Saturday, November 30, 2013

November 30, 2013 – San Marcos, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala

We started our morning off with a breakfast that reminded us of breakfast at home, scrambled eggs, toast, fruit and coffee. Experiencing new food is great but sometimes the familiar is needed particularly since our stomachs are still not 100 per cent. The hotel that we stayed at (Hotel El Reformador) is run by a family and we would recommend it to anyone travelling through. The rooms are spotless, very nice and the hosts are great at helping in whatever way that they can, plus totally secure in garage parking for the motorcycles which always lets us sleep better knowing that our transportation is safe for another days ride.

Hotel "El Reformador"

San Marcos Municipal Building

Metal Shop
We walked around San Marcos for a few photo ops before heading out. Taylor is still riding with us and between his GPS and ours and his map we sort of figure that we can find our way out and onto the highway. Neither one of our GPS is really accurate in Guatemala, so we often ask the locals how to find something and they are always extremely helpful. After riding down a cobbled road we eventually came upon the highway with Taylor riding in front. There was a large shoulder and rutted entrance which he had no problem making and was on his way down the highway. We weren’t quite that lucky with our heavier bike and riding two up, Ken tried to save the bike from hitting the pavement which was a mistake, because he did end up wrenching his back before falling. I hit the dirt, but other than getting dirty was fine. The bike sustained minor injuries: scratched pannier, engine guard and the throttle lock is inoperable. Taylor was already around the corner and didn’t realize that we weren’t behind him for a while. A couple on a scooter stopped to see that we were alright, helped us lift the bike up and we were on our way again to see Taylor on his way back looking for us.

Minor Crash

We rode until we came upon the town of Quezaltenango and stopped for a break to check out their Saturday market in the central plaza. I loved the choice of items that they have exhibited and bought some bread (it made a delicious snack for lunch and reminded Ken of peppernuts; likely only his relatives will have a clue what that is) along with oranges and apples. We enjoyed talking to the people who are always curious about who we are and where we are heading. Ken sat and talked with a young man and his one year old son who was dressed for a Saturday outing to the central market. He also has a ten year old daughter and had moved to Boston, USA to work as a mason for an eight year period leaving his family behind. Quite a number of people speak English or a least some English. Ken has not improved his Spanish skills, but with his goofy gringo charades people usually figure out what he wants.

Saturday Market
Meat Market

We are totally blown away by the spectacular scenery in Guatemala and the twisting, sharp curves and steepness (we were at 3022 meters at one point today) make for awesome riding: just that little adrenalin rush that we require when we ride. We hit a wet patch on a sharp curve and for a half a second I thought that we were going down for the second time in the day, but Ken pulled it out that time.

The people of Guatemala seem very industrious and hard working. The country side is full of acres and acres of corn, potatoes and a wide variety of other crops.

Maize Fields
We eventually rolled into Antigua to find that due to several weddings happening this weekend most hotels were totally booked. After many enquiries we did find a room and Taylor a hostel, but we were feeling a little stressed about it for a while as none of us felt like heading out at dusk to look for accommodations in another town. We are hoping to enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29, 2013 – Entering Guatemala 35 degrees 74% humidity

While waiting for Taylor at a bank a lady and her brother come up to Diana and I and we start talking about the usual stuff, tells us she lives just outside Dallas, Texas and still maintains a home in Tapachula, Mexico where all her family still lives. She says she has a sad story to share with us; her 21 year old son was recently killed on his motorcycle in Dallas by a person texting while driving. She is devastated and is home to grieve with her family. She tells us she will pray for our safety while on our adventure which is very touching.

Volcano as we enter Guatemala
Big day today as we enter a third country on our adventure, an adventure it was. Firstly we had our passports stamped to exit Mexico and thought we could cancel our vehicle permit at the same time. Turns out we need to drive back about 80 kilometers to the same town we stayed in last night, because our passports are already stamped we are now traveling illegally in Mexico and need to pass through six check points (which we did successfully). When we return to the border we are swarmed with people running onto the road, these people want to help you through all the paper work. We’ve heard stories of these guys and planned to do it ourselves. I won’t go into all the details but it was very disconcerting with 20 guys all talking at the same time trying to be your "helper" when they are all scammers. We bypass the scammers and purchase our vehicle permits from the government officials and are on our way once they confirm the serial numbers on the bikes. Once through the border our demeanor changes and we are astounded how quickly the country side changes from farmland to mountains with jungle like vegetation. We climb the winding mountain road through the clouds and at one point were 2621 meters above sea level and see the air temperature plummet from 35 degrees to 17 in about an hour. All three of us are relieved with the temperature change as temperature over the past 2 weeks has been extremely warm riding with full gear and any reprieve is appreciated. The scenery is beautiful and reminds me of articles in National Geographic. Found a great hotel that actually has hot water (first time in many days), towels, lights that work AND toilet tissue all for $26 cdn.
Guatemalan Countryside

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November 28, 2013 – Salina Cruz to Huixtla

Not a good night for either of us, Diana and I are dehydrated as we both spent the night visiting the bathroom. We both had the same fish dinner last night and suspect it was the fish or lettuce, how many times does a gringo need to be told not to eat lettuce in Mexico? We probably won’t have lettuce now till we return home.


Mexican Road Train

Our laundry isn’t ready because someone’s command of the Spanish language meant our laundry wasn’t ready to go when we were. Finally at 11 am we are on the road but dealing with extremely high cross winds again and are limited to how fast we can travel even though the highway is the best we’ve seen since entering Mexico. At a road side stand we bought some freshly picked mandarin oranges and some type of apple which were both great as we don’t seem to get enough fruit in our diet. For the second time this week we are without a hotel room and it’s turning dark. After cruising the streets, the only room we can find is at a hotel that rents by the hour but Taylor’s dead set against staying as he has already experienced this once. Off to the Pemex gas station for advice again, between the 6 or 7 employees and a customer we learn the name of a hotel near the center of town and attempt to find the Don Carlos Hotel. Once found we take a room with A/C, excellent Wi-Fi which we haven’t seen for a number of days now. Tomorrow morning we are off to Guatemala and get to adapt to a new currency, just when we had the Mexican peso conversion mastered.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November 27, 2013 - Rio Grande to Salina Cruz, 27 degrees, 65% humidity

Its 6am and our hotel which is in downtown Rio Grande shares a courtyard with a food vendor who apparently enjoys loud music and within 30 minutes a truck with a PA system is driving around the block promoting the days specials starting with breakfast items including prices for each item. Since I am awake I’ll start on today’s blog, my bed is against a window that goes from floor to ceiling and can watch the sunrise over the mountains to the east. The bikes are also visible from my bed which made it convenient to check on them throughout the night. We were on the road about 8 am and needed to get to Salina Cruz in order to make up for lost time yesterday. We now have a morning routine, after loading the bikes we head down the highway and refuel the bikes at a Pemex gas station. The Pemex most often has an Oxxo convenience store where we have a breakfast that consists of a muffin or yogurt and according to Diana the only decent coffee in Mexico.

Cattle Drive
The ride today was a little cooler with lots of road construction in the morning and extremely high winds in the afternoon as we approached the coast. At one point while preparing to pass a truck we are following something black appears from under the truck and I have no time to swerve, hitting what I think is a dog with the front tire. All I can see in my rear view mirror is 2 or 3 black objects as Taylor swerves to miss what he thinks was a vulture.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November 26 - San Marcos to Rio Grande

Taylor has decided to ride with Diana and I into Antigua, Guatemala as it will make the border crossing safer and we can watch his bike while he gets processed and vice versa for us. We are on the road about 7:15 with plans to get to Puerto Escondido and do laundry.

Stopped at Cruz Grande to buy some bananas and street vendors start asking me a bunch of questions but I can only understand a few of them and answer as best as possible. Another lady a few booths down starts interpreting for me in perfect English, it turns out she was raised in Chico, California (which Diana and I visited a few years ago while returning from Palm Springs). She tells me that she was sent back to Mexico because she didn’t have papers to stay in the US. This is a story we have heard a number of times this past week where people will get a tourist visa to visit the US and once there they work at whatever job they can find, quite often working in the restaurant business or any type of manual labor. One person said it costs $5000 USD to get smuggled across the border which for most people here isn’t an option.

Diana and Taylor
We come upon what we think is an accident about 9 am and there is a traffic jam about 2 km’s long and there are a hundred or so vehicles facing every direction on this two lane road. As we are on motorcycles we work our way to the front of the line only to find two trucks parked bumper to bumper across the roadway and a couple of guys wielding machetes. At this point, and it’s almost too late I realize it could be a political demonstration but there are no banners or people carrying signs. We do a u turn and vanish into the mess of vehicles and continue to wait for the road block to be lifted. At noon we make our way back to a town we passed through earlier for lunch. They haven’t any menus so the lady takes me into the kitchen and shows me what our choices are for lunch. Taylor and Diana have chicken soup and I attempt to order salsa and chips which every restaurant has except this one. Still not sure what I had but it was okay. After lunch its back to the lineup which has now grown to about 5 km’s long and we work our way through the line until we are near where we originally waited. There are now every kind of vendor imaginable selling everything from food, ice cream, drinks, etc. We meet a Mexican man who worked in Quebec for a couple years and he informs us on why the road is closed, with some colorful language I might add. Roma also informed us there was nothing we could do but wait for the road to reopen. Most of the truck drivers who were in the same dilemma as us hung their hammocks off the edge of the trailers they were pulling and had a sleep. Fortunately we are parked under a huge tree and although it is about *** degrees it is bearable and we pass the afternoon talking with people including 4 young guys from Salmon Arm, BC Canada who bought a school bus in Nanaimo and are headed for Panama. These guys kept us laughing while they shared both their adventures and misadventures with us. At 6 pm the blockade is lifting and traffic starts to move. We are now facing a ride in the dark which for many reasons is dangerous and not recommended but we have no choice other than sleep in a field.

(Sorry about the lack of pictures today but we didn't want to loose our camera to the demonstrators today.)

We pull into Rio Grande at 9:15 and look for the Hotel Gloria as recommended by Roma. We soon find it but the gates are closed. There is some type of meeting happening next door and we now have an audience of men and teenage boys asking the usual opening questions which I now refer to as W5. I just want to go to sleep but keep them entertained for 5 minutes and park the bike in the locked compound for the night. We pay 350 pesos for a room with air conditioning, have a handful of peanuts for supper and call it a day, a memorable one for sure.

Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25, 2013 – Ixtapa to San Marcos

On the road about 9 am after talking with Super Mario (the public relations manager at the hotel) about his time working in Quebec. An hour down the road we pass a gas station where another BMW rider is refueling and within minutes is on our tail so we pull off the highway at the next village. We exchange the usual pleasantries and find out that Taylor lives in Bellingham, WA (just south of Vancouver, Canada) and his destination is Argentina. We decide to ride together for the day and try to find a room in downtown Acapulco. Taylor was in Acapulco 3 years ago and leads the way off the highway and onto a main road leading downtown, when he abruptly swerves to the right and I see this hole in the road. It’s a manhole without a cover on it. That had our hearts beating slightly faster than normal! Unable to find the hotel he was looking for we decide to have lunch on the beach before moving on. Driving in Acapulco was horrific, you needed eyes looking all directions as stop signs or red lights don’t mean anything to the locals. There was about 5 kilometers of the highway reduced to one lane in each direction as they were replacing the sewer pipes and it was grid lock. After 15 minutes of sitting in the hot sun I decide it’s time to drive like the locals and off we go between the road and the pipe trench. Couldn’t believe what we were seeing, the men working on the sewer project had no personal protective equipment, flip flops were the only foot protection they had and many were stomping the sand around the pipe with bare feet.

Man and Burrow
We spent the night in San Marcos at a small hotel with a swimming pool in the courtyard. The owner allowed us to park the bikes in the courtyard and he slept in a chair next to them. Most hotel owners in Mexico go out of their way to ensure the moto’s are secured with either a locked courtyard, security patrols, security camera’s, or the moto’s are within view of the desk clerk who watches them all night.

Bike in Secure Parking by Pool

Sunday, November 24, 2013

November 23-24, Ixtapa, Mexico

We decided to take a few extra days in Ixtapa to relax and enjoy the beach life; Diana has gone from pasty white to a vanilla colored skin tone. Perhaps by the time we return she could have a beige color about her.

We’ve met a lot of people from all over the world including Nicolas from Beijing, China who we met in Lazaro Cardenas. Nicolas has a business in Mexico and is also a biker, having recently ridden Australia, Chile, and Argentina. He and some friends are in the process of planning a trip from China through Russia and extended an invitation should we ever decide to tour China on the motorcycle. The following photo is of Nicolas at the Dakar last year.

Nicolas at the Dakar Rally
On Sunday while relaxing at the pool at our hotel we met a couple of brothers in their teens from near Mexico City who were on vacation with their parents. Their English was very good and we had a few Peña Coladas and a few hours of laughter. They kept referring to me as Mr. Kenny from Canada. Axel and Allan had an awesome sense of humor and once we learned about their goals in life they quickly earned the names Axel Rose and Miami Allan. Allan didn’t know the English word for detective (his future career) and kept referring to the TV show CSI Miami, hence the name Miami Allan.

Me in Shower with Jacket to Wash Off Diesel and Antifreeze
Later in the evening we watched some of the Grey Cup, (way to go Saskatchewan) and went to what has become our favorite eatery to date. Lido our waiter at El Camaron Azul recommended the red snapper which was awesome and at 135 pesos a real bargain. Lido also told us about the hurricanes which had torn through the coastal area in September and October of this year.

Bike at Car Wash

Saturday, November 23, 2013

November 22, 2013 - Ixtapa, Mexico, 27 degrees C, 83% humidity

The following are photos taken from Diana's perspective from the back of the bike.

On the beach in Ixtapa, Mexico
El gato having his siesta while I have a margarita.
Guess where I spent the afternoon? In day care of course.
Happy hour here runs from opening to closing, 2 for 1 drinks and great food!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

November 21, 2013 - Lazaro Cardenas, 27 degrees celsius, 79% humidity

While preparing to leave the hotel this morning a lady in the lobby asked where we were from along with all the usual questions of where are you going, how long, etc. She lives in Calgary now but spent 10 years in Port Alberni, just an hour away from where we live. Had a great chat about the Manzanillo area as it is her favorite winter get away from the snow and cold of Canada.

 Sunset on day 2 in Manzanillo
Sunset on day 2 in Manzanillo
Had a long ride today, 7 hours in the saddle but only travelled 348 km. Most of the day we rode along the coast and once again it was extremely tight corners and lots of climbing  and descending hills along a rugged coastline.
Were able to see some very nice agricultural land with banana, pineapple, papaya, coconuts, along with many crops we were unable to identify from the highway. Seems to be a combinations of small family run operations with a few corporate farms which clearly have newer equipment and larger plantations.

We pulled off on a roadside turnout over looking the ocean (picture below) and had a challenging conversation (due to the language barrier) with a truck driver who was also taking a break. He was hauling a load of Coconuts to a town we didn't recognize and we shared some peanuts with him while we all admired the ocean views.
 from this vantage point the drop to the water is in excess of 300 meters almost straight down, the trucker kept pointing down the cliff to the water. 

 Plaza at the center of the city of Tecoman
 These kids were curious about us wearing helmets but at the same time too shy to get any closer.

Zopilotes (in Spanish) or Black Vulture. These guys are plentiful in Mexico and we came across 3 road kills today with about 50 vultures at each of them.

We saw lots of check points along the highways today and twice  they had check points at both sides of two towns, one of which had 6 or 7 people handcuffed and standing on the roadway. Most check points are manned by the Federales but today some were manned by the military. So far we 've been waved through all the check points but one today where they only wanted to know our destination and then allowed us to proceed. They always have their game face on and many hide their identity with a bandana or similar covering.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 20, 2013 - Manzanillo, 33 celsius, 75% humidity

Arrived in Manzanillo yesterday afternoon after a 300 km ride through the countryside. Although we didn't travel a great distance it took us 5 hours of driving that was physically demanding with all the road construction and the fact that we are no longer taking toll roads slowed us down. The non toll roads are more scenic but are only two lane and you are constantly slowing to pass through smaller towns. After 5200 km's we have decided to take a rest day and will stay another night here to enjoy the beach and pool at the hotel. Unfortunately the red flags were flying on the beach indicating a high hazard from the surf or currents so we didn't proceed very far into the water. 
Coconut palms in a banana plantation; the bunches are covered with plastic bags for three reasons: to provide a suitable microclimate for the bananas to ripen more quickly, to protect the bananas (at least to some degree) from insects and other pests, and to prevent the bananas from being bruised when it is windy and leaves may brush against the bunch.
Manzanillo, MX
Emily from Constru Casa sent an email asking if we would be willing to help on a school project rather than a housing project as  the project they will most need help on is a school they are building in a rural community not too far from Antigua- Santa Maria de Jesus. The school ‘Jardin de Amor’ began when a group of mothers from the area got together and asked the present director, Julio Garcia, what could be done for the education of their children. Many families in Santa Maria de Jesus are living in extreme poverty, without reliable electricity and water sources, and many children have been sent to work in place of receiving a decent education. Now, with the help of volunteers and Guatemalan teachers, the school is educating and providing some meals for around 100 children. Constru Casa is now moving onto ‘phase two’ of the school construction, building more classrooms to accommodate all the children. We have accepted her request and look forward to our 2 weeks at the school.
Sunset at the beach in Manzanillo, MX
We are still playing with the GoPro camera so hopefully in a few days we can post a video showing the country side.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 18, 2013 - Mazatlán to Puerto Vallarta

Diana had her first run in with a machine gun yesterday morning in Los Mochis, I didn’t see it happen but she told me the story after we left the restaurant, as Diana exits the washroom she walks right into this machine gun carrying guard who is the same height as her, they both laughed and carried on as though nothing happened.
We checked into a small hotel across the road from the ocean in Mazatlán on Sunday afternoon and once the bike was unloaded it was off to the beach. The water was warm and with 3 foot waves it was a great way to unwind from the ride. It was a long weekend in Mexico to celebrate a national holiday, Revolution Memorial day (Día de la Revolución) and did they celebrate! A number of restaurants had live entertainment including the one we dined at. We had a lot of choices where to dine and it came down to one on the beach or another on the beach. The following morning I spotted some type of lizard about 4 inches long scurry across the ceiling in the hotel.

ceviche and raw oysters at a restaurant on the beach

Mazatlan beach

We were only lost once today, okay maybe three times. We tried bypassing the toll highway and found ourselves in a very small town of perhaps 400 people where nobody spoke English. We stopped at the petrol station to get our bearings but couldn’t determine which town we were actually in. Soon after a construction crew pulled in for their siesta, we pulled out the Spanish phrase book and in a few minutes we knew exactly where we were, it was downtown Ruiz. It’s sad to see the poverty and state of the buildings they live in but for the most part the people are wearing clean clothing and take pride in their appearance.
For you moto heads who enjoy a curvy road with lots of hills take highway 200 from Tepic to Compostela. This ride is about 40 kilometers on mostly good to great 2 lane asphalt. We followed a tour bus whose driver thought he was on a Ducati and was going 110 to 125 kilometers per hour on the straights and when he went around the corners the outside dual wheel was off the edge of the road. During our ride we came upon a class C motorhome with BC license plates and a tire cover from an RV dealer in Courtenay BC so I honked and waved as we passed it. At the next traffic light the lady driving the motorhome asks where we are from and replies she is from Qualicum Beach. We both pull into the gas station and find out Gail drives down here each winter. Hey Gail, remember to keep your speed down or you’ll get another ticket! I’m always amazed at how small the world is when you meet people in faraway places that are from where we live or have lived in the past.
Spent Monday night in the town of Bucerias which is just north of Puerto Vallarta where we found a small motel which was well maintained, super clean and quiet which we needed after Sunday in Mazatlán. Although my command of the Spanish language is very limited I did manage a conversation with the maid at the hotel who was very intrigued with where we were from and where we were going to.
hotel in Bucerias