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Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Looking forward to big things this year!

The picture was taken a few days ago at a backpackers hostel in San Blas, El Salvador.
We'll be ringing in 2011 tonight in Granada, Nicaragua.

Have a safe and Happy New Years' Eve celebrations.

Cheers All!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bye, bye, Guatemala

Day 79

Antigua is a old city dating from the early days of Spanish colonialism in the area. The entire city is paved with cobbled stones, and many of the buildings date from the 17th century.

There are so many things to see here, and the locals are doing a wonderful job in creating, what seems to be, a sustainable tourism industry. Perhaps the best example of this are the Spanish classes. In this one small town, of perhaps 10,000 people, there are 46 Escuela Español. That's right, there are more Spanish schools here than there are streets named 'Peachtree' in Atlanta. Go ahead and count 'em. I'll wait.

Each school employs local teachers trained in Spanish-as-a-second language. They work one-on-one with students for up to 8 hours per day, often for months on end. Some of the schools are basic Mom and Pop operations, while others have affiliations and accreditations with universities from Canada, the US and Europe.

I signed up for 5 days of instruction, 4 hours a day for $145

Room and board with a local family (with Rebecca safely parked at the school) ran another $80

The instructions are tailored for specific students. Mine was geared to be

Day 80
Delayed the start of my Spanish instructions until this afternoon so I would have time to make a quick run to Guatemala City to visit a Kawasaki dealership for new rear brakes, a flush of both brake lines, a cleaning and re-lubing of the chain, and a full oil change - including a new filter.

GT City is a large, modern city with excellent roads, but suffers, as with the rest of the country, from abysmal pollution. It's aonly a 45 minute run there from Antigua, and you get to traverse some lovely mountain passes along the way.

As for the service - for Q 777, I'm not sure I got full momey's worth. I don't think they flushed the brake lines, as there is no indication with of the brake fluid reservoirs have been even touched.

Day 82

Volcan Pacuya

I went with Dave from Moto-Riders

Met with Aldous and Simon, a couple of Canadian riders going to Panama and Argentina, respectively. Simon is racing to travel on Fitz the Cat in 6 days time out of Panama City, so we shall have to part ways here. I'm in a bit of a rush now - but don't want to miss THAT much of the countryside.

Day 83
Either I've been eating too much volcanic trail dust or simply wearing out my body from traveling too long, but I'm really sick. Fever. Chills. Sweats. Lack of appetite. Weakness.

All the things you want to feel at Christmas time…

Day 84 - Christmas Eve

I manage to sleep almost the entire daylight hours away. I awake just in time to catch the chicken bus to Jocotenango to have dinner with Terersita, Salvador, Tricia, Joanne and their family. Bonus - because I miss the stop (and really, how do you miss the giant salmon-coloured cathedral in the town's main square?!) I am left off in front of a bakery. Q25 for a lovely looking desert cake, and I feel a little better walking into their home without my 2 hands swinging. [LINK to picture of Charles]

[Chicken bus]

[Christmas dinner -- whole pig]

The firecrackers in Antigua are easily the most intense I have witnessed in my life. All week long people have been randomly letting off small ireworks ('boombas') and strings of about 50 firecrackers in the streets.

This went on night and day, for the entire week before Christmas.

At the stroke of midnight to bring in Christmas Day, the sound …

The intensity of the pyrotechnics let off in this one small town, high in the hills of Guatemala, made anyone hearing it for the first time, no matter how well prepped for the event == it made one assume the town was under attack.

Either a foreign Air Force was delivering a direct hit, or Volcan Pacaya was raining down ash and rocks on Antigua.

Without a word of exageration, this is what it felt like.

Day 86

Headed to El Salvador

My fever finally broke last night and as I lay there listening to the last of the firecrackers y boombas rattling through the dessrted streets, I resolved that come the morning, I would finally have to leave Antigua to continue my healing.

For the first time in 4 days, I woke bright and early, packed my gear and headed off to class.

Mi profresora, Veronica, had managed to find us some "Parts of a motorcycle" diagrams in Spanish to use for the final days' exercises.

Brilliant! This woman has helped me immeasurably.

After class I packed up, and said my goodbyes then set off to reach the sunny shores and warmer lower elevations of El Salvador.

Literally as I left the cobbled streets of Antigua for the last time, I saw just a few metres ahead of me the unmistakeable shape of a fully loaded KLR on the road to Cuiad Guatemala.

It's funny how you can be so trusting on the road. We meet completely strangers, exchange shouts of intended destinations over the roar of traffic and we're instantly bonded.

This new crew, of Troy (KLR), Cory (GS 800) and Tim (GS 1200) are an awesome bunch of guys. We're hoteling together tonight just shy of the El Salvador border. A wonderful roast chicken dinner for 3 (Tim's got a special diet) with drinks all the way round for only Q160.

For me, the scariest parts of going on adventures is "How am I going to handle the pressure?"

There's always pressure about something or other, and out on the road for extended periods of time, we tend to run into them in seemingly never-ending series.

Tonight's drama was my commitmment to be "Ride my own ride".

I am forever trying to be a perfectionist, particularly at things I'm not terribly good at [DID YOU USE THIS IN ATLANTA???!!!!!]

This new crew of riders, all being far more exprienced and prepared than I, brought out the fears of "Am I doing this right?"


Except not so funny.

In every single adventure I've ever heard of, things go wrong. Par for the course, right. So mine is no different in that respect. Watching and hearing some of the tactics of those who've been doing it longer and more successfully than I, sort of naturally brought me to a place of "Man.. who am I kidding here…"

Thankfully, those feelings passed. And hopefully some of the hard won lessons theses fellow have picked up out here on the road will mesh into my own routines and make the rest of the journey, just a little bit better.

That is the hope.

Day 87

Abother travel day day… Another 5 hours waiting at border crossing AFTER paying a helper and bribing an official…

But then 20 kms of super twisty cliff roads before finding $5-a-night beach front rooms to sleep in…

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Escuela Española en Antigua

Hills above Antigua
Somewhere along the way, between the conception of this trip, and the eventual start back on October 3, someone suggested I consider learning to speak Spanish. Wonderful idea, even given my inability to pickup ANY new languages in my life.

After a little research, we discovered that the old colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala is one of the world's largest centres for Spanish language training.

And, like most of the plans that have ever crossed my feeble mind, it passed out of the memory of man, like a certain long lost ring.

So, to make a long story short .. (I know.. too late, eh!) .. when I landed in Antigua the other day, after following a tip from a guy I met at the border, the decision to learn a least pequeño Español resurfaced.
Rebecca stays at school

My view while walking to school

I'm signed up for 5 days of classes, 4 hours per day with Centro Linguistico Maya, and moved out of the hotel to stay with a local family.
My homestay

(For those concerned, I'm being fed three solid squares a day. Nice.)

Mi profesora on the roof of the school

More to come. Send all the positive vibes, and "Lord, please help this boy learn" prayers you can ....

Look closely ... Volcan Fuego is active today!

I feel kind of badly that I haven't given as much space in this blog to Rebecca. Yesterday we rode down to Guatemala City to get some work done.

I must say that the roads in Guatemala are top-notch -- especially in their capital city. The signage is excellent, even for an Inglesi-phile like myself. The only problem is the outrageously out-of-control pollution spewing from the tailpipes of the vehicles here. I think I'll do a separate post on the chicken buses..

Back to 'becca..

While I waited in the ultra-posh digs of the Volvo/Kawasaki/Renault/You-Name-The-Chines-Brand-They-Got-It dealership surfing the Net and playing video games, they changed the rear brake, flushed both brake lines, and did a full oil change, including a new filter. Total bill -- $777.45 Quetzales (CAN $99.30)

Update: I don't think they actually flushed the brakes lines. To do so, they would have had to open both brake fluid reservoirs, right? And to do that, you'd HAVE to at least brush them off before opening them up, right? Given the state 'becca's in -- ANY bit of cleaning up would just stand out.

Sadly, it looks like this got missed -- at least on the front brakes.

Man, I hope that was just an honest mistake. The folks there didn't seem to be crooked, or nickel-and-dimers in the least. I hope my Spidey senses are still working. I didn't feel a tingle...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Central Mexico to Guatemala

It's a long road..
Oaxaca is one of the greatest cultural centers of Mexico. Some consider it the heart of the history of the country and it's founding peoples. Sadly I didn't capture much of that. It was a quick in and out for me.
Cathedral on the road to Oaxaca
The city is quite chilly, being as high up as Denver, Colorado in the US (aka the 'Mile High city')

Waiting room of a government office
Another view of that waiting room..

A local school trip
Protest art in the zocalo

Tuesday in the zocalo

Tapachucla, MX
Once again I found myself at an auto-motel, this time though, the sun had already set, so I had no options to find another place.

And lucky me! This turned out to be one of the best places I have stayed anywhere along the trip -- US and Canada included!

- Completely secure, finished and brightly-lit garage
- working AC
- hidden speakers playing light jazz music throughout the room
- glorious bathroom with HOT water and a bidet!
- a brand new comfy, removable hammock in the middle of the room

Sadly, more border madness crossing out of Mexico. I should have expected the place where they cancel the bike Import Permit to be 20 km from the border, on the side of the road for traffic ENTERING the country...

Well .. Mexico is over for me.

Crossing into Guatemala someone stole my camera. That's pretty bad news, as I really like that camera -- a Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1 (I think..) Hence no pics of the room last night... :(

Sadly, it also means the photo quality will be quite rough from here on in.

The real bummer though was that (the same dude, or another) someone stole the TT $1 I had taped to the inside of my windshield. The sad thing is that it's going to be completely worthless to them. There's nowhere within 2,000 miles to change TT money. Losing that symbol of my ultimate destination really bummed me out ...

Antigua centro
Good news though. At the border I spoke to some Guatemalans heading north to Oaxaca. They suggested I stay in the hotel across the street from their restaurant in downtown Antigua. I'm always up for taking recommendations

The Hotel Posada San Vicente on 6th Avenida Sur in Antigua is gorgeous. If you are ever in this town, do yourself a favour and book a room for a night or two!

And be SURE to dine at the Saberico restaurant across the street. Talk about rosmantic! Guaranteed to make you a star with that special someone in your world.

In my case, I was dining with Clay, an ex-Outlaw biker from Florida. Wonderful man.
Local dancers in the Chichicastenango Market

The next day we took the bus tour to the Chichicastenango market.

The rest of this week I will be in Spanish school 4 hours a day. Let's see what sticks in the ole' noggin :)

Nnenna from D.C.
And as a special bonus of bonuses -- the day after I had a chat with Nnenna in the market about the lack of brothers traveling abroad -- I run into part of a group of FIFTY brothers from Morehouse College on tour of Central America as part of the Semester at Sea program.
Morehouse in the house!

Oh be still my beating heart!! :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Well Acapulco is a big town, a real major city. This means in part, there's probably at least a bit of crime to worry about.

So I am pleasantly surprised when see the setup at the 2nd motel I look at. Each of the rooms is on the 2nd floor, with a private parking space below. I say private, as in once you drive your car in, you can close a curtain behind you before your passenger exits the vehicle.

This tropical sun must be frying me brains, because it takes about 20 minutes of looking in my Spanish-English dictionary to realize that there will be no phrases to explain why they charge per hour for the rooms.

Finally it dawns on me, and the clerk at the desk smiles kindly and shakes her head. She has a good chuckle to herself as she directs me to another hotel nearby -- one that would probably be best for a solo traveler.


The next day it seems that, yet again, Lady Luck has caught up with me. She must be stalking me, or something..

Since I've entered Acapulco I've only been up on hills, so it's time to find the Malecon.
At the 3rd stop light, a scooter rider stops next to me, and I ask is this is the route to the waterfront.

Turns out Miguel Angel belongs to a local motorcycle club with a branch in Montreal.

What are the chances? :)

Hotelier - Big Al
Miguel leads me to a very nice, moderately priced hotel on the Malecon, but more on the local end -- the side with the supermarket, rather than the tourist strip with the nightclubs, Starbucks and 20-storey hotels.

Miguel has to go off to work, but we exchange contact info and he promises we'll connect again in the evening.

Outside the new Motos Boxer store

Lina, Alejandra y Rebecca

At 4:30 he show up at the hotel with Rosy riding pillion. They take me to the Grand Opening of a motorcycle shop, tour the entire waterfront (HUGE!) at night, then take in the famous cliff diving show.

Along the way we ran into several small parade in celebration of Mary of Guadalupe. Each procession featured drummers, singing, and fireworks shot up from the crowd.

Stopped long the parade route for refreshments


Leaving Acapulco the next day was the only sore spot. After getting caught in a speed trap on the road out of town, the local cops turn out to be more interested in extorting money from me, than doing their jobs. Eventually I give them $4,400 pesos to get my International Drivers License back. Somehow I don't think any of that whole episode will make it into their Daily Report.

What a bummer way to leave an otherwise charming city. And for my whole time in Mexico, it was los Policia Federales that I had been warned against :(

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Puerto Vallarta to Playa Azul

It's been a really crazy week for me trying to deal with situations back home. Maybe I'll blog about them another time. For now, here's a couple of quick updates from the early part of last week.

After leaving Tepic late in the day, I knew I would not make it all the way to Puerto Vallarta, but I was also sure there would be lots of places to stay along the way. 

I found myself breaking Rule #1 (again) -- Don't Ride At Night. To make matters worse I find I'm stuck behind a bus that's belching thick black smoke. I know that carbon monoxide is odourless and tasteless, but it was obviously inside this toxic sludge I had to breathe.

The problem was -- do I stay behind the bus and suck fumes, or pass the truck and deal with the darkness beyond. You see, on this moonless night, out in the middle of the Mexican countryside, my feeble little headlight could hardly cut it.

The thought went through my head that if I stay behind the truck, the fumes could actually make me pass out, and any accident I have would look like "rider error", or I just fell asleep.

So I passed him the very next chance I could get.

Big mistake. BIG, BIG mistake!

The night was so dark it swallowed my headlight in an instant. To keep from driving beyond my beams, I slowed to about 35 km/h. For the next 10 minutes I was intently focussed on not running into something, or myself off the winding road through these pitch dark hills. Somehow though, even at that slow pace, I still managed to leave the bus far behind. Maybe he broke down, or pulled off at a road I couldn't even see.

I told myself I'd pull over at the next flat spot. That turned out to be a bus stop, cut out of a large landing on the right side of the road, in a space big enough to fit about 2 large transport trucks.

As I pulled over, I saw bodies scampering to the side to get out the glare of my lights. I guess I scared the people who were waiting for the bus. I turned off my bike to wait for the bus, and when the headlight went out, it once again pitch black.

I waited in the dark, silently, with the dozen or so people, who I knew were only steps from me, but I could not see...

I swore then and there NO MORE DRIVING AT NIGHT!


I made it into the seaside town without too many more incidents. And am glad to announce the fumes did not kill me. I spent the night at the Cactus Creek Hotel. At dinner in the taqueria next door, the owner informed me that the town was practically invaded by Canadians every winter.


In the morning, I went out to see what the seaside had to offer...

Beach breakfast
The restauranteurs
It's worth the ride to Mexico!


Not sure exactly where it happened, but I have definitely crossed into a tropical zone now.
That means t-shirts at night, sleeping with just a sheet (if that!), and three showers a day to keep the stink down to a minimum.

My plan was to start early and ride all the way from Tecomán to Acapulco today. After 5 hours, I had only reached the half-way point, and still needed to stop for lunch. I called it quits for today's tide at Playa Azul.

It's a tiny little beach town, as you'd expect from the name. Riding down the main street right to the beach, I'm greeted by a young tout who's trying to get me into the big resort-style hotels along the beach. Their room rates are a little too rich for my blood, so he ends up leading me to a small guest house, buried deep in one of the neighbourhoods. There's no way I would have found this place on my own. 

They want only $200 pesos for the night. The place is clean and tidy, with secure parking out front. And as we walk into the inner courtyard, lo and behold, a swimming pool! Ha! 

A nice touch, though I will not be using it.

Then I spy a young girl (young woman actually, one of the co-owners of the house, along with her husband) doing laundry by hand. What catches my eye, is her resemblance to a young version of my courtesy-cousin, Natalie. 
I decide to see if she can try her hand at my jacket. I had tried washing it myself back in Los Angeles, but with nothing approaching success.

This woman is boss! 

No Internet access in the house (and not a single wifi signal anywhere on the street!) tonight, so I'll send some quality time writing Hot Wax code off-line.

The television is playing what looks like the State funeral for the recently slain ex-Governor of the State of Colima.

Bebo and parents
First stop is to wash off today's dirt - which included about 3 kms of actual dirt road. These Mexicans have an interesting way of road-building. It seems to be "let's completely remove the old road, strip the path down to the bedrock, if possible, before we start thinking about building the replacement"

I head off to the restaurant to grab lunch, and make change to tip the tout. As meagre as it is, the full $200 pesos should go to Bibo, and his Ma and Pa. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tepic gets even better

After a night of holding it in [see previous post], I hit the road early to get a move on to Puerto Vallarta.

On my way out of town I filled up at the nearby Pemex, then tucked into the attached convenience store for my morning orange juice.

And there I met the latest angels to cross my path while on this wonderful trip to Toco.


Raul Maldonado served me some fresh squeezed juice and began to tell me about a question he's been exploring for 35 years -- "Are we active subjects that effect events in the world, or are we passive objects being affected by the cosmos?"

The question can also be asked, "Is there really free will, or are we, simply biological robots?"

Fascinating questions. All the more so given the randomness of the context in which they were posed to me.

We stood in that parking lot for almost an hour chatting. Simply marvellous! I hope I get a copy of his book once published.

Amanda was angel #2 of that morning. After she filled 'becca's tank, she asked me, simply, in Spanish, "Why did I come to Tepic?"

There was something about the genuine-ness of the asking that made the answering more interesting than usual. Especially given my wonderful Spanglish.

On Raul's invitation, I followed him back to his home to meet this family,  and extend my stay in Tepic by one more day.

Casa Maldonado
What a gorgeous home he lives in. His father built the home to house his 11 children. 

Raul, one sister, and both their families live there today. It's a grand old home in a gated community on the hills of Tepic. 

Raul's sister and family..
Since even that house is not big enough to house 11 families, it's on the market. Is you've got some cash burning a hole in your account, this looks like an amazing place to park it.

Raul, his wife Elizabeth and their son, Daniel

Climb these stairs to the roof..

... and this is one of the views!

A real Brady Bunch kitchen

Yes ... a tree! in the living room

Where 'becca slept

A random conversation at Casa Maldonado:

Me: "I'm actually a little surprised that I not seen any Black people in Mexico so far."

Raul: "Oh we have one."

Daniel: "No, we have 2."

Me: "Oh really?"

Raul: "Oh yes. That's right. They are Cubans here to coach baseball."

As is the curious way with the universe, Amanda is la buena amiga de Elizabeth, Raul's wife. We ended up going to the movies (which was run in the original English, with Spanish subtitles - wonderful way to practice the language). Try as we might though, we could not find a libreria in the whole of Tepic selling uno Espanol-de-Inglés libro de frases.

Some mighty struggles with the languages ensued. I didn't want to give up, but in the end, I couldn't even find the word for 'uncle'.

Motos are the best way to get around!

We had fun though. Tepic has some wonderful public spaces, and is a place I want to visit again.

Ernesto, Daniel and .... sorry I forget :(
Coming back to to the house on the hill, I stayed up late some of the boy cousins, especially Daniel and the German-born, Ernesto. We chatted about life, the Universe and Everything

Ahh, Ernesto the fisherman ... I have to connect with him again and check out his boat docked in Puerto Vallarta. Hopefully he'll make it down there before I head further south.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


After dealing with a bit of nausea brought on by a coffee I made for myself in the morning :( we ended up leaving  Mazatlan late yesterday - around noon. Daniel rode with me for the first 20 minutes, until the road split into the free and toll routes out of town. 

His help has been nothing short of absolutely amazing! Thank you Sir!!!

But the late start meant there was no way I could get all the way to Puerto Vallarta before nightfall. I'm staying in an inland town named Tepic. I thought finding a hotel here would be easier given the large size of the town, but the first hotel I stopped at wanted $900 (pesos) for a room! To be sure, the place looked quite upscale, which would be completed wasted on me :)

I asked the desk clerk to point me to another, but cheaper motel nearby. That one ended up asking $1,100. Ha!
What $100 pesos gets you

Then after asking for yet another recommendation, I rode right past the suggested place, as it was also quite swanky, and stopped at the current spot. Would you believe $170 pesos per night?!

That's the cheapest anywhere I've found on the entire trip. Cheaper even that campgrounds in the USA.

I suppose at that price, it was a bit much to assume they would provide a seat on the toilet, or a cover on the drain in the shower to keep me from falling in...

I just want to get through the night without donating more than 1/4 pint of blood to whatever lives in the mattress..

You can't have everything in life :)


The hilarity doesn't stop.

It seems that this 'hotel' gets most of it's clients after 11 PM.
Then just before 6 AM this (Sunday) morning, I was awoken to the distinctive sound of no less than a dozen pairs of stilettos clacking down the hallway and down the stairs to leave.
Accompanied by lots of giggles, and butt-smacking goodbyes to boot.

Sorry, didn't want to disturb their flow by asking to take pics... You'll have to use your imagination on this one folks.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mazatlan -- Mainland Mexico at last

We landed just after 10 AM -- a full 16 hours after leaving port yesterday. Phew.

The ride was smooth. I only had to take one round of Gravol to keep my stomach in check.

The Germans waited to cross the following day
When I landed in Mazatlan, I said farewell to some Canadians I met on the way over. 


Riding through town looking for the route to the highway south took me right past this KDM Kawasaki dealership (on Juan Carrasco, downtown Mazatlan). I stop in to see if I can replace a couple of bolts that had shaken loose during the past few days. The owner, Gerardo, gets his workers to scrounge for the bolts for me, and gives them to me for free.

I'm so happy with this, I ask them about doing a mod that's been on my wish list for quite some time -- drilling the side plastics to allow faster removal of the seat.

While I'm waiting, a fellow walks up and introduces himself to me as Daniel. He asks how long plan to stay in Mazatlan. "I was not going to stay. Just get these parts and head south.", I reply.

Daniel offers me his place to stay as long as I wish -- as much as week even.
Wow. Just like that!

So, I took him up on the offer and stayed at his place.

Buenas dias!
The next day, Daniel took me to his school, Francisco Gonzalez, today. What magic it is to be among children. He took me around to meet all the kids in the school.  Their ages ranged from 7 to 12.

In each class I was introduced formally, first to the teacher, then to the students.

We mostly do impromptu English and Geography lessons.

Then we get onto the topic of music, and just like that, I'm dancing with a room full of 5th graders to some parang tunes.

Getting into the groove, I have them have a contest for the first to locate Trinidad & Tobago on a map. First prize is the Canada pin from my jacket. They were excited.
The winner!

My new girlfriend

Samantha Lisabeth! My dancing partner

Then one girl decides she wants my signature. And of course the whole class follows. I think I signed the backs of 30 exercise books today.  It's too funny for words, really.


Sounds like a group prayer in the back room of Yadira's (Daniel's beau) beauty salon. But then it ends with clapping, so I am confused.

I think today will be a good day to top up the coolant in the bike. The weather is consistently hot now, and should continue so (except for the mountainous bits) for the rest of the trip.

My big concern now is watching my budget. It seems clear I'll have to do at least a few weeks of work while in Trinidad to early enough for the flight home. Depending on how things go, Rebecca may not make the trip home...


The Malecon in Mazatlan is apparently the longest on the Pacific coast (of Mexico, at least -- maybe in the world?)

The northern half is upscale touristy, with a McDonald's, and all sorts of posh resorts. The many nightclubs are alive with the moneyed young and beautiful people, both local and tourists.

The southern strip is much darker, but no less alive with young lovers in parked cars, or on benches sitting, staring at the sea, just wanting to be close...

Yadira and Daniel, my lovely hosts