1-Oct-08 It’s been 35 years since I visited Mexico and it has really changed. It took about an hour to clear the border at Reynosa and cost $21 for my motorcycle import fee and a deposit of $324. Reynosa was loaded with 7-Elevens and Burger Kings. The traffic seemed positively orderly compared to Thailand. Road conditions are good and the signs are easy to follow. The sun was so hot I had to shed my motorcycle jacket. It’s so bulky that I’m still looking for a good way to bungee it on to the bike. The first motel I checked wanted 300 pesos. The second motel near Ciudad Victoria I bargained down to 200pesos (approximately $18). The room was clean and air-conditioned. I used my very rusty Spanish to talk with the owner and some of the other guests.
Before I left I talked to my father. He’s concerned about the dangers of solo travel. I tried to reassure him that I’ve had lots of experience traveling alone and that it would be reasonably safe. The Mexican people are as friendly as I remember them and the highways appear to be well patrolled by the police. So far I haven’t seen any of the small villages I remember from my previous visits. It all looks pretty modern to me.
2-Oct-08 Using my GPS to navigate in Mexico is a bit of a challenge. It only shows major highways and when I get off track my location is shown in white space on the map. Then I have to choose a direction by guessing which road goes toward my goal. And the location compared to the road is not always accurate.
When I arrived in Tampico, I wandered around for a while looking for a beach. I took a break by a canal and started chatting with a local man on his motorbike. I told him I was looking for a cheap hotel and he said there was one next to his restaurant. I followed him. It was my first experience with “hourly” accommodations. It was $27 for the whole night and they were kind enough to let me park the moto in the courtyard. I did some exploring and found a more expensive hotel with free wireless internet.
3-Oct-08 The next morning I had breakfast at Café Mayo. I chatted with Manuel and his wife Patti. They had relatives south of Tampico in Tuxpan and called to see if I could stay with them.
4-5-Oct-08 When I arrived in Tuxpan, I showed the paper Manuel had given me to several people and finally tracked down Les’ house. Les is a retired Tuna boat captain and had been married to Patti’s sister. Les put me up in a spare room and told me sea stories. He was a pretty good cook. The second night I took him to dinner downtown. We went by taxi. The taxis in Mexico run on set routes and several passengers share the fare. Les is not very optimistic about the workers in Mexico and feels like corruption takes a big toll. He has fished for tuna all over the world and wrecked three boats. He’s from BC and knew exactly where Smithers and Prince Rupert were located. I enjoyed swapping stories with him.
6-8-Oct-08 I found a small beach resort named Teocolutla on the web and headed for there. After a search, I found a hotel with wireless internet. While putting Blackcherry in the courtyard, I got stuck in the narrow passage and had to remove one of the side cases to get through. I stayed an extra day to avoid a tropical storm and because the room was nice and cheap ($18) and I could get the presidential debate on the web. I also caught up with The Colbert Report and the Daily Show. And I watched my portfolio evaporate. I don’t think the bail out plan is a good idea. Why should the taxpayer give more money to the same people who screwed up in the first place?
After leaving Teocolutla, I stopped to see the Mayan ruins at Tajin. After a walk through the ruins I ate lunch while the rain poured down. Riding in tropical rain is not unpleasant because it lowers the temperature. As soon as the sun come out my shirt dries.
9-Oct-08 Riding on Mexican highways is a pleasure except for the frequent tolls. I have to exercise great care to avoid toll roads and there’s no way to avoid toll bridges. It costs two or three dollars to cross and it’s always a hassle to dig out money when you’re riding a motorcycle.
After a short ride,I stopped at a beach hotel on Costa Esmerelda had dinner and a Corona and went to sleep.
10-Oct-08 Almost every small town has a “no tell motel”. It turns out that they are perfect for traveling with a motorcycle because there is a secure parking place (often behind a curtain or a garage door) right next to the room. If you don’t mind sleeping with a mirror on the ceiling it’s really convenient.
The ride was great! I passed through a mountainous area near Lake Catemaco. When I stopped for a break in a park near the lake, I was approached by several touts for local bars. It was a little early in the day but I had a good time chatting with them. My Spanish is coming along fairly well. I seem to be able to communicate what I need to say. The highway continues through green rolling hills.
As I approached Coatzacoalcos, I spotted a Burger King. I’ve really been enjoying Mexican food but I was ready for a real hamburger. I had a nice chat with Javier, a Vet who sells veterinary drugs to the local farmers.
Usually I avoid riding after dark, but as I went south there were few towns and fewer hotels. I stopped in Cardenas and thought the hotel was to expensive so I kept looking. On and on through Villa Hermosa (there was a Hyatt Regency) and on toward the coast. I finally gave up and paid a bit more than my budget. At least I got a free beer. The state of Tabasco is under water from the after effects of several storms and many people have moved their housed temporarily near the road.
11-16Oct-08 Highway 180 took me along the Gulf coast. The best part was on Isla Aguada. On one side there are white sand beaches and on the other side mangrove swamps. In Cuidad del Carmen the main road was flooded with about a foot of water. Blackcherry doesn’t have any problem going through up to about two feet of water so it wasn’t a problem. As I approached Campeche it was getting late so I began looking for a place to stay. I spotted a beach resort that looked interesting on the outskirts of Chompoton.
Perla del Mar (www.perladelmarmexico.com) has 4 km of beachfront and is just beginning to develop. I chatted with Steve, a developer from Florida about his plans. They’re aiming for the retiring baby boomers who want a better lifestyle than they can afford in the US. Here you can build a million dollar mansion for 25% of the price in the US. They plan to have onsite medical services, a marina and all of the other amenities that people expect.
The Mexican Government is pouring money into the local infrastructure. And resorts are popping up (at Mexican speed) around Chompoton. There is a river for boat rides to see monkeys and jaguars and a classic Mexican Mercado in town.
Steve had a cabana for $35usd/night but that’s more than I like to spend. He directed to Hotel Paraiso just a short distance away. The price there was $20usd a night and it had wireless internet and (sporadic) hot water. Right across the road there is a really good restaurant. I parked my motorcycle out front in secure view of the front desk.
I stayed for several days because I was ready for a break. The staff was friendly. Yadita was a cute 22 year old who wanted to practice her English.
Mornings were clear and cool but by the time I was ready to do something in the afternoon the sky usually clouded up. On Tuesday evening I decided to visit Campeche. There are two roads and one is a toll road. I took the free (libre) route. It was a curvy ride on a good road. Just as I approached Campeche the sky opened and I got drenched. Looking for a dry place I stopped at the local university which was having some kind of evening activity. I browed the booths and found a very interesting exhibit on hurricane track prediction.
Campeche is a beautiful colonial town with cobbled streets in the Zona Viejo. Because it was after dark and many of the streets were flooded, I decided to take the toll road back to Chompoton. It was a great road but the toll for 30 miles of good road was almost $5usd…not really worth it.
I dallied for a day or two extra working up the ambition to update my website. I was able to get current news on NPR and BBC Worldwide and to watch my two favorite shows: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. And, I wanted to listen to the final presidential debate. I also got an email from someone inviting me to visit his offroad motorcycle resort in San Isabel, Belize. This piqued my interest about finding local people as I travel. There is a motorcycle travel site ( www.horizonsunlimited.com ) The site has a feature called “communities” that offer local help and information to travelers. I posted requests for cheap accommodations in Cancun and in Guatemala. I also used Skype to talk to friends and family. I talked to my daughter online and I called my first wife to wish her a happy birthday and caught my son before he left for work. I talked to my friend Alan about the stock market and caught up with the events in my sister’s life. I was a little hesitant about carrying a laptop computer but now I’m glad I did.
17-Oct-08 Campeche is a beautiful colonial town. I searched for a cheap place to stay and eventually found Hostel Zocalo. It’s located right on the main plaza and is in the former governor’s residence. It was okay but I had to park my motorcycle two blocks away and they charged $2usd for internet access. Nice atmosphere and the zocalo in the evening was a treat.
18-19-Oct-08 I headed down Highway 180 (libre) to Chichen Itza. This makes number 5 of the current 7 modern wonders of the world. I still have Machu Pichu and the giant Christ figure over Rio yet to see.
I stayed at Hostal Chichen, a family run place. It was ok. I found a great loncheria (cheap food!). They were nice enough to make me unsweetened ice tea and I had the comida del dia (blue plate special) which was barbecued pork. Yum!
I parked just outside the gate to avoid the $1usd parking charge and paid the $10 entrance fee. The pyramid is iconic. Lots of souvenir sellers but they aren’t as pushy as the ones at Angkor Wat, Borobadur, and the Taj Majal. There were visitors from all over the world: Russians, French, Chinese, and Mexicans. Unfortunately, most everything was roped off and so you could look but not touch.
20-21-Oct-08 Cancun was a lot bigger than I expected and the approach by Highway 180 made the town look poorer than I expected. I was searching for The Weary Traveler Hostel, or The Nest. After a Whopper combo meal I was ready to search. I’d picked up some brochures at Hostal Chichen but the maps were awful. And, an online search for a good street map of Cancun proved useless. So, I wandered around until I found The Nest but it was closed! Then I searched for the Weary Traveler. When I finally found it, it looked pretty good. The first thing I do is fire up my wi-fi connection. I had to change rooms to get nearer the hub. The ladies who run the place do a good job of keeping it clean and the kitchen layout and common room are good. A dorm bed costs $10 a night.
I wandered around Cancun looking for a dive shop for my cenote dive. Their map was no good either. I was also looking for some new travel trousers. My custom built trousers were disintegrating. I tried patching them several times but then a new rip would appear. Both pairs started falling apart at the same time. It was like they had a self-destruct mechanism built in. I was looking for Walmart (yes, there is a Walmart in Cancun) but I found the Mexican equivalent and bought two pairs of replacement pants. They’re close but will require some pocket alteration to work well.
22-24-Oct-08 I decided to do my cenote dive near Tulum. On the way the sky opened and I got soaked. My travel shirt dried out quickly but my new travel pants were made of cotton and remained soggy for a day.
There was a Weary Traveler Hostel in Tulum and I had a discount for the first night so I stayed there. It was not as well run. They didn’t even have hooks in the showers in the 12 bed shared dorm. But the wi-fi was good and the other travelers were entertaining as always.
On the way to Tulum on Highway 307, I spotted a sign for Dos Ojos Cenote. This cenote gets rave reviews from divers so I stopped at the dive shop next to the road. David (the dive master), made me a pretty good deal (two dives plus equipment=$100). So, I booked a dive for the next morning.
I arrived at 9:30 and got fitted my equipment. I was the only diver scheduled then another diver showed up. Yuri is an eye surgeon who works in LA. Born in Ukraine, he got his MD from Columbia.
The dive was a fantastic experience. I couldn’t believe it but when I checked my dive long it had been 5 years since my last dive. Fortunately diving is like riding a bicycle and my skills came back quickly. David did a good dive plan briefing and we took off. The first dive was the Barbie Line. Turns out that the name comes from a Barbie doll clamped in the mouth of a plastic crocodile at the end of the dive safety line.
Between dives I got better acquainted with Yuri and beautiful Alena. He’s one of the first people who really understood what I mean by “Plan to be Spontaneous”. Yuri has an interesting philosophical viewpoint and it was great fun chatting.
The second dive was to the Bat Cave(no bats at home). Both dives had wonderful cave formations, fossil coral and a few fish. It was challenging diving because it was necessary to control your altitude with skillful lung control. I turned off my light and hung back from the group to get the feeling of darkness. Seeing the other diver’s lights in the distance was beautiful and a little eerie.
After the dive I was greeted by the sight of two long-distance bikes. Tom had a BMW 1200GS and Mark had a KLR 650. I haven’t seen many distance bikers so it was nice to swap stories. They’re from California on their way south.
24-Oct-08 For my last night in Mexico, I decided to treat myself. While cruising the side road next to Lake Bacalar, I spotted Amigos Hostelita. The facility manager Hinge (Holland) showed me my room. It had a beautiful view of the lake and wireless internet. There was a good spot for my motorcycle and wireless internet so I splurged for an off-season $30usd per night room. Ah, comfort.
25-Oct-08 I got a late start and arrived at the border with Belize at a little before 3pm. I was hungry so I stopped at a loncheria right at the border. Big mistake. It turns out that the Bancercito closes at 3pm on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. So I had to spend a night in the Free Zone at a fairly expensive hotel so I could clear my $329usd deposit at the Bancercito.
26-28 Oct-08 I started earlier, paid a couple of bucks to fumigate my motorcycle, bought $30usd worth of insurance for Belize and then went through the border. There was no extra charge for importing my bike and the border was easy and friendly. I went down the Northern Highway toward Belize City. Water was flowing over the road in places and I got drenched. My friend Alan asked me to check out Ambergris Caye so I looked for budget accommodation and found Pedro’s Inn in San Pedro. After getting thoroughly lost I eventually ended up at the water taxi station. Isaiah helped me secure my motorcycle and his friend took my motorcycle to check it at the desk. This would prove to be a bad idea. I arrived at Pedro’s and checked into my basic but cheap room and had a pricey but delicious pizza.
Ambergris Caye is supposed to be a great place for expats but I wasn’t terribly impressed. The beaches were good but public access was limited to a narrow strip along the water. Food was at US prices and was nothing special at the places I tried. Peter, the owner of Pedro’s took turns being friendly and surly.
29-Oct-08 When I got back to Belize City my bike was fine but my motorcycle jacket and leather pants had gone missing and Isaiah didn’t have a clue. A circus of fun followed where one of the taxi drivers said he knew the guy who had my jacket and said for $10usd he would drive me to the guys house and get the jacket or there would be no charge. When we got there the guy said it must have been sent on one of the water taxis by mistake. The driver wanted some money for driving around but…a deal is a deal. I talked to Hector, the manager, and he was helpful and concerned. He said he would check out the boats and let me know the next day. I found a guesthouse down the street and did my laundry. The Smokin Balam guest house was drastically overpriced at $20usd per night. The room was substandard (and minus hot water) and the owner wanted money for everything: $2/hour for internet, 50 cents to fill up my water bottle. The guest TV wouldn’t tune into Comedy Central and the room downstairs closed at exactly the time my show started. The next day my jacket was still missing and so I decided to head for San Ignacio.
30-31-Oct-08 Easier said than done. After getting directions to the Western Highway, I promptly got lost again. When I tried to use my GPS, I would end up across a river with no bridge from where I wanted to go. When I tried to follow signs I would still get lost. I finally decided to take the Northern Highway to the Western Highway to avoid navigating in Belize City. Too bad that when I got onto the connector road it was flooded. Back to the Belize City maze again. This time I got lucky and made it out of town only to get hung up at a section of washed out road. I cruised to the front of the two mile long line up of waiting cars and watched while they repaired the road. When it was wide enough for my motorcycle they let me squeeze through. The road headed up into the hills and the ride was pleasant. On Adventure Riders I had tracked down a place to stay with Andy who operated a dirt bike tour company. Just ask at Pacz tours and they would contact him. Easy enough if one of the two bridges wasn’t underwater. While asking around I ran into the “missing link” (Link to his friends…everybody is his friend). He said Andy was involved in a big Halloween Flood Benefit Concert Thing so we went there with Link on the back of my bike. Sure enough, Andy appeared but the cabana I was supposed to stay in was surrounded by water. Link steered me to The Majorca Hotel and introduced me to Yolanda the manager and so I ended up at a pretty good place with hot coffee, wireless, cable TV, hot water, and a locked parking place for the same price as the dump in Belize City. I had the best meal I’ve had in a while at Hanna’s restaurant. The next day I volunteered to help out at the concert. I chauffeured people around, helped with the decorations, and took some video. The turn-out was disappointing and I finally ran out of energy around midnight. The next day I spent resting, catching up on my journal and watching TV.
30-Oct-2-Nov-08 Easier said than done. After getting directions to the Western Highway, I promptly got lost again. When I tried to use my GPS, I would end up across a river with no bridge from where I wanted to go. When I tried to follow signs I would still get lost. I finally decided to take the Northern Highway to the Western Highway to avoid navigating in Belize City. Too bad that when I got onto the connector road it was flooded. Back to the Belize City maze again. This time I got lucky and made it out of town only to get hung up at a section of washed out road. I cruised to the front of the two mile long line up of waiting cars and watched while they repaired the road. When it was wide enough for my motorcycle they let me squeeze through. The road headed up into the hills and the ride was pleasant. On Adventure Riders I had tracked down a place to stay with Andy who operated a dirt bike tour company. Just ask at Pacz tours and they would contact him. Easy enough if one of the two bridges wasn’t underwater. While asking around I ran into the “missing link” (Link to his friends…everybody is his friend). He said Andy was involved in a big Halloween Flood Benefit Concert Thing so we went there with Link on the back of my bike. Sure enough, Andy appeared but the cabana I was supposed to stay in was surrounded by water. Link steered me to The Majorca Hotel and introduced me to Yolanda the manager and so I ended up at a pretty good place with hot coffee, wireless, cable TV, hot water, and a locked parking place for the same price as the dump in Belize City. I had the best meal I’ve had in a while at Hanna’s restaurant. The next day I volunteered to help out at the concert. I chauffeured people around, helped with the decorations, and took some video. The turn-out was disappointing and I finally ran out of energy around midnight. The next day I spent resting, catching up on my journal and watching TV.
I got great news from my friend Frank. He’s coming from Germany to meet up with me in Costa Rica during the holidays to do a little motorcycle touring. Frank is the guy who got me started with KLR650s and I’m really looking forward to riding with him.
If I’m going to get to San Juan by December 14, I have to keep a tight schedule through Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
I got great news from my friend Frank. He’s coming from Germany to meet up with me in Costa Rica during the holidays to do a little motorcycle touring. Frank is the guy who got me started with KLR650s and I’m really looking forward to riding with him.
If I’m going to get to San Juan by December 14, I have to keep a tight schedule through Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
2-Nov-08 I got my usual leisurely start and headed for the Guatemalan border town of Melchor de Mencos. At the newly constructed border station there was a tent with an English speaking representative of Inguat (the Guatemala Institute of Tourism). She was very helpful with maps and a briefing of what I needed to do to clear me and my motorcycle through. With her help it was a breeze. But the first 30 or so miles of road was definitely not a breeze. Potholed gravel and asphalt with good patches interspersed with challenges made me glad I was on a dual-purpose bike. While getting some gasoline, I ran into Fred, a biker from Holland who was going into Belize. We swapped information.
I headed down the road to Flores. Along the way I stopped to take some pictures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in a local cemetery. The graves were very colorful and the people very friendly. I took a picture of a woman with a devil piñata. The friendly people raised my spirits and I began to experience “travel euphoria”. I tried the hotel Fred had suggested but they didn’t have wireless internet so I stopped at another place in San Elena, the town opposite of Flores which is an island tourist destination. The government is clearly putting a lot of money into this part of Guatemala and I think it has a lot of tourist potential.
According to Fred the longer route to Guatemala City was bandit free. I was a bit concerned because Dave, a Texas biker on the way to Tierra del Fuego, was robbed at gunpoint not long ago. I decided to take the safer route.
3-Nov-08 After Flores Highway 13 dramatically improved. A curving road through rolling hills made riding a real pleasure. I try to stop well before dark, so when I arrived in Rio Dulce I started looking for a cheap place with wireless internet. I ended up at the Backpacker’s Hotel under the bridge over the Rio Dulce. I checked into my $10/night room and waited for the power to come on so the internet would work. It never did. But, I had a really good meal in the riverside restaurant with impeccable service. The profits of the hotel go to a local orphanage and the kids get tourism training. Even without power it was a pleasant experience.
When I parked my bike in their secure parking lot there was a well-traveled Honda 750 Dakar already there. I met Ian, the owner and we swapped tales. Ian is from Yorkshire and has traveled Africa and South America and is on his way to Siberia via Alaska. He’s four years older and a lot tougher than me. He rides off-road when he can and survives on banana sandwiches for breakfast and sardine sandwiches for dinner. I think he is traveling on about half of my budget which I consider pretty tight. He’s a marine engineer and so I sent an introductory email to Les in Tuxpan, Mexico. I think they will get along.
4-Nov-08 The ride from Rio Dulce to Guatemala City was one of the best of the whole trip. The road was good and the traffic was not bad. I met some wonderful people when I stopped beside the road for a break.
I was heading for Antigua but I hit Guatemala City during the afternoon rush hour. I decided to stop at the McCafe in hopes of a wireless connection so I could contact Peter. He has a company that runs Harley tours through Guatemala and was kind enough to receive a shipment from the US for me. I ordered a directional signal amplifier so I could improve my wireless reception and I needed a place to send it to. He is a member of the Horizons Unlimited Community in Guatemala and contacted me with an offer to help. Very kind.
In my broken Spanish, I asked the couple at the next table for directions to Peter’s place. Guillermo spoke good English and his wife was kind enough to let me use her mobile to contact Peter. Peter’s place was on the other side of the city and darkness was approaching. Peter’s friend Victor was visiting but owned a parking lot in the middle of Zona Uno (city center). Victor agreed to meet me there. Guillermo volunteered to let me follow them to the address. People are so nice. It only took 20 minutes but I was very grateful for the guide because a strange city after dark can be confusing.
Victor grew up in Houston, Texas and spoke fluent colloquial English. He helped me find a cheap, secure, internet equipped hotel. I checked in and then we went for a beer at venerable local bar. Everyone here is very interested in the presidential election so we watched early results. By the time I returned to the hotel and watched the Daily Show, Obama was declared the winner and I heard his acceptance speech.
Now, I’m a pretty cynical person when it comes to politics but during Obama’s speech I found tears in my eyes. For the first time in a long time I felt proud to be an American. I have hope for better things. Maybe a black president can raise the spirits of a dispirited country.
Victor’s wife is the great granddaughter of the man who was president of Guatemala in the 20’s and he’s restoring a few of the cars in his collection.
I asked Victor about the church with the lights and the fireworks and he said that this Friday a holy statue of the Virgin will be paraded through the streets in a festival that happens only every one hundred years. I plan to hang around to see the procession.
5-9Nov-08 When I called Peter this morning he told me that my package arrived today and invited me to join him for the weekly party at Big Mama’s Biker Bar. He gives the trip briefing for his Harley tour and I’ll be interested to meet him and get his insights on motorcycling in Guatemala. The C.O. Jones Jones Motorcycle runs tours along the great roads in Guatemala. I have my standards but I will talk to Harley people because I like all riders no matter what kind of cycle they ride.Today I went on a spending spree. I got major service done on Blackcherry. They tightened up the head bolt which will help ensure that the handle bar stays on. It cost about $200usd but they did a good job and they cleaned up the bike like new. Then I went next door to the motorcycle accessory shop. I needed to replace the jacket stolen in Belize City because I don’t have anything waterproof to wear. I bought a stylish Italian jacket which is a little lighter and cooler. And I got a haircut. I’m sure the senoritas will swoon at my new image. I topped off the evening with a great steak (imported from Argentina) and a little rum and coca cola in the courtyard of Pension Meza. After a few more peaceful days at Penzion Meza I decided to travel on to Antigua.
9Nov-08 It was a quick ride to Antigua. One of the riders from Horizons Unlimited had recommended Café No Se as a great stop. Finding it involved a tour of Antigua. It’s a beautiful Spanish colonial city with a classic town square and cobbled street. Navigation was a challenge because of the one way streets and random dead ends. Café No Se was indeed a great place. Following my standard policy, I began chatting with a beautiful girl. Tessa is from Holland on holiday with her boyfriend Has.
I found a friendly place to stay right across the street. The Hostal had a dorm bed and breakfast for only $12usd/night. And, they let me park my motorcycle in the courtyard. The showers are hot and there is wireless.
Next door to Café No Se is the Dyslexia book store. I had an interesting political discussion with the American expat who owns it. We talked about the impact that mass media satire like the Palin/Hilary open on Saturday Night Live had on the election. I’m pleased that Obama was elected. I don’t know if he can improve things but I believe he offers hope to replace the fear offered by the last eight years of the Bush administration.
10-Nov-08 On to El Salvador. It was a short ride to the border. Border crossings are always a bit tense. Since each border in each country has slightly different procedures I always park close to the most likely building and then pause for a break. It always amounts to essentially the same thing… Immigration for me and customs to import my bike. El Salvador was different because of an agreement between Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and Nicaragua to allow a single entry stamp for all four countries. So, my Guatemala stamp was all I needed. First I had to check out of Guatemala and then I had to check in to El Salvador. I changed my Quetzales to US dollars at a reasonable exchange rate. El Salvador uses US dollars as their currency and it was a bit bizarre to get prices in Spanish but to pay in US currency. It took a while to process the papers but I chatted with a couple (Polish man and an American woman) to pass the time. It took about an hour and a half to cross the border and the only weird fee was $5 for some kind of municipal permit after entering El Salvador.
I took the coast road toward La Libertad. I stopped at a love motel right across the border for the night and had dinner in the night club chatting with the working girls. Dinner was good and only slightly overpriced. I tried an ATM at a local Texaco station but couldn’t get it to work. I had to dig into my reserve.
11-Nov-08 The road between the border and La Libertad is a world-class motorcycle ride. It hugs the coastline of the Pacific with great sweeping curves and five tunnels. The first tunnel was a shock. I was wearing sunglasses and suddenly I was in a pitch black tunnel barreling along at 60mph. I slowed down, headed for the light and prayed that the tunnel was straight. I decided to take off my sunglasses. I think “Precaution Curvas Peligrosas” means great motorcycle riding ahead in English.
As I approached La Libertad, I started looking for a placed to stay with wi-fi. It took many stops to find a place where the price was okay and had internet access. I finally settled on a very mediocre hotel across from a nice restaurant, La Puenta Rocha. Surfing is the main attraction in La Libertad and the owner was frustrated because the business of running his restaurant was keeping him off the waves.
12-Nov-08 It was only a short ride to the capital, San Salvador. It only took a few minutes to climb out of the warm humid coastal climate to the higher cooler climate of the mountains. Mario had responded with an email to my posting on HU offering to let me stay in a cabin on his coffee plantation. I decided I would check into a hostel and then give him a call. After wandering aimlessly for a few hours in the complicated streets of San Salvador, I gave up and borrowed a mobile phone to call Mario.
He met me and I followed him toward the volcano that dominates San Salvador. Up and up we climbed on a really good concrete road. Then the road turned into gravel. Then he turned off onto a dirt track that continued the steep climb. He said to look out for the sharp corner and “go wide”. When I got there I didn’t go wide enough and didn’t have the traction to go up so I went back. I decided to drop the bike rather than go over the edge. Mario and Bernardo, his foreman, helped me lift up the bike and we finally arrived at what I call Mario’s Castle. It has a patio with a stupendous view of San Salvador. After a business meeting, Mario returned with two fellow riders (another Mario and Juan) and we had a wonderful evening swapping riding stories. They recommended a trip to the top of the volcano and we made a plan to get together the following afternoon.
13-Nov-08 I went to see El Boqueron, the crater of the volcano that looms over San Salvador. It’s only a few kilometers from Mario’s Castle and there is a National Park there. I paid my $1 to get in and then tried to figure out how to ride to the edge of the crater. I ended up on a private road leading to the major TV transmitter stations for San Salvador. The engineer, Sergio, got permission for me to take a tour and I looked at the transmitters and went to the edge of the crater. Quite a view! That afternoon the Marios and Juan met me for a ride to Mario 2’s rancho, a beachhouse in La Libertad. It was a pleasure to follow someone who knew the way through the streets of San Salvador. We arrived in time to take sunset pictures on the beach.
14-Nov-08 Mario’s Rancho was a very restful stop. There were hammocks and the people who look after it also run Pupuseria, a place that makes tortillas with tasty fillings. I was able to catch up on the internet at the café that I visited during my first trip to La Libertad. The second night we had a barbecue by the pool. Ah, luxury. The guys helped me map out a route through Honduras and Nicaragua. I hope someday to see them again. Meeting people like them made my time in El Salvador a special memory.
15-Nov-08 I set off following the map and my GPS to cross the border at a less traveled point called El Poy. In spite of the good map, I managed to get lost in San Salvador but after zig-zagging a bit I finally found the right road. While going through Apopa, I ran into a massive traffic jam. Using all the tricks of a motorcycle rider I managed to weave through traffic to the front only to find a parade. I think it was political. But, tying up traffic for hours would not win votes where I come from. After clearing the parade it was easy travelling to La Palma. The hotel in La Palma had amazing murals on the walls. I fell asleep looking at them.
16-Nov-08 Now it was time to cross the dreaded Honduran border. According to many ride reports the border to Honduras is a nightmare of confusion sometimes taking 7 hours to get through. Well, I must have a lucky star. No crowds, no “helpers”…I just cruised up and started talking to Celso Pineda, a border official. There was a problem, however, on Sunday the bank is closed and there is no way to pay the fee to enter Honduras. Celso took pity on me and agreed to pay it on my behalf when the bank opened the next day. So, instead of a multi-hour ordeal, I had a pleasant discussion with Celso and mangaged to get through in less than 2 hours. I recommend El Poy for the crossing into Honduras.
Leaving El Poy there is a rapid climb into the mountains. The higher I went the foggier it got. At some points I had to slow down to 20mph because of the poor visibility and the unpredictability of the road. There were huge potholes and occasional cave-ins so I had to travel slowly. As the day went on the rain increased and I got colder and wetter than I’ve been since Alaska.
I vowed to stop at the first hotel and, of course, it was a love motel. But, it was cheap and dry and had a TV.
17-Nov-08 The rain continued and made my ride through San Pedro Sula a dismal experience. Sula is a fairly dismal industrial town and I was glad to go beyond it to stay in Tela.
18-19-Nov-08 In Tela, I saw the Atlantic Ocean only three short rides from my stay on the Pacific. I found a hotel with internet and a dry parking place for my moto and settled in to outwait the rain. I took this break to get my laundry done and spent most of my time watching CSI. I called Nee on our third anniversary…still not interested. I called Heather and left her a happy birthday message.
There was a massive front with rain throughout most of Central America and I had to wait until mid-afternoon of the second day before I could ride without getting soaked.
19-21-Nov-08 I arrived in La Ceiba and stopped at Wendy’s for a hamburger then I found a cheap hotel down by the beach. That evening there was a big celebration because Honduras beat Mexico at futbol. Pickup trucks full of happy fans drove up and down the road. My room was supposed to have hot water, but no, so I checked out and went down the road to another hotel. Hot water rooms were available but expensive. So, I settled in to wait out the rain in a cheap cold water room. No internet,either.
On my way out of La Ceiba, I was pursued by a traffic cop on foot. I finally stopped and when he caught up with me he wanted to give me a ticket for $100usd we negotiated for a while and he finally agreed to take $10usd and go away. My infraction: not stopping when he whistled. Traffic cops in Central America whistle all the time so I guess this is the all purpose reason for extorting a little money from a gringo.
21-22-Nov-08 I plotted my course out of Honduras to miss Tegulcigalpa. The map said there was a road. My GPS said there was a road but my eyes told me it was a trail. Highway 34 went from being a pretty good gravel road to almost nothing. As drizzle fell, I slipped and slid my way up narrow mountain passes and forded over small streams. When I finally arrived in Yorro, I was really relieved. No internet but a warm shower revived me.
22-23-Nov-08 It wasn’t raining when I started off the next day but soon I was repeating the challenging ride of the day before on Highway? 43, a slick, narrow road with river crossings. I must have missed my turn to Danli because I ended up fighting my way through Tegucigalpa traffic. I followed the signs to Danli and found a really cheap room and prepared to cross into Nicaragua.
23-25-Nov-08 The border crossing into Nicaragua was easy and the first 50 miles of road was great. With a smooth surface and sweeping curves it was a big relief. Then when I took the highway to Leon the road surface changed into paved potholes. Normally I can dodge the potholes and only need a narrow path of good road. But there were places on Highway 26 where there were more potholes than road. I arrived in Leon and got a hostel recommendation from some passing Brits. I checked into the Big Foot Hostel.
The Big Foot Hostel was pretty good. It had wifi and a large covered patio with hammocks. I started chatting with Diane, from Quebec, and we went out for some Italian food. My room was not expensive, about $14usd/night and the décor was wild. Two walls were painted as a Cuban flag with a six foot portrait of Che Guevera. One night I woke to see Che staring at me eerily illuminated by a stray ray of light from outside my room. So, if you want a strange experience, just ask for room 4 at Big Foot. Leon was a pleasant colonial town reminiscent of Antigua.
25-27-Nov-08 On my way out of Leon, I took a detour to the Pacific then returned to the main road for a very pleasant ride. The Rivas area is the ridge between Nicaragua’s big lakes and the Pacific. The views were stupendous and it looked mostly undeveloped.
I stayed for two nights in Granada and spent a little time looking at all of the churches. Granada has been upgraded a bit and some of the streets are very nice looking. There were enough tourists to support some gringo food places so I got a hamburger.
27-29-Nov-08 I took a short ride to San Jorge where I caught a ferry to Omotepe, the big island in Lake Nicaragua. The wind was up so it was a bumpy ride to the island. I stayed for two nights at Finca Venicia because I enjoyed the view of the lake from their hammocks.
29-Nov-05-Dec-08 I traveled on the paved road for a while and then veered off on a dirt road toward the smaller end of the island. There are two volcanoes and I went toward the smaller one. I had been without wifi for a while and so when I saw a sign for a hotel with internet I headed down the road.
I ended up at Hacienda Merida. It was a very pleasant place by the lake with a cheap dorm room and decent food. So, I settled in. They had great fresh orange juice for only $3/pitcher so I enhanced my vitamin C level. I rented a kayak one afternoon and paddled with Kris (Switzerland) out to look at two monkey islands. The lake was calm and the monkeys put on a good show.
After a week or so of no books in Honduras, I was on a reading binge. I was chomping through a book every day. So, I decided to go to a nearby hotel because it was rumored they had books. Since it was only a short distance, I road without my helmet wearing shorts. When I got to the entrance I saw a small winding road going up hill. The road changed into two thin paved concrete strips. I came to a tight corner and my wheel slipped of the strip. It was steep and the concrete strip was 4 or 5 inches higher than the ground and I couldn’t get enough traction to get my front wheel onto the concrete. I kept working at it trying to find a place where the concrete wasn’t so high. I was tempted to walk for help but the concrete pad was so high that my kick stand wouldn’t work. Finally, with a burst of power I got onto the concrete. Too much power! I careened off the other side of the road into a patch of boulders and finally fell over. As, I scrambled to avoid the bike landing on me I gained momentum as I stumbled downhill. I ended up taking a fall which I broke with my left arm and parts of my face. Bleeding from a scrape or two I walked uphill to the hotel where I found a book and practically passed out in the hammock. There were two women running the restaurant and they offered to help. But, I asked for “dos hombres muy fuerte” and after a few hours they showed up. They helped me get the bike upright and down the hill and I rode it back to the hotel with my precious book.
As soon as I tried to operate the clutch, I knew I had taken a bit more damage than I thought. My left arm, wrist, and hand were sprained. But, with considerable pain I managed to arrive at my hotel get some ice in a towel and settle in to nurse my sprain. I was originally planning to stay somewhere in Nicaragua until just a few days before my friend Frank was to arrive in San Jose. Nicaragua is cheaper than Costa Rica. I decided that Hacienda Merida was as good a place as any to wait and recuperate. Keep a close eye on the pet donkey. She like to eat cigarettes and enjoys chewing on headphone cords.
The owner is an interesting man. He is using the hotel to encourage ecological thinking in the local village and some guests volunteer to teach the local kids English.
05-10-Dec-08 I rode a short distance to San Juan Del Sur. I can see why Nicaragua was a good choice for a canal. It was only 20 miles or so from Lake Nicaragua to the Pacific and the mountains weren’t very high.
My left arm was still hurting and it was difficult to operate the clutch so I decided to settle down for a while and heal. I found a $12 a night dorm bed in Casa de Oro. They had free coffee in the morning, and 24 hour security for my bike but charged $2 a day for wifi.
SJDS is a small somewhat touristy town on a nice bay. There are places with western style food and places with local food. One coffee shop has a great used book store. I went on a reading marathon and enjoyed the company of the other guests at Casa de Oro.
10-14-Dec-08 There are two border crossings from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. I decided to pick the main one on CA1 (the Pan American Highway). What a fiasco! When I arrived the border was closed for an hour for a “meeting”. When it finally opened there was a big backlog of travelers and trucks to process. The exit procedures from Nicaragua were really time consuming and complicated. The Costa Rica side was complex too. It took almost four hours to cross into Costa Rica.
I had made a reservation at Hostel Bekuo in San Jose so I forged on. I rode until dark to make as many miles as possible. When the sun set, I stopped at a Barbecue Rib restaurant along the highway and had some really good ribs. Then I set off with about 200km remaining to San Jose. The ride was a nightmare. The center line and side lines were faded, the road was very curvy and there was fog. My headlight was pointed too high so I couldn’t see very well and everyone kept flashing me to lower my beam. To stay on the road, I had to follow the tail lights of trucks or cars so I could stay on the road. The cars went too fast and the trucks went too slow. It took me four hours to go the 200km to San Jose.
I found Hotel Bekuo by asking directions from three different locals. They had a locked garage for my moto and I fell into bed exhausted. I rested up using wifi to catch up on the news. At $12 a night breakfast was included so every morning I filled up on pancakes.
Frank flew into San Jose at 21:30 on the night of 14 Dec. I was waiting for him at the airport. Riding double on a KLR 650 is not easy but I managed to get Frank and his luggage to Hostel Bekuo. I upgraded from a dorm bed to a shared room.
15-17-Dec-08 We began our search for a transportation solution. Renting a motorcycle in CR is pretty expensive ($50/day) so first we though about 4x4. There were some good prices online. What they don’t mention online is the mandatory $25/day insurance. By the time you add insurance to the price of the rental a month’s rental can be $1500-$2000. Finally we decided to shop for a new motorcycle. For $2300 we bought a Freedom Rock 250 a Chinese trail bike from MotoSport. They agreed to help us sell the bike when we returned.
Frank did some maintenance on my bike, added a plywood luggage rack to the Rock 250, and tweaked it for riding.
The night before we left San Jose, we had dinner with Mischa and Jorge, some German expats Frank had found through Horizons Unlimited. They gave us some information about where to go and what to see.
18—Dec-08 We were happy to get out of the traffic and congestion of San Jose. We headed north for Volcan Arenal and stayed for the night at a very nice hotel with the best shower since Mexico. I took one shower before bed and another the next morning. There are hot springs just up the road from La Fortuna at Sabacon for only $75 a day. Or you can park across the street and walk down by the bridge and pay nothing. Needless to say we paid nothing. We really enjoyed the hot springs.
Then we headed up a good motorcycle road to Nuevo Arenal to the German Bakery. Tom, the owner put us up in a house that he is preparing to rent and we had a great time swapping stories with Carola. She is working at the restaurant to earn a little money before continuing her motorcycle journey. She’s been through Africa and South America and has a website www.easyri.de with lots of great pictures.
Tom told Frank about a ride up to Upala with only 25 miles of “good” dirt road. The good dirt road reminded me of the “good” highways in Honduras. We took a wrong turn down a very rough road and went up a service road to the microwave tower. What a spectacular view!
The rest of the day it rained. We traveled on a combination of blacktop and dirt roads in the rain. We were on CA4 but parts of it were gravel and it went through orange and pineapple plantations with truck full of good smelling fruit and bad smelling exhaust. We went through Upala and got to La Cruz just before dark.
19-Dec-08 From La Cruz we headed for Tamarindo on the Nicoya Peninsula. We found a backpacker with wifi and free coffee. I had a long chat with a cute British backpacker and Frank got in some beach time.
20-Dec-08 Then we traveled on to Samara where we stayed at Posada Matilori (email@example.com) . The owner was Italian and ran a very comfortable friendly place. He expressed interest in buying my motorcycle when I was finished with my trip. More beach time for Frank.
21-27-Dec-08 Frank promised we would stop in one place for a few days to celebrate my birthday and Christmas. He took the direct route from Samara to Montezuma Beach and I took the roundabout way. There were some bad roads on my route and I took an unnecessary detour and still beat Frank. He took jungle trails and beaches and had an adventure. We found a good hotel with wifi, coffee and most importantly a hammock. I settled in for a few days of intensive reading and relaxing.
Frank surprised me on my birthday with a cake and a candle. I’m glad that I didn’t have to spend my birthday alone. The celebration of Christmas in Costa Rica is a little different. People really only started wishing me “Feliz Navidad” after Christmas Eve. Lots of decorations everywhere we went but unlike the US there was no soundtrack of carols in the background.
I enjoyed my break from riding although Frank talked me into an adventure ride on Christmas day. We zoomed up and down the beach and finally settled under a tree and did a little reading while the surf rolled in.
28-Dec-08 Frank’s wanderlust took over again and we headed for the mainland. Frank needed to replace the chain on his bike so he left on the early ferry. I left later and we met up on the road near Puenta Arenas.
It was getting late and according to everyone the week between Christmas and New Year was when everyone in San Jose headed for the beaches, so when the first few places we checked were booked I persuaded Frank to camp out at a hotel next to the beach.
He rolled out his air mattress on some beach lounges and the manager loaned me his hammock with mosquito net. It was pretty comfortable but in the middle of the night, I fell out. Frank was attacked by mosquitoes and we decided that, in the future, he would be in charge of picking accommodations.
29-Dec-08 Frank found a great place the next night air-conditioning and a hammock (wifi not working).
30-Dec-08 Mischa recommended a place run by Germans near Puerto Jiminez on the Osa Peninsula so we headed down the road again. The first 50 miles of the road offered some of the best motorcycle riding yet in Costa Rica… nice curves, good surface, and spectacular views. The road turned into decent gravel as we approached Pto. Jiminez. We enjoyed a casado (the plate lunch of Costa Rica) and then began our search for Rio Sombrero.
Local people knew of the Germans and kept pointing down the road. The further we went the worse the road became. There were a couple of river crossings and coconut sized rocks in the road to avoid. We finally found it maybe 10km out of town.
They offered us a room in one of their beach cabins…very rustic but with a mosquito proof tent and a comfortable mattress. It was my turn for the good bed so poor Frank had to sleep on an air mattress. We enjoyed a great breakfast the next morning and Frank took another adventure ride while I caught up on my journal.