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Old 06-30-2008, 09:28 PM   #196
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Leaving Coatzacoalcos

Coatzacoalcos is on the end of a peninsula that juts west, buttressing one side of the inlet to a sizeable bay. We had to cross the inlet to leave. Bicimapas said there is a bridge, Garmin Mexico says no. We found no bridge, but did find a small ferry! 4 pesos each and 30 minutes later we were on the other side, winding our way between massive chemical factories.

Loading onto the ferry:





The "dock":



Really, it's just a platform with an engine:



Our plan was to follow the Gulf coast of Tobasco as far as Paraiso and then head south into Villahermosa. I had seen pictures; the coastline is beautiful but desolate, bordered by a road that has been abandoned to storms and sand dunes.

Just getting *to* the coast was tricky; I plotted a meandering part-dirt route through the Tobasco coastal forests but couldn't get the Zumo to route across an obviously marked road on the Bicimapas. This is not too unusual because the maps aren't perfect, so I ignored it. Garmin Mexico didn't show enough detail for the area.

Here's what this part of the journey looked like. It was beautiful, but Gavin got pissed at me for wasting a bunch of time when we're in a hurry to get to Villahermosa. He wasn't enjoying the dirt without a rear brake, plus his MT60 rear was almost bald.*









Here we arrive at that part of my map that wouldn't autoroute. Oops. This did not improve Gavin's mood, but it provided some great pictures!







One year ago, 80% of the entire STATE of Tobasco was underwater in an inundación that made New Orleans look like a bathtub. I'm surprised that roads are as intact as they are.

* What you say?! A dualsport tire on a Ducati?? There are only two rear DS tires available for the Multistrada. One is the Pirelli MT60 and the other is the Avon Distanzia. No distributor imports either tire in the correct size (160/60-R17) to Mexico. While we were in the DF, Gavin mail-ordered an MT60 to the Motoaltavista affiliate (a KTM/Ducati shop) in Villahermosa. Shipping more than doubled the price of the tire
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Old 06-30-2008, 09:45 PM   #197
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Sánchez Magallanes de los Zombies



Sánchez Magallanes is a remote little town on the beach. It looks like it once got a fair amount of local tourist traffic (probably from Coatzacoalcos and Villahermosa) but then got wiped out in a storm and never rebuilt. It was around 5pm when we arrived so we decided to call it an early day, find a hotel, and get some much-needed cerveza.

Here's a montage of (what's left of) Sánchez Magallanes:





We could find only one hotel in town and it was empty. Our room was 160 pesos.







This drawbridge no longer opens. I'm not sure it ever did; I can't imagine why big boats would come into this more-or-less insignificant bay.





Look at the stairs, which have completely rusted away:



All the houses up against the water were wrecked. Most had garbage strewn about in front.





Gavin has a better camera and he's a better photographer













Sánchez Magallanes is kinda spooky. People aren't really friendly, and the town is mostly deserted - although (vacant) motorcycle and pedal-powered tuktuks were everywhere. It was a Thursday. I wasn't expecting big parties, but *all* the bars were empty.

If you choose to visit and they attack, just remember: Shoot for the head.
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Old 07-03-2008, 12:57 PM   #198
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Paraiso Lost

This was a day of proper adventure.

After a seafood breakfast, we started off east along the coastal road towards Paraiso.





Within ten minutes, Gavin heard a snap and suddenly his bike was riding a lot lower than normal:



The suspension tie-rod snapped in half!



Poor Ducati. In all fairness, it's an aftermarket part that has seen a fair amount of abuse in the last year and a half... but I could hear my KTM snickering quietly to itself.

Gavin flagged down a car and after a couple hours managed to come back with a truck:





Gavin and the truck went to Villahermosa via highways, while I pressed on with the adventure.

The road started out pretty nice.



Then sand started creeping over the highway in places.



"Hello, road? This is the ocean. I want my beach back."



Don't argue with the ocean.



At this point the "road" went slightly inland through the palm trees.



It was time to drop tire pressure. This makes a *world* of difference on a soft surface. 19psi is actually too much for deep sand, but I expected to be on and off pavement. It turned out to be a perfect compromise, and I never dropped the bike.



Brief product endorsement: This "pass through" air gauge is bloody brilliant because you can inflate (and deflate with the button) while still measuring pressure.

I took a lot of pictures so I could show Gavin what he missed (and to make sure his next bike is a BMW or KTM). These are in chronological order. Note that there were a lot of paved sections that I didn't bother taking pictures of.

The locals put coconut husks along much of the path to provide traction.





Lots of places where the road just started and stopped.



Sometimes the local kids would come out when I stopped.



Sometimes the sand became pretty deep and soft.









There was one large concrete bridge in the middle of nowhere. The road on either side was a mess but the bridge was immaculate. Without this bridge, this road would be impassable - it bridged the inlet to a large bay.



On the bridge, looking back:



Over:



Down:







Nepal cactus growing out of jungle foliage and sand. Weird ecology.













The road follows a narrow sandbar with the ocean on one side and a bay on the other. Sometimes it was narrow enough to throw a rock across. You can still see the remains of the asphalt in this picture.



One good storm could destroy the remains of this sandbar and make this trip impossible, even on a motorcycle.











Getting closer to Paraiso, the road began to improve.



But not completely:





Despite Gavin's misfortune, this was a really, REALLY fun day (for me). The only annoyance was that the locals (whose land the road was frequently rerouted onto) sometimes put up ropes across the road and were charging "tolls". Sometimes I simply rode around through the sand, sometimes I paid a few pesos (they always asked for ten). Maybe they help maintain the coconut-husk road. Unfortunately there are quite a lot of them.

I would love to come back and ride this beautiful, desolate road again with 60 lbs less luggage and lower air pressure. It would be fun to do a lot of the beach sections too. I'm not nearly as afraid of riding on soft sand as I once was - this trip has improved my offroad skills considerably.
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Old 07-03-2008, 04:53 PM   #199
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Villahermosa



I don't have a lot to say about Villahermosa. I thought the city may have had potential given more time but Gavin didn't like it. The weather is hot and humid. It's not terribly cute, and people on the street were not especially friendly. We've been ruined by northern and central Mexico.

Surprisingly, I didn't see a lot of damage from the flooding. It may be that the remaining damage is mostly psychological, and this produced the subdued atmosphere. Tabasco is supposed to be one of the wealthier states in Mexico; I expected nice restaurants and a vibrant street life. It was dead.

Here's the funky hostel we stayed in. We were the only guests.



There is some pretty architecture in a big park. Unfortunately I left without getting a chance to see the big zoo and museum:











Villahermosa has a KTM/Ducati shop (and Motoaltavista affiliate) called Cyclecenter. We've been mail ordering and fedexing various things there; my 2008 registration arrived but Gavin's tire hadn't. Plus it was going to take some time to acquire a new tie-rod.* Unfortunately my expiring visa forced us to part ways.

I also now have a major problem with my GPS. The Zumo unit itself seems fairly well built, but the cradle is a piece of crap. After a few months in the Real World, the little rubber cover that is supposed to protect the pins cracked and fell off. The tiny spring-loaded pins are far too delicate for an outdoor environment.

You can see a lot of oxidation in this picture, probably due to electrolysis since there is always power to one of the pins (having the Zumo on switched power is highly annoying when you turn off the bike to talk to someone). In recent months the cradle has been causing trouble with stereo audio quality; now it refuses to feed power consistently (if at all). Worse, when it occasionally feeds power for a brief second and then cuts out, it puts the Zumo in a 30-second automatic shutdown mode - even when running on battery.



I rush ordered a new cradle from the US, which Gavin will hopefully bring me. This turned out to be a challenge. Garmin, in their infinite wisdom, does not allow US merchants to ship replacement cradles internationally. Furthermore, replacements are not sold in Mexico. I found a US merchant online who was apparently willing to ignore this restriction but it cost me $130 for a $50 part. Great way to support your customers, Garmin.

* They spent several days but were unable to source it in Mexico. Gavin had to ship one from Desmoto in SF.
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Old 07-04-2008, 06:59 AM   #200
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Fantastic adventure and report dude
Cavegirl and I are just south of you in Chiapas. Yes, we should hook up to share some beers if you are nor already too far north. Keep up the great report
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Old 07-04-2008, 10:24 AM   #201
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Cavegirl and I are just south of you in Chiapas. Yes, we should hook up to share some beers if you are nor already too far north. Keep up the great report
Unfortunately I'm backfilling my story - I'm actually in Quetzltenango, Guatemala right now. Hopefully I'll catch you guys on the return trip! I've been following your trip report since you started and keeping notes on places to visit

Jeff
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Old 07-05-2008, 10:04 PM   #202
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Chiapas and San Cristóbal de Las Casas



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







There are abandoned railroads in Chiapas too:



I stumbled across this beautiful swimming hole and waterfall:





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













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



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



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

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Old 07-06-2008, 08:09 PM   #203
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Guatemala!

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

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

Looking back at the Mexico aduana:



This is what you see immediately after crossing into Guatemala:







First impressions of Guatemala:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Google misses wildly when placing a marker on Huehuetenango, so you get to find it yourself in the above picture. It's not that hard.
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Old 07-06-2008, 09:33 PM   #204
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Todos Santos Cuchumatán



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

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



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

Here's some pictures from the ride there:







Somebody was moulding concrete sinks:



Piglets!









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

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





The view from my balcony:



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



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

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

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

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





Looking down the main street:



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







Chicken soup! At least it was cheap.

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Old 07-09-2008, 02:34 PM   #205
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Originally Posted by stickfigure
the cradle is a piece of crap. After a few months in the Real World, the little rubber cover that is supposed to protect the pins cracked and fell off. The tiny spring-loaded pins are far too delicate for an outdoor environment.

You can see a lot of oxidation in this picture, probably due to electrolysis since there is always power to one of the pins (having the Zumo on switched power is highly annoying when you turn off the bike to talk to someone).

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

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

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Old 07-09-2008, 05:24 PM   #206
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Zumo

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

Hope this helps and I have really been enjoying your report.
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Old 07-11-2008, 11:07 AM   #207
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Xela

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


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

The ride was wet and foggy but always beautiful:







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



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

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

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



This is lomita in a gorgonzola sauce:



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



Here are crepes suzette:



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

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

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

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

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



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



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

Pinches de res with three amazing sauces:



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



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



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



Here are some more pictures of Xela:









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

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

The moral lesson is: Italian motorcycles may be pretty, but Teutonic motorcycles are tougher and like to get dirty. Ahem.
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Old 07-11-2008, 11:30 AM   #208
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Originally Posted by mookymoo
This happened inside 3 months.
And yup, that rubber cap is pooh.
(though, its not meant to flap about in the breeze - the underside of the cradle has a magnet that should hold the cap firm when the zumo is in the cradle - but unless your photo has misled me, you've got it mounted so close to the dash, the rubber cap cant fit there )
Good idea with the grasa dieléctrica; it was on my list of "things to acquire" but it'll be a bit more urgent when I get the replacement unit. Guille is bringing it to me in Costa Rica, which is "just in time" because I really need something to listen to on the long highway stretches.

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

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

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

All will be fixed in three days!
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Old 07-11-2008, 04:51 PM   #209
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stickfigure
BTW the rubber cap fell off when the unit it was attached to my other bike (an F650). I used the magnet; it never flapped in the breeze nor was the bike stored in the sun. I think they just made the flap out of super cheap rubber The unit is over a year old and will be even older by the time I get back home, so I doubt I'll get Garmin to replace it.
Fair enough.
Dielectric grease... or ACF50 if you can get your hands on it...

Food looks amazing! You have to try Peruvian food sometime How much longer are you planning to spend travelling?
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Old 07-11-2008, 09:34 PM   #210
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mookymoo
Food looks amazing! You have to try Peruvian food sometime How much longer are you planning to spend travelling?
I seriously need to try it in Peru... there are a few Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco and they are AWESOME. Lots of fish and ceviche. It's all super upscale so I really wonder what Peruvians normally eat on a daily basis. If the answer is "more ceviche" I'm ready to move now

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

I miss San Francisco though.
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