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Mexico

Mexico, Heading North

Bienvenido a Mexico.

Welcome Back.

Crossing back into Mexico from Central America is as easy as crossing from the United States. Navigating the throngs of people selling and buying things you will probably never need is tricky as people are like big rats moving everywhere, crossing as soon as you pass. Watching my mirrors as much as what’s in front of me I stop just in time as a person tries to cut just at the rear of our motorcycle and almost into the trailer that they never saw.

Today we are on our way to Palenque despite the warnings of men on the road stopping traffic looking for money. This has been a warning since we entered Mexico, not to ride the south route into Palenque. We bypassed this road the first time through but want to see a couple of things up this road so we are going that way today.

Stopping at a Wal-Mart that a small customized motorcycle and a rider with a black jacket and patches pulls in right behind us. He had seen us coming into town and followed us to the Wal-Mart. Slowly getting off his bike and taking off his helmet we greet in Spanish and realize quickly that neither of us speak the others primary language. He is there to say hi and offer us any assistance we may need in the southern part of Mexico. Exchanging email addresses and telephone numbers he gets back on his bike and rides away promising to be there is and when we may need anything. He tells us there have been reports of several men on the road north, but no reports today.

Heading out of town toward Palenque we round every corner tentatively as if the devil himself would be waiting for us. The road’s condition continues to deteriorate with every mile with wheel eating potholes and chunks of pavement missing. Since we have not seen anything yet and we are over half way there we start to relax. Rounding a corner half of the road is missing and there are the men stopping traffic at the perfect roadblock. Half of the road is missing, which is our lane, with a drop-off and the other side is the mountain.

There were orange cones and large rocks up directing traffic around the wash-out and around the immediate area were about 8-10 guys with machetes. It didn’t take long to realize that these were the banditos we had been warned about. While we were waiting our “turn”, two little kids came over to us and tried to sell us something to eat. First a truck in the opposite lane went through and paid. Following the truck, a car went through, then the cones were moved back into place in the middle of the road, wide enough for a bike to go through, but maybe not the trailer. We entered the cones where the guys were standing and I hit the gas, thinking FUCK YOU GUYS, I”M NOT PAYING. With the guys yelling, machetes waving and rocks whistling through the air (watch the guy on the left as we ride past pick up a rock), we roared off. So, this was our excitement today. The road sucked with topes and missing sections of road all the way out to Palenque. It took over 6 hours to ride only 190 kms.

Running the blockaid

As we quickly ride through corners the chunks of missing pavement go to whole lanes and we bounce and skid and slide through the turns making sure we aren’t being followed. Pulling into Palenque we are happy to see our hotel is in the jungle with only one-way in. Recounting our story to the reception desk we find out this is common here and we aren’t the first ones to have run this blockade.

 

We ate at the hotel’s on-site restaurant tonight amid the evening cries of birds and Howler Monkeys, an eerie sound in the darkening day. Tomorrow we will be taking a tour bus to Aqua Azul Waterfalls, Misol-Ha Waterfalls and Zona Arqueológica ruins. We want to swim and the pavement is more of a challenge than I want to do two days in a row.

Aqua Azul Waterfalls, (Spanish for “Blue Water Falls”), consists of many cataracts following one after another. The larger cataracts may be as high as 6 meters (20 feet) or so.

Misol-Ha Waterfalls is one single cascade of 35 m of height that falls into a single almost circular pool admits tropical vegetation. The water is of clear blue color due to its high mineral content. Behind the cascade there is a cave of approximately 20 meters in length.

 

Leaving Palenque our next town will be Taxco but we end up staying in a couple other towns along the way with nice little hotels and even nicer hosts and a couple memorable meals when it looked like there was nothing else around. The first was a little street side kabob run by a small family with each of the three having their own distinct duty, the father cooking the meat street side and the mother prepping the food. The seven-year-old son was the host seating the patrons as they arrived, taking orders and attending to the needs of the customers. A more polite and responsible boy would be difficult to find. Such is Mexico, all family members working together.

The next night we found a hotel high up on the bluffs overlooking the town. The drive up the hill was actually one of the steepest we had encountered on the entire trip. Cursing silently, we continued up the hill because stopping would have probably meant a backward slide and an unwanted get off. The views from the top made the ride worth the trip with panoramic views of the city below in the sunset. The elegant restaurant with fireplace was a definite plus and the meal was good and inexpensive.

Taxco, the city of silver. Taxco is built into the side of a mountain so a flat, straight road is impossible to find. Our hotel for the next couple of night is a spa and up a couple very steep roads with sharp corners where if you had to stop one leg would find nothing but air between the bottom of your boot and the pavement. Melanie wanted off so she took Gypsy and told me when the busy street crowded with VW bug taxis was clear so I didn’t have to stop. One wrong turn led to a multi-point turnaround with my trailer as I blocked traffic full of very patient drivers.

The city of Taxco was heavily associated with silver, both with the mining of it and other metals and for the crafting of it into jewelry, silverware and other items. Today tourism has replaced silver as the main economic activity.

Exploring the compact, hilly city is the easiest way and then when sufficiently lost, a VW taxi is always waiting to take you back. There are several churches with amazing histories all within view of the back balcony of our hotel. The owner spoke great English and grew up in Taxco. He was very proud of his homeland and took time away from his day to point out the places to visit from the balcony viewpoint. He shared with us that he had grown up in this very building, an orphanage at the time. Having great memories of growing up, when it came up for sale a few years ago as an inn, he couldn’t resist purchasing the place for his own.

One of the highlights of a visit to Taxco is the newly discovered abandoned mine. One of the hotels, the Hotel Posada de la Misión since 1940, was doing a remodel of its bar three years ago. After digging up the tiles in an area of the bar they arrived the next morning to discover the tools they had left on the exposed dirt were missing, through a small hole in the excavating area. Researching the hole further revealed an old mine with existing veins of gold and silver. The tour is very cool you descend in an elevator down four stories and hike down to a depth of about 150 feet. If you are feeling energetic you can also rappel 300 feet to the bottom. This is a great tour full of history and to find this mine directly below the hotel and city is amazing.

Tomorrow, through the middle of Mexico City.

 

Cheers

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Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Horizons Unlimited, Mexico, motorcycle travel | 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, 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

Bahia de Concepción

Riding quickly to the coast the anticipation continued to build as the five bikes twist and turn like a giant snake, in unison on narrow, perfect black asphalt waiting for the first glimpse of the crystal clear blue water. The miles continue to tick off when suddenly, exiting a turn as the elevation is decreasing, heading to the coast, the blue shimmering bay comes into view just minutes north of Santa Rosalia.

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We make the turn at the coast and continue our southbound route riding through Santa Rosalia as the sun continues to fall in the western sky. Our timing is perfect as we skirt the coast catching glimpses of the water and then turning inland and then back to the coast as the colors of the mountains and water change with each minute. As we come around one last corner we have our breath taken away from the beauty of the bay at Coyote Beach, our home for the next couple days.

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We pull up and park our bikes in front of Carla and Jonathan’s casa, just shaking our heads to be able to stay, even briefly, along this stretch of the Bahia de Concepcíon, what Jacques Cousteau probably considered an Eighth Wonder of the World. With sunset minutes away, we unpack the bikes and walk mere steps to the water’s edge to take in the beauty as the setting sun casts a multitude of colors and shadows across the waters onto the 4,000 foot mountains on the other side of the bay.

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Over the next couple days we went kayaking, swimming and relaxed enjoying the beauty of the bay.

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Locals stopped by delivering fresh fish, shrimp, lobster and vegetables out of the back of their vans for just pennies of what you would normally pay. Let me tell you, lobster and eggs for breakfast is indeed a treat.

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On our last day there, Randy, a neighbor, took the lot of us out on his boat for a tour, some swimming and alcohol consumption. On the boat was our captain, Randy and his nephew, Kurt and Martha Forget of Black Dog Cycle Works, who have their winter home here also, some riders from Rawhyde adventures, Dusty Wessels and Jeff Camacho, editor of Overland — Scott Brady, and our motley crew. The area is even more beautiful from the water.

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These next two pictures were taken after we left, of our friend, Kurt Forget, Black Dog, swimming with a Whale Shark.

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Our day ended with a cookout at Randy’s place (have you ever seen charcoal started with a blower?) and hosted by Black Dog Cycle Works. It was great end to a fantastic day spent with friends. Thanks guys!

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Special Black Dog sticker

The next day we had to say our goodbyes and head back to work. Riding south along the bay we enjoyed more fantastic views, got in a little water crossing and had breakfast at Los Mandiles de Santa Lucia on the Gulf of California in Loreto. The food was good but too many gringo tourists. Much better to eat down the street at the Sea-Coffee Cafe with free WiFi.

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Here is a YouTube video of our ride north along the bay.

After breakfast we rode back north spending the night in San Ignacio again.

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During the night the rain moved in and the cold with it. Riding though the mountains we stopped for breakfast at one of the Baja 500 checkpoints, the El Palomar, in Santo Tomás. The El Palomar has a restaurant, bar, hotel, curiosity shop and fuel. This is a must stop on the way just to see the history here. A brick fireplace was the centerpiece of this unique establishment and I had a fantastic breakfast, Huevos Rancheros.

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After breakfast, having warmed up and with full stomachs, we rode north and crossed in Tecatè again.

Till next time…Cheers 

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Baja, BMW, Mexico, VStrom | Leave a comment

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