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Old 07-12-2008, 01:58 PM   #211
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Lago Atitlan



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

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





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



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



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

From my hotel door:



As it got dark:



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



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

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





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

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



The front door of my hotel room:



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





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Old 07-12-2008, 03:06 PM   #212
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Guatemala City



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

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

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



They have trains.





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





Ever wonder what a relief map of Guatemala looks like?



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





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

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



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









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Old 07-12-2008, 03:29 PM   #213
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stickfigure
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.
Peruvian food is amazing for its variety. You have coastal, Andean & jungle cultures - each with their own speciality foods. Sadly, not many of these dishes travel well outside of peru - you really need the local ingredients.
(I have made excellent, excellent cebiche in Peru - and similar efforts outside have been merely adequate).

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

Apartment. Wifi. Guapa. Mexican food. You could do a lot worse...
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Old 07-12-2008, 03:33 PM   #214
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Green Guatemala

Heading for El Salvador, my GPS took me along the Interamericana Highway (CA-1). I think the Garmin basemap of Guatemala is a little confused because this is what it quickly became:



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











It's called Parque Nacional Laguna El Pino. Something about this kind of place makes me hungry for a salad.
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Old 07-12-2008, 04:40 PM   #215
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El Salvador



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

I do not understand why this country isn't overrun with tourists.

Seriously, picture this:

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

Nevermind, stop picturing it and look at pictures instead!



Look closer at the quality of the road surface. El Salvador is a sportbike paradise:



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



Looking down the beach one direction:



The other direction:



Down the beach and looking back upriver towards the road:



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



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



Oysters on the half-shell:



Crema mariscado:



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



Cóctel de concha (breakfast!):



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

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

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

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



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







Want a banana?

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Old 07-12-2008, 05:36 PM   #216
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Honduras

[This was written the day before yesterday in Honduras]



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

The hotel:



My shower:



Something prettier to look at:





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

Tomorrow I will be in Nicaragua.
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Old 07-14-2008, 07:08 AM   #217
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yo stick figure

hey im really enjoying your thread, actually im a little jelous i wish i could be there doing what your doing. how does a person do something like this. did you like save up alot of money that could hold you over untill you get done or do you do some really nice computer job that you are doing at the same time.
if you dont want to answer these questions i would understand completly. and again, loving the thread, nice pics and even better bike! ride on!
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Old 07-14-2008, 01:23 PM   #218
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Honduras

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

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

really enjoy following along.. thanks for sharing. (and the food pics)
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Old 07-15-2008, 12:36 PM   #219
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I know I'm late to the party to say this, but this is an awesome story! I have lurked here for a week, but this story made me register! Can't wait to hear the next bit
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Old 07-15-2008, 05:35 PM   #220
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@christopher miller: I just saved up some money. I don't have a lot of expenses "at home"; no mortgage, no car payments, pretty much just rent and food and the occasional toy. I rented out my apartment to friends so this experience is costing me less than what I would spend just to live in SF. This trip could be a lot cheaper too - even though I go for cheap hostels, I've been eating a lot of relatively expensive meals (almost always more than I spend for lodging). It really doesn't take as much as it seems... although the price of gas is crazy south of Mexico (close to $5/gal in a lot of places).

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

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

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

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



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Old 07-16-2008, 04:42 AM   #221
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thanks for the reply, and im still jelous. but yeah i really like reading the thread and the pics are amazing. keep it up
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Old 07-22-2008, 02:35 PM   #222
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Ditto - This report has been very entertaining and informative. Thanks!
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Old 07-23-2008, 06:36 AM   #223
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I take it things are going well in Costa Rica. I loved it down there when I was backpacking. Enjoy the country and the hospitality. Can't wait to hear how it is going
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Old 07-24-2008, 01:20 PM   #224
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We're going to throw our camera in the trash!

Hey Jeff - we've decided that we're going to throw our camera in the trash...your pics of the waterfall coming up from Lake Atitlan on your way to Guata City makes ours look like crap...so thanks for allowing us to save the weight.

By the way, we're in Antigua now, and we've extended our stay here from one night to three...it's touristy, but a ton of fun...and super beautiful...one of the 3 volcanoes that ring the town erupted this morning...pretty cool! But you're right, there is no train museum...so it looks like you made the right personal choice.

On a logistical note, the bridge that is out on the coast of El Salvador, where is it? I'm wonding if we could save time by heading north from La Liberdad on CA4 to connect with CA1 if CA2 is closed? Or perhaps that is the detour already in effect? I don't want to ride through San Salvador, but we may not have the option.

Keep on keepin' on...you're in the lead and we're just sweeping the course!
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Old 07-26-2008, 08:05 AM   #225
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great ride report. can't wait to read more.
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