Trans-Continental Mambo

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by lildrling, Nov 2, 2013.

  1. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    [​IMG]

    Hello Adventurers!

    Adam and I (I'm Jenn, by the way) left the comforts of our home (well, really it was my parents' home) for life on the road approximately 10 days ago. We left our apartment in the city, quit our jobs, and headed out with an approximate plan to reach Ushuaia at the tip of South America, at some point in the future. Africa would also be a nice venture, but we will have to see where we are when we get to that point.

    We are travelling on two DR650s, which has been my choice for bike since I entered the world of dual-sports. Adam has migrated from a KLR, which he rode to Buenos Aires from Toronto approximately 3 years ago. The DR is a little lighter and the benefits of having the same bike outweighed taking 2 different bikes.

    We are currently in San Angelo, Texas - halted by pesky engine issues that surfaced in Little Rock, Arkansas and have come to a head here - trying to come up with the best plan for repairing the bike that won't blow our budget. It has made crossing the USA take a little longer than we expected, but we are optimistic that we will get the issue sorted out and be on our way soon!

    We hope that you will check out our travel blog (it's still in its early days) at: t-c-mambo.ca

    Photos can be found at our SmugMug gallery.


    We don't have too many photos up yet, but here's one of me with the packed bikes at our hotel in Columbus, Ohio on a chilly morning - brrr!

    [​IMG]

    Thanks for following along and hope to see you on the road!
    #1
  2. j2beers

    j2beers Taxpayer

    Joined:
    May 23, 2009
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    North Vancouver, BC
    Good luck, folks

    I know you will overcome the current, engine issues and all future hurdles that you encounter on your adventure. You are going to have a great time. Enjoy it all.
    #2
  3. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Thank you, j2beers! The generosity from the Texas motorcycle community has been overwhelming - many people have offered to help us out in a great variety of ways :clap

    Faith in humanity, restored.
    #3
  4. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    We have been on the road six months now. I am going to revive this thread by back-posting a whack of ride reports in the coming days.
    #4
  5. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Trans-Continental Mambo writes on 2013-10-25:

    Greetings from Nashville, Tennessee - or thereabouts. Writing on October 25, 2013, we are fours days into the Trans-Continental Mambo tour. We would have written sooner but have held back for a bit for several reasons. For one, and while we are not on a journey of travel quickly and see nothing, we have been desperately trying to clear a cold front.

    [​IMG]

    The temperate has been pretty steady between 10-12 degrees Celsius (50-53 F), generally windy, and often raining, and even "snow" (specifically "sleet"). Some would call riding in these conditions "sadistic". It is not really as bad as it seems. This is said with some caveats.

    [​IMG]

    We are wearing heavy wool socks, Gore-Tex lined riding boots, merino wool long underwear, electrically heated jackets, our Kevlar mesh jackets and pants, and waterproof-breathable rain gears. In addition, we have handlebar grip heaters, and Jenn even moved to electrically heated glove liners today to augment her gloves. We will post a little bit about our gear in the near future.

    [​IMG]

    This morning we were hoping to see some nicer weather. It is clear out, but what is also clear is that there is a thick layer of frost on our bikes which we weren't really expecting. We just traveled 630km (390 miles) south from Columbus, Ohio to find more frost than yesterday. That's OK. The weather is expected to warm up, and our decision to head due south should probably pay off as we are heading towards Arkansas and then Texas.

    [​IMG]

    In general, our moods have been variable but we are quite content once we call it a day. For the most part, this is now just a "commute" for us as we look forward to warmer weather. The Suzuki DR650s we are riding aren't particularly well protected from the wind - which should pay off in hot weather - but the combination of cold rain, cold temperatures, occasional bad winds and heavy truck traffic is challenging. As Adam reminds Jenn - "Its a good thing you 'trained' in Kansas".
    #5
  6. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013-10-28:

    Today is Tuesday, October 28th. I am writing from Mount Pleasant, Texas. We apologize for not having written sooner, but we are sure you will understand.

    [​IMG]

    It has been an interesting last couple of days. A big part of travelling involves meeting people. Well out of Memphis, Tennessee we not only met “Motorcycle Mike”, who used to run a motorcycle shop up in Anchorage, Alaska and who was featured in Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor's Long Way Round motorcycle travel series, but at the same random, out of the way truck stop, we also met someone who mistook us for parachutists. An honest mistake really.

    While we were originally planning on taking a more direct route towards Douglas, Arizona across Oklahoma as I did on my 2010 trip, we decided to veer south and keep going until the cold, rainy northerly weather subsided. Having arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas - technically North Little Rock - we took a room at a motel run by a Hindu Indian woman.

    Being from Toronto, Canada, I have some understanding of the Indian diaspora but did politely inquire about the situation. I understand why Indians immigrate to the Toronto suburb of Brampton, for example, but I was intrigued as to how someone from India arrives in Little Rock, and North Little Rock at that. The nice lady explained her story, and it all made sense. She had originally arrived in San Francisco, moved around a bit and eventually found a place to put down some roots and call home. That is really the American dream, isn’t it?

    [​IMG]

    I didn’t engage in this question all at once. We were actually in North Little Rock for a couple of days. Having beat the cold, rain - even getting some in Kentucky - we went to start up Jenn’s bike (Millie) the morning after arrival and heard engine noise that couldn’t be placed. I tooled around and looked at all of the obvious stuff - spark plugs, valve clearance, cam chain, etc.

    [​IMG]

    Feeling that we really didn’t want to damage the engine (further?) if there was a problem, we opted to seek a professional opinion. We have too much invested in the bikes and this trip to take chances The problem was that by the time I finished tooling around, and then finding a decent motorcycle mechanic in Little Rock, Saturday was beginning to come to a close. Being a motorcycle shop, I was not surprised to hear that they would be closed Sunday. I was, however, a little surprised to find out that they are closed Mondays as well. So be it.

    [​IMG]

    At this point we are juggling boredom with running errands, performing minor maintenance to bikes, and resting up. The specific location of our motel was geared towards highway travellers. The direct vicinity boasted four gas stations with convenience marts, three fast food restaurants, various hotels and motels, and a liquor store where the South Asian staff exuberantly flaunt their bargain booze. Using one bike, we shuttled back and forth between a more built up area of North Little Rock in order to obtain provisions beyond meager gas station fair and boring burger chains.

    [​IMG]

    With Tuesday having finally arrived, “Bear” - a burly biker dude who explained that he was instrumental in invoking Arkansas' no helmet laws and passionately operating a “motorcycle assist” program - picked up Millie and took her down to the local Suzuki dealership for triage. Seth, the service manager, aware that we are travelers, graciously bumped us to the front of the queue. Having started up Millie’s cold engine, he and others spent some time trying to diagnosing the perceived issue and came back with uncertain news. Or really no news. He wasn’t sure.

    He took her out for a short spin, and upon return, we could no longer detect the sound. Hmmm. Although having ridden Millie in the parking lot briefly upon hearing the noise the first time, we hadn’t brought her up to proper operating temperature. Seth lent me an oil pan and I dumped the oil (i.e change the engine’s oil) mainly to look for evidence of damage - metal shards in the oil, etc. There was nothing to be found.

    The consensus was that the the perceived condition was not apparent when the bike was warm and we are going to continue to ride the bike while monitoring it for anomalies. I am mostly confident that we are out of the woods, with just minor apprehension at this point. [Edit: ya, right!].

    [​IMG]

    Having expected the worse, or at least something more than “we don’t think there is a problem”, Jenn and I set off west. Texas west.

    We are both a little sad to leave Arkansas behind. Admittedly, I have never thought about Arkansas much. I have never had to. Surely some of stereotypes and caricatures as presented on television are present: “Billy Bob” in the Walmart dressed to the nines in overalls, or the twenty-something “love birds” dressed head to toe in Mossy Oak cammo. All things said and done, the people that we interacted with in Arkansas were mostly very polite, not without Southern charm, eager to help out, and interested in what we are doing. Not exactly what the reality TV shows present, right?

    [​IMG]

    With Arkansas behind us now, we are now in Mount Pleasant, Texas which is mid-way between the border with Arkansas and Dallas/Fort Worth. Riding all day long, or even a good part of the day, it is nice to walk to places once we hunker down for the night. I am sure that if we were to go “in town” we would find sidewalks but, in this case, we were actually trying to come up with our story when pulled over by an law enforcement office in the event that we were illegally walking across an overpass to the more “built up” centre of gas stations. If there had been other foot traffic here, it wasn’t obvious.

    [​IMG]

    We are tenting tonight with a minor risk of thunderstorms tonight. The forecast for the next couple of days are severe thunder storms. Hmmm. This does, however, beat the tornado warnings that they are forecasting for the areas a little north of us.
    #6
  7. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013-11-02:

    Greetings. We are currently held up in San Angelo, Texas. This is fairly small town just over 200 miles from the Fort Worth/Dallas region, about 200 miles from Austin, Texas and still quite far to El Paso. San Angelo is a little off the beaten path, or certainly the interstate.

    [​IMG]

    We ended up here as we were en route to El Paso, Texas. Waking up in rain at the campsite at Mount Pleasant, TX, it was a windy, rainy ride to Forth Worth. Having opted for a hotel room in Fort Worth we were able to dry everything out including our tent, before we proceeded to head west. Thankfully the skies were clear as the prior day was a real soaker even with all of our waterproof-breathable outerwear.

    What we weren't thankful for, however, were the winds. These weren’t quite as bad as the winds we experienced in Kansas (Jenn: grrrrr...Kansas) a couple of years ago, but maintaining a reasonable speed in the wind with relatively light bikes amidst all of the passing transport trucks can be tiresome. Also, while we did see a little bit of eastern Texas two days prior, the previous day was really just dismal with all of the rain.

    After a short rest break and attempting to heal diminished spirits, we decide to get off the interstate and try something different. The scenery instantly changed on the smaller highway. I commented earlier that during my 2010 trip I had seen some cacti way up north in Texas (i.e. road through Amarillo) but we hadn’t seen a single succulent yet! As soon as we turned off the interstate, the scenario changed remarkably.

    If you have never been to Texas before, you might assume that those big barrel cactus are found everywhere. They are not. Texas is a huge state with many landscapes. We were happy to see the cacti, and be riding alongside ranches, pastures, and scrub land, through charming towns that grew out of the old west, and relatively speaking, very few trucks.

    [​IMG]

    Having arrived in San Angelo, we found a room. Apparently a recent oil boom has raised the prices regionally as the town is some sort of hub which acts as a temporary home to workers involved in the oil industry, likely on the company dime. The town is not without its charm, but not having travelled extensively in Texas, especially off of the beaten path, one could almost mistake San Angelo for a Mexican town - but please don’t over romanticize this vision. While we have made several jaunts through the more downtown areas, we are staying on the outskirts which has a dusty, seedy, lazy feel to it.

    The Dun-Bar is apparently the "affordable place to stay" in town. It is pretty run down to say the least and expensive for what you get and only sort of clean. "Rustic" is OK, but unclean and vermin ridden is not. To our delight, as we were getting into bed, we discovered blood on our sheets. The night guy swapped them out only to find blood on the pillows which he also swapped out. Perhaps we should have requested a new room right then and there, however, the night guy caught a bit of heat the next day for not just offering a new room outright. In the end, it turns out that there was a mistake and we were given a room that was only partially cleaned and which we should not have been given at all since someone stayed in that room regularly. Said man apparently bleeds a lot - some sort of cancer patient, we were told.

    [​IMG]

    The restaurant associated with the motel we are staying at is definitely a greasy spoon. It is close, affordable, and the staff are friendly and very fast on their feet. Speaking to our Torontonian audience who seek a “greasy spoon” for the hangover breakfast - once you have been small town Texas, what you generally speak of as a “greasy spoon” - ain’t. Even one of my favourite “greasy spoon” Tex-Mex type places back home - and while it is greasy - is faux-greasy spoon. Or chic-greasy spoon. I am certainly not knocking our local greasy spoon - but my new litmus test for “greasy spoon” is whether or not the salt and pepper shakers are greasy when you pick them up.

    [​IMG]

    I think I have determined that said restaurant might almost be a destination for some or so, in that they may drive long and far to visit the place. That said, it is very, very safe from becoming a gentrified hangout for young people any time soon. All things said and done, being the weirdoes from up north who keep showing up wearing the same thing, we have received very little attention. We don’t have stetsons, or shit kicking boots (actually we do but they have articulated armoured ankles and lined with Gore-Tex), yet people don’t seem to give us a second glance. So much for the stereotype “you ain’t from around here, are ya, boy?”.

    [​IMG]

    I know that I have been rambling a bit here. Admittedly, I am a little avoident of an important topic moment. The possible bike problem from our previous post has come to a head. By the time we reached San Angelo, we had realized that Jenn's bike Millie has started to sound pretty bad even when warm. We have been trying to listen for this over the last couple of days but the problem didn’t really strike us until we stopped at San Angelo.

    At this point we are trying to figure out what to do. We did take it down to a local powersports dealership but it sounds like getting work done through them is going to be cost prohibitive. We are not yet quite sure of what the problem is but have some leads. The good new is that we took off the side covers of the engine today, as well as drained the oil again, and don’t seen any obvious signs of massive damage meaning that with the right tools, parts and knowledge we should be able to get the engine fixed as opposed to replacing it with another one.

    I think it is fair to say that getting the issue resolved properly is over our heads in terms of mechanical expertise, but we are going to have to get creative with the means on how we deal with this. I think that no matter what, this is going to take some time. We do have time, but will have to figure something else out with respects to the high cost of staying in motels. We have started to make some contacts with local riders in the area via the various adventure riding forums, so hopefully something will pan out in terms of finding some mechanical help or even just a friend to have a drink with in the evening.

    While we didn't expect to have so many bike troubles and hold-ups this close to the start of our trip, and apparently with everything we are carrying we couldn't be prepared for this little annoyance, we are making the best of our situation. The temperature has been warm and sunny since our arrival in Texas, and even if we aren't in the heart of excitement here (the highlight of my day was doing laundry at the local laundromat) it's better than being surrounded by snow and cold, or stuck behind a desk (sorry, mates!). Until next time!
    #7
  8. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    AT writes on 2013-11-12:

    With San Angelo behind us, we are currently safe and sound and staying with Erik and Kaye in Kempner, Texas. Our hosts generously offered up the comfort of their toyhauler camper/trailer for the duration of our stay. We arrived here last Monday with the help and good will of the Texas motorcycling community.

    [​IMG]

    A little over a week ago, we put out some messages to various internet motorcycle communities, such as ADVrider and Horizons Unlimited. We were feeling kind of isolated and questioning what our next steps would be, but before too long a member of the Texas specific motorcycle specific community, Two Wheeled Texans (TWT), saw our post on ADVrider and sent out an “SOS” message to the TWT forum. Suddenly, the silence was broken and our in-boxes began to fill as people from all over Texas started to put their collective minds together to assist us with our predicament.

    [​IMG]

    Early on Erik piped up with his generous offer of accommodations and a fully stocked home workshop. You know that the Texas MC community is strong when you have to turn down offers for assistance such as guest rooms, transport, and even money half way across this rather large state - thank you all for your support!

    [​IMG]

    We arrived in Kempner, by way of Jeff from Austin. A paramedic, Jeff got off work at 7am, left for San Angelo by 8am, picked us up, and dropped us off by 3pm without accepting a cent in gas money. While we had spent several nights at Dun-Bar motel, Mike from Abilene used his loyalty points to put us up for a night at a Holiday Inn Express - which not only helped save us some money but was also a major upgrade. Oh ya, we had found blood on multiple sheets the first night at the Dun-Bar. They changed the sheets out, tried to “make things right” and were very apologetic, but it turns out we are staying in the room regularly inhabited by an elderly man with cancer who "bleeds easily" and there was some confusion about giving us that room in the first place.

    [​IMG]

    Thanks so much Jeff and Mike! Sounds like we have some favours to “pay forward”.

    [​IMG]

    Our decision to leave San Angelo was pretty simple. The local dealership was simply too expensive and through TWT, Charles, a local mechanic trusted by a TWT/ADV member in San Angelo, dropped by for a house visit. Sweet! While there was no solid diagnosis, there was also no positive news. While Charles didn’t say it out loud, he had the “F-bomb” written all over his face. While he did offer up his shop to us, he agreed that with the cost of shipping parts into this rather remote community in addition to its oil-boom priced rooms, it made sense to explore other options. Charles’ departing words went something like “I hope you are enjoying the sites and sounds of San Angelo (snicker)”. What exactly did he mean by that?

    [​IMG]

    Almost immediately upon our arrival in Kempner, the ailing bike was put up on the lift and stripped down. Erik came by strong recommendation from various TWT members - we didn’t ask - we were told, “if Erik is willing to help go to Erik’s”. Immediately I saw why Erik has this excellent reputation. He is very methodological, and with years of experience working with motorcycles and larger vehicles, if he doesn’t know something, he doesn’t guess, he consults and has no time for quick bodge fixes and taking inappropriate risks, especially with the prospect of the problem resurfacing in Peru or Patagonia.

    Getting to know Erik a little - actually Erik has no shortage of interesting stories - he explained to us that probably due to his years in military service, he has developed a heightened sense for detecting problems, which isn’t to say that the solution is always staring him in the face, but that something is a “little off”. This is pretty useful for working on a motorcycle.

    [​IMG]

    Parts such as gaskets and some bearings are being ordered through the powersports store that Kaye works at with a generous discount - not expected but much appreciated. While it would have been more straight forward to have discovered a “smoking gun” such as a broken engine component, indicating cause and fix, in the end we have found some very probable problematic parts pertaining to the crankshaft. We are essentially attempting to replace any part which displays anomalous wear, and those with direct association. Given that one (expensive) OEM (stock) Suzuki part is back-ordered until forever (weeks, months?) in the US and Canada, we think we have found a good lead on a reliable used part in the Pacific North-West through Jessie Kientz. Now it is just a waiting game.

    On that subject, we are essentially just hanging out in Kempner. The weather is good. It hasn’t been to rainy or cold, yet not stinking hot or humid. Erik and Kaye live on a nice little property a tad off of the beaten path which is not quite rural but a bit more rural than suburban. Kempner is about an hour away from Austin and minutes away from Fort Hood - the largest, by the measure of population but not area - military installation in the United States.

    While we have spent a good deal of time in the garage, Erik and Kaye have opened up their home to us. Even the first night, Kaye invited us to sit at their table for dinner. While we were certainly appreciative, and rather hungry, the first night, the apparent minor “uneasiness” of strangers around a dinner table has since subsided. Dinners have now morphed into hanging out and having a few drinks afterwards.

    [​IMG]

    Upon bedtime, we return to the pretty-much-full-service trailer. Its a pretty sweet deal for us and absolutely meets our needs - keeping in mind that we were prepared to pitch our tent in our hosts backyard and fetch water from a garden hose. At the same time, having an available trailer has some perks compared to something like a spare room. For example, as much as Erik and Kaye have invited us into their homes, I’m sure they appreciate some time alone and a renewed sense of normality.

    [​IMG]

    Also, having three lovely dogs -- one of which is rather unsettled around “strangers” (if we can still use that term), and one who seems to have adopted Jenn, it is certainly ideal that we have our little place to call our own (for now) as so that the dogs aren't in a constant state of excitement. While we know getting the bike up and running will take a little time, we have already had a little jest about putting down some geraniums and/or pink flamingos -- at which point it might be deemed that we are getting a little too comfortable :)

    I would say that we have been very lucky. Life here in Kempner has been good so far. We settled in quickly and moods are good. On the one hand, we had rough expectations as to where we had planned to be now — and it wasn’t the United States, let alone Kempner -- we have accepted it for what it is. In terms of the bike, there is an answer over the horizon. As some would say, “adventure begins with the unexpected” and as others have suggested, (and we paraphrase) “a mechanical breakdown becomes and opportunity to meet new people”.
    #8
  9. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2013-11-21:

    Today as I look out of the window of the "Villa" (read: toyhauler) upon clear blue and sunny skies, I can't help but feel forever grateful to Erik and Kaye for offering us a place to stay while we wait for parts to arrive in order to repair my bike. Having just past our two week anniversary in Kempner, the Villa has taken on a lived-in sort of quality that I suspect is going to take a little longer to pack up than we anticipate, once we are finally ready to hit the road again.

    [​IMG]

    I am slightly saddened to come to the realization that since our parts have finally arrived, including half a used DR650 engine from Oregon (yay!), that our time here is rapidly coming to a close (and at the risk of sounding like a free-loading squatter). I believe that I speak for both Adam and myself when I say that we have gained far more than what we could have ever expected by accepting Erik and Kaye's offer of accommodations and repair help. I sincerely hope that our new found friendship doesn't end once we ride over the threshold of their gate and back out on our journey.

    [​IMG]

    While this part of our adventure hasn't been the most exciting, I have been very much enjoying the down time - including spending my days playing with the three lovely dogs who also live here (as I write this entry I am sitting on the front porch in the sunshine while the dogs nap at my feet), picking up some cooking tips, and achieving high scores by stacking farm animals on Club Pogo, an on-line gaming community that Kaye introduced to me (and which Adam described as my "crack" and Kaye as my "dealer"). Speaking of crack, news footage of "Toronto's crack smoking mayor" doesn't stop at the border, and it is both with comical delight and embarrassment that the topic of Rob Ford comes up no less than once a day here down in Kempner.

    [​IMG]

    Our hosts have also been keeping us occupied with day rides on the local roads that are beautifully sculpted through the Texas hill countryside - winding, twisting roads through ranch lands, riverbeds, and hillsides. Our destinations usually end at one of Erik and Kaye's favourite restaurants where we scarf down some tasty grub before returning to the homestead.

    [​IMG]

    On Sunday, we meandered our way south to Austin under blue skies and sunshine and 29 degree weather (that's 84 Fahrenheit, for our American friends), for a late lunch/early dinner at the Hula Hut - a Mexican-surf themed mecca prominently nestled on the shores of Lake Austin, decorated with palm trees, surfboards, and a 15 foot high dancing trout leaping out of the water.

    [​IMG]

    Since conjuring up the idea a few days prior, our hosts could only speak of one thing: the Kawakini Stuffed Avocado. My friends, it did not disappoint. This deep-fried little beauty arrived at our table perfectly golden brown, and nestled on a bed of green chilli sauce, drizzled with queso blanco. Technically, in order to prepare, the avocado is peeled and sliced in half, pitted, and stuffed with roasted chicken, green onions, cheese, and chills. The halves are then reassembled, rolled in panko (Japanese tempura batter crumbs) and deep fried. Taste-wise, it is a masterful, little ball of heavenly goodness, and we are currently working on a way to recreate them at home.

    [​IMG]

    Speaking of food, our hosts are also amazing cooks (which is great since I like to eat!) and we have been invited to eat with them at their table almost every night we have been here; pot roast with all the fixings, sausage & garlic pizza, saucy baby-back ribs with smashed potatoes, steak with bourbon mushrooms, stuffed peppers...(as Adam says, there has been no weight loss since we have been in Texas). Combine this with a common love for beer (Erik is quite the avid home brewer), we have truthfully been spoiled.

    [​IMG]

    While I may be giving the impression that all we have been doing is eating, this isn't entirely true. Over the past few days, we have also been doing a complete tear-down and reassessment of each item that we packed in our luggage, in an effort to lighten our load. Almost since the moment we left, I have felt that my bike is too heavy and will eventually cause me aggravation and difficulty once we start to explore twistier roads, gravel roads, and remote mountain roads.

    [​IMG]

    It's an unwritten fact that every motorcycle traveler packs too much stuff with them, and it seems as though we are no exception to this happenstance. So we have culled our clothing down, halved the amount of adapters and power cords that we brought (why does every device need it's own unique charger?!?! Can't we get together on this, people?!?!), and packaged it all up with other superfluous items in a large cardboard box to send home.

    [​IMG]

    All in all, I have to say that Texas has been a pleasant surprise. The people that we have met have been warm and friendly, and the support that we have received has been overwhelming. As fotoTex on the Two Wheeled Texans forum quoted to me: You may leave Texas but Texas never leaves you. I have no doubt that even after we continue our journey through Mexico and the Americas that this place will always be special to me.
    #9
  10. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013-11-27:

    [​IMG]

    Sorry for the misleading post title but it did grab your attention, didn’t it?

    The good news is that “Xmas came early” and Millie, Jenn’s DR550, is fixed! We won’t need to decorate the trailer after all!

    Patient readers, we are tired from a long day of riding through hefty winds, so we are going to keep this post short and get into details about the bike at a later time, probably as a page.

    That said, we want to publicly acknowledge the support received from Erik and Kaye. It is hard to believe that several weeks back we were sending out pleas for help on internet forums, and then today we had to say some hard “goodbyes” having departed Kempner and arriving in Fort Stockton. Erik and Kaye have been great and very generous towards us. It is hard to believe that we spent over three weeks in their trailer. It doesn’t feel that long, but alas, we have been in Texas for about a month now. Also, we apologize to the border officer having told him we would be in the US for a week to ten days.

    We are going to miss Kempner, the cozy trailer, the three wonderful dogs and their laser pointer game known as “green light”, Erik and Adam’s mini beer-club meetings, near daily trips to the H.E.B. grocery store, wrenching, asking repetitive questions about military life, eating great meals and generally having a good time.

    In lieu of a longer posting, feel free to have a look at the related thread down at Two Wheeled Texans:

    http://www.twtex.com/forums/showthread.php?t=90264
    #10
  11. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013-12-03:

    We are currently enjoying the warm, sunny weather in Vail, Arizona.

    We arrived here three days ago, having stayed one night in Fort Stockton, Texas and two nights in Los Cruces, New Mexico.

    Fort Stockton was simply a stop for us, and being a sort of transit location, hoteliers are able to conveniently forget to mention that you are going to be charged for a room safe that you didn’t know was there, as well as a city tax in addition to a state tax. This small financial penalty to us is a reminder to avoid making assumptions.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Las-Cruces-New-Mexico/i-mZrQvFC/0/M/P1030970-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" />

    We spent a couple of nights in Las Cruces in budget motel called the Century 21 Motel. We were unsure whether the motel was named after the Century 21 real estate office across the street or whether the Century 21 office thought it might be a good idea to put an office across the street from the aptly named hotel.

    Originally we were going to be hosted by a prospective host found on ADVRider’s “tent space” listing, which also included an invite for US Thanksgiving but this did not work out. We both thought that traveling on a national holiday might be more trouble than it was worth, we spent our free day exploring White Sands National Monument, with its white sands and various flora.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Las-Cruces-New-Mexico/i-C8xjwLx/0/M/P1030979-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" />

    Being close to winter, the only fauna present was <i>Matilda, the therapy camel</i>. We kid you not. Rounding a curve of the hard packed white sand road, we came across a quirky man leading a camel across the white sand dunes. Still in awe, we were given the OK to say “hi” to Matilda, pet her, and speak the almost biblical looking character standing next to her.

    <img class="alignnone" src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Las-Cruces-New-Mexico/i-Dnn8QGT/0/M/P1040031-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" />

    While we did not catch the man’s name, he explained that he obtained Matilda when she was just a baby, and now Matilda accompanies him in his work with foster children. Her presence allows the kids to open up more easily and build trust, especially in the case of those who had suffered abuse.

    <img class="alignnone" src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Las-Cruces-New-Mexico/i-2ST9DR5/0/M/P1030981-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" />

    He also was accompanied by two dogs (that looked like Australian cattle dog mix breeds) who are also part of the practice. It turns out that there is a hierarchy within animal therapy. Matilda replaced some therapy llamas, who in turn, replaced a therapy horse. There you have it: a horse is good, a llama better, and the camel is the best. And it doesn’t hurt to keep a couple of dogs around for fine tuning.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-New-Mexico/i-W9D9J2B/0/M/P1050359-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="337" />

    This region is also home to missile testing grounds. The area has a definite desolate feel, coupled with the history of the region, made it feel down-right eerie. Passing through the test grounds we looked for evidence but could not find any obvious signs of testing (burnt vegetation, mounds of disturbed ground, general mayhem and destruction...). That said, they periodically close White Sands and the main highway during missile testing.

    Thanksgiving dinner was prepared by Chef Mike Rowe-Wave (i.e. microwaved frozen lasagna) and priced-to-sell apple pie. While not serious competitors for our dinner plates, it was interesting to note that McDonald’s was closed for Thanksgiving while KFC was open. I guess fried chicken is closer to turkey with cranberry sauce, than say McNuggets?

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Vail-Arizona/i-CzwbHNB/0/M/P1050423-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="337" />

    After two nights we departed Las Cruces and arrived in Vale, Arizona. We had arranged in advance to stay with our new friend John. It goes without saying that you don’t know what to expect arriving at a new location sight unseen. Having been to Tucson before during my 2010 motorcycle trip to South America, I had some idea of the area but had never been to Vale which is almost a suburb of Tucson.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Arizona/i-fwXTqjL/0/M/P1050517-M.jpg" alt="" width="253" height="450" />

    We were pleasantly surprised with what we found. Having spent the last couple of days traveling through mostly flat desert with some mountain ranges, Vale is home to to saguaro cactus, and Saguaro National Park. There are plenty of twisty roads that dip low where dry river “washes” or arroyos intersect, with beautiful mountains framing the background.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Vail-Arizona/i-nzgQQ6g/0/M/P1010611-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="450" />

    Turning off an asphalt road and down a small sandy gravel road, we found John’s home. It is a super cozy adobe style building with nice tile floors, and a small backyard surrounded by a hand crafted whimsical metal fence made from rebar rods. Upon meeting John, we quickly found that he has a love for rusty found objects and he is very handy with metal work. On the property you will find a few skeletons of old classic motorcycles, metal sculptures, various gardens and other features.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Vail-Arizona/i-957B8Q9/0/M/P1050429-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="337" />

    While John does have spaces to put a tent, we opted for his spare bedroom - we “hit the easy button". As I write, I am looking at a 1973 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport which sits against a wall next to John’s TV. Upon first entry said motorbike caught our eye and we knew we were in a good place. John also has some other bikes including a road bike and a dual sport motorcycle and has been into motorcycling for a long time. Last summer John rode up through Canada including Tobermory and Guelph, Ontario - places very familiar to us.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Arizona/i-PbQFRcS/0/M/P1050417-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="337" />

    It also turns out that John’s daughter did some volunteer work in northern Peru through an organization called <a href="http://www.paraelmundo.org/">Para el Mundo</a>. An old friend of mine from Toronto is a key organizer for this organization and it turns out that he handled her admission into the program. Small world isn’t it? And also curious as to how we ended up on the topic.

    The last couple of days have been spent running errands in Tucson, including hanging out with Frank at ZMW Adventures, a good friend of John’s. We initially stopped by his garage in hopes of picking up another spare chain link, and ended up pulling out maps and ultimately changing our route through Mexico. We are now Baja bound.

    With original plans of entering Mexico through the Douglas/Agua Prieta border, we have changed our minds. One of the reasons we originally chose this route, was that I am already somewhat familiar with the area having traveled here before. While we are not trying to repeat my previous adventure, sometimes basic familiarity can have its advantages including knowing the border crossing process. Having previously travelled this region in the summer, Frank confirmed some suspicions that it would be colder in the high altitudes of Copper Canyon and there was a good chance that we might experience snow and black ice in some areas. We have had more cold than we expected (and that we care to experience) so far and are ready for a little warmer weather, so the coastal regions and beaches of the Baja sound exactly like what we are looking for.

    We are spending an extra day in Vail to relax, do some research, and take some photos. John has various bikes and interesting old things on his property that are just begging to be photographed. As well, while we are in the Sonoran desert, on the other side of his fence is literally desert which hosts a myriad of flora and fauna. While some of the fauna is dormant right now (including rattlesnakes and scorpions, as well as the desert tortoise which live in his garden), we regularly see Gambel's quail and desert rabbits, and we are hoping to see javalina, a pig-like mammal who are known to tear into gardens and generally destroy everything. John has even shown us photos of bobcats hanging out in his backyard, as well as various snakes and lizards that he has befriended.

    Days have been comfortable and nights are cooling off. This morning we found water dripping off of John’s roof, and in fear that it was a leaking solar heater, we found frozen dew which was melting. It's certainly a nice view from up there though - a couple of neighbouring houses, mountains and desert landscape.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/USA-Vail-Arizona/i-VwM6CmT/0/M/P1050445-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="337" />

    Our first couple of nights here John had evening plans so we spent the night grilling our dinner and drinking beer around a great campfire fed with eucalyptus and mesquite wood. While the desert landscape is finally settling in for us, it was very surreal for us to be sitting around a nice warm fire with with desert literally 6 feet away with a backdrop of howling coyotes. In conversation with John, I had mentioned that all of this dry desert was so new and interesting to us. He basically reflected back to his time in Ontario, with something to the effect of “<i>ya man, I get to Ontario and all of this green, green everywhere…</i>”.

    Having completed our errands, our planned final day included taking a good walk up the “wash” or arroyo to see what we could see. We didn’t see too much wildlife beyond various birds and a couple deer but the desert did not disappoint. The exotic plantlife and scrub kept us watching where we stepped and peering underneath bushes in hopes of seeing animals hiding out from the hot sun.
    #11
  12. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013-12-05:

    We are presently in Ensenada, Baja California. We are in the middle of a cold spell. Sounds like deja vu, doesn’t it? The last days at John’s in Vail, it started to cool off, especially in the evening, and after arriving in El Centro, California last night and by dusk, we found ourselves in a mild sand storm.

    [​IMG]

    It was an interesting ride day in that we went from seeing saguaro cactus and scrub, to just scrub, and then desert so dry that the cactus were dying. We hit some interesting enough mountains and shortly after Yuma, Arizona, we started seeing trucks full of lettuce, and then sand dunes, and later irrigated lettuce fields and olive and date groves and then, as mentioned, sand storms.

    Neither of us have ever been to California or Baja before which has changed the dynamics of the trip a bit. We had planned to start out in Mexico with areas that I was familiar with and then expand from there, but as mentioned previously, we decided to head for warmer weather of the Baja Peninsula. Warm weather is not what we are getting. That said, the weather down south, such as La Paz, is looking much warmer so we are looking forward to that.

    We departed El Centro for Tecate and hit some pretty heavy winds at reasonable altitude in the very picturesque rock strewn mountains. The Suzuki DR650 doesn’t come with hazard lights but just prior to starting the trip I added a little red switch which couples the left and right turn signals creating hazard lights. I hadn’t expected to have to use these so early in the trip, but we had to take it really slow up for a short while and make sure that passing vehicles got our attention.

    If you have ever used a GPS you might know that, while it will usually get you from A to B, it might not always be your desired route. I don’t know what our GPSes were doing, but it looked like they wanted us to head quite close to San Diego and circle back, but we figured better and found a rather nice twisty route through areas like Campo. I was pretty pleased by this as it reminded me of the riding in the Sierra Madre Occidental region which I was keen to revisit and hoping to give Jenn a good taste of mountain riding - good practice for the Andes!

    We arrived in Tecate, CA, a very small town, and dealt with sending a second package of excess luggage back to Ontario by way of USPS. Jenn grabbed us piece of pizza from the only restaurant in site, partially as tariff to use their bathroom, and it turned out that that piece of pie was much tastier than the sand storm Dominos pizza from the night before. A good gourmet pizza can be very good - but sometimes you can try too hard and mess it up - sometimes simple is just purely delicious.

    [​IMG]

    Having spent about 44 days in the USA, at least 34 days than originally planned, we left the US and entered Mexico without drama. The border at Tecate is pretty simple. You pass through the delineate border area, park the bikes and go to immigration office. It is my understanding that you do not need travel visa in Mexico if you are within a certain distance to the border - 100km I believe, and Baja California has a special status in that you do not need a vehicular importation permit, until you travel to the mainland. Despite this you are still required to purchase vehicular insurance.

    Again, Tecate was a very easy border crossing. We parked the bikes in a designated area, walk into the immigration office which had almost no line up, presented our passports, filled out our visitation permit, went next door to the “banjercito” (bank) and brought back our receipts showing that we paid the $25 tourist visa cost. It was explained to us, and confirmed by a recent trip report found on the internet, that you do not need to pay for your TVIP (vehicle importation permit) until you are going to the mainland - i.e. La Paz.

    Having a very nice experience with the lady at the banjercito, we went back to her and found that we *could* pay for our TVIP now instead of later on so we opted to take care of it now. Who knows? Maybe later we would be rushing to get on the ferry at La Paz, and there was certainly no line so we just took care of business. The woman we dealt with, and later a man, were very attentive, and she spoke excellent English. Have paid our bond of $400 per bike, the man specifically made sure that we double checked our passport numbers and VIN to make sure that all documents were in good order. A bad signature or wrong VIN could me we don’t get our bond back upon exiting Mexico.

    [​IMG]

    While somewhat cool, the ride from Tecate to Ensenada was quite nice. We passed through various rocky mountain ranges and found that the area is a winery region, as well as producing olives and honey. Passing our final mountain turn for the days, we finally saw the Pacific ocean, surfers and all (brrr cold!).

    [​IMG]

    Ensenada is a nice little town and one could surely get lost in money of the eateries and places to get a drink if so inclined although I fear that the prices might be close to on par with US prices. Having found a place to stay based on research from the previous night, and being somewhat disappointed based on what you get for what you paid (Jenn’s views are a little stronger here), we went in search of a few bottles of cerveza and scarfed down seven tacos between us from a taco stall located close the the hotel.

    [​IMG]
    #12
  13. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013-12-17:

    I am writing from La Manzanilla, Jalisco. Internet access has been sketchy for the last couple of days. We are camping under a palapa on the sand amongst coconut palms. While rustic, the campsite is quite nice with cool showers, and add your own water toilets. That said, we are right against the beautifully warm Pacific Ocean. The morning was spent swimming in the very comfortably warm water, watching pelicans dive, and fish jump

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    We are located on the edge of town amongst other RV parks. On the way in there is a small crocodile preserve and we counted no less twelve crocodiles from easy viewing distance (starting at about a meter) from the fence.

    [​IMG]

    It was a lazy day spent swimming, walking to the store for eggs and other breakfast items, cooking food, drinking coffee and doing a load of hand wash including our motorcycle suits. We are going to stay put for a few days as this is is our very first really warm taste of weather.

    [​IMG]

    The ride in was long but very good riding with hours of twisty turns up and down the jungle (not sure if it is technically jungle) coastline. I recommend the ride from San Blas through Puerta Vallerta to La Manzanilla. Some of it is quite empty of tourism while other parts show opulent water front homes amongst humble local villages.

    [​IMG]

    The previous day in San Blas we arrived with a decent amount of time and decided to stay at the local RV park. The next day we found several much better looking parks close to San Blas and regretted not travelling a little further. The mosquitoes in this RV park were TERRIBLE during dusk. We were fairly quick to get into out bug suits and apply bug spray but we both got hit pretty badly, and I am covered and in some discomfort. Our camp chairs have mesh backs so I understand how my back got hit, but my ankles are absolutely covered.

    [​IMG]

    The previous day, we were in Hotel Oasis in Mazatlan, Sinoloa staring at our own private pole dance stage. Yes, we stayed in our second “love motel” or a hotel that bills hourly, or by a couple hours. These strange accommodations can be useful for motorcycle travellers as they are often on the outskirts of town, fairly cheap compared to a large hotel chain and secure as they often have their own secure car ports - probably mainly in the name of discretion. We also stayed in one the previous night in Los Mochis having taken the Baja Ferry across from La Paz. I would say that the room at Motel Oasis is little short of being a dump but does have hot water and is mostly clean.

    [​IMG]

    I had heard of these before but never stayed in one until our new friends Gord and Linda from Canada (riding a V-Strom) and Ian from Yorkshire, England (riding on a Triumph Tiger down from Alaska), and us followed Gord’s friend, Jose, who met as at the ferry dock into Los Mochis. It was late - as in close to midnight - by the time we found rooms and Jenn had just got past a bad case of sea-sickness from the ferry.

    [​IMG]

    Actually, while the boat wasn’t all that rocky, she felt quite ill, and while she didn’t vomit - sort of afraid to use the toilets which were already decorated in vomit - she was really dizzy. We didn’t opt for rooms on the ferry since it is only a six hour crossing so the five of us encamped ourselves in the most comfortable part of the lounge/bar area. We had a couple of beers and having missed the cafeteria lunch rush, and then lunch period, we piled all of our snacks including peanuts, granola bars and bananas on the table and ate those.

    [​IMG]

    The entertainment went from watching retro 80s and 90s music videos to Mexican music videos with guys in cowboy hats, heavy tuba baselines, and older men hitting on younger woman or and other of a long series of what we could make out to be tragic love stories. The bigger the brass section - the better the singer - apparently - and the more desirable. Music videos were eventually replaced by karaoke including various numbers from Mexican passengers imbibing in the beer special we were not able to understand - something about “for a limited time”, bring back eight Tecate to your table for X number of pesos.

    All of this noise wasn’t helping Jenn feel any better. Having sent Linda into the woman’s washroom to keep Jenn company, Jenn requested that we find a quieter place where she could just rest. Once the clerk was summoned back to reception we tried to communicate our request. Eventually, we asked if there was some sort of infirmary she could rest in. We were told it was closed (i.e. the chance of needing emergency assistance on a fairly large ship is only part-time).

    Eventually borrowing a blanket from the boat, she tried to relax her nausea on a bench in a quieter area. At this point the clerk realized that she was actually feeling quite ill and we found our way to a now open infirmary. While the needle looked like it was coming from a clean package, the (possibly) doctor’s first response was to jab her in the butt with some unknown anti-nausea drug. Having read the box and not knowing the substance, and knowing that she had to get on a motorcycle following the ferry ride, we declined the jab. He was a little grumpy and persistent but we still refused and I gave her another Dramamine. Gord, who has spent some time working with accu-preasure (Eastern medicine), offered to have a go while she was relaxing on a bench and finally Jenn drifted off. With only several hours in the trip remaining, she felt quite a bit better and we managed to meet Jose without incident.

    [​IMG]

    Having refused Jose’s several first hotel suggestions (international type hotels and pricey) and without secure parking from what we could tell, we eventually found our way to a newly built (or at least renovated) love motel. It was actually probably the second nicest hotel we have stayed on during our trip so far, second to the Holiday Inn Express that Mike put us up in in San Angelo.

    [​IMG]

    The decor was nice - flagstone - and it was very clean and included the car port - in that you park, close the garage door and walk into the room. At the time I was a little annoyed at the price (Mex$500) given that we really just wanted to sleep but it was only slightly more money than the next love motel (dive) and included internet. Both menus were comparable - a bit of booze, snacks, toothpaste, condoms, etc. which are sent through a little door not dissimilar to the milk boxes of the olden days but operates more like a subway turn-stall.

    I will back track a bit as there has been a little drama over the last couple of days:

    Several days ago we arrived in Camp Maranatha on the outskirts of La Paz, Baja California Sur. While catering to RVers, the place is primarily a Christian organization providing camping for children. We were a little puzzled by the fact that there was one operational teepee here as well as structures for several more and what seems to be dormitories with bunk beds. We "googled" it and it all makes sense now. No matter, there are no children here at present so it is quiet and being the only tenters here, there was no contest for the teepee and it has been our home for several days at no extra cost.

    [​IMG]

    La Paz is one of several cities with a ferry crossing. Having gone to the ferry terminal directly upon arrival at La Paz, we found the price list on the building door to be confusing - or maybe we didn't read it well - but the cost looked like it was going to be significantly higher than what we expected.

    [​IMG]

    We booked in at Camp Maranatha and attempted do buy tickets on-line but their website is pretty cranky and while I was just about to post payment for our tickets, it sent me to an error page suggesting that I contact the "Call Center". We "went into town" to Baja Ferries office and realized that the price list is inclusive of the driver whereas the web site has you select a person, and then add a vehicle. In the end, the pricing was correct and we paid for our tickets.

    [​IMG]

    That morning we were completely packed up and ready to head off to the ferry dock. My bike wouldn't start. It turns out that the engine was flooding. Again. I say again because in Ciudad Constitución the prior day having spent a night with our tent under a “palapa” or thatch roof hut in a very charming and well kept RV park, that morning after our stay I found that my bike wouldn’t start and was stinking of gas.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Upon inspection I found that the air box was full of gas meaning that the carburetor was having issues and not having close the fuel tank petcocks (fuel valves) which is a good idea, gas leaking into the air box and also the engine cylinder, and eventually the engine. Knowing that the consequence of trying to run the bike like this is severe, I drained the air box slightly off premises, and by the time I had wheeled it in, a staff member named Jose Manuel got involved and offered to drive me to the store to pick up oil. I took up the offer and took a ride in his pickup truck and upon return, Jose Manual provided me with the lower part of a bucket which he has been using as an oil pan, and I got to work. Not too longer after, we were ready to leave.

    [​IMG]

    Having arrived in La Paz, sussing out the ferry ticket situation, and landing at Camp Maranatha, I attempted to order tickets on-line. This didn’t work out since as soon I was about to post payment, I was referred to the “call center”. The manager of the grounds pointed me to Allan and Julea from the London, England area who are travelling down to Panama from Louisana in their RV. We had a good chat with them about the ferry and hung out with them several nights and hope to see them on the road soon.

    On the Thursday that we were booked to take the ferry, we were completely packed up and ready to start the bikes and say goodbye to our teepee. My bike wouldn’t start. I realized shortly that the fuel issue was still happening. Recognizing that I definitely had an issue that would need to be dealt with, I had opted to make sure that I was turning of the fuel petcocks when the bike wasn’t running - except that I had forgot to do this the night before. Having attempted to start the bike, I knew that something was up. Again, I opened the airbox but found little fuel. Nuts! I had a hunch this wasn’t going to be good in that the bike was parked slightly downhill meaning that the 300ml or so of gas I found in the air box the previous day would have instead gone into the engine.

    We immediately went into slightly panicked problem solving mode. Firstly, we didn’t want to blow our Baja Ferry tickets, and secondly, blow up the bike. With the help of the grounds manager, we confirmed that our tickets were valid for six months (and we ended up skirting the re-scheduling fee), and then proceeding to buy new oil and a gallon of water which was only purchased for use as a makeshift oil pan. I removed the oil plug and the oil just puked out. Normally it sort of “gluts” out, even when warm. This oil had been rendered completely useless by the addition of what seemed to be close to a litre of gas.

    If I had ridden the bike for any significant period, it probably would have destroyed the engine pretty quickly. I should note, that the previous night I did try to address the carburetor issue but didn’t find what I was looking for. At this point, I disassembled what I needed to and pulled off the carburetor. The issue was instantly apparent in that there is a plastic part in the carburetor pertains to fuel delivery which is sealed and held in place by two rubber o-rings. Once of the two was completely use and possible degraded from the use of ethanol fuels. Luckily, prior to departure I had asked Jenn to pinch of couple of each of the o-rings from her Dad’s big kit - even thought they are SAE and I require metric, I found one the was close enough and the problem seems to be fixed, at least for now.

    So, with the intent of catching the ferry the next day, we loaded everything up (again) and even thought we made a pact to “start the bikes in the morning” to determine if there are issues, we forgot to start Jenn’s (not surprisingly since it was only my bike having issues). Jenn’s wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. Perplexed, we pulled everything apart, removed the plastic side covers, seats, etc. and began jumping her bike off of mine. We eventually got it going but couldn’t figure out “why”. She had charged her phone and helmet comm the previous night but this shouldn’t have caused issues.

    Eventually I noticed something was slightly weird. Her grip heater switch was pressed “on”. This should be no matter since they are operated by a switched relay meaning that they are only on when the ignition key is on. Or not? I did a little wire trace and realized (stupidly) that something was off. When wiring up our bikes with their various accessories, I had attempted to keep the bike pretty much in-line, as for the most part, used colour coded wire. Upon closer inspection I found that I had swapped two red wires. The one that was supposed to always be on as it was associated with a power connector plug was on a switched relay, and the one for the grip heater was always live! Eureka!

    I was pretty happy to have this revelation as it is a simple, tangible answer to a mystery which also showed up the second day of our trip in New York when Jenn’s bike wouldn’t start to to drained battery. At that time, the only thing that we could think of is that we had left the key in “park” (rear tail light on) mode instead of “off”. It didn’t seems likely as you would think that we would notice this. Anyway, they day that I had made this installation happened to be a day which I suddenly came down with something resembling the flu and was in bed dealing with this for the most part of two days after.

    [​IMG]

    SO the next bit of drama involves our Los Mochis to Mazatlan trek. We were not planning on coming this far today. Back in La Paz, I took careful note of where some reasonable tenting camping friendly spots might be in the mainland from Los Mochis south to Mazatlan. Long story short, not wanting to hand write these, I got GPS co-ordinate and descriptions onto my phone giving up on a Google to Garmin facility which was suppose to make it easy to copy Google map waypoints to the GPS. Our first big urban centre of Culiacan seemed a little early to stop. We tried to find what was to be an RV park but it was a posh hotel downtown, which it may or may not have been wise to stay at in hindsight even though their “RV price” seemed a little expensive for tenters.

    We headed for the next cluster I had in mind which was a costal area called Celestina. We kind of took a risk here knowing that we would be arriving close to dusk but didn’t find much just outside of Culiacan which seemed hospitable. We had been traveling the “libre” (free) highway route and eventual headed to the coast with signs stating “tourist region” and found ourselves in a little town called La Cruz. Not dismissing the possibility of finding somewhere to stay here as it was getting late, we did see anything obvious and when following what seemed to be a seemingly strange route by way of the GPS and crossing some train tracks on the way out of town, through the communicators, I asked Jenn if she was coming and she replied that she was just hit by a car. I was in disbelief as she was just behind me.

    We have decent lights and a decent amount of reflective material on our suits and bikes. I quickly turned around and found Jenn only meters behind me with her bike on its right side and Jenn getting up off the ground. My brief mental depiction of what might have happened was much relieved as it quickly became evident that it was a minor bump, as opposed to a real collision. Jenn, as of writing, survived “accident” without any aches or pains. It was explained to me that she was stationary waiting to make a turn behind me and some guy in a car hit her from behind. The only thing that could explain the idiocy is that the guy didn’t have lights on. If he was traveling at any speed, she and/or the bike would have been far more damaged. I think that he must have slowly glided into her and knocked her over. He was apologetic and didn’t try to leave. In the end there was no (obvious) harm down but it was a little scary.

    At this point, we decided to continue to the nice sounding RV park that we were thinking of going to. The GPS dumped us on the major toll road, which seemed right, but know being completely dark, the suggested turn off either didn’t happen, or came far to late. It turns out that there are no provisions for turning around on these toll roads for extended period of time. By the time we found an area to return back, we were so far out of the area, that it made fore sense to continue 75km to Mazatlan - breaking the “don’t drive at night” rule. At this point, with Jenn still being rattle by her car strike - we would have been happy with anywhere reasonable to stay but this didn’t turn up until Mazatlan. We eventually found a nice little taco stand, had our dinner, and found the love motel close by.

    [​IMG]

    Sorry if all of this is confusing - we are in La Manzanilla :)

    [​IMG]
    #13
  14. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2013-12-24:

    Merry Christmas Eve from Puerto Escondido, MX!

    Although it is not what we are used to for celebrating the holidays (no snow, family, or massive amounts of Christmas goodies), Christmas on the beach seems to be a pretty good place to spend the holiday. I can't say that I am missing my Canada Goose parka as I sway in my hammock in my bathing suit. The temperature today is supposed to reach 32 degrees (Celsius) so I think we might wander down to the beach for a swim and have some cervezas.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We are staying at Edda's Cabanas, which is at the top of the hill overlooking the beach at Zicatela. The strip along the beach is lined with hotels, restaurants, and beach bars, and is being enjoyed by gringos and locals, alike. While the city is larger than what we expected, we have found a nice place to enjoy the holidays.

    [​IMG]

    Our cabana has a private bathroom, and we sleep under a bug net since there are no screens on the windows and the ceiling does not meet the walls - for ventilation purposes. We also have a hammock on the porch (aforementioned) which I am enjoying immensely, and think I might have to pick one up to ship home.

    [​IMG]

    After spending three nights in La Manzanilla - a wonderful little spot on the beach where we made some new friends. We met Trudy and her daughter Heather who were down on vacation for a few weeks - who also know Linda and Gord who we met on the Baja. We also met Sylvana and her family who moved down from Quebec and now live in a trailer on the beach. We also swam on a largely secluded beach, and generally lazed on the sand - we headed to a small spot called Maruata.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Maruata is a small coastal spot known for its eco-tourism and sea turtle population. We were pointed in its direction by Sylvana's father who had travelled extensively along the coast of Mexico and gave it enthusiastic thumbs-up. It was a long ride, and just as we thought we were getting close we encountered a political road block that stretched off into the distance. We jumped the line and headed to the front of the blockade to see if we could get through.

    [​IMG]

    From what we could understand (our spanish lessons didn't cover political blockade language - ordering a salad, yes; political blockade, no). There seemed to be a few different stories going around which ranged from the people being upset about the cartel, to protesting big corporations buying up indigenous land, to the military strong holding the community. Whatever it was, it signified a good thing since it showed the community taking their power back, so we didn't mind waiting around for a while.

    The turn-off for Maruata happened to be right smack-dab in the middle of the blockade, so we were happy to be off the bikes within a short time of clearing the road block. Once we cleared through town (a sort of roll-the-sidewalks-up-at-sundown town), and across a number of dirt roads, we ended up at at restaurant with rooms and spots for camping. At first it seemed a little sketchy, but it turned out to be a secluded paradise, uncrowded, rivaling in beauty to places such as Thailand. The beach was beautiful golden sand surrounded by high cliffs, rock formations, and crashing waves on the shore.

    [​IMG]

    It was also the site of my first flat tire, which we noticed once the bikes were parked in deep sand. It's not so easy to change a tire in the sand. But we needed to take care of business before hitting the beach, so a bit of bike maintenance and repair was in order, since we also noticed that the clips on our chain links had gone missing. This was a surprise having used chain clip links in the past successfully. In the USA, we actually went on the hunt for some spares but were reassured that 1-2 spares would be over-kill. We have used our clips from our spare links and carefully affixed them with RTV silicone and safety wire.

    [​IMG]

    When we finally hit the beach, we met up with some German travellers who we had met the night before (Mark and Ani - forgive my spelling - and another group Matthias and Helen and their blond friend whose name I don't think I ever got), and a group of Mexican truckers who were stuck in the blockade and had wandered down to the beach for a swim. We had a great little beach party frolicking in the waves, and drinking beer, all whilst overcoming language barriers. The swimming was amazing, the sun was hot, and the company was good - one of the best days so far.

    That night we went out in search of the elusive sea turtles but didn't see anything but tracks and nests.

    [​IMG]

    It seemed that the consensus was that the Germans were all heading to Puerto Escondido for Christmas, so we thought we would head there too, which meant that we had to leave the next day in order to get there on time, and with enough time to find some place to stay, as I think we were both starting to wonder if things would be booked for the holidays (as it turns out, there is lots of room but the prices are doubled just about everywhere).

    So the next day we bade goodbye to the fresh fish and invariably, paradise and headed back out on the road. We didn't have any place in mind and rode until the sun started to fade away. We took a chance on a road sign that pointed to Tronconces that also seemed to have advertisements for hotels and an RV park. We headed off down a twisty paved road that ended at a surf town that also happened to be a yoga mecca lined with hotels of the meditational-spa-zen variety, beach bars and restaurants, and surf shops. Oh how I would have loved to have had a bigger budget, as many of the places were gated with lush tropical gardens with thatched roofs and ocean views but alas our funds are more of the rail-car variety and we set off in search of the RV park.

    The RV park had one RV in it which belonged to the owners and a few casitas, but they let us put up our tent underneath some tall palms for about $7. It wasn't beach front (across the street) but it was quiet and lovely and since we were the only people there we didn't have to share the bathroom. Well, except with Edgar the tarantula who came out at night to hunt insects, which was very much appreciated. Sometimes it's easy to forget that I am in the tropics until I see a spider the size of my hand. Needless to say, I had Adam stand guard and watch him while I showered, just in case Edgar got any ideas and wanted to join me.

    It was back on the road bright and early the next morning, taking extra care to shake out my boots before I put them on the next morning just in case Edgar or his friends had decided to wander over and make a new home there. After a few hours of riding, I noticed the bike started to feel funny, wobbly, and hard to control. After checking it out, we noticed that my rear tire had gone flat again. We pulled over on a twisty mountain road (they all seem to be twisty mountain roads along the coast... a motorcyclist's dream), pulled out the pump and inflated the tire in anticipation of turning around to head back to Petatlan (the last town that we passed through) to find a shop to help repair the tube.

    After stopping twice to re-inflate the tire, we arrived at a small shop that happened to be open on Sunday. We seem to be quite the spectacle when we arrive anywhere and what started out as two guys working in the shop ended up as two guys working in the shop and four guys standing around watching with a steady stream of observers coming in and out to see the show. The mechanics fixed our tubes (the one that was in the tire and an already patched spare), charged us 50 pesos (less than $5), told me that I had "cahones" for riding a motorcycle through Latin American, and we were back on our way within the hour.

    [​IMG]

    The days ride took us through Acapulco. A few words about Acapulco and then we will move on. It's a dirty, dusty, confusing sh*t-hole through which I never wish to return. The drivers are very aggressive, especially the taxi drivers who would sooner run you down rather than give you any sort of consideration despite the fact that you have out of town plates and are obviously out of your element. The entire city is built on the side of a mountain and is very difficult to get around, especially with a heavy bike. The beach strip seemed to be nice, Americanized, with everything you could want for a fly and fry vacation, but with the amazing places that I have seen, Acapulco has had its day in the sun. Never have I been happier to leave a city in all my life.

    [​IMG]

    We instead stopped an hour outside of Acapulco in a small town called San Marcos. It was my first taste of a hotel room in the tropics (imagine grimy with cockroaches and lizards to keep you company), but I was pleasantly surprised. The hotel was well-kept and the owner let us ride the bikes up into the courtyard where the desk clerk could watch them. For $236 pesos (about $21) we got a room with a bed, private bathroom, and a ceiling fan. There were no screens on the windows, only sheets on the bed, and no hot water (everything done in the name of keeping cool!). Since the temperature has been hovering around 30 degrees Celsius, I have been pretty stinky and sticky after a full day of riding - this area is pretty humid and a cool shower is just what the doctor orders after being sprayed with road dust and sweating all day. It was one of the best showers that I have had in my life, and after living on a beach for the past week is was nice to finally get the sand out of my hair and out of the crack of my butt. Adam opted instead for the swimming pool (yay! a swimming pool!). Afterwards it was out for dinner at a taco stand that served Al Pastor style and to buy some Mexican gingerbread cookies from a local baker who had her goods out in baskets on the street. They were star-shaped, dusted in sparkly sugar, and heavy on the molasses which made them extra chewy, extra good, and disappear quickly.

    [​IMG]

    After another long ride, we arrived here, at Puerto Escondido. As I mentioned before, the city is quite a bit larger and more pricey than we expected but still quite nice. I have doubts that we will be able to find our German friends for Christmas but stranger things have happened. I am hoping that the internet will be a bit better tonight as a Skype call home will be nice since my family will be gathered at Paul and Julie's (my aunt and uncle) for our traditional get-together tonight. It is difficult to be away from home on Christmas. Instead of a Christmas tree we have swaying palms; instead of turkey dinner we have fish tacos and cervezas; instead of winter birds we have butterflies; instead of poinsettias we have tropical flowers in bloom. Wishing everyone a safe, and warm Christmas from the beach! Wish you were here!
    #14
  15. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013-12-26:

    So here we are out side of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca (roughly pronounced Oh-a-ha-ca) in another love motel. This one is almost charming and seems quite small. Larger and more expensive ones in the area have a lot more flash with sort of an art deco theme, fancy walls, and with illusive names. Ours is simply Motel Quinta Naeda (no affiliation with “La Quinta”) and a fairly reasonable price given that we were hard pressed to find secure parking in Salina Cruz, proper. As a bonus the curtains and wall paint are very cutesy with flower patterns and almost reminds me of the mystique of a Mexican country cantina.

    [​IMG]

    Very strange in a way given that the various signs on the wall elude to “no spitting” and “please be careful not to make an odours that would offend other guests”. To top this all off, I remember passing by this area before during my 2010 trip but decided not to opt for the “love motel” scene due to general lack of internet. Since my main need for internet during that trip is here with me now, we are more likely to settle for places without.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    My previous trip through Mexico started much more centrally through the Sierra Madre mountains and I only hit the coast fairly late into Mexico. Having retraced some of my steps over the last couple of days, I am actually quite intrigued that I remember so little of the scenario. It is actually a little bit of a “eureka” moment when I do see sites that are directly familiar. For example, my first one was a couple of days ago when we past by a fairly nondescript little motorcycle store where I had changed my oil in 2010. I had no recollection as to were this oil change took place and all of the sudden, I would proclaim in our helmet communicators “hey! I know this place!”. Instinctively, I then knew that we were to take the right hand turn at the fork in the road. Not so instinctively, I then tried to land us a room (or even tent site) at a little place run by a guy who repaired surf boards, but for the life of me, couldn’t find it even though I swore up and down that we were in the correct town.

    [​IMG]

    The next similar moment was when we landed in Puerto Escondido. You take a curved road off of the main highway down towards the beach and there is a sculpture of hands built on a rock formation near the water. Over the last couple of weeks, I had inquired with a few new friends as to whether they had seen these hands on the coast. No one had. I was completely off as to where I thought they were, and they ended up being a two minute walk from the cabanas we stayed in for three nights at Puerto Escondido.

    Things seem to unfold in strange ways as I recall previously stopping to photograph the hands thinking that the beach would have been a lot nicer if it were sunny out and had the water not been all churned up with sand — different time of year, mind you — but that it would be a nice place to stop. This time around it was Jenn and I sitting around eating fish tacos and guacamole watching other motorcycle travellers looking confusingly up and down the moderately hectic beach strip for a place to stay or eat at. At first, having arrived at Puerto Escondido, I was very surprised at the size of it given that our new found German friends, who were not to be found, suggested that they would stay at Puerto Escondido for Xmas, and that it was relatively “unfound”. Although a little pricey, I suspect that it is cheaper than places like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, and by “unfound”, while there were some American, Canadian, and German tourists, it seems to be largely a surf beach used by Mexicans.

    Probably my main annoyance with it all, is that the prices shot up two to three times for things like cabanas, or hostel rooms on December 24th and 25th. At our place, Cabanas Edda, we got our cabana for a reasonable price on December 23rd and took it as we were dead tired, and reluctantly paid double for the next two nights as it didn’t seem like we were going to find anything much better with the same amenities. We heard later that there was a hostel with lots of tent spaces and even closer to the beach and shops for much cheaper, but I am a little weary of the security of personal items at hostels due to the high turn over of backpackers and other budget travellers - hey - wait, we are budget travellers…

    We spent our time in Puerto Escondido swimming in the waves, walking the beach strip - both the more tourist side, and the “local” side, and eating out, as well as self-catering at the outdoor kitchen facilities at Cabana Eddas. Things like fresh eggs, tortillas, Oaxaca cheese (sort of a cross between cheese curds from Quebec and mozzarella), refried beans, milk, and yogurts can be had at local aborretes (corner stores) and prove to be an effective money saver, and also a good way to avoid eating out all the time.

    [​IMG]

    We treated ourselves to 2-for-1 “happy hour” (which generally spreads across five or six hours, or all day in Puerto Escondido) cocktails a couple of nights at a place with nice decor on the beach that served their drinks in actual glassware instead of plastic cups (like some places), and garnished them well (bonus points for presentation). Our Xmas dinner was enjoyed at a place called “Fish Tacos and Beer” where we had, as you guessed it, fish tacos and beer, as well as a large bowl of fresh guacamole and freshly made tortilla chips It was an interesting choice of Xmas dinner, but very satisfying. As a note, we rarely drink beer (nor soda/pop, nor water) when eating out as, while not only carrying our own water filter bottles, family sized bottles of beer (which are plus or minus a litre) can be had for fractionally more than a single small bottle of beer at slightly higher than budget priced restaurants - it is roughly an 3:1 or 4:1 ration in savings. One just has to be careful to get a receipt for the bottle deposits which are not insignificant.

    [​IMG]

    Those who know me back home (and those in Texas) know that I am a pretty big beer drinker. I generally dislike “domestic” beers and favour beers such as American Pale Ales and American “West Coast” style India Pale Ales with big hop aromas and flavours (hints of citrus, papaya, pine). I had sort of been prepping myself for the day when I crossed the border from the US to Mexico bidding farewell to beer paradise - I say this because while Canada, and more specifically Ontario, has a good craft beer scene, the US has tonnes of great beer (and lots of domestic they-all-taste-the-same beers) which was a real treat for me during our three weeks in Texas (shout out to the buy singles off the shelf at grocery stores and the great selection at Marquez Racing Brew Co.!). Mexico is a different story. Actually, I would say all of Latin America probably is a different story. Here and there seem to be attempts at craft beer, but nothing very prominent. That said, I seem to be able to tolerate watery Mexican beer better than its watery American “light beer” cousins.

    There seems to be something non-offensive about many Mexican beers, and with a bit of lime in the glass - even some Mezcal (Tequila is above our budget), it can be quite refreshing. I am not sure that higher alcohol IPAs would be a good scene at present because we spend a good deal of effort trying to stay hydrated as of late. That said, I am now noticing that some brands have a distinct bisulphate aftertaste and I am tending to avoid those.

    We generally carry several litres of water in our hydration packs and try to make sure we drink throughout the day. Southern Mexico has been warm, but not warm like my previous trip in early summer - that was just stinking hot! - but consider that we are wearing fairly heavy, although ventilated gear, and sit directly above hot engines. Today our bike’s thermometers - not the engine temperature but the ambient air temperature, plus heat from the engine and sun peaked at 40 degrees Celsius and barely dropped to 35 during the day. We don’t necessary feel all of that heat, but certainly when are stopped or moving slowly we feel it, and definitely our legs get hot (probably much higher than 40 degrees next to the engines).

    To get back on track here, the last couple of days were spent doing previously mentioned things, as well as getting new photos uploaded. Our double priced cabanas were supposed to come with internet, but they were having issues with their modem or something to that effect. After some time, they seem to have “borrowed” their neighbours internet and we able to get back on line and call family during the holidays which was one promise that I made to Jenn - internet on Xmas FOR SURE. This was accomplished - not without hiccups - but we even managed to speak with family on an Alaskan oil rig via Skype repeated through a phone in Ontario - a kind of three way call “hack”.

    Xmas was spent relaxing on the beach, but also dealing with cleaning air filters, other minor bike tasks, and trying to get our helmets - specifically the visors - cleaned up a bit as Mexico can be very dusty.

    [​IMG]

    Our stop in Puerto Escondido was not without mishap. Ever since I had my leaky-carberator-sending-gas-into-engine-oil incident in La Paz, BCS, we have been making it a distinct point to turn of our fuel petcocks (valves) at the tank. Most bikes with carburetors have a vacuum operated petcock meaning suction from the running engine’s carburetor opens the valve at the fuel tank. Many people opt to replace this style of petcock with old fashioned gravity fed ones as they are dead reliable. Our aftermarket gas tanks came with the old, gravity operated type. It is good practice to turn these off when not in use as if your carburetor has a minor leak in its circuit, too much fuel can overflow the “float bowl” (a little reservoir) and flood the engine, or worse. Having replaced and suspected as faulty o-ring in my carburetor, I have cautiously been watching Jenn’s bike for similar issues. Our bikes age are a year apart, are almost identical in design, and we have been using the same gas, and riding in the same conditions, so a related degradation of a rubber o-ring in the other bike would not be unexpected.

    When I had my issue, the bike stinked of gas, and we found gas in both the air box and in the engine oil. In Puerto Escondido, I had noticed that we hadn’t turned off Jenn’s petcocks so we did so in the morning. Keep in mind, that this should largely be a pre-emptive measure and good practice. We had no reason to suspect that Jenn’s bike would have an issue. Also note, that I had just cleaned out the air filter and didn’t notice any anomalies, or any presence of gas in the air box, as I had found during my issue. We had packed up and started up the bikes. Jenn’s was a hard start. Instinctively, something didn’t feel right. I attempted to sniff for a gassy smell in the oil by way of the oil filler hole, and felt that I smelled a mild amount but it took a little while before I went from “being on the fence” to actually knowing for sure. We carefully used a small palm frond as a dipstick, and couldn’t get a strong “reading”.

    We started off with the intent of find the first place we could with oil, and to an oil change “just to be sure”. Having gone down the highway and found nothing after a few kilometers, some feeling went off that to continue was a BAD idea. Still not having a super strong indication that there was a real problem - but just a suspicion - we turning around and went towards Puerto Escondido and very quickly found a small Yamaha authorized repair shop. I bought a couple litres of oil and borrowed an oil pan and proceeded to dump the oil. It literally “pissed” out gassy oil just the same way my bike had a few weeks ago. I cleaned out the re-usable oil filter and checked carefully for metallic material on it as well as the magnetic drain plug. I think that we caught this in time as there didn’t seem to be major debris but you can bet that I was “crossing my fingers” during that process. I proceeded to pull of the part of the carburetor where I believe that the issue lay - float needle seems fine, the o-rings seem a little loose but not dead loose like mine did - I replaced them both none-the-less.

    [​IMG]

    I can only say that this was a really frustrating situation. Closing the petcocks is a good habit and done “just in case” (of a leak). The only reason that I addressed this “what would probably have been a catastrophic issue, or at least destructive ” was that the bike started hard. It seemed a like it could have been flooded. Something “just wasn’t right”. I have to say that while I probably have a little bit of “paranoid” side to me tempering the opposing urge that “everything is OK”, our time in Kempner, Texas (Marquez!) honed down some skills. We are Canadians. We are used to bikes that don’t start at first go (in colder climates) - but we aren’t in that climate here in Mexico. Had I not listened to my gut instinct, even though the direct evidence wasn’t there (i.e. the issue with my bike was dead obvious - likely Jenn’s bike was pointed slightly down hill so that the gas went directly into the engine, instead of out into the air box) we might have been stranded on the side of the road with a dead bike. As stated, hopefully I caught this in time. Time will tell.

    Moving along here, Jenn wanted me to make specific note to what seems to be her first exposure to direct chauvinism. When looking for a place in Salina Cruz, we had passed up a bunch of places based on price or lack of vehicular security. We found one place (Gausti Hotel) which looked like it may had one day been a grand hotel near the central square, but now a little aged. With a fairly large court yard inside of it, we were considering taking a room here while debating if we could get the bikes in past a now modified and slightly narrow front doorway. As well as how we would get the bikes across the congested street market side walk. I had asked to see a room. Hmmm. Not great. Not the best up keep but the price was OK and we were here. I suggested that Jenn have a look as she is a little picky about the cleanliness of accommodations. The guy would have none of it. He didn’t move from his place on his couch and uttered something to the effect of “No! I already showed it to your man” in a patronizing and indifferent tone. Screw you Gausti Hotel. We are off to find something better and here we are.
    #15
  16. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2013.12.28:

    We are sitting in the lounge of our hotel in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico closing up our visit through Mexico and preparing to move on to Guatemala. This includes updating the GPS units with updated maps based on the Open Street Map (OSM) project. Jenn’s older GPS only accepts one auxiliary GPS map file so Mexico will be replaced by Central America. Garmin does not provide adequate maps for Central and South America, nor a good chunk of the world, actually, so Garmin users rely on third party maps. OSM is interesting to us in this way as it has user provided points of interest - for example, if you stayed at a hostel or found an interesting landmark, it can be integrated into the OSM maps.

    [​IMG]

    We arrived in Tapachula yesterday, being Friday, minutes after the local “Banjercito” closed. The Banjercito is the Mexico government operated bank which, amongst many purposes, handles cash bonds for vehicular importation - specifically, we had to leave a US dollar cash deposit ($400/each) when we entered at Tecate, and received a very official looking certificate which is required during travel in Mexico, and required for processing at the end of ones stay so that you can get your money back. This cash bond is a new process and was not in place during my 2010 visit.

    We had expected to stay in Tapachula, head towards the border and deal with the bond at the same time as our tourist permits. Luckily, and a bit late, we did some research and found that there is no Banjercito at the border, and while there is at least on in town here (possibly two), other travel reports have reported that they close early on Friday, and are not open on the weekend. What we also found out is that we passed right by a Banjercito about 50kms on the way into Tapachula. It was not obvious as it is on the other side of a divided highway without much fanfare, and seemed to be oriented towards people leaving the “free zone” of which Tapachula exists in. So we rode back out to the Banjercito and got our US funds back without much fuss - but given that an border official escorted us in her truck up a one way road to effectively perform a u-turn back into the “free zone”, I suspect that they haven’t thought this one through. One must have advanced knowledge in that you must perform your “banking” Monday through Friday or know that you have to hit the Banjercito on the wrong side of the highway without an obvious return route.

    On the way back to Tapachula, we opted to get our bikes washed. Thank you OSM maps! Just looked up auto services and then car washes, and found one nearby down a dusty side road. The price seemed a little high at MEX$80 (about $7) when all I really wanted to do was borrow a pressure sprayer. The operator was busy under a pickup truck on a lift and wasn’t too responsive for a while and I began to become impatient as I was happy to do the work myself. One he had completed the work with the truck, he got to work with de-greaser spray, high pressure water, and eventually had himself and his help scrubbing wheels, and everywhere necessary with a brush. They definitely got the engine and related areas clean of oils and dirts - my primary objective thinking that it best to do this now to avoid hassles crossing into Guatemala and avoid fears of zoological contamination - but they hand polished most surfaces and even “Armor-Alled” our plastic Pelican cases and other plastics on the bike. We were impressed with the amount of effort here and it was worth the money, but I almost feel bad as we ride through so much dirt and grim that the sheen will surely be short lived.

    Tapachula is an interesting place. While I have been here before, I stayed in sort of an upscale Boulevard area and I am pretty sure that I ate Dominos Pizza for dinner (canned mushrooms and all) and basically pulled a “breeze through”. I was aghast when we looked at the place where I previously stayed as its cost was several multiples of what we wanted to pay for two people. Previous written memoirs suggest that my Garmin only listed a single hotel and I guess I just settled.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Jenn and I looked around for hotels as we agreed that we would give a full go at find the best option for us, which is not necessarily the first option. We gave up on the sort of expensive side of town and went “centro” - right downtown in the bustling heart of the city, full of chaotic cabs, street venders, road work, and typical Latin American arrays of one way streets. Riding in such conditions is a full departure from Canada and the States. We basically are following suit with the many Mexican motorcycle commuters lane splitting up the side of cars (being careful as we are twice as wide as the typical Mexican 100cc steed). We soon became weary as to finding a hotel here as space is tight and parking is tough. Not another love motel! Alas, we found a couple of hotels with adjoined parking lots. I would prefer to bring the bike into the room with us, or at least park it outside of our room in a courtyard, or perhaps next to the front desk, but their parking seems pretty secure with a gate and parked with various not-quite-luxury cars but probably pretty decent by Mexican standards. Pairing the bikes together with our super heavy cable lock and putty on our muted colour bike covers provides piece of mind.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We spent a fair amount of time walking around our area of Tapachula. It is definitely not a tourist city. We met one couple who looked like tourists. She was from Guatemala and he had moved down here. We think we saw another couple of women who may have been from outside of Latin America, but from what we can tell, we are it. For the most part, we get a couple of looks but people largely ignore us - except for when we choose to eat lunch in the central square where we had on average a hit every three minutes with someone asking for money, or trying to sell us counterfeit DVDs (probably in Spanish). We feel pretty safe here - even after dark - but stick to the main, more heavily populated streets.

    [​IMG]

    During last nights traditional taco feast (not a Mexican feast, but we seem to eat a lot of tacos), we experienced the shoe shine boys and young boys selling cheap toys out of a black garbage bag, like Santa Claus - we both immediately started to talk about Oliver Twist - this phenomenon is definitely outside of our normal reality. These kids are definitely not beyond grade school age yet are carting around their traditional wooden shoe shine kits as if they have been shining shoes for years.

    In the central square we found a grand stand with bleachers with signs advertising something that we didn’t understand. Perhaps one of these popular Mexican cowboy singers - certainly the size of the line up of people patiently waiting indicated that something special was happening. We snuck in through an opening and peaked in. To our surprise - noting that the the temperature had probably just dropped below 30 degrees celsius - the line up was for a skating rink. There were dozens of people, largely kids, careening around on ice skates, mostly hugging the boards, but having a great time - and had obviously waited a long time to do so.

    [​IMG]

    After a little more exploration, we found a little Santa’s village - with a Mexican (obviously) Santa, a choo chop train for the younger ones, a large Christmas tree, and various stalls without candy apples, fudge, pretzels, etc. but with churros, french fries and corn dogs, and various other snacks. I think that Jenn was pretty happy to have found this as Christmas in Puerto Escondido, while good, had something missing — ya know, Christmas on the beach. The little Christmas village was a nice segway to New Years which, barring issues, will be in Guatemala.

    [​IMG]

    It has been a most interesting couple of days seeing unadulterated urban Mexican life. Between cotton candy vendors, shoe shine boys, impressive wedding dress stores, appliance stores, shoe stores, sporting goods stores (think wide definition - soccer balls, fishing and hunting equipment, knives, backpacks, and boxing gloves), to pastry stores, hardware stores with anything from bolt cutters to equestrian saddles, to a pet store with cute puppies in cages (why buy a dog in Mexico when there are so many to choose from on any curb? - Mexico has a very bad stray dog problem).

    [​IMG]

    Ahh Mexico. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is a very interesting, diverse place. There are many, lovely, lovely sites but there are many rough and gritty areas. Most areas seem to have a garbage problem - the sides of the highways are often littered with debris. Many of the roads are excellent and put our local roads in Ontario to shame, but many are in poor condition. Road signs are often contradictory and the use of speed bumps known as “topes” or “reductors” (i.e. reduce the life of your vehicle) would be

    [​IMG]

    more tolerable if their existence was properly posted, or of they were consistently painted. 80km-30km-bang is a typical scenario. Mexico has more than its fair share of bad drivers. Throughout Mexico, you will see shrines on the side of the road - sometimes a simple cross, but usually far more elaborate such as shrines. This is of no surprise since people generally drive fast and pass in areas which I would consider suicidal and have very honed skills at senseless tail gating.

    [​IMG]

    I think that we have felt pretty safe so far. We aren’t exactly hiding out exclusively in tourist zones, haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary in terms of criminal activity. I don’t think that I have seen any signs of cartel activity. From time to time you see bullet holes in signs - but then I see a lot more of these in rural Ontario. In the past, I have seen one shot up and burned out car in a secluded area, but nothing like this over the past month. We have, however, seen evidence of communities standing up for themselves.

    In larger cities, we have been careful not to carry large amounts of money or other interesting things carelessly at fear of casual pickpockets - but in main areas I would go so far as to say that it might be difficult to perform a proper mugging - too many people, and you never know when a pickup truck of two to six heavily armed police are going to drive by. In fact it is interesting how “accustomed” you become to firearms. As you may know, Canada has fairly tight gun control laws. Unless you are into hunting or know hunters, you might not run into firearms so often accept for police side arms. Americans can speak for themselves as it is a different experience down (up?) there, but unless you have been in the military, I don’t think that most Canadians and Americans are accustomed to seeing pickup trucks carrying 6-8 machine gun wielding soldiers, including a roof gunner, on your common highway - these guys look like they mean business! While we haven’t seen too many instance of bank machines with “strong security”, is it weird that I feel a sense of comfort that there is a guy behind me with and AK-47 paid to make sure customers are not robbed at the ATM?

    It may be a strange way to end this post but I don’t have much else to say at this time beyond that this again - being my second trip to Mexico - has confirmed that it is a place I would like to come again and that I feel that the fears propagated by Canadian and American media is verging on hysteria. Having spoken with various people - such as RV park operators — and northerners who have chosen to move here, tourism has really been hit and sectors of the economy are suffering because of it. Don't be afraid, just come and enjoy.
    #16
  17. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on December 31, 2013:

    What can I say about Guatemala? It's stunning scenery welcomed us with open arms from the moment we crossed the border from Mexico. Steep, twisting mountain roads vaulted us up more than two kilometers in less than twenty minutes. One minute we were sweltering in the heat, and the next we were riding through the clouds on lush mountains with a bit of a chill. The summer gear we were wearing just wasn't cutting it. For the first time in weeks we rode with long underwear on and warmer gloves.

    [​IMG]

    We crossed the border at El Carmen on December 29th which proved to be a very confusing and drawn-out process. See this link for more info.

    It was a lot of on and off the bike within a very short amount of distance, coupled with masses of 'fixers' who wanted to help (for tips) by directing you where to go, or changing money, or by watching our bikes to ward off locals with sticky fingers (or their own?). Needless to say we didn't tip anyone despite their charming efforts.

    The process of exiting Mexico (aside from back tracking the previous day 50 km to get our vehicle deposits back) was fairly painless, as was obtaining entrance into Guatemala. We were, however, forced to pay for the fumigation service (basically a guy with a sprayer who watered down our tires for the sum of 12 Queztales - about CAN$1.60 - each) despite Adam explaining that we had spent over an hour having the bikes cleaned the previous day, and showing the official the receipt. We also had to pay a vehicle import fee for each bike (Q160: about CAN$21) through a convoluted process that started at aduana (customs), followed by hitting a street money converter since we couldn't change money at the bank where we had to pay the fee, then the bank, back to aduana, and then obtaining our stickers at a generic desk outside. As much as I complain about the border crossing into the US from Canada, I think the Guatemalan border could learn a thing or two from their example.

    [​IMG]
    After 2 hours at the border, we finally headed off for the rest of Guatemala. Gas is more expensive here (about Q35 per gallon - yes, they use gallons here, but their speed limits are posted in kilometers...) so we had filled up on the Mexican side to avoid needing to fill up when we crossed the border. We passed through a built-up urban area and then were immediately thrust onto steep mountain roads, where the temperature dropped as we swiftly rode up into the mist and clouds. The surrounding forest was lush and green, interspersed with terrace farmland and small communities. The drivers here are much more subdued than the ones in Mexico and seem to drive more slowly which is welcome change from the aggressive tailgaters in Mexico. Some of the speeds, however, were a little too slow for navigating the roads by motorcycle (too slow=fall over) and we found ourselves passing buses and trucks who spewed out black diesel exhaust into our helmets (think black faces).

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    We decided to make the day a short one after the border and introduction to Guatemalan roads, and headed for San Marcos. Adam had stopped here three years ago on his own journey and I was looking forward to checking out the hotel that he spoke so highly of. The city was confusing and built on a mountainside (think lots of steep hills, cobblestones, and uneven surfaces), and it took a little bit for us to find the hotel. As per our new mantra to not stop at the first place that we find however much we (i.e. me) want to, because we can probably find better value somewhere else.

    The Hotel Villa Astur was a non-descript white building with new windows and the only indication of what it was was a painted sheet hanging outside with the hotel name on it. Before we headed off to investigate our other accommodation options we stopped for a quick bite to eat at the restaurant next door (incidentally where Adam also ate three years prior). The food was great (chicken tortillas and some sort of crunchy tortilla fried with beef, cheese, and salsa), and I watched as Adam delved deeper and deeper into nostalgia. In the end we took a room at the Villa Astur, which was under renovations, and lived up to every expectation that I had based on Adam's descriptions of the place. It was family-owned and the room was comfortable and clean. They were also very accommodating to our needs and served us complimentary coffee with bread and jam and warm milk in the dining room, and allowed us to use the staff laundry to scrub our clothes clean and then use the dryer.

    [​IMG]

    The shower was also abundant with hot water and was equipped with one of those luxury overhead dowser heads that almost brought me to tears. Since we were now up in the mountains, we found ourselves back in socks, pants, and hoodies for going out at night, and the bed was made up with thick, heavy blankets.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    As much as I would have liked to have stayed there for a few days, we set off the next morning for Panajachel. The riding was not as technical, and the roads, although still twisty in some areas were not as steep and were mainly four-lane divided highway. This type of highway however still has its perils and we passed a tractor trailer that had flipped and was laying on its side blocking two lanes of highway. Scary. Much like the road down from Solola into Panajachel - narrow with tight switchbacks and steep grades winding down the mountain with Lago Atitlan on one side. The view coming into town was spectacular with the lake framed in the background by three volcanoes - Volcan Atitlan, Volcan Toliman, and Volcan San Pedro. The town is a veritable tourist mecca with a wide variety of peoples: a mix of your average tourist, hippies, locals, and indigenous peoples. There is a main market area where the Guatemalan people have set up stalls selling crafts including brightly coloured scarfs and tapestries, shoulder bags, handbags, coin purses, sundresses and other types of clothing, and all kinds of other carvings, textiles, and such. It is one such occasion that I wish I were not on a bike and could help the community out by buying some of their beautiful things.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    We have checked in at Hotel Don Carlos, which is located on the main strip but down a narrow alleyway (the narrowness not being a deterrent for tuk-tuks or motorcyclists to zoom down it) a little bit off the main strip. It's a little pricey (Q225 or just over $30 CDN) but there's secure parking and not a lot of foot traffic. On the plus side, it is cheap to eat here and have managed to eat a few meals for around $5 for the both of us. However it's rare to have a peaceful meal since there are a lot of people hawking their crafts and not even the shelter of a restaurant dissways them from entering to try for a sale. Although it is their livelihood, it gets to be quite tiresome very quickly. And hard to say "no gracias" to the kids who come around with crafts, or the shoeshine boys who, once they see we are wearing flip flops, will ask for food instead.

    We had only planned on staying here for one night, but once we found out that the next day would be New Year's Eve we thought that it might be a nice place to be for a celebration (smallish, with a big population of people on holidays) and so we stayed put rather than taking our chances and heading to Antigua, a bigger city, where we may not be able to find a room at all). The owner of the Don Carlos also did not inflate the rate of the room for New Year's, which was a bonus.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Which brings me to today. We haven't done a whole lot today: slept in, went for breakfast, went to Casa Cakchiquel (a musuem and cultural centre that houses a collection of historical photographs of Guatemala, and also a former hang out of Che Guevera), browsed the craft stalls, had lunch and an iced coffee, napped, and ate small bananas. Fire cracakers have been going off all day, all around the city in celebration of then end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Some thoughts on the end of the year and then we can all get to the partying. I never thought that I would one day be celebrating New Year's in Guatemala. Needless to say this year has brought about many changes for me. I finally finished my thesis (yay!), quit my job at Masterfile after 13 years, gave up my first solo apartment in the city after four years, and set out on a motorcycle to see the world. I have seen a lot of poverty since we left the USA and consider myself to be pretty lucky to be able to travel and have so many experiences, when so many people are unable to do so. I will never take for granted the things that I have, after seeing so many people with so little. In closing, I wish you all many great adventures in the future, whatever your adventure may be. May the path you take always lead to you discovery.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    #17
  18. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014.01.03:

    I am writing from Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala sitting in the courtyard of a hotel called Posadita Casa Maria Jose. It is basically an old colonial homestead where the family lives in the back behind some doors and where the front has six or so guest rooms with their own bathrooms. It is a quaint and somewhat elegant place, and while a little bit more than we wanted to pay, it is quiet, very secure - almost too secure, and pretty secluded. I had envisioned arriving in Antigua and finding a cheap hostel, based on previous experience - or staying at one of the hotels suggested to us by Lenny who we met in Panajachel.

    [​IMG]

    Lenny had suggested that we would be able to stay at a hotel that he has stayed at multiple times for about US$5 each which sounded nice (as in affordable). We were not able to find one (“Tres Volcanes”) or any reference to such by way of internet, or asking around. It may exist here, but is not obvious. The second, being “Hotel Cristal” happens to be a Lonely Planet “recommended” hotel but is only pennies cheaper than where we are staying - which, by the way, is discounted - and Hotel Cristal is pretty much a dump compared to here.

    [​IMG]

    Having arrived in Antigua, we rode around for a bit. Having stayed here before, I was hoping that the geography would magically return to me, but not so much. We had intended to find on the internet ahead of time Lenny’s suggestions but then New Years, is just New Years and we lost track of this idea. We paid a couple of Quetzales (Q7=about USD$1) to use the internet at a hotel and I did find Hotel Cristal, but found it closed and the doors padlocked. In fact, a lot of things seemed to be closed on New Years day. We landed Posadita Casa Maria Jose by way of Jose basically flagging us down as we circled around the cheaper hotel district. Having approached some other hostels we found them to be ridiculously expensive, full, or lacking parking. Jose's offer, having talked him down a bit, would do for the night.

    [​IMG]

    Antigua is an old colonial town surround by crumbling walls and volcanoes in the not too far distance. My understanding is that it was the flourishing capital of Guatemala until much of its grand architecture began to crumble under the power of earthquakes and the capital was eventually moved to Guatemala City. Antigua, or at least its colonial center, is full of cobblestone roads and is a fusion or modernity and antiquity. The side walks are rough, in that there are holes, sudden drops, and various strange angles. We have had several good chuckles as we watched “sophisticated” women stumbling around in heels or tall platform shoes in both Antigua and Panajachel. We even witnessed one using her male companion as a burro as to avoid breaking her ankles, or perhaps ruining her shoes.

    [​IMG]

    Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage city and I assume that for this reason that it is that most businesses have very modest signs. For example, many things can be had in Antigua - new motorcycles, McDonalds, Office Depot, electronics, and on and on but you really have to pay attention relative to what we are used to. In this sense, it reminds me a lot of Cuba in terms of the almost complete lack of advertising. The Office Depot, Burger King and McDonalds have very subtle signage, basically which just their name in perhaps brass letters. The local chicken fast-food joint, Pollo Campero, must have had to put up a fight to get their cowboy chicken logo painted on the whitewash walls.

    Once, however, you enter a business - at least a large, contemporary one, the decor is somewhat familiar but enshrouded by historic architecture. In a desperate attempt to find Jenn a bathroom, we GPS-ed McDonalds and her response was that it was the nicest McDonalds that she had ever been in. At the same time, at least in Jenn’s world, while a lovely place with lovely architecture somehow there is a circus element to it - and not in a good way. Tourist kitsch is abound, and by this I even mean for locals with silly toys for children, etc. That said, Antigua is probably a nice place to come for a visit even for Guatemalans, and while their are no shortage of “gringos” with all of the hostels here, it was full of Latino visitors, especially on New Years day. In this respect, if you are going to drag your four year old out to look at some colonial city that the child probably has little interest or understanding of, one can see why it would be easy to sell little foam reptiles on a wire and other toys.

    Getting around Antigua is pretty interesting. As I mentioned, solid footwear is advisable and we are wearing our closed toe Keens sandals instead of our commonly used flip-flops in fear of twisting an ankle or ripping a toenail off with a rusty piece of rebar (we have seen more than one person hobbling along with the aid of their companion, favouring one foot or the other). On the bikes, it is good fun. Or at least I say it is good fun and Jenn uses the term “treacherous”. Antigua was built using a grid pattern with many one way streets and the occasional two way. Because of the cobblestones and foot traffic, especially on busy days such as New Years, cars move at a snail’s pace. Even though we recently changed our front sprockets on our bikes for 15 tooth to 14 tooth for more power and ability to travel at slower speeds, we still find ourselves riding the clutch too much in these conditions and I inevitable fly past the cars basically planing (not quite hydroplaning) across the cobble stones to avoid the chaos.

    [​IMG]

    The grid pattern is pretty interesting. It is easy to “feel lost” but hard to get lost. Streets (calles) and Avenues (avenidas) run in predictable East-West and North-South trajectories and using the walls, volcanos and parks as landmarks, you won’t be “lost” for two long.

    I did promise Jenn that we would see the smoke from an active volcano, but to date we haven’t seen anything obvious as it has been fairly cloudy. My last time here I definitely saw one of the local volcanoes pluming smoke, and another called Volcan Pacaya erupted when I was in Guatemala City spewing volcanic ash everywhere of which I collected samples to take home for souvenirs. Indeed Pacaya is still active and we may yet see more but full eruptions like that of 2010 are not that common.

    [​IMG]

    We have been here for two nights already and plan for a third. Jenn has a pretty bad head cold at the moment and has spent much of the day resting. Our next plan is to head up towards Tikal - a major Mayan archaeological site - but the riding sounds challenging so her cold needs to be under control.

    We arrived in Antigua having taken a somewhat back route from Panajachel. During my previous visit visitors to Pana were “held captive” by way of an indigenous political road block, except for those with 4x4s and dual purpose motorcycles. At this time I took a pretty rough tertiary dirt road and found my way out. While here and there, I am enjoying revisiting sites of my previous trip down here, there is no need to over complicate things and take nasty back routes deliberately. We don’t need to break ourselves or the bikes. Instead, we let the GPS do the guiding and, let me tell you, it isn’t always correct. At one point we were getting mixed directions from the GPS and even with the help of our decent map of Guatemala we were going too far without asking for directions and that we did. One man said to go one way, and a police office said to go the other way. Eventually with a combination of a GPS re-calculation, common sense and a guess, we took the way the police did not suggest.

    This route took as down some pretty harrowing paved but potty hole ridden roads and for a while we were questioning our choice. Fairly shortly after this, I began to see some familiar sites. Previously I had run into some caves dug into the side of a twisty road. Over the last while I have thought about these caves a few times as I never did figure out their purpose and could not quite remember where they were - until now I thought they might have been in Mexico. So riding down this twisty road something caught my attention and I was distracted for a minute - caught myself riding in what is barely a shoulder but more of a tiny draining ditch. I recovered from this easily but reminded me to always stay focused. Minutes later we rode past these caves. Are people haphazardly mining for small amounts of precious metal? Or are these dwellings as a few pieces of clothing inside of some would indicate that someone has and is around? An interesting sight, none the less.

    Not too long after this we realized that the road we were about to continue on was blocked by rock pylons (i.e. just rocks) and a portion of road I inevitably had travelled on before had fallen off into a river. A passing motorist in a pickup communicated to us as we were taking photos that there was a small river crossing, and that we should have no issue since cars were doing it. We followed the make shift dirt road round and, indeed, found a small line up of cars crossing the river. Observing a car make the crossing, I was pretty sure that it was a fairly mellow crossing and made a run for it. Back home, we do this stuff for fun and often find ourselves in more challenging situations. That said, we are not here necessarily to ride to our limits, or break the bikes, or our ourselves.

    I took a slow path veering to the right of the river and happily made it to the bank when a big white VW pickup truck decided to be an asshole and start his crossing before I had made it up the bank. I swerved and passed him without much issue narrowly missing been forced into the earthen wall of the dirt track, presumably created by a bull dozer. I am floored by the utter stupidity and/or direct displays of self entitlement I see from time to time. Given that we are talking about a timescale where said asshole in VW might have lost five seconds from his day, what sort of person points their pickup truck directly at a motorcycle who is obviously crawling up a river bank having crossed a river?

    [​IMG]

    Once White-VM-Pickup-Its-All-About-Me had his turn, which was really Jenn’s turn as she was there long before he was, Jenn made her pass. Being slightly nervous having not made too many water crossings in the past, and certainly not on a loaded bike, she gunned it across. While an impressive feat, I cautioned her to take it a little more slowly next time in the event that a larger rock or log stand in her way and make her front wheel less circle-like. Regardless, bravo!

    As part of the GPS confusion, we also found ourselves in a small, rustic town which was one of our landmarks on the map indicating that we were going in the right direction. Again, the GPS were playing tricks and instead of taking us through the most sensible route through town, it had us going up and down roads with fairly precarious slopes and curves on slopes which all you can do is ride hard up in first, and make the curve - whether going against a one way sign or not - and eventually reconvene on the next horizontal surface. I can say that this is challenging “urban” riding at its best. Jenn might explain it as terrifying.

    In the end, we are glad that we did not listen to the seemingly sixteen year old police officer and took the direction of the local, as taking a route following the CA1 highway would have offered less adventure. It turns out that forum posts on the ADVrider website actually suggest this route as something more interesting that the CA1 when travelling from Pana to Antigua.

    [​IMG]

    Speaking of Panajachel, we had a great night. Jenn was suffering slightly from indigestion and it looked like the night would be heading south but things took a turn for the better and we found ourselves wandering around various areas of town shooting photos and videos, hanging out with locals and generally having a good time. Fireworks and specifically firecrackers are very popular and many shops and stands were selling them. Children had been playing with various pyrotechnics for several days and we started to even joke about what scenarios might be at play: “Jose, Maria…please! Just go outside and play with your sparklers like the other children…”. There were plenty of sites to be seen, amongst the smoke, intermittent flare ups, moderately impressive aerial fireworks, and lots of twenty foot strips of firecrackers been set off sending stinging paper shrapnel at us while trying to capture it all on video.

    [​IMG]

    In the morning we packed up and headed out to Antigua. Arriving here, we both didn’t feel that well but did manage to have a good look around. Jenn now has a full head cold and spent most of day two in bed. I am a little sneezy and have a very mild sore throat and when we arrived home last night I passed out at about 6:00pm for more than an hour feeling completely wiped.

    [​IMG]

    Jenn spent the next day (today) almost entirely in bed. It is not really a surprise to get sick, I guess. We have been spending our time around crowds of people and don’t always sleep well, especially the first night somewhere. Jenn, I believe to be joking, said it was too quiet here in Antigua due to lack of roosters and source unknown nocturnal crashing and banging like that of Pana. Hopefully we are in full health shortly as we want to head up to Semuc Champey - some impressive springs - and Tikal shortly.

    As part of our of our planning, we are trying to make use of some good tips - especially around camping and cheap accommodations - as per the Life Remotely web site. Being motorcyclists, we haven't focused much on our RVing and car/truck driving "cousins", but the guys at Life Remotely while driving a car, emphasize camping with a tent. Their website is mostinteresting, especially their Accommodation Listing series.

    [​IMG]
    #18
  19. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014.01.07:

    I am writing from Cobán, Guatemala which is a via point for a visit to the Tikal ruins in northern Guatemala. We are staying at a very simple and affordable place called Hotel La Paz. Our room costs just less than Q75 (about US$10) and includes hot water, soap, toilet paper, towels, and a mirror outside of the bathroom area and not much else - certainly not internet. That said, it is clean and is excellent value compared to the higher costs of the definitely more touristy Antigua. The place was probably much grander in years past, and while it is not one of these places with a nice, tropical courtyard, it has several seating areas which are pleasant enough, and ample space for secure parking. The owners seem to care about their property and there are many small details that make it feel homey (lambs on the curtains, tropical plants strewn around, local handicrafts, etc.). While even during the day, the Señora unlocks the gate at the main office, after hours you must be cleared by the night watchman who has a little room near the gate which includes a bed and a toilet - a thankless job if you ask me.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We had considered staying at a the Casa Luna Hostel nearby, but since its cost was double with little extra to add beyond the ambiance (or not) of hanging out with other travellers, and internet, we decided against this since getting our bikes into the courtyard - while the lady said that it wouldn’t be a problem - it seemed like we would have to remove all of our (semi-permanent) luggage to get it through the front office and then struggle with the bikes on the grassy courtyard. While we don’t consider internet mandatory, we like the convenience of having it, and alas, we moved onto our next little project - mobile internet.

    [​IMG]

    Figuring that we are going to find ourselves without internet for the next while with the assumption that we will be doing some tenting, we forked out for a wireless USB modem with a 5GB of data through Latin American telco provider “Claro” for Q100, or about US$15, which includes the cost of the modem wit SIM card. That’s pretty cheap and certainly a reminder as to what a blatant rip-off mobile telephony/data is in Canada.

    [​IMG]

    This is not “tonnes” of data and data heavy applications like Skype and YouTube would use it up quickly, it is certainly enough to for general usage. There has been a number of occasions where we found ourselves wishing we had had internet the previous day to do a bit of research on our next destination. With any luck, I will be able to “unlock” the already cheap USB modem for use in subsequent countries.

    [​IMG]

    We had originally only planned to overnight in Cobán but neither of us is feeling fantastic, and it seems like my head cold has made a 180 and is coming back. We awoke to cool, wet temperatures having had dinner and gone to bed during a somewhat unexpected downpour. It looks like the local “Chapines” (Guatemalans) are freezing and are fully decked out in sweaters and jackets - and people are occasionally coughing, or blowing on their hands to warm them up. This is somewhat amusing to watch since it is well, well above freezing, but I guess it is all relative.

    North Americans reading this may be amused (or not) as well, since you guys are undergoing a record cold spell and would probably kill to be at 13 degrees Celsius (edit: 9 Celsius as of 8PM), almost English, weather. All things being said and done, we are in hoodies, rain jackets and wool socks and a bit surprised by the fluctuation. We have our 3-season down sleeping bags out since the windows don’t seal and are constructed of horizontal glass slats, similar to Venetian blinds, and absolutely appropriate for warm, tropical conditions…

    Having left Antigua yesterday in the cool but comfortable morning, several hours north it got really warm - probably low to mid thirties - and the landscape really dried up. We had expected narrow, mountainous, twisty roads enveloped with the greenery we have seen elsewhere but found dry, rolling mountains including various cactus (and littered with impromptu garbage dumps by the side of the road). This was reminiscent of certain parts of Mexico, more so than Guatemala - proving that I don’t know everything there is to know about Guatemala. The dry hot temperatures dissipated about 70 kilometers outside of Cobán, as rain clouds shrouded the mountain tops and we travelled through a biosphere area. The road was now lined with lush greenery, eco-resorts, and protected wildlife areas, and continued this way all the way into Cobán.

    Upon leaving we simply plugged Cobán into our GPSes and expected some sort of sane route. Instead we got a grand tour of Guatemala City with all of its sprawl. I am considering buying a new rear tire in Guatemala City but hadn’t planned on going there until that time. Essentially, a good chunk of our morning was “wasted” getting through Guatemala City starting out with a road work diversion that sent us on a wild goose chase down a long strip of in-city highway without sufficient (or well signed) turn-around points. While traffic was fine for much of it, it was bad at other times and a complete detour of the city would have been appreciated.

    The last couple of days in Antigua mostly revolved around trying to rest up and feel better. Its not like we are down and out sick, but a cold is a cold, and in addition to a few “digestion issues”, it’s enough to keep us feeling rundown and less than adventurous. Our schedule generally consisted of us sleeping in, going out for a late breakfast followed by a little sightseeing, returning to the room for rest, going back out for more food, then returning to the room to chill out until bed. Nothing super-exciting to report here. We are hoping that the rain starts to clear up soon, as we are anticipating camping at Tikal, and being outside, cold, and soggy while feeling under the weather isn’t ideal and doesn’t make for ‘happy campers’.

    [​IMG]

    We did, however, get held back in another road block of unknowing political activity not to far out of Cobán. This is number three so far - and definitely the longest. Early on, the nut vender - what better time to sell your nutty snacks then to perhaps several kilometers of frustrated drivers - suggested to us that since we are on “motos” we should just weave through the masses and go to the front. We did manage to get quite far ahead of the line and eventually the blockade was opened and we were on our way.

    [​IMG]

    We have been quite lucky with our roadblocks in that we seem to show up just as they are letting the backlog through. Some of the other unlucky drivers had been waiting around for six hours. As much of a pain that these political protests are, it is a good sign that the people of the community are trying to reclaim their power against the cartel, government, large companies, or whomever the bully happens to be.
    #19
  20. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014-01-08:

    So here we are Cobán kicking back for the day. Having made guacamole in our room, we spent the remainder of the evening hanging out with a couple guys from Germany, as well as a new friend Drew who is super friendly, very laid back and interested in shamanism and the the like. We were spectators during several intense chess matches.

    [​IMG]

    We both had a pretty strong sleep and definitely made use of our down sleeping bags as it is pretty chilly at night. We had a lazy morning which involved eating the economy breakfast at a Cafe Fantasia and then headed back to the hotel for a little a nap. I am not usually an afternoon napper, but this cold is still lingering and I think that I need the rest.

    Having slept for a bit, we emerged from our hibernation with the intention of finding some grub and a nearby museum of Mayan culture. There are various interesting things to do around Cobán which we have read about and heard first hand reports. The coffee tour and flower nurseries are supposed to be worthwhile. While we have been on a coffee estate tour in Boquete, Panama in the past, this one is supposed to assist with palate differentiation between different hardness of coffee due to altitude and other specifics. The local gardens are suppose to be amazing and home to numerous types of orchids - perhaps 650 different species. There are supposed to be some caves nearby which I also find interesting, but this cold has made the prospect of doing anything major unappealing at the moment. We might consider hitting some of these after we return from Tikal as we will, no doubt, be staying here again.

    Yes. It may be kind of strange to discuss things that we haven’t done, but wait, there’s more. We spent a significant amount of time today trying to find the Museo el Principe Maya. We even used Google Maps on Jenn’s phone with wireless internet having pulled the SIM card from our new wireless modem. After asking around repeatedly, we found that it was back in the Parque Central area which we had past through several times already. It sounds like the museum has been moved and we unknowingly walked past it more than a few times over the last couple of days. We did find it after it was closed, and it is not exactly well signed.

    As part of this day, we went to eat “pupusas” for our late lunch/early dinner. Drew had suggested a place but we didn’t fully grasped the directions. With a little help from internet sources, we believe that we found the one he recommended. It seems that the main strip including the Parque Central and main Cathedral and built on a high area and all rights that run perpendicular and very steep. We walked down the steep grade to find Cafe El Merendero, “the best pupusas in town”, or so “they” say. We entered the humble and empty cafe and began the process of ordering this food we hadn’t had before, or seen been eaten - only photos. In the process of all of this, we both noticed that the entrance of the building which is on the corner, and specifically our table, would be in the complete line of fire if a vehicle were to continue straight down the steep grade and lose control. More specifically, a motorcycle could fit right through the door. Had this ever happened?

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We received our menus and stumbled around with our poor Spanish and eventually ordered pupusas. From what I can tell, they are basically “nixtalized” corn, like tortillas - or corn treated with lime/calcium hydroxide. Nixtalized corn is what separates much of the corn eating in Latin America from corn such as “on the cob”, or kernels served up as a side for a dinner in North America. From what was explained to me years ago in an Anthropology class thought by a professor who is an archeologist in Belize, is that the calcium hydroxide breaks the nutrients of the corn down making the nutrients more available, especially when combine with beans or other legumes.

    So back to pupusas. They are essentially like two slightly thick soft tortillas - or maybe it is considered a single stuffed tortilla - fried up with ingredients sandwiched inside, such as cheese and beans, chicken or beef. When they arrived, they resembled potato pancakes or something similar with a little crispy cheese around the edges (mmmm, cheese scab). The provided condiments was a savoury but not very spicy tomato based sauce, pickled cabbage, and mix of pickled carrots, cauliflower and jalepenos. It was all very tasty with the pickled condiments and sauce piled on top.

    I am slightly surprised to see these pickled condiments as the cabbage is basically sauerkraut. We have heard that there are Germanic influences in Cobán, as well as other areas in Guatemala including Panajachel. In fact, our new German friends explained to us that they were here, at least partially, to explore the German influence of the region. Having seen pickled condiments since we entered Guatemala, I am unsure as to whether this might specifically be of European influence in terms of cuisine, or just an “obvious” form of preserving food. With any respect, the pupusas were delicious and we will surely have more sometime. I believe that they even more present in El Salvador.

    We also tried a “liquado”, or fruit smoothy which can be made with milk or water - and which Jenn believes are made with a Ghiradelli mix - which would explain their sweetness. Liquados are very popular in Guatemala and seen in most places so far. They are pretty tasty but a little sweet for my regular consumption.

    [​IMG]

    As part of our expedition to find the museum, we did pass a German hotel which only supports the local German theme, and found ourselves in the local market part of town. Having decided to make guacamole again, we wandering into the market which sold many things, in search of fresh produce. It turns out that the part of town we are staying in is ever so more upscale than other parts of town but this is relative.

    [​IMG]

    The market is full of Mayan people selling from street stall

    things such as dried black beans, tomatoes, unwashed potatoes, onions, coriander and other herbs, and chayote, a previously illusive fruit to us but have now eaten in “caldos” - soups with very large chunks of food, and in mixed steamed vegetables. Also for sale are various Mayan clothing items, an assortment of shoes with no shortage of imitation Crocs, and various hardware parts including flashlights, tape measures, as well as various medications. We had a short wander through a long tarped area and seemingly got some looks. There are enough tourists around here, but perhaps they don’t wander down to these areas to often.

    [​IMG]

    There is also somewhat of an obsession with cowboy boots amongst the Guatemalan cowboys. Interestingly enough, one shop which is at an intersection at the crest of two very steep hills sells Made in Mexico cowboy boots. While this city lacks cobblestone streets, we can't imagine that cowboy boots remain popular amongst treacherous narrow sidewalks and often steep roads. Fashionistas!

    [​IMG]

    There was no shortage of avocados, including several rather large rope bags of them - straight from the plantation - no doubt, but they didn’t seem that ripe to use. We eventually bought some from an indigenous lady as she demonstrated that they were ripe. Having picked up six avocados for about Q2, or about US$0.28 as well as some tomatoes and and lime for around the same price.

    [​IMG]

    Having arrived back to our room I began to prepare the guacamole. Lime juice, garlic powder (more straight forward than fresh), chopped Roma tomatoes, and avocados. I started to try to cut the avocados and realized it would be better to crack them open like an egg as had been the way of the various “demo” avocados at each stall. They had a hard skin, thick skin and a big pit. These are definitely a little different than those we are used to buying back home, or even local in Latin America so far. I am glad that I picked up six as there was much less fruit than I am used to, with a slightly stronger flavour, and slightly fibrous texture. My understanding is that the Hass variety is popular in this region but I don’t think these were Hass. After having successfully scooped out our six avocados, the guacamole was served. It wasn’t the best we have ever had but interesting and tasty nonetheless. We usually serve it with tostadas, being commercially prepared round, flat fried corn tortillas, not unlike what we know as restaurant style nacho chips in North America - just not cut. Another way of looking at tostadas is that they are like flat versions of what we know in North America is “hard taco” shells - just flat. The “hard taco”, incidentally, is an American invention and we haven’t seen one south of the US border, to my recollection. Tacos in the Latin American world are soft tortillas (corn or flour), often warmed on a flat griddle.

    With any luck, we (meaning sicky me) will be ripe and ready to head up towards Tikal. We are starting to watch our time as we eventually have to transit from Panama to Colombia, and depending on how we choose to make the crossing, we may have a strict schedule or not.

    Currently, we are looking at three options: flying, ferry, or yacht. Flying is fairly simple but the most expensive, and lands us in Bogota which would mean we have some backtracking to due to visit the coast. The “Stahlratte” ship is a popular choice but very time sensitive and it runs infrequently at this time of year. Ocean conditions, from recent reports aren’t great and this promises be a rough ride. There are some trickier options involving a series of small boats it comes at a higher risk. There has also been an attempt to run a “roll on, roll off” ferry which should take 24 hours, but their initial runs have been met with bureaucratic problems with landing in Colombia (maiden voyage was supposed to have taken 24 hours and they ended up at sea for 7 days), so we are eagerly awaiting news on this one as it sounds like a promising third option between flying or taking a large yacht.

    See the full Cobán gallery here.
    #20