Social Icons

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lounging Around Lake Atitlán...

So, while in Antigua I had a package sent by my father with a few necessary items (thanks pops!).  It was mailed to the school that I was studying at for several days, but is delayed at customs apparently.  That said, I decided to book it over to Panajachel with the CATours guys, and then spend some time across Lake Atitlán in San Pedro.  I've been here for four nights now and am feeling pretty chill and relaxed.  My hotel, Casa Villa del Sol, has adequate secure parking, cheap laundry, comfortable beds, hot showers, and private rooms...  all for $5 USD per night!  I figure while I wait for the package to arrive I can either spend $30 USD per night for a room in Antigua, or $5 here on the lake.  I'm hoping it makes it to Antigua soon though as there is still a LOT to explore in Central America en route to Panama.  

In the last post I mentioned Kayla and Susan.  We met in Antigua, then met up in Panajachel.  After a crazy fun night out in Pana, we all decided to meet again in San Pedro.  Kayla and I have gotten along well and have spent time exploring all the small towns around the lake.  San Pedro is small, tranquil, and laid back with a few restaurants and bars to explore.  It also sits at the base of Volcan San Pedro, and directly on the lake, so there are a lot of hiking and exploring options.  One of the first days here I went on a run for a bit of exercise and discovered a small private beach.  We've spent some time there since, which has been nice.  Directly across the lake is San Marcos, which is probably one of the most 'granola' places I've ever seen.  Tiny little paths wind through the village and they are dotted with reiki and acupuncture shops, organic food stores and restaurants, fruit and vegetable juice stands, and of course head shops.  There is also a small nature preserve with a platform to jump into the lake for some swimming.  Of course I stripped down to my skivvies and performed a flailing front flip without thinking twice.  I probably would have scored a 1 out of 10 if there were judges.  

While here something really, really cool has happened.  Two people have committed to visiting during my travels.  Sarah, my beautiful new friend from Mexico City that I met in Puerto Escondido will be joining me in Cartagena for a few days in the city, and possibly a ride up the Colombian coast to Santa Marta.  Also Sam, my great friend back home and roadracing teammate will be meeting up with me in Lima in May for some ADV riding in/around Peru.  I'll continue to live in the moment and enjoy the 'now', but I'm looking forward to seeing and spending time with them both.

Whenever 'the package' arrives in Antigua I'll make my way through the city en route to El Salvador.  I plan to navigate Ruta de las Flores on the way to the coast.  If anyone has recommendations on beaches in El Salvador to spend time and/or surf please send them along.  Following El Salvador, I plan to speed through Honduras and spend a few days in Leon, Nicaragua.  I'll explore the country for a few days, and then head south through Costa Rica and finally Panama.

I guess that's it for now.  Sorry for the gap between updates, and the brevity of this one.  Not much to report the past few days as I've been lounging around the sleepy village spending time with new friends.  Hopefully I'll be back on the road soon where the adventure, and updates will continue. 

Until then...  

~ D

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Antigua & ADVentures...

***As you read, play this track.  Jose has been keeping me company during my journey lately.  Great traveling music...***  

I've been in Guatemala for almost a week now.  Time has passed quickly and I just realized I haven't posted an update for awhile.  In my last post I think I left out the actual ride to Antigua, so I'll put a little recap on my first real border crossing day...  

I woke around 5:30am in San Cristobal, alert and ready for the long ride to Antigua.  I packed up and headed out of the hostel.  A few minutes into the ride I felt like something was a bit 'off' with the bike.  I stopped and immediately checked tire pressure.  The front was as expected, but the rear was WAY low.  I spun the tire and realized there was a huge screw sticking out.  I'm not sure if I picked it up the day before on my ride to Oventic (Zapatista compound) or shortly after leaving the hostel.  Anyway, at that point I was losing air quickly and needed to find a place for repairs.  I limped along slowly and found a public estacionamiento (parking lot) off the main road.  I stopped and asked if I could park in a corner of the lot to repair my tire.  They said "of course" and pointed me into a back corner.  I immediately got to work setting the bike on the center stand and pulling the rear wheel.  At this point a group of around 8 - 10 locals started to gather around.  They were checking out the bike, and trying to figure out why a gringo would be getting dirty changing his own tire.  They were all harmless and pretty funny actually.  By the end of it I was known as 'Gringo Loco' due to the length of my trip and that I was doing my own tire change and not taking it to a vulcanizidora (tire shop).  Granted, in retrospect I may want to utilize a tire shop in the future.  Those Heidenau K60's are a BITCH to spoon on and off the rim.  :/  

I finally got everything buttoned up after about an hour and set off for the border.  The ride was beautiful.  The exit from Mexico was painless at the banjercito and immigration (still haven't gotten my $450 deposit back from the Mexican gov't though).  Immigration into Guatemala was quick and easy as well, but I got a bit fleeced by a money changer at the border.  They made me spray the bike, which cost $11Q and wouldn't take Pesos or USD.  Everything was smooth sailing until I went to check the bike into Guatemala.  The computers were down and I ended up having to wait an additional two hours.  They finally reset everything, told me it was my 'lucky day' as sometimes the computers can be down for much longer apparently, and sent me on my way.  I arrived to Antigua fairly late due to the unforeseen delays.  After the long day I really just wanted a shower and bed, but failed to realize that the place I booked was the biggest party hostel in Antigua.  It was FILLED with insanely drunk tourists.  There were Aussie dudes chundering in the bathrooms, girls passed out on tables, and people yelling and partying everywhere.  Not exactly what I was looking for after my long day.  If you want a party stay at the Terrace Hostel...  if you want rest, don't.  I ended up moving the next day.  

While I was in Antigua I had planned to give the bike some love (i.e. clean/tension chain, go over nuts and bolts, oil change, brake pads, etc).  I ended up randomly finding Taz @ MotoMundo, which is a local shop.  He and I got along well and I decided I would just have him look over the bike.  He had a diagnostic tool, so we plugged it in and found a couple of faults.  After an oil change, a once over, and clearing the faults I was good as new.  If you are passing through Antigua on a moto trip I would highly recommend stopping in to see Taz.  If only just for a beer and game of darts.  

During my time in the city I also met up with a fellow ADVrider Cody.  He and I got along well and will probably link up at some point through Central America for a bit of travel together.  He told me about CATours, which is a moto tour and bike rental shop in Antigua.  I ended up checking it out the first day I was in town and loved it.  Both Jose (the owner) and Frenchie (aka David - the guide) are incredibly good guys.  They have a handful of amazing day and multi-day trips all through Guatemala and even the surrounding countries.  If you are a motorbike fan and find yourself passing through Antigua without jumping in a tour you have done yourself a huge disservice.  I ended up riding twice with David.  The first day he had an Australian father/son duo who were both great.  In fact, Peter (the dad) is another fellow ADVrider (aspad) and we had a great time swapping stories and tall tales about motorcycle adventures past.  That day I spent around five hours trying to keep up with the three of them as they ripped around ahead of me on 250's and 450's through tough dirt, sand, rocky sections, and several fairly deep river crossings.  At one point we stopped for a break at a small tienda nestled in a valley under Volcan Fuego.  Just as we stopped, the ground shook and the volcano treated us to a small, but beautiful eruption.  Watching lava, smoke, and ash blast into the air was a first for me...  

Yesterday I joined David and Rob (CATours customer - and all around good dude) for an overnight tour to Atitlan.  We rode for around five hours through dirt, paved two lane, small villages, rivers, and finally ended up descending into Panajachel with astounding views of the lake all around.  The views and ride were amazing, but the highlight of the day was witnessing Rob's first official motorcycle crash.  He caught an edge in some deep sand and went down in a massive cloud of dust and dirt.  I was proud of him though, he has only ridden a motorcycle five or six times and was doing fantastically well.  There are two types...  those who have, and those who will (crash).  Rob is now officially in the latter club.  Good on ya' Rob! ;)  

Last night we all ended up unpacking, showering, and then sitting at a restaurant on the lake to watch a beautiful sunset.  I met four girls in Antigua the night before, and two of them, Sarah and Kayla ended up meeting us in Panajachel.  We caused trouble all over town and had a blast.  Somehow we got the idea that we would draw tattoos on each other and the lot of us ended up with some pretty obscene temporary 'ink'.  I got along well with Kayla, so after finishing this blog post and showering, I'm hopping on the bike and we're meeting on the other side of the lake for a day/night in San Pedro.  I'm waiting on a package to arrive in Antigua that my father sent, which is taking much longer than expected, so I'm in no rush at the moment to make my way south.  

After a day in San Pedro I expect to head back to Antigua for a day or two (maybe a year depending on how long this freaking package takes!).  I've decided that I'll ride south from there through Ruta de las Flores, and then will spend several days surfing and lounging on the beaches/coast in El Salvador.  After that it's south through the borders in Honduras, several days in Nicaragua, some time in Costa Rica, then plan to spend a week or so exploring the beaches in northern Panama.  I board the Stahlratte on March 2nd for the journey to Colombia where I'll begin the next chapter of the adventure through South America.  

I think that's it for now...  I need to grab yet another cup of strong coffee, then pack up and head to San Pedro to rendezvous with the girls.  Loving life, living the dream on two wheels! Habla pronto...  

~ D

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

San Cristóbal, Zapatista Guerillas, & Border Crossings... Oh My!!!

Well it's official, chapter 3 of the journey has begun.  I consider the 1st chapter my time traveling through the US, chapter 2 would be the month in Mexico, and now chapter 3 will be my travels through the remainder of Central America.  

I was in San Cristóbal for several nights.  I stayed at Rossco's Backpacker Hostel, which was perfect.  Good folks, beautiful architecture and gardens, comfortable bed, cheap, and with secure bike parking.  I mentioned this before, but if you show up on a bike, the first night is free.  Like most places I've stayed, the hostel was filled with a very eclectic mix of travelers.  There was representation from Denmark, Australia, England, Korea, Mexico, and several others.  I ended up hanging out with a few people from the hostel and had a great time in the city.  S.C. is beautiful.  It was founded in 1528 and has beautiful streets, architecture, gardens, and churches.  It is fairly large with a population of a little over 150k.  The second night I was there, I met a guy at a cafe that invited me to an underground gypsy music party.  The venue, crowd, art, and music were all incredible.  While there, I noticed that the place was very Zapatista friendly (art on the walls, graffiti in the bathrooms, etc).  I ended up chatting with a guy who spent some time living with a Zapatista community.  He said that I may not be invited in, but gave me directions to Oventic, and several tips on how to act and react.  I also met Nat (short for Natalie) at the hostel and invited her along for a day trip on the bike to visit the compound.  

The next morning Nat and I agreed to meet at the main plaza in Chamula, which is a small village north of S.C. at 2pm.  As planned, Nat strolled up and after taking in a few sights in the town (namely $hitfaced local dudes passed out everywhere - along with a beautiful plaza and church) we headed out on our adventure.  The directions I was given ended up being slightly off.  Nat and I ended up getting lost countless times in tiny little villages, and meandering up and down the mountain roads.  We were about to give up and head back until we finally met a guy willing to give us exact directions.  I get the impression that the locals aren't really supposed to give specific directions to Oventic.  

We crested an eery fog-covered mountain and finally arrived to Oventic around 4pm.  There was only one sign and a gate.  The gate was guarded by two women with red bandanas covering their faces.  I parked the bike and we walked up.  I asked in Spanish if it was permitted for us to enter.  She said possibly and then motioned over two guys who were milling about in the background.  When they started coming towards us I realized they were wearing traditional Zapatista balaclavas and gear.  There is something rather daunting about having masked/armed guerrillas marching towards you.  They came up and asked, "why are you here?"  I responded that we were there to study the murals, art, and culture.  Also that we wanted to learn more about their way of living.  Masked guerrilla # 1 then walked back to confer with masked guerrillas # 2 & 3.  After about 20 minutes, masked guerrilla # 1 walked back over with a form and interviewed both of us about our intentions.  He then asked for our passports and said they would hold them while we were inside the compound.  Daunting feeling number two, watching as a masked guerrilla walks away with your passport leaving you locked outside the gate.  Fortunately, I travel with an expired passport, but Nat brought her real one.  She was a bit nervous about that.  Long story short, after waiting for almost an hour, we were finally allowed into the community.  

According to our 'guide', there are approximately 2,000 members that reside in/around Oventic.  As you walk down the hill from the gate there are wooden communal houses that are long and slender on the right.  On the left there are several places preparing food and a communal center.  A little further down there is a church on the left, and a couple of judicial buildings on the right, one of which was a 'significant women of the community' meeting place.  Down the hill at the bottom of the compound is the school.  Like anywhere else, they have primary and secondary school, and there were children hiding about pointing at us suspiciously and laughing at the strange gringos. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is covered in beautiful painted murals.  If you know me, you know I love street art, so I was in heaven.  There are even a couple of original Banksy murals from time he spent with the community several years back.  Of course there are tributes to the founder of the movement and several praising Che as well.  Just as quick as we were led in, we were walked back up the hill and led out of the gate.  Our passports were returned with a handshake and a "thanks for visiting and learning more about us".  It really was a highlight of the trip thus far.  I got to learn more about the EZLN and Zapatista culture than I ever thought possible.  It seemed surreal that I was actually inside their community.  It was a special day for sure.  

Not including the US portion of the trip, I've now been on the road for over one month, and have clocked over 5,000 miles of travel.  I've had one incident with a flat battery, and one tire puncture.  I stopped at numerous amazing locations in Mexico ranging from snowcapped mountains, scrub and cactus covered desert, pristine coast, and colonial cities.  I've watched countless amazing sunsets (only one sunrise unfortunately).  I watched 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' in a theater in Morelia and realized how extraordinary it is that I'm already chasing down dreams of grand adventure (the theme of the movie).  I've met a great deal of friends during my travels, and also several beautiful girls that caught my attention, one of which I can't seem to shake away the thought of.  I've been scared, at times depressed and lonely, incredibly happy, excited, anxious, and everything in between. All that and I lust for more, more, more!  

Today I began Spanish classes here in Antigua.  I plan to study for 3 - 5 days depending on how the lessons move along.  Today went very well, and even though my instructor Rosa speaks zero English, we were able to communicate just fine.  I think I'll also take a short tour to see some lava one of the days (apparently you get so close you can roast marshmallows).  I also met the owner of MotoTours (formerly CATours) today.  Jose is a great guy, and really loves his bikes.  He is a fan of roadracing as well, so we got along just fine.  I had no idea racing was such a big deal in Guatemala.  Anyway, Jose invited me for a ride, so I'll probably take him up on it while I'm here.  He has a nice selection of 250's and 450's to rip around on. Check out his site here.  

That's all for now.  I'm meeting up with my first fellow ADV member tonight ('cmkaduce') for a drink.  It will be great to swap tales from the road over a cold beer or two.  After that I've been invited to a salsa night at a club nearby.  I'm not very good at Spanish (for now), but it turns out being married to a Colombiana and the lessons have paid off. I'm pretty good at salsa.  I love the reaction that I get from the local girls when they realize I'm one of the few gringos that can dance.  Ahhhh, the universal language of dance.

Until next round...  

~ D 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Magical Mazunte...

The ride south from Escondido to Mazunte was short, quick, but incredibly HOT!!!  By the time I arrived I was covered in sweat.  I checked into Posada del Arquitecto and booked two 'Estrellas' (hanging beds that overlook the ocean and sit under the stars).  One for me and the other for Daniel, my temporary travel partner, but permanent new friend.  He arrived by bus some time later that day.  After dropping my bags, I ran to the shower, stripped down, and stood there under the cold water for what seemed like hours.  I can't even describe how good that felt.  I'd end up taking six or seven just like it during my time there.  

As soon as I arrived in Mazunte I realized how different it was than other beach towns like Escondido.  It is a small village that has a cozy feel and family vibe (everyone seems to know each other), filled to the brim with laid back, super cool, young hippies.  There is also a compound filled with families that prefer to live and raise their families 'off the grid'.  There is a 'one-with-the-earth', peaceful feeling that surrounds the place.  Although everyone seems to do their fair share of partying (mostly 'organic' - I was offered mushrooms by the bracelet guy, and weed by the tattoo guy within minutes of arriving), I'd say there is much more healthy living that consumes most people's time.  All around there are people giving/receiving Reiki, chanting, meditating, and the place is scattered with people semi-permanently fixed in various different yoga poses.  

The first night Daniel and I explored the city a bit, then called it early.  There was a five day festival going on, which brought people from all around to celebrate the saint of the village (the name escapes me).  I guess the travels from the day, exploring the town a bit, and the preceding days/long nights in Escondido did a number on us.  After a decent night I woke up early for a sunrise run on the beach, which was really magic.  I tell ya, when the right song comes on at the right moment, sometimes life just feels right...  almost too good.  After my run and workout, I laid there on the empty beach next to a beach dog listening to music, thinking, and basking in the morning sun for a bit (this track a good example).  Later that day we took the bike on a bit of a detour to La Ventanilla to do a short boat tour where we watched a massive crocodile devour a pelican.  It was straight out of National Geographic.  I felt like the croc deserved propina (a tip) for the show.  Then we rode out to the point to watch the sunset.  We were perched atop a rocky cliff with a group of hippies blowing conch shells and chanting.  The sun set perfectly and then behind us a bright and beautiful full moon rose up to overpower the sky.  It is hard to describe...  I'm thirsty to take in more moments just like it.  

That night we met a couple of British girls.  Jo had just finished organizing an electronic music festival in Playa del Carmen.  Apparently she is a bit of a big deal in the music scene.  She met up with her friend who is a production manager for Bestival (another popular music festival in England).  We partied it up for a bit in the plaza over buckets of mojitos, street food, and cold beer.  It was the final night of the five day celebration, so the plaza was filled with a mass of people dancing and getting proper 'mega-spangled' (like that Jo?  I was able to work in our new word).  Those two were good fun and will be amazing music contacts to have in the future.  I envy that they are both passionate about their work, but at the same time get to travel the world and do what they love.  Sounds pretty spectacular.  

Yesterday morning I woke up and packed.  I had originally planned to spend a night in Salina Cruz at a surf camp, but got a wild hair over breakfast and figured I'd just book it all the way to San Cristobal, which would give me three nights there instead of two.  The ride was long (360+ miles / 9hrs), but I'm really glad I did it.  I experienced every bit of riding bliss along the way.  The beginning of the route was filled with amazing twisty roads, sunshine, and endless beach views.  The middle of the ride was flat road through beautiful wind turbine farms.  Again, the right song at the right time had me playing air drums and dancing in the saddle.  Throughout the ride the temperature dropped significantly.  It started out around 87F and ended around 47F.  The third part of the ride was incredibly exhilarating as I found myself darting quickly in and out of busy night traffic through the streets of Tuxtla Gutierrez.  It is hard to keep up with the delivery guys on the little 125cc bikes, but I'm happy to say that I bolted through the city center in what had to have been record time.  Only sideswiping one car with my pannier (oops!).  The final bit of the ride was again filled with absolutely amazing twisty sections and then opened up into some nice smoothly paved high speed sweepers that led down into San Cristobal, which at that point was resting peacefully below a gorgeous yellow/grey full moon.  

I checked into Rosso's Backpacker Hostel here in S.C. and was pleasantly surprised that not only did they have a perfect, secure courtyard for the bike, but they offered me a free night.  Apparently Rosso loves motorbikes and if you arrive here on one, your first night is comped.  After getting unpacked and showered, I met a few travelers in the courtyard and we explored a couple of restaurants/bars.  Both had amazing live music and an uber cool crowd.  The young people here remind me of the hipsters in Buenos Aires.  Sharply dressed, confident, smart, and full of life.  Since this is Chiapas, home of the Zapatista movement, there is a bit of a rebellious aura about them as well.  The second bar had a great live salsa/cumbia band.  I met Veronica straight away.  She is a local that speaks zero English.  My broken Spanish didn't help things, but we hit it off on the dance floor and danced sweaty salsa through the night.  It was quite fun and she wants to meet up again tonight.  I plan to explore the city today after finishing up some much needed chores (i.e. finances, e-mail, laundry, etc).  I also need to buy an iPhone 5 charger as mine stopped working, which may be a challenge tracking down.  

For those reading this, if you are on the fence about doing a trip like this.  Seriously, fucking do it!!!  Sorry for the language, but there is no other way to put it.  Someday never comes...  Along the way I've experienced life like I've never felt before.  Some good (mostly all good), some bad.  At times I've been lonely, at times surrounded by new friends.  At times I'm at wits end (i.e. crashing the bike, being lost, etc), but the majority of the time I'm in a constant state of surreal elation.  It really is an amazing feeling.  During the ride yesterday I realized that this is a temporary journey, and made a point to really soak in the day.  

I guess that's it for now...  I'll write more from here in San Cristobal.  After this I plan to make the trek to Antigua where I'll study Spanish and live with a host family for a week and begin the next chapter of the adventure in Guatemala and the remainder of Central America.  

Until then, salud!!!   ~ D