​IMG]

    The road is nothing but curves on the way to San Cristobal but quite narrow with a drainage ditch on the uphill side and a cliff on the other side so I had to ride the flat a couple miles to a wide spot in the road with a beautiful sunset view:

    [​IMG]

    Here is the handy Walmart cut down battery powered pump getting the rear tire up to 20 PSI :

    [​IMG]

    so I could ride down the twisting road in the dark the final 30 miles to where I am now. I found a cheap hotel in the funky historic part of town. I like this place in the dark. The lady said I could stay if I could fit by the 2 foot wide space between the Jetta and the wall:

    [​IMG]

    So I took off the saddlebags and squeaked through to park in front of the two cars stuffed in the lobby.

    Probably hang around here tomorrow and change oil, patch the pinhole in the tube and take a gander at this seemingly charming colonial town. Today I spent 474 pesos or $37.92 on gas, food entry fees and lodging.

    Buenos nachos,
    Juanito
  5. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks so much! Appreciate the thought. Don't worry, this ride report is just getting started. I haven't even made it out of Mexico. You never know whats around the next corner on these deals. Today it was a beautiful canyon and a flat tire. Tomorrow, who knows? We'll find out.

    Muchas gracias,
    Juanito
  6. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi JD,

    Good to know. First I have to get out of Mexico. Might have to go to Quintana Roo though. I'd like to see where Lonerider spent the winter last year over on the Carribean as well. When I do get out of Mexico it's good to know the surchage is reversed.

    Saludos,
    Juanboy
  7. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Klay,

    Kickstarter for coots is apparently a viable option. ADVriders are the only sponsors you need it turns out. Not that I have anything against people who have made a name for themselves getting sponsorship of any kind to follow their dreams. It just didn't seem possible for schlubs like me.

    I hope to encourage others to do the same if this appears to work out. It will be interesting to see.

    Best,
    John Downs
  8. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Gingerdaddy,

    Appreciate your kind gesture. I'm no financial genius, but it appears that paypal converts whatever foreign currency is donated automatically to dollars and it shows up in my account like magic.

    When you sign up for a basic paypal account it is tied to a checking account that you send them and they deposit some money in it and withdraw it the next day in order to verify it is a viable account and you are a real person. Shortly after that you are allowed to put a paypal donate button on a website. In my case I chose a free blogger account since I had a gmail address. Once I put the johnthomasdowns.blogspot.com in my signature line on my ride report people started donating from around the world.

    This seems too good to be true. But it is just that easy.

    In order to access the funds you have to transfer them from the paypal account to your verified checking account and it takes a few days. Once they are in your checking account you can use a debit card from that account to withdraw money from any ATM around the world that accepts your debit card.

    I haven't tried my debit card yet since I still have money left from when I crossed the border. But I did pay off the 500.00 I charged on my credit card with the money that was transfered from paypal to my checking account and it worked fine.

    I will let everyone know how this works as time goes on. I hope others do the same so we can get more people out there on the road.

    Kindest regards,
    John Downs
  9. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks! Glad to have you along for the ride and appreciate the support.

    Best,
    John Downs
  10. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Chris,

    I will definitely drop by Moto Cafe for a visit in Antigua. Thanks for the invite. Look forward to meeting you.

    Kindest regards,
    John Downs
  11. nightflyer

    nightflyer Hors contrôle

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    From the Pacific I took the same road as you when I was there couple years back (I was suppose to meet up with Crashmaster but he stayed behind surfing, but that's another story:deal!). I was so stunned by the Sumidero Canyon form the road that I rode down and did the boat tour on the river. Not my thing to go for the touristy thing usually but it was well worth it. Funny to see the kids with their sheep herds swimming in the river when 20 feet from there huge crocs were resting on the shore...

    Great report, it brings back nice memories... good luck with the rest of the adventure:clap
  12. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    Nice chain. That ought to last you a while on the 250.


    I believe that I know this hotel very well, great place. The 990 was tight squeeze in there.

    Great photos of the cañon and the ride to San Cris. :freaky
  13. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Bonjour Dépliantnuit,

    Checked out your blog and see you hail from Montréal. A French Canadian in Kazakstan with a KTM sounds like a fun combination. The Pamir highway is just south of you. You must be a canyon afficianado as well.

    Anyway, glad to be of service. Reading ride reports in between rides brings back fond memories for me as well.
    I'll have to take that boat ride some day. It was a beautiful canyon.

    Très cordialement,
    Jean Thomas
  14. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hola Vin,

    You have a discerning eye for quality. That chain is the nicest thing on the bike. I am sold on RK chains. The only adjustment it gets is when I fix flats.

    Funny you were at the Posada San Augustin. Nice place. Good vibe. The proprietess Angelita is like her name says a little angel. Here she is this morning inspecting the door window that the guy broke with his rear view mirror trying to back out of this place as I was heading out to check out the sunrise. She just laughed it off:

    [​IMG]

    If you can get the handlebars through you are golden in these places.

    Saludos,
    Juanito
  15. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Its quite a change of scenery going from the Oaxacan beaches to the mountains of Chiapas. Cool crisp air this morning with bright blue skies:

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    Nuns going to early morning church service:

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    People in jackets and sweatshirts up here so we must be at 7 or 8000 feet. It feels like it is in the 40s or so but warming up quickly with the sun. I froze last night riding in the mountains. Had to stop and put on my down jacket under my riding jacket. In fact I still have it on:

    [​IMG]

    This guy trusts me about this far and not an inch more:

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    These are the fastest garbagemen I have ever seen. They had a huge pile of garbage bags tossed in the truck almost before I could get my camera out in seconds before hustling down the street. They were moving out:

    [​IMG]

    No wonder this place is so clean and nice. I better step up my game, maybe shave and do some laundry

    more later….

    Best,
    John Downs
  16. TUCKERS

    TUCKERS the famous james

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    SCDLC is definetly up market. Lots of artsy ex pats living there.

    I can barely wait for the Stonemasons report from Palenque.
  17. Cal

    Cal Been here awhile

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    Follwing along everyday John:D
    I built 2 houses in San Christobal in 2001 with Habitat for Humanity and rode back on my bike in 2010 to visit the families. I was shocked at the change from all the tourists!!! Seems like mini Europe now.

    The mortar for laying the cinder block was mixed right on the ground in a small depression, the roofs were cement mixed on the ground and carried up to the roof in 5 gal buckets. A 400sq/ft roof took 6 hours with about 20 workers!
    I could only carry up 2,1/2 buckets but the young mexicans carried 2 full buckets up the ladder.:eek1

    If you feel like laying a few blocks in Guatemala get a hold of Habitat de Humanidad in Xela, they are very well organized, Did 2 houses in San Marcos,San Marcos(departemento) in 2006 and rode back to visit the families in 2011 for a great reunion,very emotional.

    I love your report

    Cal
  18. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    I think that's a pretty acurate portrayal San Cristobal de las Casas. Should be in Palenque tomorrow. Will report back what I find.

    Best,
    John Downs
  19. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Cal,

    Glad to have you around. Time marches on and places change. I've never been here before. I thought it would be too touristy so skipped coming here in the past. But I must say it was enjoyable walking around the city today and seeing the interesting mix of locals, taller Mexican tourists, and European backpackers mixed in with ex-pat immigrants dressed in eclectic outfits.

    I only saw one American for sure who drove up in a Landcruiser with Colorado plates and was wearing Carhartt pants. I would have said hi but haven't spoken English since I saw MikeMike and it felt awkward, so I just ambled on.

    I'm all in on the Guatemala habitat for humanity idea. Just not this trip. I'm focused on finally making it to South America. I could definitely see coming down here in the next year or two and doing something useful.

    Kindest regards,
    John Downs
  20. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Nice sunset this evening:

    [​IMG]

    and looking east as storm clouds roll in over the mountains:

    [​IMG]

    I took long walks today, and a siesta and a sunset walk up to this nice park up the way:

    [​IMG]

    It's a nice mix of colonial funk and tourist oriented businesses. Great people watching town. Lots of nice looking folks ambling around. Some looking lost, some looking happy, and the majority of neutral lost in thought folks strolling down the streets.

    Lots of local villagers unloading from the collectivo buses this morning with their bundles of goods to sell. The park this morning nearby had been taken over by stalls with various arts and crafts vendors selling jewelry, hand made textiles and tourist trinkets. I think probably women especially would enjoy this town. Although anyone who enjoys craft markets and window shopping would enjoy walking around. Motorcycling minimalists can enjoy watching the window shoppers. I would recommend this place to friends as an interesting place to spend a day or three. And if you prefer the way things used to be in Chiapas there are villages in the mountains in any direction a few miles that are like this town used to be with no tourists and indigenous locals living a simple life.

    Some very stylish and beautiful women. I especially enjoyed watching 5 gorgeous women in stilletto heels with one inch lifts and ball gowns try to cross the street and get into a compact car to go to some gala event this evening.

    I don't want to turn into a papparazzi scum photographer so I kept my camera in my pocket. You'll just have to imagine 5 slim women with beautifully coifed hair crossing cobblestone streets in stilletto heels with their long flowing gowns tucked in their crotch to stay out of the gutter and holding a hand modestly over their cleavage bulging out of their low cut dresses as they bent over to shoehorn in to a Volkswagen Jetta all while keeping their composure. Not an easy stunt. They pulled it off quite gracefully I thought. Pretty hilarious though.

    It's easy to get lost in these larger Latin cities with narrow streets that are all lined with multicolored stucco houses with terra cotta tile roofs. They all look the same. I was fortunate to drive a taxi at night in college and learned to pay attention so I could get back the way I came in to a neighborhood. But setting a waypoint for your hotel and taking your GPS is not a bad idea these days.

    Heading to Palenque tomorrow. I spent 250 on this hotel and 121 on food. I thought the jar of peanut butter was 19 pesos but it was 61 upside down. So my big expense today was a 5 dollar small jar of PB. So total of 371 or $29.68.

    Buenos noches mi amigos de aventura,
    Juanito
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