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Old 05-03-2011, 07:31 PM   #46
made it
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Great read, and great pics.......thanks for sharing
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Old 05-03-2011, 07:42 PM   #47
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Great stuff! Thanks and more please.
I'd rather be dragging a club than clubbing in drag.
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Old 05-03-2011, 09:13 PM   #48
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Old 05-04-2011, 06:56 AM   #49
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Border crossing:
We awoke early enough and of course, got lost on our way out of Tapachula. We escape and make it to the Talisman border crossing. Smaller crossings are considered better, but since we were already in Tapachula to do bike work and other errands it didn't seem to make sense to go 3 hours north. We rolled up to the Mexican side of the border and were immediately surrounded by Mexicans with border badges who were offering friendly advice. This being our first border crossing, we didn't realize that these are the "guides" that will be at every border, and unfortunately one of them latched onto us before we knew what was happening. We also didn't yet have any quetzales, so we argued one of them down to 1.75. I think the official rate should have been 1.5 or so.
The border officals at Juarez never said we had to get anything stamped at the bank, so we didn't. The border officials at the Guatemala crossing said we did. The office gave us the 2 stamps for 500 pesos? Not sure what was going on there, might have been conned, but if it becomes a problem we at least have the stamps and can plead ignorance. The border helpers also asked me if Michelle "was the boss" because she was going to deal with the Mexican border offials. Apparently it was be more traditional for me to talk to them, even though I don't understand much Spanish and she is fluent. The border lurkers were also in disbelief that we were not married. Throughout Guatemala it would be considered very unusual for me and Michelle to be unmarried and traveling together. For the sake of convenience we would often refer to eachother as husband and wife.
We then went to the Guatemalan side and got our paperwork done. As I rode the bike over the bridge awere a good dozen border lurkers started running alongside the bike. 10 quetzal per passport stamp, 55 quetzal to the bank for bike entry, 10 quetzal for the passport photos, 12 quetzal for fumigation of the bike, and then 400 quetzal for our "insurance". The other border guides said insurance shouldn't be more than 380 quetzal, but who knows if that was true either. We never did get a receipt for the "insurance" but at least we got our sticker. I think we probably overpaid by about $15-20usd somewhere in there. We'll be better prepared next time. Game faces on.
Once we got into Guatemala though, the troubles at the border were forgotten. It is beautiful.

We were entering into the Guatemala mountains. It went from semi-tropical to cloud-forest within an hour. I don't know what the elevation was but the mountains were in the clouds and it was pretty chilly. Clouds right above our heads.

Roads were great, fewer potholes than Mexico and far fewer topes (called tumulos here). We also got our first percipitation of the trip, a few short showers. Ate breakfast at that point. Guatemalan plates almost always come with fried plantains and cream/queso. I love the dairy of this region. So good.

First meal was somewhere around $5usd (40 quetzales) for two big plates + tortillas and drinks. Great deal, but that's actually on the high end of what we would pay for the rest of Guatemala. A full meal is normally around 15 quetzales at a comedor, 10 quetzales at a market.
The major highways are mostly divided, high speed and multi-lane (no tolls, despite what our map said), but quite often multiple lanes are blocked by landslides.

We spent the first night in some random town around San Marcos. Q$100 for an auto hotel, around $12.5usd. The highest we payed in Guatemala.

The waitress/chef/owner of one of the little commedors recommended we head to Lago de Atitlan, which was apparently very beautiful. Sure! A few hours later we were Panajachel, the biggest of many little towns surrounding lake Atitlan.

Lago de Atitlan is a huge lake in the the Guatemalan mountains, surrounded by volcanos.
Panajachel is somewhat touristy, and hotel prices reflected it. We felt lucky to find a place for Q$30 per person. Just a very simple room with two beds and a shared outdoor shower/bathroom. "Mi Rooms", a hostal down a narrow little alley off the main road. One of many times I felt lucky to be on a motorcycle rather than a car.

We parked the bike in the courtyard and went exploring.
Panajachel Cathedral:

Dock, with many private and public little boats eager to take you around the lake for Q$50.

The market:

Fruit was very expensive here compared to Mexico, I guess because of the our high altitude and difficult terrain. Packaged good goods were also twice as expensive as in the US. Also there are many tourists, and the locals are saavy to the money some carry.
The main volcanos (San Pedro, Toliman, Atitlan) are on the South side of the lake, Panajachel on the North. As soon as I saw Volcan Toliman I knew I wanted to climb it. The next day we left for Toliman, the little town at the base of the Volcano. On the way we explored Sta. Catarina and San Atonio(?), two little towns on the way, known for their distinct styles of weaving. Michelle and I climbed narrow alleys to a little shack with a dirt floor to see legit, traditional weaving at work.

We have no almost no room in the bags for souveniers, but Michelle allowed herself to get a little scarf. She loves the Guatemalan craftsmanship.
We were also berrated by a boy for not buying the little bracelets he was selling. He called Michelle a lair and selfish, and that she must buy one. It was a sales tactic I had never seen before.

We made it to Toliman and found a hotel for Q$60, like the night before. However, we decided to splurge and go for the beautiful hotel San Lucas for Q$20 more. Apparently this used to be an old house, and according to the clerk it's over 100 years old.

Enormous, empty room. Just two beds, chair and small table.

Hot water in the Guatemalan mountains is mostly supplied by these little individual electric heaters installed into the shower piping. The electrical work here is... amusing. Exposed wiring and electrical tape. Some of the showers electrocute you, some of the showers only produce scalding hot water, some of the showers only produce barely tepid water, occasionally a shower might produce comfortably hot water.

In this hotel, we had the electrocution + tepid water special. I find it amusing rather than annoying.
Michelle shared tea and talked extensively with the girl who cleans and cooks for the hotel. Leti is 18, and has never left the town of Toliman in her life. Her mother doesn't give permission. Her father didn't let her attend school. She was surprised that we had been "married" for 6 months and didn't have any children on the way. This was normal. Definitely quite a contrast from American culture.
The lake, down the street from our hotel.

Life is good in Guatemala.

Volcan Toliman overlooking the city.

Every afternoon and evening Volcan Toliman has a small cloud around the peak.
The next day we awoke early and went to climb the Volcano. We started out on the path to the top, but at some point we lost it and began an epic adventure. We climbed up a gulley littered with hundreds avocados from the orchards.

Weaved our way around dozens of farms growing corn, coffee and avocados.

Ate lunch once we had rediscovered what we thought was the trail.

Followed the trail into a dense forest of vines and weeds which we struggled through.

Volcan Toliman is supposed to take 5-6 hours to climb up, but after struggling through for hours without a good trail, we realized we should probably head back. Though we couldn't have been more than 100 feet from the top, it was just too late to carry on. The prospect of trailblazing back through the dense foliage was not appealing, so we decided to head around towards the gently sloping north side of the volcano.
Unfortunately, we fell short, and ended up going down the worst side of the mountain, the side that was very steep and covered with slippery gullies.

It was slow going, but we were going straight down, so we expected to get down soon enough. Soon we came to a cliff, what must be an incredible waterfall during the rainy season. Surrounded on both sides by steep and treacherous walls, facing an impassable cliff face and having nowhere to go but up, we realized we were not going to make it down by dark. We would be spending the night on the mountain.

We texted a friend and told her to let our hotel know we wouldn't be back tonight, and hunkered down for the night. It was cold in the mountains, and Michelle had lost her sweater back near the top. We were equipped with a pair of light jackets, a liter of water, a quarter can of beans and a rain poncho. Survival mode!
We chose a little sandy nook in the gulley to camp.

I made a wall of rocks and sand to shield us from the wind, and we used the rain poncho as a psuedo-bivy tent to reduce windchill. It was definitely not comfortable, but we made it through the night well enough.
6am Sunrise:

Active volcano in the distance.

Still alive:

Took another 4 hours to climb up, around and discover a trail down. As soon as we got back to the hotel I drank a liter of purified water and jumped in the lake while Michelle took a shower. The lake was cold but refreshing. It felt good to swim in the clean, deep water and work the dirt of the last 24 hours out of my skin. Truly an amazing feeling after the ordeal on Volcan Toliman.
We showered, ate hamburgers at the little stand down the street, and headed out towards Antigua Guatemala.
Goodbye Atitlan.
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Old 05-04-2011, 08:47 AM   #50
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You made my morning, reading your RR.

Am really enjoying your travels and photos and I admire your girl for having the courage to share your adventure. Ride safe.
Young enough to enjoy the finer things in life
Old enough to know, the ability to corner at speed is a hard earned skill!
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Old 05-04-2011, 08:27 PM   #51
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awesome! Epic!
Keep it up.
They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! ... give them back their heroes. - Mad Max (Fifi)
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Old 05-05-2011, 11:48 AM   #52
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Great RR! I worked in Guatemala many years ago. If you have the time, you need to visit Tikal.
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Old 05-05-2011, 01:36 PM   #53
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Very interesting trip. Subscribed!

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Old 05-05-2011, 08:23 PM   #54
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I'm in

Don't be afraid your life will end, be afraid that it will never start.

Arrogance is the anesthesia that dulls the pain of stupidity
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Old 05-06-2011, 08:20 AM   #55
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loving the report and choice of bike.
Some ride reports:

Why do I keep thinking I'm gonna wind up in a love / hate relationship with a Guzzi?

alekkas screwed with this post 05-06-2011 at 07:10 PM
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Old 05-06-2011, 10:45 AM   #56
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Good stuff!
2015 Kawasaki Ninja 1000, 2009 Ninja 2 fiddy,
2011 BMW F800GS
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Old 05-07-2011, 07:06 AM   #57
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More please! Thanks for posting, cool to see two up on a small bike.

As a man married to a woman who loves to ride with me, and is fluent in Spanish and wants to travel the world I advise you to marry her immediately!
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Old 05-07-2011, 08:08 AM   #58
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great trip

loving all aspects of your journey.
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Old 05-07-2011, 03:12 PM   #59
jordan325ic OP
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The road to Antigua was quite an adventure. From Lake Atitlan to Patzicia is a secondary road, which involved rough pavement and pothole dodging. Also my first "river" crossing.

Woo! When the tarmac ended and we ended up on a rough dirt road, we finally realized we were lost.

Nice scenery though, in any case.

Antigua is quite an interesting place. It's name means, roughly, "Old Guatemala", and it definitely has it's historical side. We saw many old cathedrals/covenents, some over 500 years old.

Motorcycles are quite popular. Huge stretches of street were designated for motorcycle parking.

Also saw my bike's twin! Another Kawi EX250! The only other one I've seen in two months.

It's also quite the hopping vacation/2nd home spot, and can be quite upscale. We explored the hotel/museum "San Domingo" which was housed in an old covenant. Very beautiful, and on our way out we asked the price out of curiosity. $750usd per night!! Just a little bit out of our budget, but it was very cool how they built a 5 star hotel around the ruins. Very beautiful.

We found a little Hostel, "Hostel Viajadores" and were pleased with the Q$100 price, the cheapest we found, so we took it. We ate meals in the market down the street for as little as Q$10 per person, with drink. Very cool. We generally walked around and saw the sights in our two days there.

A textiles museum, with a personal guide.

As I've mentioned before, Michelle loves clothing design and took dozens of pictures of different fabric patterns.

1/18/11 Guatemala City
After two days it was time to continue on to Guatemala city. As I rolled the bike out, I noticed the front tire was flat. Couldn't find a puncture, and since it's only 30 miles to Guatemala city I filled it back up with my trusty hand pump and just pulled off the road every few miles to check the pressure. It was losing 3psi every 10 miles, so it was a serious leak.
We stopped at a Yamaha dealer in Guatemala city to see about a new front tire. None there, but the service guy sat us down while he spent half an hour calling a dozen different tire shops. Ulimately we didn't find exactly the size I wanted, but I was very impressed by how long this guy took with two customers he would never see again. This sort of beyond-the-call-of-duty service is common in central America. If they don't have the part, they'll call around for you or they might walk you to where you can find what you're looing for.
Guatemala City is super confusing. It's divided into 22 different zones, which as far as I can tell, are arranged randomly around the city. There are also major roads going through the city which have no traffic lights or U-turns and are impossible to cross unless you duck down into the sidestreets and hope to find a bridge or way across.
We found a bunch of seedy hotels in Zona 1, the historic zone. They ranged in price from Q$40 to Q$100, very reasonably priced, but we were warned it was a dangerous area. The clerks of the hotels were a strange bunch, and didn't seem to trust us or be interested in our business. While I was waiting for Michelle to check the price on one three young homeless looking guys came up and in perfect college-fraternity english: "BRO! We just got deported bro! Damn man, can you spare a quarter bro!" The one doing most of the talking had crazy huge scabs covering a good part of his inner arm. I didn't have a quarter and wasn't interested in donating to whatever the hell was going on, so after two minutes they moved on. Very strange, but somewhat illustrative of the randomness you'll experience in Guatemala city. Paraphrasing the "Lonely Planet" book: "some people find Guatemala city dirty, dangerous and unpleasant, other people find it dirty, dangerous and unforgettable." I'm not exactly sure which side I fell on.
Overall we didn't hear of or see anything really amazing in Guatemala city, just an enormous sprawling metroplex. I will note that almost every American food chain was represented here, from Pizza Hut (mostly a breakfast place here, opéns at 6am!) to Taco Bell (huge restaraunts) and Chili's. We had a few mundane errands to take care of. I used the soap and water trick to locate a tiny leak in the center of the front tire tread, which I patched with my Stop-and-Go patch kit. We also updated the blogs and loaded more photos. We did get a chance to relax a little bit though.
One street had cool lights hanging the whole length of it.

We saw a movie "The Tourist" in a little theater on that road, about $2 per person. The last showing at all the theaters was around 6-7pm. We got in a few minutes late. I didn't care what movie I saw, I just wanted it to be in Spanish. Unfortunately this movie was only subtitled, but the tiny screen, crappy projector and wavery sound made things more memorable. It was like I was watching an 80s VHS tape.
The city:

And so we leave for El Salvador.
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Old 05-12-2011, 01:41 PM   #60
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Having done our chores in Guatemala City, it was time to move on. El Salvador was our next destination. We got incredibly lost on our way out of Guatemala City, of course. The road to El Salvador is fine, just smooth two lane highway till the border. At one point our front tire went flat again! Damn, where is the patch?? It had disappeared after only 50 miles and the hole was back. I repatched and off we went, cautiously.

The border to El Salvador was easy enough, but Michelle and I were concerned that we were ripped off at the last border so she went to go talk to a manager about our dillema. Apparently, we were defintely ripped off. The guy who "sold" us insurance was a con and we lost $50 for nothing, plus the fumigation fee was nonsense too. We had his name and signature but predictably they couldn't do anything, even though he was carrying one of their official badges. They urged us to be more careful in the future, which of course we knew.

I'm not angry at the conman though, I blame myself fully. I have a list of general tips and fees for crossing Central American countries by motorcycle. I read the Guatemala border info and saw "around $45 in fees" and that's what I was expecting to pay. When we couldn't get a receipt for our "insurance" I knew we had been overcharged, but I knew we were going to be paying big for this border. I looked back at the list and it said $15, not $45. My fault.

Checking into the El Salvador border cost us nothing, and took about an hour. Our visas were good for two or three months if I recall, no need for a "2 day transit visa" that I was expecting to find. Also, we weren't mobbed by "translators", "helpers" or money changers, unlike every other border.

We zoomed to San Salvador, the capital, and arrived just as it got dark. We had used up all our Quetzales before leaving Guatemala, so our first stop when we arrived was to find an ATM. El Salvador uses the US dollar, but we had about $5 left. Easy enough, it was near this majestic statue.

"Sorry, your bank does not allow this transaction." Try again, same thing. What!? Oh wait, wasn't there a country that my little bank said my card wouldn't work in? Oh $"&%! (Initially we had Michelle's BoA card too, to cover E.S., but it was accidently left back in Chihuahua with her cousin)

We were in the middle of El Salvador and had no money, no way to get money, and we hadn't eaten all day.

We called the support team back home and arranged for a little money to be wired via Western Union. All the offices were closed though, so we were on our own tonight. We found a location, and then looked for somewhere to sleep that would accept our good names (and passports) as collateral for a night. Luckily we found Hostal La Portada only a few blocks away. The young man working there, named Rafael, said it was no problem. Woo! Now, any place to eat for less than $5? Yes! Pupuseria around the corner! Bullets dodged!

I still don't really know what a pupusa is, but I will say it is the most delicious conconction I have ever come across. Some sort of fried rice or corn (your choice) meal, fried into a thick tortilla, with beans/cheese/whatever mixed in. Topped with a vinegar/cabbage/onion based salad. One of the most satisfying meals of my life.

Sidenote: Private security outnumber police in El Salvador. Everywhere we went there were guards with shotguns. Guards at the gas-stations, guards at the banks, guards at the ice-cream parlors. Everywhere, guys with shotguns. Signs of El Salvador's troubled past I guess. Michelle also talked with a guy who was around for the 1979 revolution, when there "were bodies lying in the streets", and who "witnessed" many massacres.

Tomorrow we picked up the money and decided to stay another night at La Portada. We got on the bike and rode around, halfway trying to find a new tire, mostly just looking to see the city.

Our hotel was near the Metro Centro, which was a huge mall.

EXACTLY like an American mall back home. Huge, sprawling. I hate malls at home, and I can't say I liked this one either. We looked all over for a road map of El Salvador, to know avail. Just a simple roadmap or atlas. We checked gas-stations, bookstores, papelerias, NOBODY had a map.

While we were in San Salvador my rear brakes started grinding. I took off the back caliper to find that my pads were shot! After only 4000 miles! Apparently I have a technique problem and I didn't even realize it (only been riding for a few months). Predictably, we weren't able to find replacement pads for a bike that doesn't exist in El Salvador. Several places suggested we "refill" the pads. Never heard of that in the states, but since I had no other option I gave it a shot. $15 and several hours later, "new" brakepads!

The only other person staying in the hostal was a very interesting Canadian, who I only spoke with once. He was an evangelical Christian who had been traveling around Mexico and CA for years, to "stomp on the neck of the devil". He described all the places he'd been, some a beautiful, many as "inbred dens of perverts and whores" in complete seriousness. "Good people" lived in some of them, but "the devil has a strong hold" on the whole area.

We cooked in the hostal kitchen, spaghetti and meatballs. We shared it with Rafael, who always watched the place at night. He shared his "green mangos" (unripened, sour, served with salt) and we talked for a long time. He makes about $10 per day, and works 12 hour shifts 7 days a week. Granted, his job is not difficult, but we can make that in 1 hour stateside. He talked about how he used to sell pirated DVDs, how life is in El Salvador, and we talked about life in the states. Very cool.

After three nights in San Salvador, we decided to head to coast for one night on the beaches before we entered Honduras. We had a little more money wired to us to cover our brake-pad emergency from the day before, and headed to western union to get the check. Got frisked when I entered the bank.

We went West to La Libertad and took the South highway along the coast until we decided it was time to look for a place to sleep. We hopped on a western road and ended up going along a sleepy little coastal village near Bosque Santa Clara. We saw a big palm-leaf structure on the beach that looked to perhaps be a hotel. We enquired about it, and the woman on the street said it was just somebody's second home, but she knew the woman who took care of it. She whipped out her cellphone and started dialing, while ushering us to bring the bike it. We obliged, and a few minutes later the caretaker/tenant showed up. She said we could stay, we just had to be out by 9am when the owners might show up. No problem!

Not a bad camping spot.

Not a bad sunset.

We were expecting to be asked for some money in exchange for the camping spot, but nope, never mentioned. She brought out a bunch of coconuts and cut us both one to drink. Delicious. Her little boy, Oscar, ran around the yard chasing the rooster with a lasso, trying to catch it. When the caught it he would let it go and do it again. We walked (or ran) along the beach with him, and he showed us where the turtle reserve where the sea turtle eggs incubate protected in the sand.

Hyperactive seven year old, and we loved him. He ran around showing us everything on the beach. The mother, Rosa (coincidentally both of our mother's names are Rosa as well) asked us if we wanted pupusas from the pupuseria down the street. Of course, and at 3 for a dollar we got enough for breakfast too. Her husband, Oscar as well, rode off to place the order and an hour later we were sitting down with them for more delicious pupusas. We talked about our various experiences living in the different countries and Oscar Jr. fell asleep in the hammock. Quite an amazing family, incredibly hospitable and friendly.

That night we decided to ditch the tent and sleep in the hammocks. What a night! We slept like babies. The sun rose at 6am and so did I. Great weather, great beach.

Rosa said the owners wouldn't be coming that day so we didn't have to rush out. We ate breakfast with the family and I took a swim in the ocean while the Oscars went and got their hair cut. I saw a few iguanas scrambling around the trees and the beach.

Me and one of many chickens:

Eventually it was time to say goodbye. We were heading to Honduras today, and had a few hours to go till the border.
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