Honduras

Time for another border crossing. I think we have all our papers and copies ready as this will be our first true Central American border crossing. We have spent the night a little over an hour away from the Guatemalan/Honduras border hoping to get across and into our destination for the day, Copan. We arrive at the border without any issues and get our paperwork painlessly processed and get stamped out of Guatemala and ride the short distance to the Honduras border. We are directed to a safe place to park our bike and get Gypsy out and start the process. I go first and get my passport stamped, bike registered and insurance purchased without any huge problems. They just don’t know what to do about my trailer, never had one come through being pulled by a motorbike before. They finally agree that is doesn’t require any additional paperwork. Then on to the agriculture side to get Gypsy processed.

Well, it was going smoothly. Seems like us and all the Veterinarians we have seen this past year getting ready for this trip overlooked one small detail, a vaccine needed for a few of these countries. After talking back and forth for quite a while we are at an impasse, Gypsy can’t get her paperwork without that vaccine. The guys are nice, trying to work with us on Google translate. The boss decides that if I leave my PASSPORT, which I never would do, Gypsy and I can ride into the next town, try to find a vet who has the vaccine and get Gypsy vaccinated. Melanie and I discuss this with them and it is decided that I can leave Melanie in lieu of my passport. Humm, never thought I would have to do this but I never expected to make Melanie hitchhike in Croatia either.img_20170201_150115026_hdr

Giving Melanie a kiss, Gypsy and I set off to Copan hoping that there is a vet in town with this particular vaccine. The road into town is lined with trucks queuing to leave the country leaving only one lane, sometimes less, for both directions of traffic. Between this, the rain, and large pieces of road gone due to washout, it is an interesting ride. As we arrive in the small town square I am approached by a man trying to sell me a tour and he is nice enough to direct me to the nearest vet. The tiny shop also has a nice older woman running the store. I show her Gypsy’s passport and the name of the vaccine she needs. As usual, she has no idea of what I am saying but a young man walking down the street sees my motorcycle and hears me speaking English and comes in to the store to give us a hand as a translator. Well it turns out that she does not have the vaccine but can get it at 3pm, it is now about 11am. She will order it for me and I go back out on a quest for the vaccine. Stopping at the other 3 places in town I discover that no one in town has this needed vaccine.

I head back to the border to find Melanie slumped up against the wall running a fever, she caught what I had in Lake Atitlan.  Back at the Ag building they agree to hold my passport as ransom for the vaccine.  Loading Melanie up, we head to town in search of a place to stay so she can rest. We find a nice hostel on the edge of town across from the cemetery for $US18 per night, with an older man and his wife running the place. Gypsy and I head back into town to see if her vaccine has arrived yet, I have little faith in it being there. We are greeted at the door by the lady running the store with the vile and a syringe in her hand. She indicates for me to pick Gypsy up and put her on the counter as she draws up the clear liquid from its container and, while I hold Gypsy still, injects the serum into her hind quarters. The total cost for this service, $US3. We ride back to the border, again, to show the sticker on her passport indicating her vaccine. The guys all gather around to look at it saying this is the first time that they have let anybody through to do this a with that person being successful. I gave them all the information of the vet used for future reference.

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Cemetery across from the hostel

Three days pass before Melanie feels like she isn’t dying and can walk around town and get something to eat. In the afternoon, we take a shuttle to the Jaguar Spa and hot springs. This is a neat little place in the jungle with water temperatures at the origin of the hot springs about 190°F.

This place has several pools, each with a different purpose and Melanie gets a much-needed massage high up on a platform above the rising steam of the springs. It is a relaxing afternoon chatting with a young traveler backpacking around Central America from Vancouver, Canada.

The next day we head to the Copan Ruinas, one of the great centers of the Mayan civilization over 1000 years ago. This beautiful site has some of the most impressive pre-Columbian art anywhere in the world.  When we got close to the entrance gate, we are welcomed with a fabulous display of dozens of Macaws.  They are a brilliant red with a mix of vibrant blue, yellow, and green feathers.  Spectacular to see them gliding overhead.  img_20170203_093835864We spend the better part of the day exploring this ancient site before heading back to town. There is a place on the map called ViaVia, which describes itself as a gathering place for travelers to meet, eat, sleep and hangout with locations around the world.

The owner happens to be there and comes over and joins us and when we start talking we discover we have a mutual friend, Pete Day, owner and designer of Mosko Moto, soft luggage for motorcycles. It seems that Gerardo ViaVia and Pete were riding around where there aren’t roads, typical for Pete, on the southern Honduras/Nicaragua border on the Costa de Mosquitos. Soon after Pete was in the design/testing phase of his new off-road soft luggage and the name, Mosko Moto, popped up from their ride. Cool, huh. If you ever get in this area pop in and have a beer with Gerardo, good times.  We were directed to a German brewery in town that was owned and run by a guy from a small town in northern Germany that we had never heard of.  His beer was amazing and the food was exactly like we had enjoyed while traveling Germany last summer.  The surprises you find in the jungles of Central America never cease to amaze.

The road out of Copan is rough with potholes and dirt and with the rain they turned to mud. Our route will take us north through San Pedro Sula before turning back south. San Pedro Sula is known as the murder capital of the world, hence given Honduras that similar title. We are told that most of the cocaine trade of Central and South America headed to the US and Canada comes through this city near the northern coast. As we near the city we are stopped at a military checkpoint, our bike searched, and we are warned to turn around as this is a dangerous area.  I think they really wanted to check out the bike because the search was just for show. Taking their advice seriously we continue to San Pedro as we want to explore the area south of the city, and the ride is beautiful through the mountains. Stopping for fuel a couple kms south of the city we are surrounded by a bunch of guys on motorcycles. They want to talk about all things bike and travel related and after about 30 minutes we continue to a real cool hostel called the D&D Brewery, serving the best beer in Central America.

We end up staying for a couple days hiking the surrounding area and drinking small batch craft beer.  There is a waterfall just before we come into town that was a great stop.

The first night at the hostel, we had a couple of guys on a mission to find the riders who came thru town that day pulling the trailer with a dog on the back. They were from Nebraska, in town doing volunteer work at a local orphanage. They saw the bike and had a good idea that we were at the Brewery. After a couple hours of getting to know each other, they headed back into town. They were back the next night with more conversation to be shared.   It is evident that we live on a very small planet because we found a mutual connection in Chattanooga, Tennessee. How does it happen in the middle of nowhere Honduras that you can these things happen?  We have heard these stories but when it happens to you….it is mind boggling.

On to Nicaragua and the toughest and most costly border crossing we have ever had, thanks to a dog and trailer, but that is for the next post.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

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Categories: motorcycle travel, adventure travel, 2WANDRRs, 2-up motorcycle travel, Horizons Unlimited, VStrom, Mayan, Animals, Honduras, Central America, Copan Ruinas | Leave a comment

Guatemala, Home of the Mayan

Up early and close to the border as we head toward the Guatemala border our anticipation continues to grow, looking forward to discovering another new culture and country. The road starts to close in on us as people are set up on both sides selling fruits, vegetables and homemade goods. The chaos continues to build as tuk-tuks and scooters are going everywhere, switching sides of the road and passing where there is an inch to be held.

Add to this the massively loaded trucks, pickups loaded with people of all ages and colorful buses with goods and animals lashed to the roof and people hanging off every handhold. As we dodge the 2 kms of ever moving craziness including the potholes and tumulos, we arrive at the Guatemalan border, having missed entirely the Mexico exit point. Are you kidding me?? We never even saw it. Back we go to Mexico, through the chaos and after 30 minutes are stamped out, our bike bond returned to our credit card and are on our way back to the Guatemala border. Being directed to a parking space we start the procedure to get checked in. Everybody is helpful and after a couple hours in temps around 35°C everything is done and we are on our way.

We have reservations for the night not far from the border and the next day head to Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America with an average depth of 220m. It is shaped by three volcanoes on the southern edge and a steep mountain on the north side. The lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago.

As we arrive in Panajachel, I start to feel sick and it turns into a case of the “Mans Flu” or so I’ve been told. With advice from my good friend who diagnosed this terrible disease, Dr. Lorraine, Melanie is able to care for me and nurses me back to health from this dreadful disease. The town we stay in is largely a tourist town, complete with pushy vendors and nightly street walkers, so after a few days visit we are ready to move on and discover the real Guatemala. Next time through we will head to the other side of the lake.

Now the most direct way out of town, following the map and GPS, is a little road to Semuc Champey. I wrote about that in a previous blog, so we will fast forward to the Mayan Ruin of Tikal. This ancient Mayan ruin was a flourishing civilization dating from 4th century BC and at its peak from 400-900 AD which saw a systemic collapse of the Mayan civilization in the region. This site was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

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You need to always be on your toes

Finding a little hostel in the town of El Ramate we were about 30kms to the Tikal Ruins. El Ramate is at the edge of Lago Petén Itzá which is a clear, coolish and cleanish lake suitable for swimming.

There is a dock at the end of the street terminating in a meeting place for travelers and locals from where you can jump into the refreshing water which is about 3 meters deep. Let me tell you, this is so nice after a day of hiking about the ruins. The next day we are up at 0240am for the shuttle ride to the ruins for sunrise above the jungle mist on the top of pyramid #4. The one hour hike into and through the surrounding jungle is pitch black as we maneuver our way over rocks and above ground roots with just a couple head lamps to illuminate the path. Finally reaching the pyramid we climb through he darkness further and further to a very exposed ledge and steep stairs on the eastern side of the rock structure.

The sliver of the moon rising in the eastern sky along with the many stars of the clear but chilly morning helped provide us with shadows of other pyramids waiting in stoic silence to be backlit by the orange and reds of the impending sunrise. We silently wait as the jungle starts to wake up. Toucans and other birds start a symphony echoing through the treetops, then an isolated growl from the left as a howler monkey states his dominance followed shortly by another howler monkey from the right side, until the jungle is totally alive as a full spectrum of colors start to light up the morning sky. As the sky come to life the jungle mist seems to have an independent life of its own. The mist builds covering the structures on the hills in front of us, then, in continual movement, recedes into the valley revealing the mysteries it seems to want to hide as the next cycle moves into place. Finally, the sun makes peaks over the horizon signaling another day in the jungle, repeated over and over throughout history.

We spend the rest of the morning with a guide exploring the ruins of Tikal. As we arrive at one of the temples our guide takes a long piece of grass and starts twirling it around in a 2-inch hole in the ground. We stand around and watch as a large TARANTULA crawls out of this hole. Our guide grabs it from behind and places it upon his bare arm and it just starts to crawl, not seeming concerned at all. OK, Melanie and I are game and we put our hands in harm’s way and let this beautiful creature onto our hand and arm. The featherlight touch of its legs as it crawls over and around my hand wins out over fear and the tarantula must feel this as it stops moving and just sits there looking at me while I enjoy the bonding. Melanie follows me and is just as amazed.

A couple days later we visit the ruins Yaxha, on Laguna Yaxha and the site of the reality American TV show Survivor, season 11. Different, but just as nice and with less tourists, we are there for a sunset that we will be viewing from atop a temple overlooking the lagoon and river.

Soon it’s time to turn our wheels toward Honduras, with a brief stop in Rio Dulce, at the mouth of a jungle river that leads to the Caribbean coast. We take an afternoon walk to Castillo de San Felipe de Lara, a Spanish fort from 1644 that defends the entrance of Lake Izabel in eastern Guatemala. This has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is surrounded by a beautiful park on the edge of the lake.

Cheers, from 2WANDRRs.

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Animals, Horizons Unlimited, Mayan, Mexico, motorcycle travel, Tikal, VStrom | Leave a comment

Mexico, a Beautiful Country

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Our group evading the Policia on the boardwalk in Chapala

Before leaving Florida, Doc and Karen, who we had met earlier in the year at a Horizons Unlimited event in Virginia, invited us to a gathering of riders in northern Florida called the Poverty International riders. This was a fun event where we had the opportunity to meet and hangout with some interesting riders. While there we talked with a few guys that were headed to Mexico around the same time as we were going to be there so we all said we would look for each other while on the road.

We created a Facebook group so we could keep track of each other and while we in Aguascalientes a couple of them wondered where we were going to be over New Years. On the recommendation of some other riders, we had booked a few nights in Lake Chapala at the Hotel Perico, a great little, well-run hotel above the town of Chapala. As fate would have it, the great hosts of the hotel moved a couple people around to make room for almost all of us. Some of us paired up in double rooms and 9 of us shared cooking responsibilities, food and drink, and wrenching skills to turn this New Year into a very memorable one shared with friends. Thanks to Dick “Doc” McCormick and Karen Hudgins, Dave Hand, Jeff Shafer and his Dad, John Shafer, the Aussies Alan “Curt” Curtis and Lynette Williams for such a great few days.

New Year’s Eve we all prepared and cooked a feast on an open grill that had been setup for us by the people who run the hotel with a table high above and overlooking the lake. We ate steaks, drank Tequila and sang the night away and into the near year, me providing the backup music on my Uke, and finishing watching the ball drop in New York City on TV. On News Years day, we all rode down to the lakeside village of Chapala to wander around watching the families enjoying the festivities and promise of 2017. Riding up on the boardwalk amid stares, smiles and thumb-ups, we lined up the bikes for several photos, then quickly rode back off the boardwalk before the local Policia showed up.

A couple days later our group of friends scattered. We took off with our Aussie friends and headed first to Tequila, the home of Jose Cuervo, to check out the town and, of course, sample some Tequila. Tequila is a town in the central western state of Jalisco. The red volcanic oil in the region is well suited for growing the blue agave. Tequila, by Mexican law, can only be produced in this region of Mexico and has been produced in this region since the 16th century.

After drinking our share of Tequila, we turned our handlebars toward the Reserva Mariposa Monarca. Every autumn millions of Monarch Butterflies from the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada flock to these forested Mexican highlands, some 4500kms away, for their winter hibernation. In the warm spring temperatures of March, they mate, and the on the vernal equinox, the pregnant females fly to the southeastern US to lay their eggs. The young monarchs emerge from their cocoons in late May to finish the return journey the Great Lakes. Fascinating, if you ask me! Our hotel for the night was gated with rooms across from one another, and the little restaurant down the street, with an exposed, bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling had excellent meals and cervaza for us all. In the chilly but sunny morning, we walked back to the little restaurant for breakfast before the owner of the hotel drove us up into the mountains to the butterfly reserve. We rode horseback near the top of the mountain at 3700mts, where we walked the final bit to the reserve. The butterflies were in enormous clumps of moving orange and black. Very beautiful!

The next day sucked. On our trip with Curt and Lynette into Mexico City, population 23 million, about the same as Australia, we got separated and lost.  We decided to exit the city.  We kept being turned away from the road we wanted get out of town on by road attendants. Finally, after the fourth time trying a different road each time, we were told that motorbikes weren’t allowed on that road. It was almost dark by now and out of desperation we headed back toward a city we had passed earlier in the day that had hotels, 30kms away. It was now cold and dark and we were on a toll road and the three hotels  we stopped at, same response, NO dogs. Tense was a mild description of our moods about now as we made a wrong turn and ended up on the toll road headed back to Mexico City. Just before the toll booth, I stopped and, in poor Spanglish, tried to explain to the poor girl that I wanted to go back the other way.  I was NOT going on that road again and I was not going to pay a toll, and shut off the bike at the gate. Finally, she got the point and had me BACK UP, with a trailer, about 50mts out of the gate, while they stopped traffic behind me. Proceeding through the barriers and back the other way was good until we ended up on a toll road to the airport in a different city. We were low on fuel by this time. In the distance, we saw a Pemex sign and took an exit to get us back to the fuel station. Trying to head back the other way we drove near a Love Hotel, the kind with a garage, room service, fancy beds and sex toys for rent. Melanie got off the bike to see if we could stay there and I had already decided we weren’t going another meter, even if I had to pitch our tent in the parking lot. They said we could stay, I think Melanie hugged him at this point, so we got to our “love room”, ordered room service and, went to sleep. Ha-ha, but not too funny as it was happening.

In the morning, we headed south toward Oaxaca and then on to the beach at Puerto Angel and Puerto Zipolite, recommended to us by a Dutch traveler, Raul Breemers. It was a great, clothing optional, place to relax and Curt and Lynette joined us, followed by a couple other Aussies on an extended trip thought Central and North America, Don Lamb and Julia Day. We all shared some laughs, drinks, meals and sunsets at a wonderful location. The beach was wide with a severe beach break but perfect for incredible sunsets. The days all went too quickly, again, as we said our goodbyes and headed toward Guatemala. We will be seeing them all again in Flagstaff at the Overland Expo West 2017, in mid-May.img_20170111_184436622

Cheers,

2WANDRRS

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel | Leave a comment

One Bad Road in Guatemala, Special Edition

This blog is ahead of schedule but needed a page of its own.

Well, the day started off innocent enough, leaving Panajachel at Lake Atitlan. First a ride the wrong way up a one-way street, whistle blowing and security motioning me to turn around on a crowded market street. Remember folks, the load I have. The people started to gather as the gringo was attempting to back up and do a five point turn to head the right direction. As I got the rig straightened out another whistle from a young female, police looking official who motioned me to pull over on the side of a very busy street, effectively blocking anything other than a Tuk-tuk or scooter from exiting the market. We climbed off the bike and retrieved the paperwork she had requested. Now, she only spoke Spanish and was rattling off a bunch of things I thought were probably felony charges against me that would give me some free room and board, sans tequila. The original security guard tried to intervene and I heard turista mentioned a couple times with the associated hand signals and she was just dismissed. Finally, as the cuffs were getting ready a man who worked for the organization, Mayan Families, as an interpreter, came to my rescue. He told me in English, which she didn’t understand, that a ticket is no big deal with my plates, just leave. Then he turned to her and asked her in Spanish what the issue was. She told him that she felt sorry for me as a tourist and wanted my information to give to the local police so they would know to help me when they see me around town. I almost fell over! Melanie hugged her and we said our Gracias’ and about that time a large bus laid on the airhorn so he could get by. ADIOS Pana!

The route I had chosen to get to Semuc Champey had avoided Guatemala City and went through the mountains to see the real Guatemala that I didn’t get in Pana. All the intel I could gather showed OK roads. Man, was I WRONG. The route showed an arrival time of 4 hours and 20 minutes, about 260 kms. That seemed to be no big deal as we had all day. Well 3 hours later we had gone a little over 120 kms and the road had been bad with huge pot holes and enormous, bash plate smashing topes, or speedbumps, some at least 8 inches tall. You get to the little towns and the GPS has no clue where to go as blocks are usually closed around the square due to markets and roads are one way without reason. So, you turn this way and that on crowded, cobbled roads at best hoping to come out of town near your exit road. As we were negotiating the crazy roads we commented to each other about the looks on the faces of some of the people we met on the road. Some would give us a thumb up or a wave. But several times we saw women gathering their children to them and looking at us with terror in their eyes. We would wave but it was sad to see. Here we were worried about what we might find on a deserted back road and they saw us as the threat.

So anyway, the roads continue to get worse by the kilometer until any semblance of pavement was gone. Now, I used to do a bit of off-road riding but never with this kind of special load, that I love dearly, and don’t want anything to happen to them. The road went from diesel in the road (another pucker moment in a corner), to gravel, to lose gravel climbing steeply with water crossings, to a grated bridge, then things got bad.

There were large boulders blocking parts of the road, landslides, a fire, then we came around a very steep corner on soft silt covering the road to a blocked road where a couple of mining trucks couldn’t pass on a very narrow, steep section. I grabbed the front brake as I needed my feet to keep us from falling and, you guessed it, started sliding backwards so hit the kill switch and let out the clutch to stop us. dscn0288

Melanie jumped promptly off, (you remember Portugal?) and started up the steep incline to see what the problem was. There was a small strip of road before the drop-off that I would have to negotiate if I could continue. I guess the trucks just could make it and Melanie said to come ahead and keep going until it got safe. OK, let’s give it a go. I started the bike and let out the clutch and the tire just was spinning in the silt, so I stopped. Again, I tried and with much tire spin and ass puckering I made it up over the rocks and past the trucks to a safe place. Melanie climbed the hill to me and we continued on our way. We checked our poor Gypsy frequently and one time, after a bad rocky section, the poor thing was UNDER her pad and blanket just sitting there. She is a great rider and still always like to get back on and go.img_20170121_123242395

Well, after 100 kms of these conditions, and almost 9 hours, we finally made it to our $25 a night hostel, which is considered a B and B, with comfortable accommodations and excellent hosts.  You can follow this track at https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=12d425833415c98acf&p=2WANDRRs17 .

Cheers, and Buenas Noches from Guatemala

 

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel | Leave a comment

Mexico, First Two Weeks

Well the weather finally cleared enough for us to get going toward Mexico. The skies have cleared, the temperature is above freezing and the wind has diminished to about 20 knots out of the Northwest. Gypsy is in her fleece sweater and her cover is on keeping her protected from the wind. We are full of anticipation as the miles left in Texas tick down to zero as the Mexico border appears at the Brownsville crossing.img_20161220_134637472

I hop of the VStrom and head in to immigration to get my Tourist visa while Melanie stays with Gypsy and the bike. I let too much information out about where are headed, south through Central America, leading the official to only get us a 30 day via for Mexico. No matter what I say he doesn’t budge. Oh well. The rest goes smoothly, the bikes visa/bond, Gypsy and Melanie. After about an hour and a quick check by border officials, we are on our way. img_20161222_095258227

Our route takes us down through Ciudad Victoria to a small place called La Florida, about 400kms away. We will be spending the night here in a little bungalow with horses walking around freely. A friend of mine, Marco Almaraz, has put out the word to the local IBA Rat Riders that we are traveling through so they are watching is on our SPOT to make sure all is good.

Continuing on we pass many small villages and the going is easy, except for the many huge topes, like a speed bump on steroids. We are loaded down pretty good so some of the topes have us bottoming out, no matter how slow we go over them. We knew of a waterfall that we wanted to see and headed towards it through massive sugar cane fields. As we got closer the road was getting worse by the kilometer and we finally aborted the attempt when I was bouncing off of baby heads, rocks the size of babies heads. Taking a turn south as a short cut seemed like a good idea until after about 30 kms void of people and vehicles, Melanie said, “What is that up ahead”. About a half a km ahead we saw two people in the middle of the road. My American propaganda fears came to the surface and I stopped the bike on the side of the road. Pulling a pair of binoculars out of my tank panniers I stared down the road at two young men at the roadside with shovels, and no obvious transportation.  We sat for a bit watching them and taking about what to do. We decided to follow what we knew from other travelers, that they meant us no harm. We had a plan of we were wrong and proceed cautiously in second gear ready to go. Closer and closer we got to the boys, we were ready, and when I waved they…smiled and waved back, just as we had hoped for. We stopped for a bit in the Magical town of Jalpan, checked out the cathedral and the square set up for the Christmas celebrations. Melanie gave out some stickers to the children playing and chasing each other.

Traveling by motorcycle with a dog gives a new set of problems, inexpensive hotels that accept pets. We booked ahead of time using booking.com in the Magical town of Bernal. This town has a large monolith, Peña de Bernal which is the tallest in the world and a UNESCO site, that overlooks the town. The town of Bernal has been designated a Pueblo Mágico town. We arrived at the Hotel Feregrino and were told that pets weren’t welcome at their hotel. Melanie argued and showed them their ad on booking.com and they finally agreed to let us stay. The hotel had a great view from the top of the downtown and the monolith.img_20161222_153633869

We got settled in and walked downtown and wandered around watching all the families milling about as Christmas music played through loudspeakers in the downtown area. We sat and drank Sangria and microbrewed beer while munching on a delicious wood fired oven pizza. It was so much fun to sit and watch kids playing in the square in anticipation of Christmas.

The next day we ride to our friends house in Aguascalientes, Marco Almaraz and Abby Beüger, who run the Iron Butt Association of Mexico. They welcomed us into their home with fantastic hospitality for the Christmas holiday. On Christmas, Abby put together a fantastic turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Our days there went to quickly and soon we were on our way again with the memories of spending time with our new friends.

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Horizons Unlimited, Mexico, motorcycle travel, Uncategorized, VStrom | Leave a comment

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