May 23, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
It's been a week! I've been taking a little break from the internet. My camera is being serviced - something I've never done but I've noticed a significant decline in some of the functions and the experts always told me it should be serviced "regularly" and 10,000 or so pictures later I finally listened. On Saturday afternoon I spent several hours in La Boca, the most colorful neighborhood in Buenos Aires - maybe in the whole country. Here's what I saw:
May 16, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
I've been in BA for 6 days and haven't done much but wait for this or that repair, view other apartments, and wait for emails and other things. It seems like every call or appointment or waiting period has been timed just right so there's not really enough time to get out and see much. Plus I've been sleeping about 10-11 hours a day. I know all this is very exciting, kind of like the second page of Recoleta Cemetery pictures I put together...
May 14, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
It looks like I may be looking for another apartment - this one has a sliding back glass door that doesn't lock, no remote for the TV, a crappy kitchen, leaky shower and a bunch of other little things. It's a long story involving phone calls and emails but I'll hopefully get it worked out soon so I can spent my time taking pictures and exploring this city instead of playing admin games with apartment people. I got out to take pictures of the famous Recoleta Cemetery. Anybody that likes architecture and unique statues could spend days there capturing each unique burial site. This is the first of two pages from the cemetery:
May 11, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
I'd been thinking about getting an apartment in BA for a month to make time for Spanish and Tango lessons and get to know the city. There are many agencies that rent short term furnished apartments so the competition keeps the price down, I think. The the price range of apartments is anywhere from around $600 a month for a basic apartment, to $3,500 for a luxury apartment. Mine was about $1,000, in the Zona Recoleta. I showed up in BA on Wed. night, went online looking for apartments, looked at a couple yesterday and chose one last night and moved in late. It all happened pretty fast because I didn't want to spend any more hotel money when I'm going to be renting for a month. Here's my neighborhood.
It'll be nice to slow down for a month. I'll still be out taking tons of pictures and I'd guess there'll end up being somewhere between 3-6 pages of pictures from BA and surrounding areas. I also need the time here for lots of motorcycle work. I've still got that little electrical problem and the only light that works on the motorcycle is the bright headlight; it would be nice to have some blinkers, brake lights and gauges again. I've put about 15,000 miles on the motorcycle since I've left Seattle so it definitely needs everything from spark plugs to carburetor sinc. and I think it will make a big difference.
May 9, Dolores, Argentina
The internet connection at the hotel in Mar del Plata was weak and unreliable so I'm downloading a page of photo's at a YPF gas station here, in Dolores, which is on the main highway between Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires. Everybody is talking about how cold it is, and they're right, but at least it's not raining and the road is solid and paved.
May 8, Mar del Plata, Argentina
Cold, rain, hailstorms, windy and cold. At the front desk they told me it was 2 degrees Celsius in Buenos Aires and 4 degrees here and that it's usually not this cold so I decided to wait another day or so for the one day trip to BA. I didn't really feel like repeating some of my coldest days on the road and I've still got some pasta leftover. I should be able to put together a page of pictures with my spare time here.
May 6, Mar del Plata, Argentina
Yesterday's trip to Mar del Plata was mostly dry, fairly cold and good straight highway. It turns out I didn't miss much in Bahia Blanca as far as pictures go, the locals confirmed that there isn't much there to see in the city, it's mostly a mix of industrial and college town stuff.
Mar del Plata, however, is a beautiful coastal city. Tourism and fishing keep this city of 550,000 moving along. It's fall down here in Argentina and the resort towns all have good deals so I'll stay in this hotel/apartment for another day or two. This is the first place I've stayed that had a kitchen so last night I put together a pasta meal with enough garlic and onions to make this whole building smell like an Italian restaurant and it's still good leftovers for tonight.
Bad weather for the last week or so has been a bit annoying, I guess that's why the hotel deals are better this time of year. It seems like every time I go out to take pictures or ride around the city it starts raining again.
May 3, Bahia Blanca, Argentina
I thought that Bahia Blanca would be a small stopover on the way to Buenos Aires but it turned out to be the largest city I've seen in about six weeks, at almost 300,000 people. The change from Patagonia to the Pampas was clear and abrupt as the empty windy plains and occasional armadillo, American ostrich and llamas, were all replaced by Ford trucks, farm equipment and thousands of well fed, very healthy looking cattle and green, flat pasture land. The very welcoming change of scenery took place immediately north of Viedma, after crossing the Rio Negro, and was followed by gradually warmer temperatures throughout the day and a couple of rain storms. Technically the end of Patagonia and beginning of The Pampas is at Rio Colorado, about 90 miles north of Rio Negro, but I'm going to talk to someone about changing that. The Pampas is the land of of El Gaucho, their version of the John Wayne sort of legendary cowboy figure.
I thought I would stay today and take pictures but when I went out it started raining and I ultimately got stuck on the far side of town looking for a cab, which took over 2 hours! I may stay again tomorrow, either in hopes of seeing more of this city or because I don't feel like riding all day in a rainstorm. The internet service at the hotel has been weak at best so I'm not sure I'll be able to download this, or how long it'll take so here goes...
May 1, Viedma, Argentina
Finally in a new place! Viedma looks like it fell asleep in 1965 and just woke up last year. Everything looks and feels old style but it's all clean and well kept. It's the capital of the Rio Negro province and I've actually noticed that other capital cities I've seen so far [Rawson, Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia in Argentina and Punta Arenas, Osorno and Temuco in Chile] have the same old but well kept sort of look. The ride today was 300 miles and half of that was in the rain so I guess the new chain is really broken in now. It hadn't rained once in the 13 days I've been stranded in Puerto Madryn, 'till today that is - what wonderful timing. Not sure how far I'll go tomorrow.
I was really glad to have met that mechanic - the rental car lady's son recommended him. I showed up with the chain and my motorcycle and a couple of hours later it was all put together and he only wanted to charge me $25. If you're ever stuck in Puerto Madryn with any mechanical issues look for Sergio "Pichon" Parra. He's part of some group that has a website: www.madryn.com/automovilismo
That's it for now, I'm pretty tired.
April 30, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
I got the parts! They arrived at the DHL office this morning and the mechanic I met last week (a different mechanic from the initial one who wanted to remove a link in my chain to "fix" things) is going to put them on the bike today and I'll be leaving for San Antonio Oeste, or maybe further, tomorrow. I was getting concerned because tomorrow is their "Labor Day" holiday, which of course they celebrate by not working, so if I didn't get the parts today it would have been Wednesday at the earliest. I think this the first time since Puebla, Mexico, that I've been caught up on pictures.
As suspected, all the forms on the package were filled out with every bit of information necessary but part of the hold up was due to them taping over parts of the original forms with various customs stickers and other documents that get tagged to a package when in travels from one country to the next.
April 29, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Still here with no parts. I've been here long enough to run for mayor and I think I'll do so with the sole campaign promise of making a new rule that if DHL employees lie to their customers about their package status they have to suffer some very painful and/or embarrassing consequences. On Thursday they told me it would be here on Friday. On Friday they told me it would be here over the weekend but it wouldn't be delivered 'till Monday, but I would be able to pick it up at the DHL office, which is only 4 blocks away from my hotel; but it might as well be 400 miles away because it's closed all weekend. Then on Saturday they said it was still sitting in Buenos Aires because they need my passport number to send it on to Puerto Madryn and said they were going to call me at the hotel to ask for it but they weren't able to say who would have called me, or when, or why the people I've talked to over the last several days didn't mention anything about needing my passport number. This last part is particularly annoying because Mike G. had many detailed conversations with DHL folks to ensure that every document had every single bit of information they needed.
The online tracking information said, on Friday and Saturday, that it is in Buenos Aires and "available upon payment of recipient" but everyone I've spoken with said they're not sure why it says that because it's clearly paid for. Today it says that it has "arrived at the DHL facility", just like it said 4 days ago when it arrived at the B.A. DHL facility, and it also says "Delivery arranged, no details expected", whatever that means. Today the US DHL office said it was given to a third party for delivery to Puerto Madryn within 48 hours and I'm hoping that is the right one.
I know that is all very exciting information and your lives are enriched by knowing about it, eh? So here I am on my birthday being a little annoyed about the shipping issues but at the same time I'm very glad to be waiting for the package here in Puerto Madryn. It's a very pleasant, small, clean city and the timing is great because it's past the tourism prime-time of December through March so it's "muy tranquilo" and relatively cheap. I'll be posting pictures from here in the next day or so.
April 27, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
I'm just sitting here in the hotel lobby waiting for my motorcycle parts to arrive. The DHL thing said the package arrived in Buenos Aires yesterday morning, and showed "Clearance processing complete" yesterday afternoon so I'm assuming it's on the way to Puerto Madryn. I'm finally caught up on the pictures I skipped - this next page is through the Andes and the lake region of Argentina and includes some great scenery. Wish me luck on the parts...
April 25, later, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
More pictures and a bran new exciting search page.
April 24, later, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
The downtime here has given me the chance to catch up on some of the pictures I skipped when I jumped forward to the Ushuaia pictures, starting with Santiago.
April 24, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Sunday I started feeling better than I had all week so I rented a car and checked out the Valdes Peninsula, just north of here. Maybe you've seen those pictures or clips of Orcas swimming right up to the waterline of the beach and snatching seals or sea lions for a quick meal; it's mother nature at her grittiest and most real "National Geographic" moments. Many of those images are filmed on the north end of the Valdes Peninsula between January and March, which is high season for seals and those black and white seal eaters that help expedite natural selection by weeding out the less attentive. There are occasional sightings through April so I had to try because it was a clear sunny day. There were lots of other critters but no Orca action.
I see below that I said I was feeling better but a bit later I wasn't. Up to Sunday I had that kind of sick that leaches out every ounce of energy, makes your body ache and kills motivation for anything more demanding than bed and television but I think I've finally kicked it, with Cipro's help. And thanks to Mike G. in Seattle [I worked with his wife, Maristelle, in that Pharma firm who's name I've almost forgotten - and I know they've forgotten mine!] it looks like I've got a chain and a couple of sprockets on the way as well - on Saturday he pulled a Louis and Clark recon-expedition mission from Renton to Everett [a long way in Seattle traffic] gathering all the pieces I need, then he spent Monday dealing with the friendly folks from DHL working out the intricacies of shipping stuff to Argentina. I also contacted DHL several times to make sure we had the details covered and my conversations with DHL and his seem consistent enough so unless customs decides to pull some surprise BS it looks like I'll have the parts within a week, that rocks. I've gotta catch up on pictures now.
April 19, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
I'm starting to feel almost human again but not quite well yet. I've created another page of pictures with the Glacier Perito Moreno; the weather was cloudy and rainy but some of the pictures still worked out okay. Here they are...
April 18, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Last night I had pizza at a little artsy looking place called "Lizard". Don't ever eat there. I broke one of my rules - not to eat in places where there aren't many, or any, locals eating. The only locals were just drinking beer and the only ones eating were a couple other tourists. I ordered pizza with spinach and hamburger and when I started eating I somehow knew that it would make me sick and I ate less than half of the single sized portion. The fast-poopies started in the early afternoon and now I feel like a truck hit me and my stomach hurts and I feel all whiney so I'm going to do this quick update and go to bed with my Gatorade, crackers and Ciproflaxin regimen, which I haven't needed since Mexico.
Ciproflaxin isn't going to help my bike, it's much sicker. The sprockets and chain are trashed. After I got a new tire 4 days ago I noticed that the chain became loose much quicker. I had adjusted it only 1-2 times a month during the last 7 months and have been very careful about cleaning, lubing and adjusting the chain. The sprocket looked only very slightly worn when I examined it as I was getting my new tire in Rio Gallegos. I've adjusted it 4 times in the last 4 days and the distance I've had to move the adjuster-thingy in the last 4 days is probably 5 times what it has been for the whole trip and the sprocket teeth are really worn down and have a bran new funny, shark-fin shape to them; I'm not an expert but I think that's bad.
Being that the only difference on the bike was a new tire I thought the tire guys messed up the sprocket somehow when they put the tire back on so I checked the alignment of everything, checked the front sprocket, which was warn, readjusted the chain and rode it for ten minutes only to find that it was very loose again. Bad. Plus the chain cylinders are loose and I can turn them and move them in ways they shouldn't move. Bad.
I took it to the only bike guy in town and he agreed that it was bad and also agreed that the alignment of the wheel and sprocket and everything looked fine... Okay, so I took a little breather from writing this thing and I think I know what it is - salt. When I was riding from El Calafate to Rio Gallegos [April 15th] and went through the slushy snowy part I'm pretty sure I was following a salt truck for a couple of minutes. I wasn't sure at the time because I couldn't see very well but when the truck pulled off to the side of the road, after the snowy part of the road, I glanced at it and remember that I couldn't tell what kind of truck it was - I hadn't seen any like that on the trip but I had not ridden in snow either. I'm pretty sure it was a salt truck.
In one of my many discussions I've had with other bikers I heard about how bikes with chains (as opposed to drive-shafts) have a hard time in Bolivia because there are some large salt flats there and salt is bad for chains because it destroys the little rubber "O" rings. If that truck was a salt truck, and I'm thinking it was, my chain would have been completely saturated with very salty road muck and to make matters worse it was at the beginning of a 4 hour cold dry day on the road. The salty muck probably penetrated the "O" rings and filled the cylinders with that corrosive chain-killing mixture of salt and grit. That's all I've got to go on. Anybody??
The bike is running great but I've still got no blinkers or gauges [that little electrical fuse thing that I mentioned on March 27th; I'm hoping to fix it in Buenos Aires] and the low-beam headlight burned out today so the only light left on the whole bike is one bright headlight - which is what I would choose if I could only choose one so that's okay~~~
The bike guy said he called everyone in Buenos Aires that might have had and two sprockets for me but hasn't found anything yet. I don't have much confidence in this guy because he kept offering to remove a link in my chain to tighten it up - even though he understood that after I tightened the chain it was almost immediately stretching and becoming loose again. Removing a link wouldn't make it any stronger, it may actually even make it break faster and I have no desire to find out what happens when a motorcycle chain breaks while riding down the highway; I guess the best-case scenario is that the chain would drop on the highway and I would simply coast to a stop and be stranded in that spot. The many worse-case scenarios involve the chain getting tangled in bad places and causing the back wheel to lock up, likely causing a crash, and leaving me stranded AND injured with a broken motorcycle. This is exactly why my new mission is to obtain a new chain and the accompanying front and back sprockets. It's about 1,000 miles to Buenos Aires and it looks like my chain would last another 100 miles at best.
We'll see what happens tomorrow because I'm too sick and tired-grumpy to fix or find anything right now so I'm going to shimmer and shake my butt to the lobby where they've got wi-fi and try to download this then go back to bed.
April 17, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
I rode to Rawson, looked around that boring little capital city of Chubut, the northern region of Argentinean Patagonia, then went to the little area on the coast of that town, which looked equally boring with nothing to see or do, then decided to ride another 45 miles to Puerto Madryn . I could tell it would be interesting just from looking at the map - it's on the water and at the base of the Valdes Peninsula. The shape of that peninsula, you can see from the satellite map, looked like it would have something to show and it turns out to be a wildlife reserve for penguins, sea lions, elephant seals, whales and many kinds of birds. The only problem is that the high season for these wild ones is mainly between December and February, with a moderate showing in March and you're lucky to see much of anything in April, but I'm going to give it a shot tomorrow. The good part of the off-season is the great deals on hotels.
I crossed the continental divide today - 45 degrees south, latitude, was just north of Comodoro Rivadavia. That means I'm halfway between the South Pole and the equator. In the USA the continental divide (45 degrees north, latitude) runs through Salem, Oregon. The weather is getting warmer but it's still not shorts and t-shirt weather yet, especially on the bike where I'm still wearing my leather jacket and a thinner pair of gloves.
One of the things I've noticed throughout Patagonia is how welcoming the drivers are, especially the truckers. I've been waved at and honked at and flashed bright lights at more times here than anywhere else. They're always giving a thumbs up sign or waving or something like that. I'm sure they all know at a glance that I'm one of the many tourists that made the long motorcycle trip to Ushuaia and they seem to think it's pretty cool. When I see them at gas stations or even at intersections they'll ask if I'm on the way to or from Ushuaia. It's a good feeling to know there's nice people on the road.
April 16, end of the day, Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina
My neck muscles are sore from keeping my head from blowing across the plains of Patagonia without me attached. Riding north, the wind coming from the west, my helmet was pushed against my head so hard by the wind that my helmet and sunglasses were pushed crookedly over toward the right side of my face most of the day - you can view the image on "retardedbiker.com". Comodoro Rivadavia is still the crappy petroleum city it was when I left before but it's the first time in days that I've had an internet connection and I finally finished a page of pictures between Ushuaia and Porvenir, Chile. Check it out...
April 16, Puerto San Julian, Argentina
It's finally starting to warm up a bit. Yesterday I rode from Rio Gallegos to San Julian and throughout the day the temperature gradually increased to somewhere around 58 degrees. I think I'm finally getting far enough north where I can put away the long-johns. Today I'm returning to Comodoro Rivadavia, that crappy little Petroleum town, and then I'll be heading north to new places.
April 15, Rio Gallegos, Argentina
Happy tax day! I got a little extension on my taxes so I didn't have to fly back for an emergency tax trip. But I practically flew from El Calafate to Rio Gallegos yesterday - the strong wind was at my back most of the day, except for that little snow storm. Actually I just missed the snow storm. When I left El Calafate it was 48 degrees and raining and there was a light "powdered sugar" coating of snow on all of the low hills around the town and a new bright-white, thick layer of snow on the mountains and the higher hills which surround the town.
About 15 miles west of El Calafate there's a steep upgrade that leads to the central Patagonian highlands, at about 2,700 feet above sea level. Approaching the top of that hill there was a thick layer of snow on the side of the road and slush on the road from the snow storm that seemed to have ended only about 15-30 minutes before I got there - it was the first time I've ridden in actual slush and I hope it's the last! It was about 35 degrees and there were lots of big trucks kicking up tons of slush and road-grime, making it nearly impossible to see. Luckily this messy little phase of the trip only lasted about 5 miles, then the clouds cleared and it "warmed up" to about 48 degrees and the rest of the trip was as a very gradual descent back to sea level with a strong back-wind helping my progress.
Rio Gallegos is not a touristy town but it's a relatively normal place as far as southern Patagonia goes. I made it to the motorcycle shop earlier than I needed to and finally got my badly needed back tire. It was a busy place and among the visitors were a couple of guys with BMW's that were also returning from Ushuaia. One guy had started in Miami and went to Alaska, then Los Angeles to pick up the other guy, who had one arm and a specially set up right handle grip with the break and the clutch both very close together for his single hand to operate. It was good to catch up with other bikers.
It took over 4 hours to get my new tire and I felt like I was held hostage at that motorcycle shop; when I arrived they quickly removed my back wheel and left with it, and the new tire, and didn't return for another 4 hours and every time I asked about it they said that someone was going to get it and would return soon. My BMW friends had left 2 hours into that wait. That was an annoying afternoon that led into the evening but it was the only option for getting a new tire within 1,000 miles or so and the $325 cost of the tire showed that the cocky Italian guy who owned the place knew exactly how valuable it was in my situation. The only other likely spot would have been Comodoro Rivadavia which I already checked on the way down and they didn't have one. Now I'm heading north to Puerto San Julian, a town that really made me want to leave when I was there on the way down.
April 13, El Calafate, Argentina
How did you celebrate Friday the 13th? I didn't realize the date 'till I sat down to write this quick update and I just did the math and realized that it was exactly 23 months ago that I celebrated it by leaving an extra-special voice mail to my Vice President at work. I usually try to avoid celebrating this unique holiday but today I celebrated by breaking the key to my motorcycle's back storage compartment - the key broke off inside the lock. I was getting ready to ride to the Glacier again today, hoping there would be a little sun-light on the glacier for some better pictures, but instead I got to spend my Friday the 13th looking for a locksmith ("Cerrajeria") and waiting a couple of hours while he changed the nature of the locks on all three storage compartments; now I need one key for one of the bags and a different key for the other two. I was hoping for a return to "key normalcy" but at least everything works again. The locksmith didn't really seem to know what he was doing but was the only one in town. After my Friday the 13th festivities were complete it was too late for a return trip to Glacier Perito Moreno.
Yesterdays trip to Glacier Perito Moreno provided some of the most incredible scenery of the whole trip. It was 42 degrees and raining and that's part of the reason for the lock problem [the back compartment lock tends to be sticky after a ride in the rain because water and grit get into the lock. Usually it works itself out but today it caused the lock to somehow grip the front end of the key in a way that no amount of wiggling or oil could dislodge]. The glacier was absolutely amazing and made me wish I had a video camera with good sound reception. Hearing the crackling and explosive gunshot sounds as the front of the glacier releases massive blocks of ice into Lago Argentino is very dramatic and impressive. I was there for almost 5 hours waiting for the rain to stop but it never did, so the pictures were not what I would've liked but they give a general idea of the glacier.
The internet connection here is too slow to download any pictures. I'll be returning to Rio Gallegos tomorrow where I need to get a new back tire. It's gotten to the point where every time I reach my destination I feel lucky that I didn't get a flat tire because there's not much tread left. That's all for now.
April 11, Rio Gallegos, Argentina
Yesterdays ride was cold, but the border crossings were easy. This morning at 10:00am it's 38 degrees and today, after I change my oil, I'm riding to the glacier that's about 70km west of El Calafate. It probably won't be very cold at all there [yeah right!]. I really want to get someplace warm soon but how many times to you get to ride a motorcycle to a glacier?? I'll let you know how it works out...
April 9, Punta Arenas, Chile
Friday morning I got ready to ride to Punta Arenas, Chile. I rode to the border at San Sebastian where I had spent a night in that crappy hotel a week before (the eve of the toughest day of this trip) then I filled my tank up with gas, looked at the line of trucks waiting to cross the border, then turned right around and rode 45 miles back to Rio Grande for another night. I had gotten a late start and was unsure of whether the ferry crossing from Porvenir to Punta Arenas would be open due to the holiday. I had asked several different folks in Rio Grande and they all assured me that the ferry runs all day, but I have consistently found that when you ask people in one country about something in another country they are almost always wrong. Plus I simply didn't feel like dealing with a border crossing that day.
My late start was mostly due to MF-ers [Malvinas/Falkland Islands]. As I was leaving town I thought I'd take pictures at a MF-ers memorial park and noticed there were a lot of people in a large tent. It was the Veterans of the MF-ers war doing some charity work for a part of Argentina where there had been severe flooding. They were preparing boxes of food and clothing [actually the veterans were standing to the side talking while their wives and children did the work]. I had to stay and talk for awhile and one of the veterans' daughters spoke perfect English and I asked all about the MF-ers.
This group of veterans was very passionate about the fact that the MF-ers belong to Argentina. They didn't know what the MF-ers who actually live in the MF Islands thought about the issue, but assumed that they'd want to belong to Argentina as well. One of the vets pointed out that the MF-ers are 600km from Argentina and 12,000km from the U.K. and that alone was enough. I asked why they thought the U.K. wanted the MF-ers so bad; sheep, fishing and the plankton that the fish feed on were the reasons they came up with [I don't know if they somehow harvest the plankton or if they just like having it but I've never heard of plankton as a major commodity]. They asked for my opinion and I told them it was all new to me but have no reason to disagree with them, and wasn't about to disagree with a room full of emotional, potentially angry veterans from that relatively recent war. I'd be curious who the English speaking MF-ers would choose as their motherland if it were up to them; I think that would be the best resolution to all this.
Saturday I crossed the border and traveled 150km on the best gravel road I've seen on this whole trip. It was well packed with very few bad areas of large loose gravel or pot holes, and I could easily travel at 30-45mph the whole time. I arrived at Porvenir at 3:00 to learn that the ferry had left at 2:00 and there is only one ferry that leaves at 2:00 every day except Sunday and Monday when there are two that leave at 1:00pm and 7:00pm. I knew those MF-ers [and I don't mean the islands] back in Rio Grande were wrong. So I spent the night in Porvenir, Chile, then took the 2 1/2 hour ferry ride to Punta Arenas the next day. The worst part of the last couple of days was losing my Ushuaia hat from the wind on that ferry trip, I'm still mad about that.
April 6, Rio Grande, Argentina
The ride from Ushuaia to Rio Grande yesterday was 125 miles of cold and rain, but the cold was only down to about 50 degrees and the rain was light. My new shoes and gloves worked well (I knew I could find good cold-weather gear in Ushuaia) and the only real difficulty is that the face screen on my helmet fogs up when it's cold and wet so I have to partially open it, which of course leads to freezing cheeks. At the highest point, Garibaldi Pass, the fog was so thick I couldn't see more than 40 feet and had to slow way down but that only lasted for 3-5 miles. I finally finished the last page of Ushuaia photo's:
April 5, Ushuaia, Argentina
Asking someone here about the "Islas Malvinas" or "Falkland Islands" is about like asking someone in Chile about Pinochet; although I didn't do the latter I will on my return through Chile but I'll make sure they're smaller than me and un-armed. It was getting confusing because there's a great deal of 25 year post-war anniversary hype with bumper stickers and signs that say things like "25 years later we still feel the same, you'll always belong to Tierra del Fuego" [which could be misleading because the island of Tierra del Fuego is actually divided down the middle between Chile and Argentina]. 25 years ago Argentina went to take the Malvinas/Falklands (I like to call them the "MF-ers") from the U.K. and occupied them for a couple of weeks until the British military drove them back out.
Acting like a confused gringo [actually it's quite natural] I've asked 4 different people whether the MF-ers belong to Britain or Argentina and every time they've made it perfectly clear that regardless what anyone in the rest of the world says the MF-ers clearly belong to Argentina. All of the maps down here indicate that the MF-ers belong to Argentina but maps from anywhere else in the world call them U.K. territory. I have not seen the word "Falkland" down here anywhere and when I use it in asking about the MF-ers the folks here always correct me and say "Islas Malvinas". Children in school are taught that the MF-ers belong to Argentina and that little fact was used as evidence twice in my discussions, because if it's being taught in school it's gotta be true, right? The conclusion seems to be that they clearly belong to the U.K. but people here simply don't acknowledge the UK's ownership of the MF-ers.
Anyway it's always entertaining to find a sensitive issue and have a little fun with it and it helps me work on my acting skills, because when Hollywood needs someone to play the clueless gringo I'll be right there maaan!! That was yesterday afternoon's rainy day entertainment between other stuff. Today's activity is to ride to Rio Grande, and tomorrow to Punta Arenas [I'm heading back a different way to avoid that really bad gravel road]. I should have the third page of Ushuaia pictures up in a day or so, with some wi-fi connection luck. It's taken me over an hour to get connected today. Now let's see if this works...
April 4, Ushuaia, Argentina
I've been in the same hotel for 3 nights now and it has had a great reliable internet connection, that is until I tried to update yesterdays pictures. It turns out that most of the town had no internet, I'm told it's because they are all on the same network which is all attached to one satellite, but I still found a place that had a signal - I guess it's a different network, I'm not sure. That's all very exciting I know. I finished another page of photos from the end of the world and there'll be a third one shortly...
April 3, Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia has been a great place to rest and catch up on things, but instead I have mostly been running around like a mad man with a camera more than resting and catching up on things. I've decided to temporarily skip over the pictures between Santiago de Chile and Rio Gallegos because I really want to show what this place is like. I've been lucky with the weather - a bit chilly but lots of sun and clear skies for the last 3 days. Today it's cloudy and a little rainy. The longer I stay the more likely it is that leaving this place will be cold and miserable so I'll be heading north, toward Buenos Aires, in the next day or two.
Here's the first group of pictures:
March 31, Ushuaia, Argentina
Yesterday I arrived in Ushuaia Bay. It was 47 degrees in Ushuaia but in the mountains it was near freezing and I got a little taste of rain mixed with snow a couple of times. My new waterproof shoes aren't waterproof and the new gloves stink too, but overall the day was a cake-walk compared to the day before yesterday. Ushuaia was cold and rainy when I arrived yesterday but today turned into a great sunny day for my obligatory trip to the end of the road.
Tierra del Fuego National Park is about 8 miles southwest of town and the end of the road is another 7 miles southwest of the park entrance. It was a bit like Yellowstone except all the critters are small - rabbits, birds, hawks, foxes, etc. Ushuaia is far more of a welcoming town than I'd expected. They have king crab here, red king crab to be exact, at a good price and of course there are Argentinean-grill restaurants allover town. It's much more of a tourist town than I imagined. After spending the day taking pictures throughout the park and town I was tired, probably from the last several days of very difficult travel. I'll rest for two or four days, catch up on some www photos and figure out what's next.
March 30, San Sebastian, Argentina
All the days on this trip when I said things like "this has been the toughest day so far" are all trumped by yesterday. 10 hours on the bike included 5 hours on a bad gravel road going anywhere from 10-35mph, 3 hours in and out of 4 different border posts and 2 hours nearly being blown off a good, paved highway by extreme winds. The gravel roads were the worst of it. As the road got worse I saw dozens of car tires left on the side of the road after they'd been blown, which was a constant reminder to take it slow even if it meant I'd be getting to a hotel well after dark. A couple of truckers informed me that this was the best route and now I want to find them and throw poo at them.
From Rio Gallegos to Punta Delgada was very, very cold and windy, much worse than the previous day on the road. The ferry ride over "Estrecho de Magallanes" was interesting and they didn't charge because they were all giddy about my being so close to my destination. The gravel road to Cullen was mediocre, but I could deal with it. If the road had stayed the same the day wouldn't have been so bad but it appears that Cullen is the name of a company, and the town, that subsidizes the condition of the road only to the north of them. Everything about the road going south of Cullen got really bad, so more than half of the trip was avoiding pot holes, large jagged rocks, ditches and tires.
I started the day in Argentina, crossed into Chile, then back into Argentina. Entering and exiting each border takes a while, especially when the border folks suck. You can't make the trip to Ushuaia without crossing these extra borders and the best I can guess is that Chilean and Argentinean politicians designed it this way so they could get jobs for their retarded relatives as border post guards and paper pushers. The worst was Fernando; I only remember his name because I got to stare at his name badge, sewn into his brown sweater, for about half an hour. He would pick up a document and stare blankly at it like he really didn't know if he should stamp it, sign it, or eat it. Then he would set it down and pick up another with that same stupid hungry gaze.
The Fernando border crossing was entering Chile, early in the day. At the end of the day, about 9:00pm, I was extremely cold, shivering almost uncontrollably, when I got to the border to re-enter Argentina. There was a snotty Argentinean border official bastard that asked me the same questions over and over and took little breaks while handling my papers - I didn't care that much because I was inside; it was warm and I really needed the opportunity to get some heat back into my extremities so I just stood there and waited for little Napoleon to finish - plus I was too cold and tired to get angry about it anyway. Just as I was finishing up with that guy and was thinking about how snotty and conceited Argentines are, the next guy I had to see was really cool, helpful and efficient. I like it when good people prove bad thoughts wrong.
Just 100 yards inside the Argentinean border in San Sebastian there was a crappy little hotel/store/gas station/general small town hangout where I decided to stay. I woke up the next morning to the sound of extreme wind - the type of wind where even when you're inside it is blowing so hard it changes the pressure inside the building and you can feel it in your ears and you wonder if the windows will break. I left very late in the morning and now I'm in Rio Grande at one of those YPF service stations that has wi-fi; I haven't found one of these in several days so I thought I'd stop for a sandwich and a quick update, if it works. Then I'll head toward Ushuaia.
March 28, Rio Gallegos, Argentina
I spent today in Rio Gallegos catching up on admin stuff, laundry, moto stuff and recovering from yesterday's trip here. The plains of Patagonia are known to be very windy but the wind made the 230 miles from San Julian one of the most difficult days on the road so far. I was traveling due south and the wind was coming from the west so I spent most of the day leaning way over to the right just to keep going straight, which would be easy if the wind was the exact same speed all day but it changes very abruptly. The worse part is passing semi's. They block the wind as you approach them, and while you are beside them, but when you get right up next to the bumper to complete the pass the very intense return of wind from the right, plus the wind from the truck itself, can be overwhelming. There were a couple of times when I had to pull the plug on the passing project and back-off to try again later.
So the right side of my neck hurts from fighting the wind but the weather here was sunny and warm today. I went out for a couple of hours to take pictures of the area but there wasn't much to see except for sheep and a big rusty old shipwreck that was kind of cool. The further south I go the more it reminds me of places I've been in Alaska, like Bristol Bay, Dutch Harbor and Acutan; in general the more remote you are the more likely it is that clothing, cars and the general curbside appearance of buildings and homes are determined more by functionality than aesthetics and style. As I've never exactly been a slave to style so the aesthetics of functionality make me feel at home.
Tomorrow I'll head for Rio Grande, which means I'll cross into Chile and back into Argentina by the end of the day. I've heard those border crossings can take quite a while so it could be a very long day but I'm optimistic. Although Rio Grande is in the Tierra del Fuego district it's Ushuaia Bay that is the official end of the road, where I'll be heading the day after tomorrow...
March 27, Puerto San Julian, Argentina
I didn't mention that I blew a "non-essential" fuse on my long trip to Comodoro Rivadavia; non-essential because it didn't leave me by the side of the road with a motorcycle that wouldn't carry me. It was odd timing because I was riding along at about 85-90mph and was wondering how the moto would take such speed for extended time, then I looked down and all my gauges were dead. No fuel gauge, tachometer or speedometer, and the blinkers were dead too; but the motorcycle was running well, even without the decorative, but unnecessary, traffic lights. It was obviously a problem with a fuse.
Yesterday morning I started the day by looking for a fuse. When I found one I replaced the old one, then turned the ignition key and heard a little snap; the new one was dead. Fuses are cheap so I tried a couple more times to make sure but now I know there's some kind of funky new electrical current that usually occurs when two wires that shouldn't touch are touching, or maybe a little ground wire disconnected somewhere, or any number of things that can cause a funky new current that causes fuses to make that funny little snapping noise and keep certain things from working.
It seems that the wind and friction has rubbed the wiring raw in some secret place within the wiry maze of possibilities that I don't have the time or desire to figure out right now. I don't need blinkers and my GPS tells me how fast I'm going and how many miles I've traveled so I know when I need fuel, but out here in the lowlands of Patagonia it's easy to solve the fuel issue; you simply fill up whenever there's the opportunity to do so, and I've got an extra 2 gallons in a can with me anyway. I'll figure out the fuse issue later, maybe in Buenos Aires, as long as it enables the bike to generally run sufficiently.
The trip here, Puerto San Julian, went pretty well but got very cold, especially about a half hour before I reached town. I saw llamas and those large birds I think are called imu's, and Pink Flamingo's - which I always thought were a warm weather bird. The llama thing was odd because I stopped in Tres Cerros to get gas, and the gas station had an internet hookup. A friend had sent me an email joking about wearing a llama suit [long story] that was sent right about the time I started seeing them. And there was a baby llama at the gas station that people were feeding and petting. Gmail lets you search for words in your whole email history and none of my emails have ever mentioned "llama" which made the whole llama part of my day sort of a Twighlight Zone coincidence. Llama's aren't indigenous to this area, or any other area below 10,000 feet or so above sea level for that matter, so I'm sure there's some funny local history about the guy who tried to start a llama farm and then realized that they jump really high so they're tough to contain, or maybe there was a government program to relocate the llamas here for some reason.
March 25, Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina
The trip here from Esquel, yesterday, was just under 400 miles and about 8 hours on the road. Much of the trip was on a decent highway where I could ride at 75-90mph with no problems, but there were a few detours on gravel roads that slowed me down. They use rounded river-rocks on the unpaved detours, which don't hurt my tires as much as the typical jagged edge rocks, but in areas where the rocks are lose (unpacked) it really becomes a balancing act. Luckily those areas are usually only ten to twenty feet long because their effect is similar to riding over squishy clay that provides no traction; it's important to spot those areas before riding over them in order to aim the momentum of the bike and prepare for the balancing act. It's best to go fast enough to aid the momentum, but not too fast because chances of losing balance and falling are very significant.
The landscape changed from the large rolling hills to a big flat eastern-Montana looking high desert with sage brush and lots of wind. Then there were areas that reminded me of the Painted Desert area of the southeastern US, followed by more rolling hills and a great big lake, then the descent from about 2,400 feet above sea level to the Atlantic Coast, at Comodoro Rivadavia, was accompanied by dozens of large dinosaur looking oil pumps throughout the landscape.
Oil was discovered here in 1907 and it's the dominant industry. Comodoro Rivadavia is a very windy, tough coastal town with unkempt buildings and some streets and areas where the wind has deposited garbage and anything else it could move; areas where the folks seem to have given up on cleaning because they know those areas will be filled again the next day with more windswept garbage finding its way to those alleys and other places that act as wind barriers which accept garbage, but lack the wind to reject it. These areas are even worse today because it's Sunday and the town is pretty much shut down.
There is one motorcycle shop here that the folks in Esquel thought would have a tire for me. If they do I'll get it tomorrow but if not I'll head south - my tire is holding up pretty well so I'm not too worried. One way or the other is looks like I'll be in T. del F. in 4-5 days.
One of the coolest things about Chile and Argentina is that along their highways and in their cities they have gas stations that include a small burger/sandwich place, mini market and wireless internet. My hotel has wireless but it's a weak signal so I'm across the street at "Petrobras", one of the several petrolium brands, because their wireless signal is much stronger than my hotels.
March 23, Esquel, Argentina
On Wednesday morning I ended up taking the easier route because the other option had too many question marks with ferries that don't run every day and roads that may or may not be very reliable. I thought I would miss out on scenery but I've gotten very lucky with the weather and the scenery has been amazing. Leaving Chile was quick and easy and between the Chilean and Argentine border posts is about 20 miles of a great park and wonderful ride; I think it's mostly or all Chilean territory but it's unclear - maybe it's a "neutral zone". It took about 90 minutes to reach the Argentine side because I kept on stopping for pictures. The weather was bright and sunny, about 60 degrees, and the scenery through the Andes was a cross between Yosemite Park and the Grand Tetons. It's called "Parque Nacional Puyehue".
Getting into Argentina was surprisingly easy and the whole process only took about 20 minutes. It was getting late so I spent the night in Villa La Angostura, about 20 miles into Argentina. It's a beautiful little resort town and since it's too late for summer swimming and too early for skiing it was also a bargain. Yesterday I made the short trip to San Carlos de Bariloche where I was hoping to find a new back tire - mine will likely make it to T. del F. but it's getting a bit worse for the wear. No luck on the tire but I stayed because it was another great little opportunity for seasonal bargains.
Today's trip to Esquel took longer than I wanted because I stopped way too many times for more pictures but it was worth it. The second half of the day went quicker as the landscape is gradually changing from dramatic looking high rocky cliffs to large rolling hills with snow-capped mountains in the distance. Esquel is a clean breezy town and I haven't seen a single taxi-cab, which means I'll likely not see any gringos either.
On my way into town I was pulled over at one of the check points but I wasn't worried about anything because I could see that they were simply pulling over every other vehicle and it was simply my turn. The officer looked at my passport and papers and said I could go - I didn't have to act retarded or anything! Which reminds me that while I was in Chile I actually pulled over to ask a cop for directions and he was very helpful. It's nice to be down here in Chile and Argentina where you generally don't have to worry about bad cops. The good-cop stories are really boring but at least they're really short.
I finally got to the Panama pictures. Now I'm only a couple of countries behind...
March 21, Osorno, Chile
On Sunday as I left Santiago it was 90 degrees and sunny. On Monday as I left Talca it was 70 degrees and sunny but got more "brisk" during the day. Yesterday as I left Temuco it was sunny and about 60 degrees but gradually cooled until I met up with a cold and windy rain storm about 20 miles before Osorno, and when I arrived in town it was about 45 degrees and wet. I used my raingear and warmer clothes and the trip wasn't bad, as the road was still very well paved and safe. I'm not sure if it's getting colder because I'm closer to the Antarctica or because of bad weather but I bet it's both.
I finally reset the internal GPS thingy in my head! When I was in Santiago I had a hard time finding my way around because I had been accustomed to a general awareness of what time of day it was, along with the general location of the sun in the sky, and that would enable me to quickly deduce which direction I was traveling; but that directional awareness was calibrated to the Northern hemisphere. In the Northern hemisphere the sun is generally south throughout the day; southeast in the morning and southwest in the afternoon. When I flew from Panama to Santiago, Chile, (Southern hemisphere) the sun was generally to the north and it completely threw me off by making everything backwards (or upside down, from a global perspective). But after a couple of days traveling south with the sun at my back I am directionally re-calibrated.
I'm getting ready to hit the road but as usual I've waited 'till the last minute to figure out where I'm going. I got some great advice about the quickest route to T. del F. which would take me east into Argentina, then south, and that's the most likely option, but I'm looking at another option that would take me south, through the Island of Chiloe, and then east into Argentina. It would add another day or maybe two but the scenery would be amazing and today is a clear day. I just need to find out which roads are good...
March 20, Temuco, Chile
The trip here from Talca, yesterday, was just short of 300 miles on some very easy traveling highway. I stopped for lunch at a roadside gas station/restaurant and they had Wi-Fi so I was able to check emails. Throughout the day I gradually left the vineyards behind as the grape vines turned to corn, and then after another hour the corn was replaced by trees. For about 40 miles the rolling hills were more ecologically tidy than I've ever seen in 100's of acres of organized tree farming. It started with poplars, then turned to pine, then to eucalyptus trees which seemed to take up a majority of the space and they smelled great. All of that on a perfectly paved highway with speed limits ranging from 65-75mph made a good day of traveling.
Southern Chile is supposed to have great seafood but I found a pretty mediocre piece of salmon last night at the hotel restaurant. I guess you can even get bad salmon in Seattle, so I can't complain too much - I'll try again further south. I was informed by a friend that I am now further south than the southern tip of Africa - cool.
March 19, Talca, Chile.
Yesterday I rode from Santiago to Talca, Chile. I don't know how many dozen wineries I passed on the way but it was like being in the Napa Valley. I stopped at one and bought a bottle of Cabernet, took a few pictures and was back on the road. The highway is called "ruta 5" and it's like our I-5 that runs from San Diego through Seattle to Canada. In Santiago I changed the moto's oil and made some adjustments and finally got a pair of waterproof shoes, so now it's pretty much straight to Tierra del Fuego.
March 15, Santiago, Chile.
Another day in Santiago, just getting to know the city a bit better. I wasted the day riding around and taking some pictures so that means I'll stay a day longer to take care of some things before I leave. I've been thinking about my arrival to Tierra del Fuego. It'll be a bit anti-climactic now that the goal is to get there, then return to all the stuff I flew over. I guess when I get to Tierra del Fuego, or Ushuaia Bay, I'll change the home-page to add a different goal, like Ecuador or Colombia...
I don't think I wrote anything about riding a motorcycle in Panama City but it's officially the toughest city to ride a motorcycle, for me anyway. They don't have very many stop lights so when you are riding down a main avenue the cars on the side streets will sort of gradually creep out into the lanes of your avenue and then make a run for it. They may wait for you to pass or maybe they'll just pull right in front of you, giving you the choice of slamming on your brakes or slamming into the side of their car. And they tend to disregard motorcycles more than cars.
I guess the only reason I bring that up now is the huge contrast from Panama City to Santiago, Chile. Here it's just like driving in the USA, although the city traffic is faster, but it's organized with real signs, stoplights and all sorts of other road-clues that decrease the chance of motorcycles and cars colliding.
This city would be a great place to learn Spanish; very few people speak English so just being here is like an immersion course. My guess is that it would be more expensive than other places but worth it because the Spanish is a little more difficult to understand, so if you learn it here you'll likely be able to understand it anywhere else. They do some whacky things, like dropping lots of 's' sounds. For example, "Como Esta" sounds more like "Como Etda" (with a strong Spanish accent of course).
Now I've finally gotta organize some Panama pictures...
March 14, Santiago, Chile.
I've got a motorcycle again! It took several hours and another $115 or so and the air had been let out of both tires as a security precaution (to keep them from blowing up at high pressures when the plane reaches high altitudes). It took quite a while to find a solution; there were about 30 people around "helping" but most were just getting in the way or making jokes and being idiots, but this one old guy was really trying to help and finally remembered that one of the semi-trucks a couple of buildings over had an air compressor. That was the tip that kept me from having to leave the bike there overnight because they were closing down for the night. That would have cost another $100 for over-night storage fee [the $115 was for "guarding" my motorcycle which had just arrived this morning] plus $40-50 in cab fares back to Santiago and back to the airport the next day.
Other than the tires the bike seems to be fine. Tomorrow I'll do some moto maintenance then Friday morning I'll be going south. I'll probably be in Tierra del Fuego by the end of the month, which was the goal to keep from having to ride in too much snow, ice and freezing rain. Okay, I cheated a little by flying 3,000 miles but when I look at the weather reports for Ushuaia Bay I don't regret it, and it's not totally cheating because I'll return to all the parts I missed, just in reverse order.
Flying from Central America to Santiago, Chile, is like stepping into a time machine and landing somewhere in the middle of California, if everyone spoke Spanish. Wait; I guess in another couple of years and Santiago will be exactly like California. The city is very clean and modern and now that I've been around town a bit more I'm even more amazed that I haven't seen any parts in or around the city where I wouldn't feel safe after dark. The only problem is that almost nobody speaks English.
My Spanish is now decent enough to deal with most things, but my travels have continually taught me that the more educated a Spanish speaking country is, the more difficult it is for me to understand them. Chile isn't a huge tourist destination and it's not exactly close to the USA so most people here just speak Spanish, but it's a very advanced first world country. During my "issues" retrieving my moto they sent a "translator" to "help" but her English was far worse than my Spanish, which is either a good sign or a bad sign depending on how you see it, and she didn't know anything about flat tires in any language. The old guy that helped me seemed to know only two words of English: "Grey Truck", then he motioned me to follow him to the grey truck with the air compressor. They were the best words of the day.
Now maybe tomorrow I can get caught up on some emails...
I finally finished the last page of CR pictures:
March 13, Santiago, Chile.
I'm here in Santiago, Chile, that's good. But my motorcycle is in Panama, or maybe on the way, and that'll only be bad if it takes more than a day or two to get here. I don't even want to mention how much it costs to fly me and my motorcycle here [buy the book!] and I'm sure there'll be more fees when I retrieve it, hopefully tomorrow. I will warn you that there's a $100 airport tax for flying into Chile, the same tax doesn't apply if you ride a motorcycle here, it's only an airport tax - oops. They told me it's because we [the USA] do the same thing to them. The cab ride from the airport to the hotel was $26.00 and the first two hotels were full but the one I got, Hotel Parlamento, is a decent place for $30.00 a night and has wireless internet in the lobby.
I arrived in Santiago at 3:30am and was in my hotel room by about 5:00 am. All the flights from Panama City to Santiago start after 6:00 pm - mine left at 8:00 pm and it's about 3,000 miles, pretty much like flying from Portland, Oregon, to New Jersey, without that helpful little jet-stream. I got a middle seat in a full flight and the guy to my left was some ADD freak-ball that wouldn't stop moving around, changing positions and getting different things out of his many different bags and actually changing clothes, bumping me and even the people in front of and behind him. That's never fun. And he pushed the little help button to get something from the flight attendant 8 different times, no exaggeration.
I got up at 10:00 and went to the airport to start looking for my moto. Two hours later I finally found the right person in the right office and she was apologizing that the plane was delayed due to mechanical problems and it would likely be here tomorrow. I'll cross my fingers...
I spent the rest of my day looking for a rain jacket to replace the one I lost in Mexico and finally found a jacket very similar to the one I lost - and I finally got some waterproof gloves. Tomorrow I'll look for a good deal on some waterproof boots. I was laughing at myself because I'm almost to Tierra del Fuego and I've never had decent motorcycle gloves or shoes. When it rains I'm either wearing my old crappy tennis shoes or sandals on my feet and inadequate gloves on my hands. It hasn't been an issue in most cases because it's only been really cold a couple of times since I left Nebraska, mainly around Tlaxcala and Puebla Mexico, but I need to prepare for colder and wetter days ahead.
Santiago is a very impressive city. Very clean and modern and doesn't seem to be lacking in anything that any nice US city would have. I was caught off guard when it was 7:30 and still daylight out but it was just a quick reminder that I passed waaaay over the equator and the southern hemisphere gets all the sun that you guys are missing out on right now. I'll try to take a picture of it so you won't miss it so much.
March 12, Panama City, Panama.
Breakfast time and just getting ready to put me and my moto on an airplane to Santiago de Chile. I finally finished another group of Costa Rica pictures. Hopefully the next time you hear from me will be several thousand miles south of here...
March 11, Panama City, Panama.
Yesterday I visited the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal, or "The Big Ditch". The Miraflores Locks look just like the Ballard Locks, in Seattle, but there are more "locks" and they're tremendously larger by comparison. There are a series of locks on the Pacific side, beginning near Panama City, that raise the cargo ships 25 meters above sea level, which is the level of Gatun Lake. Gatun Lake is the mid-section of the trip - then the series of locks near Colon lower the ship 25 meters back to the Caribbean sea. Although it's an east meets west passageway the route is actually more north to northwest if you're traveling from the Pacific to the Caribbean. And everyone knows it's called the Caribbean Sea, not the Caribbean Sea.
Today I dealt with many of the details of hopefully getting my motorcycle from here to Santiago, Chile [it's a significant geographical leap, I know, but it'll be too cold in Tierra del Fuego if I wait any longer. It will be very cold as it is]. If all goes well I'll be in Santiago on Tuesday with a motorcycle that still works. From there it should be another two weeks or so to Tierra del Fuego and the city of Ushuaia, and shortly thereafter where the road actually stops at the bottom of the world. Then I'll return up the Atlantic side to Buenos Aires, then to Mendoza, then back into Chile and then north to Peru, etc... Or at least that's the loosely defined plan...
March 8, Panama City, Balboa neighborhood, Panama.
Same crappy neighborhood, different cheap hotel. All of the hotels in the business district are completely booked for some kind of convention that I didn't take the time to find out about. I found a decent hotel for $22.00 a night in a neighborhood that's safe if you don't go out at night. The motorcycle is safe and I'm a little "under the weather" so I'll stay 'till I figure out how to get my motorcycle to South America.
I'm a month or two behind schedule (I use the word "schedule" loosely) and I'm concerned about how cold it will be in Tierra del Fuego if I take too long to get there. One of the options I'll look into tomorrow is that of shipping the bike further south, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago de Chile, to expedite that part of the trip. Then my return trip north would take me to see all the things I would miss in Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere.
Finally, again a country behind, I've finished the first of three pages of what I saw in Costa Rica:
March 6, Panama City, Balboa neighborhood, Panama.
The Balboa section is not a neighborhood that a pale-face needs to walk around in, or ride a motorcycle around in, after dark. I simply followed my guidebook to the "hotel center" of Panama City but the guidebook neglected to classify the Balboa neighborhood as the crappy hotel center. I arrived around 6:00 pm Eastern time [Panama is on Eastern time, the rest of Central America is on Central time] and I still had some daylight left to search for a hotel. I looked at four hotels and took the first one with secure parking, Hotel Caribe. I've seen other "Hotel Caribe's" but they are usually on the Caribbean coast, and decent hotels. This one is on the Pacific Coast and maybe that's why it's the crappy one; if it were called "Hotel Pacibe" it would be better.
Yesterday's ride from David to Santiago was not bad, other than a stretch of highway about 15 miles long that was broken up from construction but I've seen much worse. There is a highway checkpoint between David and Santiago where they stop everyone and ask for papers. The first cop looked at my passport and "vehicle permission" papers, then went inside the little guard-shack that sits between the two lanes of opposing traffic, to get the superior officer. The superior officer was Panama's version of a cocky redneck, with mirrored sunglasses and his cop-shirt unbuttoned halfway down, and I was sure that he wanted my money. My only goal was to convince him that I was so completely clueless that the time and effort it would take to make me understand that I needed to pay him, would far outweigh the money he was hoping to take. [I did this in Tulum, Mexico, with the cops that were talking about giving me a ticket for parking on the sidewalk, by just continually thanking them and saying "I'll park over there with the cars from now on" no matter what they said].
The superior officer asked me where I was from, in Spanish, and I just smiled and said "I'm going to Santiago!" [all my answers were in exaggeratedly crappy gringo Spanish]. He asked what I was doing in Panama and again I acted like I completely understood him and said "I'm from Seattle, USA!!". Then he asked for my passport and permission papers and I proudly repeated "Si, Pasaporte!" as I handed it to him like I was just so darn stupidly confident with my command of the Spanish language. He asked how long I would be in Panama and I just said "I'm a photographer and I'm writing a book!" and handed him one of my cards. He just glanced at it and said, in broken English, "you can go now man". I can't say for sure that he intended to get bribe cash out of me but I would bet that he did so I just had fun with preventing another bribe.
Today after I left Santiago I saw a cop in the median - they often hang out there under a bridge or at a dangerous intersection to regulate traffic or just stare at people, or who knows what they really do. He held his index fingers up and rotated them around each other while clearly looking at me; I'm pretty sure the translation of this action is "turn your pale ass around and come and talk to me so I can figure out an excuse to take your money". I clearly saw him but acted like I didn't. I never moved my head, just my eyes under my sunglasses, so he couldn't tell for sure that I ever saw him. I was going under the speed limit with several other cars and he had no reason to pull me over but he was clearly making the "turn around" sign at me. I just kept riding forward. I was a bit paranoid for the next half-hour or so and kept looking behind me but I passed 2 other cops on the side of the road who just looked at me and made no indications that they wanted me to pull over. Then it was smooth riding the rest of the way to Panama City.
March 5, David, Panama.
Saturday night I made it to Golfito, a greasy little port town surrounded by beautiful landscape. It was a relatively busy port for a small/medium sized town and the town was centered around a large duty free area with many stores for electronics, booze, kitchen equipment, clothing, etc. Border towns with duty free stores always attract a less favorable crowd. I've never been to a town with a duty free store that made me want to stay. Chetumal, the Mexican town on the Belizean border, was a decent place but the duty-free area was actually in a neutral zone between Mexico and Belize.
The road to Golfito started ugly but got better. When I left Quepos the road quickly turned to gravel with lots of dusty construction and tons of dust, holes, jagged rocks and more dust that was made air-borne by large busses and everything else that moved, including the wind. That first 25 miles took 90 dusty minutes, not a good average speed. Finally, beginning in Dominical, the road was perfectly paved, wide and smooth. The next 80 miles or so took a little over an hour and a half as the road weaved through steep hills covered with thick jungle trees and rainforest. The great road and scenery made me look forward to seeing Golfito, which in turn magnified the feeling of disappointment upon my arrival to that greasy little town.
Yesterday I crossed from Costa Rica to Panama in the friendliest and quickest border crossing I've experienced since traveling state to state in the US (well maybe not that easy, but easier than the previous nine border crossings). Every time I approach a border I start getting a little anxious and even a bit annoyed in anticipation of all the crap I'll be going through. Yesterdays anticipation was no different but 30 minutes later when I was riding into Panama all was well! There was only one border "helper" that I shrugged off at first - the process would have taken 20 minutes if I hadn't been reluctant to listen to the kid. He was polite, around 12 years old and told me that he didn't want my money and said it would just take him a minute to explain the process. He was smart enough to know that the best way to get a gringo tip is by telling said gringo that he doesn't want a tip; it worked for me and I gladly gave him a couple of bucks after I completed the easy process, which was actually made easier by his help.
The highway in Panama is a great big 4 lane concrete highway in perfect condition - it seemed like I'd crossed from Costa Rica right back to Seattle, except it's much warmer here in March. David is a medium/large industrial city with good cheap hotels and lots of casino's; a good stopover but there doesn't seem to be much to see. After I adjust my chain and find a map of Panama I'll be leaving for Santiago on my way to Panama City, where I'll likely be tomorrow night.
March 3, Quepos, Costa Rica.
I arrived in Quepos on Thursday, March 1, then spent Friday photographing critters in Manuel Antonio park and today I'll be heading toward Panama. It's hard to tell which little town I'll stop in but it'll be one step closer to Panama. Many of the maps contradict each other on which roads are paved and which are not and most people I ask don't know. So now I'm going to find a tour bus or cab driver to ask for some clarity, then I hit the road.
Quepos is an interesting little town that exists to take gringo's money when they come to visit Manuel Antonio park or go sport fishing of the coast. You can buy a condo here, or actually in the Manuel Antonio area - the prices seem to range from about $94,000 to over $900,000. It's a beautiful area with a great climate between December and April when it doesn't rain as much. It's exceedingly wet the rest of the year but still warm. I'll have more pictures of protesters, little animals and other Costa Rica stuff when I get another good internet connection.
February 27, San Jose, Costa Rica.
San Jose has been a home base for the last several days. I spent a day going to Volcan Poas for some very disappointing scenery because the steamy, sulfuric pools mixed with clouds and had completely blocked the view of the crater. San Jose is another "city in a bowl" and is surrounded by volcanic mountain ranges that I've been exploring. Yesterday there was an anti-CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) protest where I spent a good part of the day talking with folks about the issue. The only problem with those conversations was that I only got one side of the story.
The protesters believe that CAFTA (locally it's called "TLC", or Tratado de Libre Comercio) would somehow rob Costa Rica of its culture and national treasures and would enable the USA to establish "sweat shops" here for cheap labor. There were some anti USA slogans and pictures in the protest but the protesters were friendly and many gladly posed for pictures. Some of the protesters I spoke with likened CAFTA to the Spaniards arriving in Central America and trading glass beads for large amounts of gold; the USA being the metaphorical glass bead trader here with CAFTA.
It was all very interesting but really left me wondering what the pro-CAFTA side would say in response to the glass bead and sweat shop arguments... I've been here before and the only "culture" I've witnessed is that of pandering to and taking from tourists. The local food is boring and bland, their music is all from somewhere else and it's the wonderful scenery, great climate and outdoor activities that draw the tourists here - but scenery and climate aren't culture, they're geography. Therefore, this CAFTA thing may actually enhance their opportunities to take money from the gringo's, right? That's it for now, I'm almost done with the pictures from El Honduragua.
Okay I'm done with the El Honduragua pics:
February 22, Alajuela, Costa Rica.
The last couple of days were very busy travel days. Tuesday I went from Granada, Nicaragua, into Costa Rica to Liberia. That border crossing was a long 2 hours of hassles, paperwork, VIN # checks and one border official with Small-Man, Napoleon Complex (SMNC) that made me want to slap him with a white glove full of poo.
Most of the border folks have been decent enough; they're just paper pushers doing their job. But going into Honduras last week there was a really annoying SMNC border official who could have stamped our papers [mine and my Vanogen friends] but instead he just folded his arms, looked at us and said he needed to go have lunch, adding another hour to the 1 1/2 hours at that border [that was supposed to be an opportunity for us to bribe him to do his job but we weren't going for it]. The next most annoying SMNC border official was one of the many officials I had to deal with when entering Costa Rica - there are more steps and document formalities coming into Costa Rica than any country so far.
This guy gave me a form to fill out but said I had to do it outside on this stump sort of shelf with deep groves that made it almost impossible to write without destroying the document, and it was very windy. He had a very large empty desk next to him but wouldn't let me use it. When I finished the very detailed form he looked at it for a while, looked out the window at my motorcycle, made a personal phone call for 10-15 minutes, stamped the form, made another call, then signed the stamped part of the form, then took the form somewhere else for a couple of minutes, maybe the bathroom, then came back and mumbled something about where I needed to go next. I didn't understand him and asked again where to go, he just sighed, rolled his eyes and mumbled the same set of non-syllabic set of grumbles back at me but just then one of his counterparts walked in the room - when I asked this other guy where I needed to go next he very clearly said, in Spanish, "200 meters down the road to the large brick building on the right". What should have been a five minute step, in a border crossing that had about 6 steps, turned into 45 minutes and that little SMNC SOB seemed to be loving every minute of his little power trip. White glove full of poo; yeah, I would have paid $$ for that moment.
I spent the night in Liberia then I was off to Santa Elena, near Monteverde - I wouldn't try that trip again with this motorcycle. The first 8 miles off the main highway was paved and I thought it would be a good road all the way there but the last 16 miles was all bad gravel, pits, dust, more gravel and the gravel was soft-ball sized in many places. I've ridden over that type of stuff in a dirt-bike and it's easy - you just go fast and essentially ride over the top of all the rocks and use the speed and momentum of the bike wisely, carefully aiming for the best spots. On my Suzuki Bandit, loaded with my stuff and with street tires and suspension it's a slow ride with no momentum, basically man-handling the bike in the right direction. It's a great work-out but very exhausting and a little stressful from worrying about breaking stuff on the bike, like tires or the chain.
In Monteverde I was hoping to get pictures of the Quetzal, Guatemala's national bird and the name of their legal tender, so I went to the Monteverde rain forest park this morning and found that the Quetzal is an extremely elusive creature and I only got one photo where you can barely see the bird at all. Then I left town and spent the next two hours descending the gravel road again and three more hours to San Jose. I had left plenty of time to find a place to stay but after two hours of looking for a hotel I found that everything was booked. The hotel folks said people were coming in for the weekend. IT'S THURSDAY, WHAT'S UP???
I've been to San Jose 2-3 times in the past and never had any trouble finding a room. All my old stand-by's were full. One of the more helpful Best Western Hotel folks helped me find this odd, apartment style hotel called Portofino, just outside of Alajuela. The difficult part was getting to Alajuela, 10 miles due West from San Jose, right before sunset. During most of the 20 minute trip in heavy traffic I was staring directly at the sun through my helmet's face shield, which was greasy and dusty from a long day of following and passing many trucks and busses that didn't burn fuel very efficiently. There were millions of little particles of partially burned fuel, partially burned motor oil, dust and insects that were smeared allover my face screen which made that 20 minute trip to Alajuela more like following and avoiding shadows and 'using the force' than actually seeing things; not a fun way to travel.
So I'm here at Portofino getting ready for bed and I'll now find out if their internet cable upstairs actually works... Oh yeah, the last page of Guatemala pictures;
February 19, Granada, Nicaragua.
When I wrote about the other two gringos in a Vanogen at the border into Honduras I neglected to mention their absolute wisdom and brilliance; they hated Belize too! They were there for 11 days and although they never had a run-in with any bad cops they just found it over priced and felt like everyone was simply trying to get their money, any way they could. I agree completely. We pretty much concluded that the people who like Belize have traveled with expensive packaged tours where they're brought from one fancy place to the next without ever really having to deal with the actually real parts of Belize.
Enough about Belize, it's now all about a country that I really like, Guatemala, and some more pictures from a marketplace there.
February 18, Granada, Nicaragua.
Yesterday I was in three different countries. I started in San Miguel, El Salvador, crossed into Honduras and rode 2 1/2 hours to the border of Nicaragua. Chinandega, Nicaragua, was about 90 minutes later and I got there well after dark, which was a bit scary. I had planned for more than enough time to make it to Leon or Managua but that was before spending over 2 1/2 hours at the border crossing between El Salvador and Honduras.
It's a long, boring, annoying story and I suffered through it with a couple other gringo's from Huntington Beach who are driving their Volkswagen Vanogen to Panama. Basically it was tons of photocopying, being lead around by people who said they knew what they were doing [but didn't] and waiting for people with the right signature to return from lunch (which was about 2 hours of the process). There were no lines, only us three gringo's and a family from Mexico trying to get our vehicles into Honduras. PLUS it cost us about $60.00 US and we were all sure that it was a rip-off but we needed to get going, and besides what can you really do?? Write about it in your web page?!?!?! Yeah, that's about it. It's just another of the thousands of examples of gringo's being ripped off in Central America, or most other developing nations in the world.
The borders for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have all had hordes of "helpers" that come running 10-20 at a time and surround you, all yelling how much you need their help with the border details and why they're so much better than the others. The only time I've used one of these "helpers" was when he came from the official office, on the 2 1/2 hour border crossing mentioned above. It didn't help. On all the other borders I've simply yelled at them, loudly, and then I usually look over at the cops or official border guards and kind of nod, letting them know I'm not some freak but I'm just yelling at these guys - the border guards and cops always seem to understand exactly what's going on. Sometimes these wannabe "helpers" stand immediately in front of me but I just continue straight forward (maybe once I might have kind of sped up a little to watch them dive out of the way) (okay not maybe, I really did it and this particularly rude fat one had to jump out of the way and he fell - I'm not a sadistic person but that particular incident was pretty funny; the "helpers" are all very annoying).
So by the time I crossed into Nicaragua it was near dark but I wasn't that worried because everyone had said it would take 40 minutes to the first town with hotels, Chinandega. Here again asking for times, distances or any type of directions in Central America has rarely provided any actual clarity. Asking someone to randomly pick a number between 1 and, whatever, would be more accurate. 90 minutes after the border I was just getting close to Chinandega and had gone very fast to make it in that amount of time. The highway through Honduras wasn't bad but the highways in Nicaragua really stink (not anywhere near as treacherous as the first 15 miles after entering Guatemala 2 weeks ago, from Belize).
So today I rode from Chinandega to Granada, Nicaragua, a beautiful town that is to Nicaragua as Antigua is to Guatemala. I'll probably stay here tomorrow night as well. It rained like crazy all day during my trip so I didn't get any pictures of the amazing volcanic mountain range on the way. Hopefully I'll see some tomorrow...
February 16 , San Miguel, El Salvador.
Sick day. I woke up feeling like I shouldn't try to travel through a long day across Honduras and into Nicaragua so I did some administrative stuff and put together another page of Guatemala photo's from Flores and Antigua. With the many gringos that go to Antigua I would bet on 2 degrees of separation; in other words someone you know, knows someone that knows someone who has been to a language school, or at least visited Antigua. Maybe that was 3 degrees; even more true. Here's the pics:
February 15 (evening), San Miguel, El Salvador.
I traveled almost completely across El Salvador today, which is about like making it across Rhode Island but with more road blocks. Between San Salvador and San Miguel there were 5 partial road blocks. This is common in Central America, but far more frequent in El Salvador - at the roadblocks there are there are anywhere from 3 to 15 cops standing on the side of the highway and there are orange road cones blocking the left lane, then another 50' later blocking the right lane. You basically just have to slow down and swerve around the cones. If they don't like the way you look they blow their whistle and motion for you to pull over. I've seen them pull over others but I've not been pulled over at one of these. They aren't really helping my blood pressure though, as I'm still a bit paranoid around cops in Central America.
One of the pleasant surprises of this trip has been the roads. I remember commenting while in Mexico that I thought the roads would get much worse as I traveled south but this hasn't been true. Guatemala and El Salvador have had great highways (except for the first 15 miles into Guatemala from Belizean border). I hope it continues but I've been to Costa Rica and remember that many of the roads there are not good...
Tomorrow I'll see if I can make it through Honduras and into Nicaragua in a day, trying for Leon, Nicaragua. That's a long shot with border logistics and traffic and cattle crossing the road and everything else that slows highway progress in Central America. I'll stop in Choluteca, Honduras for the night if it looks like I can't make it. The challenge for this part of the trip is NOT getting stuck on a highway after dark looking for a town with a hotel while still maximizing distance. I can't rely on asking how long the trip from one place to the next will take; I may as well ask someone to simply pick a number between 1 and 10 because that is literally the variance in responses I get when asking how long it takes to drive from one place to the next. This morning one person told me it would take one hour to cross through Honduras on the route I'm planning, and another told me 8 hours. Both were very confident that they were exactly right and they claimed expertise on the subject. My experience in asking for directions in Mexico and Central America so far have really been nothing more than good material for a comedy routine. I'm really striving for distance rather than photos during this stretch between Guatemala and Costa Rica.
February 15, San Salvador, El Salvador.
I arrived last night in San Salvador - about a 6 hour trip from Guatemala City. The border crossing from Guatemala to El Salvador went surprisingly well and just involved lots of paperwork and checking my VIN # at several points; each country, especially in Central America, wants to make sure you're leaving with the same vehicle which you arrived.
San Salvador is a city that seems to hide its hotels. Usually I can ride into a town and find something immediately but I spent about 40 minutes and the only hotel I found was the Intercontinental, which was very, very expensive. It was getting dark and when I asked where other hotels were nobody was exactly sure where they were or how long it would take to find another. The hotels I did find appeared unsafe with no safe parking for my motorcycle and I found myself in a bad looking neighborhood, 20 to 30 minutes after sunset with almost no daylight left, so I paid a taxi to lead me back to the Intercontinental and paid almost $300 for a single night. Crazy, but I don't regret it given the dynamics of the situation.
I finally put together the first of about 4 pages of Guatemala pictures which includes the description of my first day in Guatemala...
February 14, Guatemala, Guatemala.
First of all, happy friggin' valentines day. Okay I got that out of the way, now this; Guatemala rocks. I had planned to pass through here in a couple of days but now, 11 days later, I'm finally heading to El Salvador but I've enjoyed every moment in this vivacious and colorful country. It's largely overlooked by my brethren from the USA but I'm confident that Guatemala will continue to grow as a tourist destination.
Back in Mexico I was at a bullfight in Tlaxcala and sat next to a professional photographer, Ricky Lopez, who let me borrow his wide-angle lens for a great shot of the whole bullring that my lens wouldn't capture. It was good luck because I didn't know a thing about bullfights but he did and was very helpful in telling me the inside details of what was going on. Two days later I was in Puebla having lunch with my Spanish teacher at a small restaurant just outside the town center and Mr. Lopez walked in with some of his associates. We touched base and he told me to call him when I got to Guatemala City, his residence.
The great thing about all of this is that when I got to Guatemala City he introduced me to his friends, showed me around town and introduced me to his studio employees, one was his oldest son whom I'd already met in Tlaxcala. He's been the official photographer for Guatemala covering several events such as the Pope John Paul II visits to Guatemala, the Popes' funeral back in Europe, Bill and Hillary Clintons visits to Guatemala and myriad other high level events in Guatemala, Spain and elsewhere. Here's his website if you'd like to check out some excellent photography: Guatemalaphotostock.com. The greatest benefit to me was seeing the photo books he'd made on the Pope, Mayan culture, and many others - it really helped me visualize what my project might look like on paper...
In Antigua and Panajachel I was lucky enough to spend a couple evenings with some sassy British chics on a 2 week Guatemala/Belize tour. Charlotte and Margaret were great company and I'll hopefully get some photo's of them on the WWW soon...
On my long journey south I visit places and find myself wondering if I'd like to return and stay for a while. Guatemala is definitely a place I could stay for awhile, or more...
February 10, Panajachel, Guatemala.
Panajachel is a fun little city on the north side of Lake Atitlan. A little too touristy with some pushy trinket and clothing sales, but not bad. Yesterday morning I took a 40 minute boat ride across the lake to Santiago and spent some time taking pictures at another open-air market. Chichicastenango, from the day before, was good for photo's but it has largely become a tourist trap and it seems that a third of the folks there are gringo's; not the case in Santiago where almost everyone seemed to be local.
I was finally able to get a page of Belize pictures done, there'll be another shortly... Okay, here's the other...
February 8, Antigua, Guatemala.
I arrived in Antigua yesterday mid-afternoon and immediately began taking pictures. It's a beautiful little colonial city and ex-capital of Guatemala that is surrounded by several large volcano's. There's a heavy police presence here probably meant to help gringo's feel safe but it makes me a bit nervous; I guess I'm not quite over my dog-bite yet - and I'm talking about the dogs in uniform from Belize [F(*(@$@(*ERS].
If the roads are good I should be in Chichicastenango taking pictures at a very busy local market that only opens on Thursday and Sunday, and Panajachel tonight. I still need to update the Belize photo's but at least I'm only one country behind...
February 5, Guatemala, Guatemala.
The last update, about the bad cops in Belize and the long trip leaving Belize, was a bit long, sorry. Since then things have gotten a little better. Tikal was okay but overall I think I'm getting a bit burned out on ruins. Flores was a nice little crowded island that seemed like a little piece of Europe [maybe Italy or Spain] in Guatemala with its narrow cobblestone streets and stucco rooftop building style.
Friday morning I rode from Flores to Poptun, where I was bit by a dog on Friday night on my left leg about 3 inches above the back of my knee. The dogs teeth didn't penetrate my skin, but provided a super bad 'pinch' of sorts that looks worse than it is - it's a large bruise, about 4 inches in diameter, with a little smile sort of thing in the middle where the dogs front teeth pinched the skin together. I self-medicated with Neosporin after two pharmacies tried to sell me antibiotics. The next day a different pharmacist said I needed to get to the hospital to be treated for rabies and told me that the hospital is straight down the main road, 15 minutes away.
I don't know if I've mentioned it but if I haven't I will many more times. When you ask someone for directions in Latin America, 90% of the time they point and say "derecho", in Mexico, or "directo", in Guatemala. They are wrong 99% of the time because there are always turns to get to the thing you're asking about. Two different people said the hospital is "directo", 15 minutes down the main street. It isn't, the main street turns into a "T" intersection about 2 minutes outside of town. My bike was loaded up and I'd moved out of my room so I turned right and rode 8 hours to Guatemala City, stopping only once for gas, instead of looking for the 'directo' hospital. Now all I want to do is lay on the front porch, lick my privates, and smell dogs' butts; I guess treatment for the bite is a bit late.
If anyone wants to ride a motorcycle through Central America, DON'T MISS the highway between Flores and Rio Dulce. It's a 4-6 hour ride with some of the most amazing scenery I've seen on this trip. The highway is in almost perfect condition and the rolling hills turn into a tropical rocky mountain pass that provides varying scenery, from the rain-forest scenery in the lowlands, to pine trees mixed with other tropical trees as the road climbs to about 4,300 feet above sea level, and then as the road descends closer to sea level again at Rio Dulce the scenery returns to tropical lowlands. Absolutely amazing. It will be one of the reasons I'll consider riding all the way back from Tierra del Fuego when it's time for that decision.
I didn't take any photo's because I knew the time would be very tight to get to Guatemala City before dark, and it's a good thing because I got here and found a hotel just as it was getting dark. Now I'm getting new brakes and a front tire for my motorcycle while recovering from the grueling ride on Saturday and taking it easy before heading through El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
February 2, Flores, Guatemala.
The last several days have been, I don't know, lots of things. Right after the last update I rode my motorcycle back to the Midas Resort, San Ignacio, Belize. As I was pulling up to the entrance I was pulled over, in an odd sort of way, by two Belizean cops. They had no reason to pull me over and simply asked if I had insurance. It turns out my insurance had expired. I had planned to be in Belize for 3 days but was there for 4. The cop saw that my insurance had expired and told me to park my bike at the hotel and get in the truck. The whole time I was thinking that it seemed like a bad idea to get in the truck but kept reminding myself 'this is Belize, they're friendly, they speak 'reggae' and talk about good vibe's all the time, they'll take me down town and give me a ticket and everything will be fine'. If I had been in any other Central American country I would've done anything to avoid getting in the truck.
The passenger, a Hispanic guy about 5'8' who did almost all the talking, started telling me I was in big trouble and that this was going to cost me $500 Belizean dollars [$250 American]. I would have to spend the night in jail with very bad people and the magistrate might take my motorcycle and drivers license. He called me "Mistah Doug". "Mistah Doug you know you're in big trouble now" and many other things. Yeah I was in the wrong, BUT NOT $250 WRONG!! He kept telling me how bad this was as we drove down darker and darker dirt roads, further and further from town, clearly not heading down town to the cop-shop. After 10-15 minutes of this he asked which 'option' I'd prefer; we had not discussed any 'options' but it was dollar-clear where this goddam little shit-head bastard fucker was going [sorry, I'm still pissed and want to hit him very hard].
They never threatened me with any physical harm; they didn't need to, the dark back roads spoke that language clearly. Two bad cops and a lone gringo on a dark dirt road outside of town - this isn't anything like anyone I've met who has been to Belize would tell you. Especially San Ignacio, which to that point had seemed like a great little town with a fun mix of locals, ex-pat's and tourists, and it's close to several ruins and eco-sites, boating, fishing, swimming, tubing and anything fun. Maybe I'm the lucky gringo to have a 'two bad cops on a dark dirt road' story in Belize, or maybe not.
I knew the cops were full of crap in describing the severity of my one day laps of insurance but here's the conundrum; if I call their bluff and tell them to take me to jail they know that I would find out that the fine is more like $25-50 [best guess of the locals, I later found] and then I would tell someone at the jail that the two cops said it was $500 - then those two cops would get in trouble for clearly trying to extort cash. They would clearly want to avoid getting in trouble which is why there's a good chance that if I called their bluff they would have just taken the $65 Belizean dollars that I had initially offered (when they asked for $500) and probably would have let me go; but on a dark dirt road with two bad cops, both with clubs, guns and whatever other cop stuff they had, the 'ambience' of the evening didn't lend itself toward a happy 'good-vibe' ending and I was legitimately freaked out about this 'kidnapping' type of experience.
I'm getting too angry about this again. Long story short, kind of, they took me to a bank machine, I got $500 Belizean dollars and gave it to them and they dropped me off at my hotel. They told me many times how lucky I was to be dealing with them instead of the magistrate. After I arrived at my hotel I told several of the guests and the owner and a whole bunch of folks about my evening. They and everyone I've talked to were totally surprised. It felt odd sitting at a peaceful place like the Midas Resort and being so angry telling my story. They all wanted me to report it. I just wanted to wake up the next morning, get a one day insurance policy and drive 20 minutes to the border and be done with Belize forever.
I didn't sleep very well. I got up the next morning, told some other folks about it, then went into town to eat breakfast and buy my insurance and head to Guatemala. The insurance place is 30 yards from the police station. As I entered it I heard John [a Midas resident] across the street at the police station, asking me to go talk to someone. Another long story short, I ended up telling the whole story to their version of the Chief of Police. He was adamant about the fact that they would get the cops but wanted me to stay in town for two more days to testify. I refused and said I'd be glad to help with a statement and any further questions later on, by email, but I just wanted to get out of the country. The thing is, cops usually have a sort of 'fraternal brotherhood' type of relationship and ratting one out made me feel very unsafe about being there; ratting out bad cops would make me feel unsafe anywhere.
The Chief of Police could tell I wasn't going to stick around so he asked me to give a statement to one of his officers. He had read my 3 pages of angry journal rant from the night before on John's computer [I had emailed the story to John so he could report this thing after I left] but said he couldn't use it for a statement because of the foul language. The journal entry started with something like "Fucking piece of shit Belizean Cops" and only got worse from there. It was a truthful and accurate rant about those cops but was written immediately after the event so it was a very angry venting as well.
The statement guy was either the Forest Gump of statement takers or the Chief had told him to keep me there for as long as possible while they found the cops from last night; my guess is the latter because nobody could be this stupid and hold a job, not even in Belize. He asked me to describe what happened and I said: "I was pulling into the Midas Resort and saw a single flashing light behind me. I didn't see other headlights, just a single light flashing in my rear-view mirror. I thought it was a single headlight bouncing up and down because of the pot-holes in the road but then I heard a voice telling me to pull over I saw that it was a Belize police truck and the light was a large hand-held flashlight, held by the passenger".
He slowly wrote something for 2-3 minutes then said, "so you saw police lights". I said, "no I only saw a single light that seemed to be bouncing because of the pot-holes". He asked "so the headlights were on", I said "I don't know, I only saw the single hand-held flashlight, so I think the headlights were off", he asked "so the headlights were off?", I said "I think so because I only saw the single hand-held flashlight - it was the only light I saw". Then he asked, "so the headlights were on?" I asked if he was joking and he asked what kind of light I saw. I asked if there was anyone else that could take my statement and he assured me that he was the only statement-taking guy there.
This "Who's on First" style of questioning went on for another couple of minutes before I decided to speak in 5 to 8 word, very simple sentences and have him write down each sentence, word by word as I slowly repeated it until we were done with a very abbreviated version of what happened. He tested my 'time efficiency' more than the hand shakers of Belize City. At one point he actually asked me to write down the serial numbers of the bills that I had given the cops - then I asked him what the serial numbers were on the bills for the last thing that he bought; he changed the subject.
After we finished I was told that they'd 'caught' one of the cops and were searching his house and assured me that they'd both be dealt with. I hope they were, and if anyone from the San Ignacio Police Department is reading this I'd like my money back. Overall I'm glad I told on the bad cops, it was the right thing to do, but I wouldn't have told if the others at Midas didn't say they would escort me to the border. It's a short trip and although I probably would have been safe on the 20 minute ride I really wanted someone around 'till I got over the border.
It was getting late and I wanted to leave for Flores, Guatemala. Five different people in San Ignacio had told me over the last couple of days that it would take 1 hour to get to Flores from the border [I always get several opinions on things like this]. If any of those folks are reading this please respond because I will gladly bet you $1,000 American dollars that you could not drive from the border to Flores within an hour without severely damaging your vehicle, self or others [any normal street-legal vehicle applies].
Here again the details are endless but long story not short anymore, 2 1/2 hours after crossing the border into Guatemala I was a little over half way to Flores. The sun had set 40 minutes ago, it was getting dark and the cardinal rule for gringo's in Guatemala and most places, is to avoid traveling at night, especially alone and especially in northern Guatemala. I was starting to consider just knocking on someone's door to ask them to put me up for the night because I had seen exactly zero hotel signs. Finally I saw the first hotel sign between there and the border. It was a little eco-tour place 1.8km from the side of the road in Macanche, Guatemala, on the edge of a lake. It was called El Retiro. I took a ton of pictures and will talk about it later. The next morning I turbo-toured Tikal, then rode to Flores. Guatemala has been beautiful and friendly and I'm glad to be here but more than that I'm glad to be done with Belize, forever.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I put together the last page of Mexico pictures:
January 30, San Ignacio, Belize.
Today I did another "turbo-tour" of yet another ruin site, Xunantunich. A majority of the time that's how I tour these things. Most groups take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 or more hours per site. I usually run through in about 1/3 the time, take tons of pictures and then go online later to figure out what I saw. If I'm really organized I might go online before I go to the ruins, but the result is the same.
It's less cloudy and not raining but the internet is still slow. I'm not sure if I'll be able to update it or not. The first day at my hotel the wireless internet worked but not since, and nobody in town has wireless. Yesterday I hooked up to a landline but the internet tech girl at that place said I had to change some codes in my computer. We changed them back afterwards but I'm wondering if that's why it stopped working at my hotel. I've spent most of the day trying to make things work with very little luck.
Since it didn't rain today the roads may be a bit better tomorrow; I've talked to a couple people who said that the first few miles of road past the Guatemalan border are very muddy because it had rained so much in the last week, which is part of the reason I'm staying here again tonight. Since there's no TV in my cabin I've got time to catch up on internet pictures. Here's the second of three pages from Quintana Roo that include Coba and Bacalar [and yeah, my shoulder still hurts from the bad flip in Bacalar]:
January 29, San Ignacio, Belize.
What a fun little city. The weather stinks and it's cloudy and rainy right now but the people, food, and general atmosphere here are wonderful. I'm staying at "Midas Resort", a place that could be marketed as a treatment for high blood pressure. Nice little colorful cabins, friendly hosts, birds and wildlife all around and two big friendly rottweilers (sp?) that keep it all safe. It's just on the edge of town so you can walk to most places.
I'll probably go to Guatemala tomorrow if I'm not tempted to stay another day. It kind of depends on the weather... The town, and Belize in general, is a less modern that I thought it would be. Here today the internet is very slow because it all relies on a satellite signal and it's very cloudy and a little rainy today. This is still definitely one of the places I would consider staying for a while.
January 28, Belmopan, capital of Belize.
Yesterday I took the short trip from Belize City to Belmopan, the capital of Belize. Before I left I wandered a bit through Belize City again. I liked it a bit better, or maybe hated it a bit less, in the late morning hours with the sun out and less people looking for my money. It's a lively city with lots of music playing but I won't miss it. I left the city from a different route and saw some better, non-ghetto type of neighborhoods, but they are far outweighed by ghetto.
Belmopan is the most boring capital city I have ever seen. It's amazing that it's a capital city; it is very small and the little bit of activity takes place around the bus station and the small market next to it. Last night, Saturday night, everything was completely silent by about 9:30pm, after the last bus arrived. It is a relaxing place and the people are friendly and it's a good place to work on the WWW but nothing else.
It's Sunday morning and I'm packing for another short trip to San Ignacio, Belize, very close to the border of Guatemala. It's raining but I did find a cheap rain coat that may work a little. I'll head into Guatemala tomorrow or Tuesday and my first stop will be the small city of Flores, I think...
Here's some pictures from Ek Balam and Tulum...
January 26, Belize City, Belize.
Today I was going to ride all the way to Belmopan, the capital of Belize, but I decided to stay in Belize City because I thought there might be a store where I could buy a new raincoat. I've heard mostly negative things about Belize City but I figured they'd at least have a mall, or somewhere I could buy a new raincoat. No mall or raincoat, just a store where I could buy a cheap rubber jacket that would never work on a motorcycle, which made me particularly unhappy because it rained during most of my 3-4 hour trip from Chetumal. Then I spent over an hour in Belize City looking for a hotel while being very wet and cold; not a mood enhancer.
I got to see most of the city during this search and was pretty sure there'd be no specialty rain-coats here. Belize City does a great job of hiding their hotels. The many signs pointing to the "Hotel Zone" are conflicting and there really isn't an actual hotel zone. Cities I've visited so far have a much greater range of hotels. In Belize city it's either cheap, and take your chance with parking in the street, or expensive, with safe parking. I ended up at the Radisson for $120, three or four times more than I usually pay for a hotel, plus they charge for wireless internet use. Belize city was the first place on this trip where I was completely certain that if I parked my motorcycle on the street it would not be there the next day, or at least there would be parts missing. I'll be leaving first thing in the morning for Belmopan where I'll see the zoo and maybe some Mayan ruin caves that I've read about, then I'll head into Guatemala the next day.
The highway between Chetumal and Belize City was far worse than most in Mexico but probably better than what I'll see South of here... The many small towns had colorful houses, many on stilts; many of these homes had a store or restaurant sign hanging on their porch but they were obviously just homes. These small business are common throughout Central America but they seem more frequent in Belize. I stopped at one of these home/stores and the store part was just boxes of random crap scattered throughout the living room of a standard home. As I approached Belize City the roads became more crowded and pot-holed and the buildings became more ghetto. I talked to several people on the way here and they all seem to speak "reggae"; it's actually called 'Creole' but it's more fun to call it reggae and that's how it sounds. Everyone waves and seems friendly. In Belize City, however, the friendliness mostly seems to have a motive.
The two stores most likely to have rain-gear are about 10 blocks from my hotel so I walked. In that 10 blocks I was approached by at least 10 people that all had different requests for cash, wanted to sell me drugs or girls, or "only nead ta juss tell ya wan ting maahhn". They all wanted to shake my hand but I quickly learned that when I shook their hand it was taken as an obligation to listen to their hardship story and they wouldn't let go until I forcefully pulled my hand away; otherwise the only congenial closure to that interaction would be to hear their whole story and give them money.
I'm all about 'time-efficiency'; some people call it impatience but that's the small price you pay for being 'time-efficient'. I believe in saving my time AND the time of others, and this efficiency kicks in a bit quicker if I've spent a long wet day on my motorcycle and an hour looking for a hotel room. After the second or third handshake I realized that me and the hand-shakers were just wasting each others time because I wasn't going to give them any money; so when I saw a hand I just kept my hand down and told them I'm not going to give them anything. Sometimes they followed along anyway and started telling their story of hardship. One guy claimed that he didn't want anything from me but it was just important for me to listen to him; I asked why he was so different from everyone else who approaches me here and then I asked him to give me some money if he's so different. He left. Another guy got in front of me and stopped, I kept waking and just yelled "NO!", very loudly, as I ran into him and almost knocked him over; nobody approached me for the rest of that block. [I've actually used that approach several times in past travels - if someone gets in front of me to beg I just keep on walking, unless it's an old lady but old ladies usually don't use that approach]. By the time I reached the store I was almost completely void of any nice-guy-ness, which is saying something because I'm usually a pretty nice guy.
These street beggar interactions are due to my pale-ness. In comparison to the locals I'm a friggin' strobe-light walking down the street so they can see me coming from several blocks away and pale skin means money here [as well as most of the places I'll be traveling but it's more extreme here]. I can always tell who is going to approach me long before they do because they see me from a block away, or more, and it's pretty obvious when they've locked onto a target. They try to position themselves in my pathway so they can ask for my cash when I reach them; to make it even more obvious I would make sudden changes in my course by suddenly crossing the street or turning around and I would see 3-5 people immediately scramble like a defensive back in football, quickly reacting to my change. On the return to my hotel I actually improved my time-efficiency in dealing with would-be cash takers by perfecting a very cold stare and an angry grunt that effectively warded off anyone who even looked like they were thinking of asking for money.
I'm sure Belize City will be nicer tomorrow but my first impression is not a happy one...
January 24, Chetumal, Capital of Quintana Roo.
When someone you've never met calls you "my friend" in Mexico, and other Latin American countries I've visited, the translation is always either "I want to sell you something" or "I am simply going to ask you to give me money". Two nights ago, here in Chetumal, I got a very detailed version of the latter.
It was about 8:00 pm and I was walking in the down-town center of Chetumal after dinner when I heard someone behind me say "my friend?!". Usually those words come from a local who only knows about 20 words of English but this guy sounded more like USA. I turned around and met an average looking middle class American black guy, dressed in a pink and white striped shirt, dark slacks and dark dress shoes, about my age (22, or whatever). He asked if I spoke English - I said "yeah but not very well" and he sort of paused then laughed and said he appreciated my sense of humor even during his very difficult times. He said he didn't speak a word of Spanish and said he was a minister from Chicago traveling with his wife and two little girls and was having a hard time finding help. He wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
He immediately asked if I was a minister, I said no. Then he started telling me about his difficult times. He had flown from Chicago to Mexico City the other day and got on a bus to Cancun. The trip to Cancun required a couple of bus changes and he didn't know that he was supposed to switch his luggage himself so his luggage was somewhere with the first bus and he didn't know where that bus was. The worst part about this was that his bible, credit cards and money, and everything else and his bible, were all in his bags [I know I said bible twice, so did he]. His wife is a diabetic and her insulin was in the bags as well. He used the phrases "praise god" and "praise Jesus" randomly about a dozen times during his story and seemed to be imitating the 'Baptist Revival' tone of voice you hear on TV.
He was talking fast and wanted to give me all the details quickly. He was very happy to meet someone as open and understanding as I was and said other folks around here didn't even want to shake his hand and he thought it was because of the color of his skin. He told me a story about the other day at a hotel when a Mexican woman told her kids to get out of the pool and wash their hands because his little black kids were in the pool making it dirty [but he didn't speak Spanish; maybe his wife did and translated for him, but they were hanging out by the pool with no money; okay maybe he prepaid the room or something. And the racist Mexican mother part of the story could be true; racism in Mexico is substantial, but class trumps color in Mexico and he clearly appeared middle class American and Mexicans would typically accept that. But why was he here in Chetumal!?]. I wasn't going to try to prove him wrong by pointing out the inconsistencies in his story; I was just curious to see where he would go with this because the entertainment value was a little better than just returning to my room after dinner. And there was still a chance of legitimacy... and a chance that I'll be drafted by the Green Bay Packers...
His wife and kids were staying with 'a nice Christian family' in a village about 180km North of here but he couldn't recall the exact name of the village. He had found someone that would give him a ride to that village tonight for free, praise Jesus, but he needed to get to the gas station to meet him soon. FINALLY he fulfilled the appropriate definition of "my friend" and asked me for money to pay for him and his family to get on a bus back to Mexico City where their bags were hopefully waiting, praise god, and he would gladly pay me back somehow. I politely said that I couldn't help him [I did some quick fuzzy math and the bus ride for him and his family to Mexico City would be well over $100] and that I was on a trip from Seattle to Tierra del Fuego on a motorcycle and gave him one of my cards. He didn't want to hear the details of my trip because he needed to catch his ride soon so he could be with his wife and kids.
I reflected on this little encounter a couple of times over the last two days. I figured there was about a 99.9% chance that this was a scam, the story just didn't add up and he was trying too hard to sound like other ministers on TV. But the .1% chance made me wonder, even if only for about 2 seconds - maybe it was true but he was just so frazzled from his difficult times that he was simply wrong on some details, but it only bothered me for about two seconds. I remembered a slight 'Creole' accent in the way he spoke, which is common in Belize, 1 mile from here, and I reflected on the merits of his request for $$.
It really was a good scam idea; most white Americans are scared to death of anyone perceiving them as racist and in the modern spirit of political correctness many will go through great measures to prove that they are not racist. Paying $100 or so would be no problem to show just how accepting and open they are by helping a black guy having difficulty with racist individuals. A vast majority of white Americans are not racist but every white person knows someone who is. Whether it's a family member, friend or associate of some kind, they (we) all know someone who speaks and believes at least some degree of racism, and I'd bet my left arm that it's the same for black folks, or anybody for that matter. But that's a whole different discussion - right now I'm talking about "my friend" and his above average, detailed plan to scam $$. All he needs to do is screen for other ministers, who would stump him with some minister questions, then mention his difficult times and throw in some racist incidents, then wait and see just how PC the recipient is. I'm sure this scam has worked many times for this guy and will work many more times, especially on a border town like this where most tourists are only here for a night or two while passing to or from Belize.
Tonight I had dinner down the street from my hotel. I left the restaurant and saw the same guy on the corner talking to a young couple, obviously American. I passed them and heard the young couple apologizing that they couldn't help him at the exact moment I was walking by. "My friend" saw me and just said 'hi' and continued on. His guilty glance assured me that the .1% was now 0% and this guy was simply one of the many scam artists that will entertain me on my trip to Tierra del Fuego.
January 22, Chetumal, Capital of Quintana Roo.
Yesterday I watched football, had pizza and watched Rocky Balboa. It felt like home except that during the football games I was working on pictures from here. Here's the second part of the Chichen Itza photo's...
January 21, Chetumal, Capital of Quintana Roo.
Nice town! I had low expectations from the fact that it's a border town but hadn't thought things through. It shares a border with Belize, an economically richer country, or so I've heard, so people are constantly coming in from Belize and buying the cheaper goods in Chetumal, which of course helps the economy here.
In Bacalar I got to dive off the platform I mentioned below, it's actually about 25 feet. My first 1 1/2 flip came up a little short and my left shoulder is still a bit sore from it. The next two flips were just right. There are many cenotes throughout the Yucatan peninsula. They have no above ground rivers on the Yucatan peninsula and cenotes have been the traditional water source.
January 18, Bacalar, Quintana Roo.
I lost my rain jacket, that really stinks. I don't know if I'll be able to find something as good here in Mexico but I'm sure they'll have something. Yesterdays trip from Tulum to Bacalar, a small town just north of Chetumal, went well. Overall the roads in the Yucatan peninsula have been great. There were many rain squalls today but they were always just ahead of me or behind me; I was able to time my progress and was mostly successful in avoiding them. They were very intense but only lasted for 15-30 minutes so I could find cover and wait 'till the storm passed to continue.
Bacalar is an odd little town by a huge lagoon with a Cenote (Cenote Azul) where I want to swim. I haven't swam in any Cenotes but this one has a diving platform above a restaurant which is about 35 feet high and I can't wait to try it a bit later before I leave for Chetumal, just down the road. I asked how deep the water was and they said 90 meters so I won't have to worry about hitting the bottom.
So here's a little archeological "Black Helicopter" for you; I was looking at the satellite view of the ruins at Tulum. There's something that appears to be a face - two dark eyes with a sort of ruined nose between the eyes and the open mouth and the pronounced chin. This view has it upside down, but it is so strangely positioned along the front of the ruins of Tulum, with the mouth being approximately where the lower beach is, which made me wonder. If you use Google Earth and navigate your way to Tulum you can rotate it 180 degrees and it becomes even more clear.
Okay, I know this might be like finding the image of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, bathroom door, tree trunk or any number of other coincidental images that may occur in random places and it's more than a 99% likely that this is nothing. Tide flows and the extensive movement of sand on the ocean floor, and the simple erosive element of many centuries under moving water make anything like this extremely unlikely. But you've seen the amazing structures built by these folks above ground, without cranes or machinery. It would actually be easier to construct a large face, under relatively shallow and calm water, than any of those above-ground structures. Also, the area is very protected from erosion by a coral reef just off the coast. I scanned the area up and down the coast and saw only a few other 'face-like' features. Look for yourself and let me know what you think...
If I had my diving certificate I'd rent equipment and check it out but I don't. Besides, I need to make it to Tierra del Fuego before it's winter in South America.
January 17, Tulum, Quintana Roo.
Yesterday I saw the ruins of Tulum, famous for being right on the beach, and Coba, one of the less excavated Mayan sites. Today I'll head further south toward Chetumal, the border town for entering Belize. As usual I'm a couple of ruins behind on the website but here's another page - starting in Campeche and ending with the first part of Chichen Itza pictures. I took quite a few photos in the city of Campeche. It's an interesting historical city with lots of guns and stone walls that give it sort of a militaristic and conservative feel.
January 15, Tulum, Quintana Roo.
The trip from Cancun to Tulum was pretty uneventful today. I checked into my hotel, unloaded the bike, then went to the store to get some laundry detergent and other things. On the way to the store it started raining really hard. When I got to the store I pulled under the large covered area by the front door to keep my bike dry. It's not something I would typically do, especially in the US, but here in Mexico I always see motorcycles parked on sidewalks and other places you normally shouldn't park. I made sure it was out of the way and not blocking anything and put it in a corner over by an ice machine, then went into the store and got some things.
When I came out there were 4 federal officers standing near my bike. I had no idea they had any concern about me and figured they were busting a shoplifter or something, but a couple of them kept looking over at me as I was getting ready to leave. I went on with my business and when I put my helmet on they came over and started telling me I wasn't supposed to park there. It ended up being a short conversation where the one doing the talking was explaining in Spanish and broken English that if you park here you get a ticket and need to pay. My selective understanding kicked in and I just kept on letting them know that it wouldn't happen again and I will always park with the cars from now on [pointing to the parking lot, acting all giddy and happy and stupid]. He brought up the ticket and payment issue several more times and I just sort of indirectly convinced him that it would be too difficult for him to explain to me that I had to pay something. It ended with them looking at each other like they were thinking "I don't know how to explain it to him". After checking my drivers license and passport they just let me go.
Not very exciting, I know. No guns or drug searches or anything; just a gringo acting nice, but half retarded, to get out of paying a ticket or fine or bribe. It worked and I didn't even give him one of my cards.
The satellite view on "Find Doug" is on the ruins of Tulum. The small town of Tulum has great cheap deals on hotels and good restaurants. Most visitors to Tulum come from Cancun for a day visit but I'd recommend staying the night and going to see some of the other things in the area - like Xel Ha, a beautiful lagoon near here with tons of fish and clear water and a place where you can swim with Dolphins, although when I was here several years ago I think it was about $100 US to swim with the dolphins, too rich for my blood.
I'm still not sure how to make the GPS coordinates thing work, or maybe it does work...
January 14, Cancun, Quintana Roo.
I have spent most of the last day and a half trying to complete what I thought was a simple task. I'm actually not sure if it works or not. The "FIND DOUG" link on the home page now takes you to a second page that gives you two options. The first one works and it's the same satellite view that was shown before when you clicked on that link.
The second option lets you download my GPS coordinates and waypoints from Seattle to wherever [or location at most recent download] and view them in Google Earth. It's a pretty cool feature but I don't know if it works. When I copied the file it changes the file type from "gpx" to "gpx.txt". Or else it copies the file but the size is 0, which is wrong because the size should be about 7,300kb. Either way it isn't working on my computer but from the way it is set up it should. Try it out if you like and let me know what happens...
January 12, Cancun, Quintana Roo.
Cancun City is not a very impressive place. It's mostly a busy city with a vacation feel to it, sort of like Veracruz City to me. But it's a decent place to relax and it's big enough to get the things I need for my motorcycle; like oil, filter, license plate cover and light bulbs. It's also a good place to catch up on internet pictures and I've finally finished the second half of Palenque:
January 9, Cancun, Quintana Roo.
Today I rode over a manhole without a cover AND was rear-ended and no, that's not the beginning of a nasty gay joke...
My guide book has been wrong several times on a range of topics. Today it was wrong about a sea turtle farm, supposedly 5km south of town. I spent a couple of hours looking for this fictional place - I've never seen a sea turtle up close and I thought it would be a good photo op. There is no sea turtle farm, simple as that. The name of the beach where the guide book says the sea turtle farm resides is actually about 65km south of town (not 5km like the book said) and there is a zoo between Cancun and that beach, with no sea turtles. I asked many many people and they all looked at me like I was asking where the magic unicorn farm is located.
My entire 65km return to Cancun was met with one of the worst rain storms I've ever experienced on a bike. Coming into town I was fighting water, 3-6 inches deep, heavy wind and traffic. At one point I was going about 20mph and noticed that I was approaching two circles in the road - one was grey and the other was brown. They were right next to each other and they were the exact same size but it was hard to see clearly through the deep, dirty, flooded road water. Almost immediately, but not soon enough, I realized that the grey circle was the manhole cover and the brown circle was the uncovered manhole that I was heading straight for. It was too late to turn or stop, especially in those conditions, so I gunned it to get the front wheel over the hole safely. That worked but of course the back wheel hit the inside rim of the hole pretty hard. I pulled over to check and everything looked okay, I think the volume of water coming out of the manhole actually acted as a cushion.
10 minutes later I was near the city center on one of the slippery brick roads. I was thinking about the fact that I'd ridden over an uncovered manhole and was feeling a bit lucky about coming out of that experience unharmed but at the same time I was concerned about the slippery bricks under my tires at the moment. I don't know whose idea it was to use this type of brick for a road - they're slippery as hell when dry and of course they are much worse when wet.
I was stopped at a red light when I heard a skidding noise from directly behind me that immediately triggered the butt pucker reflex. I braced myself and for a fraction of a second I just hoped that my initial guess was wrong, but it wasn't. The very next moment I was simply trying to hold on and regain control of my bike, which had shot forward from the impact of a front bumper on my back tire. The impact tore my hands off the handle bars and my back was hit hard by the upper, center bag behind me (the only one my of three bags I had on the bike at the moment). The bike had been in gear but since my hand was no longer holding the clutch it stalled the engine shortly after the impact, which stopped the back wheel and acted as a very abrupt brake, which then threw me forward toward the handlebars and through some combination of reflexes and dumb luck my hands landed perfectly on the hand grips and I was able to brace myself and keep my body from continuing forward, over or into the handlebars. I was able to keep from hitting anyone else and regained control of the motorcycle and the pucker reflex performed its function well because nothing came out but I thought for sure there would be something wrong with the motorcycle.
Long story short, there was nothing wrong. The guy who hit me felt bad and gave me his drivers license for me to copy his info, and gave me his phone number. I returned to the hotel and checked the back rim, tire and alignment and was unable to detect the slightest wobble or find any indication that anything had been broken or bent. I'm glad those things happened when my heavy side-bags were back in my hotel room, not on the bike. I'm impressed with the bikes ability to take a beating, that is if there really is nothing wrong with it...
That's all for now, I just had to tell someone. I'm pretty sure the rest of my day will go a little easier.
January 7, Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Here in Cancun, working on the website. There are two very different Cancun's - the one where you spend $100-700 a night for a hotel along a beachfront strip that feels more like Miami than Mexico, and the one where all the people who work on the strip live. I'm at the latter for $45 a night. I prefer this side of town, Cancun City. It is a more relaxed atmosphere and still has a resort town feel but most of the tourists on this side of town are from other parts of Mexico, and I've seen some license plates from Guatemala as well, but there are still more gringo's here than any of my other stops so far.
I just finished the first batch of Palenque pictures. It is an amazing place, you'll see...