Sorry for the lack of updates, lack of internetwebs have conspired against me. We are now in Cartagena, Columbia, after sailing for 4 days across the Caribbean from Panama with our motorbikes, was an enjoyable journey even if I spent most of it with a bad fever, the San Blas islands in particular were most idyllic.

We stayed in Leon for a few more days as we wanted to climb a volcano and see lava, first we went down and to check out the local beaches:

Then off to climb a volcano, first boarding various forms of local transport, collectivo:

The infamous chicken bus:

And then off on our own, not long before we spotted our victim

Eventually making it:

In the evening, the bright red lava was great, the photos of it, not so much.
Sunrise was quite a delight as well

We left Leon in the direction of Estelli, taking the “scenic route”:

Estelli is the major tobacco growing area, producing cigars for the US market, we checked out a cigar factory in Cuba, but I hoped to see another. It was a world apart, the place in Cuba cost us $11US for a tour around an old building with a floor of around 400 people yelling at each other, as they roll cigars and steal them to sell to tourists, cigars were for sale at the front at a substantial premium. Estelli on the other hand had a dozen people rolling cigars in a relaxed environment, we got a free tour, and when asked about purchasing cigars, the rolled us 4 fresh ones and gave them to us!

On the way to Matagalpa, the main coffee growing district, we spot a couple of hundred guys digging optic fiber cable in by hand. An interesting dichotomy

And also wonder where the closest “County School” is.

Staying in Matagalpa for the evening, we then head to Granada, with hopes of catching some other bikers we know that are going to be there, but first a friendly visit from your local corrupt Central American police.
I would like to introduce you to Jose’ and Juan:

We were entering Managua, when while stopped at the lights amongst a group of other moto’s, one pulls up and taps me on the shoulder, I turn, it’s the police. He points straight ahead, I assume he is telling me which way to go, give him a thumbs up and we head off. Two lights further, red light again, again he pulls up, taps me (although much more furiously), and points over to the side of the road… ok…
We pull off, and so it begins, Jose’ speaks a little English, which doesn’t help our cause, as pleading complete ignorance won’t pass. First they want to book us for not following police orders, then it is for speeding, then for lane splitting (as motos do the latter 2 straight past us). They begin the good cop/bad cop routine, so I return the favor and have a mild tanty as Tim acts gentile to ensure we aren’t executed on the spot. We continue for almost an hour, which in hot sun in bike gear is not all that pleasant. They proceed to confiscate our licenses and want to book us at the police station 3 blocks down the road (apparently) and for us to follow them there. I decide to go on a movement strike. Eventually they decide it isn’t worth the hassle to book us but they still want money for their troubles, so when Tim isn’t being incredibly devious taking photos with his Go Pro, he waved US$4 in the air for everyone to see, and handed it to them.

We went to another volcano, which was cool as you could drive up to the top

In Granada, while unsupervised, Tim used all his talents to return both of our bikes to their preferred seating position

That evening, we managed to catch up with a bunch of bikers, including a French couple doing Alaska to Argentina on a bicycle (yes Mum, there are people crazier than me!).

We then went with Kerman on a short jaunt to a local lake inside a volcano crater

And then for a short boat ride, where we had monkeys invade our craft

Met an alcoholic Macau

And had a nice sunset

The next day, the usual fun of navigating the streets gave way,

We were headed to Ometepe island, set in Lake Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America), it is the combination of 2 volcanoes that have emerged from the surface and is quite beautiful.

After my socialistic bike finished sharing my luggage with the locals

We dumped our gear, and decided to circumnavigate the island

The next day, we climbed another volcano on the island, which has a lake in the center, and seals my desire to not see another volcano again, ever.
We climbed up rocks for hours through rain, to get such a great view:

And that was it for Nicaragua… we enjoyed it here.

Costa Rica began, and instantly I found the place harder to love, gone were the colorful and charming chicken buses and overloaded mopeds used throughout the rest of Central America, and in their place the western world cocoons, cars and SUV’s. American chain fast food establishments lined the roads, the supermarkets were up market, expensive, and selling goods from all around the world. While Costa Rica is far better off than its neighbors by almost all western standards, the people appeared to smile less and came across with less genuine friendliness than their neighbors. I felt guilty that these people live a higher quality of life that other countries aspire to (and eventually will obtain), and here I was thinking less of them, this internal debate raged for a while and I couldn’t tell you what the scenery was like, and it wasn’t until that evening that the answer to this quandry came to me, I am lucky to be able to do the trip now.

Over the next few days day, we went for some nice rides

Saw some nice beaches

And eventually we made our way to Cahuita, a part of Costa Rica that appealed to me much more than anywhere else I had seen, less tourists, more beauty

Nick and Ivanka, a lovely British couple riding two-up from Alaska to Argentina joined us on the second day, and we hung out, swapped war stories and card games. There blog is located here: http://www.bootsboatsandbikes.co.uk/

We didn’t have a whole lot of time till our boat sailed from Panama, so south we go!
We encountered one of our preferred border crossings:

Note the yellow sticker on the customs window? Our sticker! I like the Panamanians already!

Some more scenic detours and we made our way to Boca del Toro

On the way to the boat, we met a local guy on the same bike as us,

We thought it would be a good idea to join forces and ride through all the road blocks together, the police would have less chance of stopping all of us

We needn’t have worried, on the other side the police would routinely give us a thumb up, and tell us to do a wheelie for them!
We made it to our boat, and loaded our bikes on for South America, SOUTH AMERICA people!!!

Here is a short vid. These Latin Americans have taught us a thing or 2 about how to overtake, we thought we would share our lessons.

Wet, wet, wet!

October 23, 2011

Since last report, there were some slight changes of plan. We decided to join the rest of the motorcyclists we caught up with to watch the Kiwi’s beat Australia in the semi-finals of the world cup rugby on Sunday, and do a day excursion to Lake Atitlan on Monday. After sourcing solutions for some of our various problems


(the remnants of the license plate)

We then helped André, a Swiss guy we met fix his low beams (they hadn’t worked since Minnesota!) on his bike. Discovering hidden talents for reading wiring diagrams written in German, we were able to get something working.


(photo courtesy of André)

We caught up with the crew again (here is an earlier photo)

From front left clockwise, Jess, lady I don’t remember, Kerman, Phil, Kevin, me, Tim, Wade, André and Jesse. Missing from the photo (but present!) was Glenn, Mark and Maggie. All riding bikes to Tierra del Fuego. You can follow their progress here
Glenn: http://sabbaticalglenn.blogspot.com/
Kevin: http://exploreplanetearth.net/
Phil and Wade: http://bergaliaboys.com

(photo courtesy of Kerman)

We also took the time to take in some of the culinary delights on offer for us in Antigua

We had enough of sitting around doing nothing in the rain for the last few days, and thought we would take the back way to Lake Atitilan, which consisted of a little of this:

At which point Tim’s bike developed a bad case of hydrophobia and blew the main fuse. Replacements also burnt out – and the short was not easily identifiable. We also discovered that the rear rack bolts had snapped on his bike as well (same problem as was happening to my bike – do other KLR owners have the same problem, or are we just “lucky”?).

We pushed Tim’s bike back through the river, then we rigged up a tow rope to mine to tow the bike the 10 odd miles up the windy road and back to the nearest town. We managed to find the gentleman with the most amount of electrical knowledge in town and proceeded to do some disassembly.

They worked into the night

We had to stay the night in town and we came back the next morning to a working bike, they suggest it was the Instrument Cluster that got some water in it, I don’t know if that was the case or not – but it was running, that was all that mattered.
We returned to Antigua to collect Tim’s license plate and get his rear rack fixed – at which point I need to give Moto Café a shout out: http://www.degustantigua.com/en/moto-cafe.html?Itemid=90 they helped us a great deal.

The solution for Tim’s number plate wasn’t really complete – nor sufficient, but we thought we would finish it up, and got his rear rack fixed.

We headed toward the border, rain pelting at us:

My bike died

Fortunately the issue was simple, and so was the fix. Water was that heavy it got thrown up from my rear tire to my fuel tank vent on my de-smogged bike, blocking it from getting air, and just needed to be drained.

Roads and bridges were regularly washed out, necessitating (sometimes creative) detours.

The border to El Salvador

The destruction from the rain here has been immense, they have had over 4ft of rain in a short space of time.
Roads at best looked like this

Rivers like this

It was not fun to be riding it. You were continuously drenched to your skin, had really bad visibility through a helmet visor that would be covered in water (and often fog), and the roads were terrible. You would wake up in the morning to wet motorcycle gear to do it all again.

We finally made it to El Salvador. The paperwork was pretty straightforward (if time consuming at 3 odd hours), and the officials generally pleasant.

Some of the locals jokingly asked if we had brought our fishing rods – when inquiring as to why, they said to go fishing on the road.
We soon got the joke.

Officials here were still friendly, and sported cool poncho’s.

MS-13 sightings were slim, but good food locations weren’t.

I had heard the road down the coast of El Salvador compares to Hwy 1 on the West Coast of the US, or the Great Ocean Road in Australia, while weather perhaps diminished the experience (and the photo evidence) the comparisons seemed fair.
Not wanting to hang around in the rain, we pushed south to the border, and slept the night there.
I woke up a little enlivened. This border (Honduras to El Salvador) was supposed to be the most difficult border we would cross in the trip, I have heard stories of people being stuck here for exorbitant lengths of time and forced to part with large sums of money that they perhaps shouldn’t have. Dealing with this kind of stuff excites me.
So begins the formalities.

One of the downsides of travelling with motorbikes is that at each country you need to import them (and export them from the previous country), it makes the entry/exit process around three times more complicated, time consuming and costly than if you were just travelling by bus.
I am surprised to report that the usual tiresome process at this border was not what we encountered. After leaving El Salvador (10 mins) we had a gentleman approach us offering to assist us with the border formalities (aka a “mule”). We aren’t interested in the services of these individuals, as we consider this stuff “part of the experience”, not to mention a lot of them are shadier than the corrupt officials you have to deal with anyway. This one was different, despite our persistence with “no”, he continued offering assistance, was honest, friendly, spoke perfect English and said he was not going to charge us anything, we can tip him at the end if we appreciated his services. Oscar I believe was his name, and he comes well recommended. We were through in under an hour. We were that pleased with services he scored $20US.

Honduras was a country we had both elected to kind of “skip” mostly due to the fact that we felt other neighboring countries (Guatemala and Nicaragua) offered more of the natural beauty we were seeking. While our experience there was brief and we didn’t stray from the Pan-America highway, I cannot report that it was pleasant. Towns were poorly kept, roads weren’t even kept at all, we were stopped twice by police fishing for bribes, one of them we had to pay (he discovered Tim’s “replica” plate, and threatened a fine because it was in violation of the rule book – which we demanded to see). Reports from other travelers and teachers that work in Honduras that I spoke to do not paint a pretty picture either, and suggest that the country is turning into what Columbia used to be, a drug lord haven.
Into Nicaragua. More paperwork.

Not long into the country the traffic started to back up.

Of course we scooted by.

We soon discovered the cause.

The local police and army egged us on (like we needed it) saying we could make it across pushing them – I laughed, completely contradictory to what officials would say in any western country, I like Nicaragua.
We paid two locals $2 each to guide us and began the pushing.

It was about a mile across, and was hard work. We made it to where the water was shallower, and I followed all experience mechanics advice by testing to see if I had water in my engine by hitting the starter button. It ran!

We stayed in the next major town, and went to check out a rum factory, it was closed, but their rum is excellent.

We then road down to Leon, and today we decided to climb an active volcano

Sit on a bit of ply-board

And slide down it.


Speeds up to 87kph (about 55mph) have been recorded. Not by us unfortunately though.

Guadalajara, a tour

October 16, 2011

Guatemala

October 15, 2011

Heading south from Tikal, we encountered the typical Guatemala.
Floods where towns once were:

Good food

Amazing scenery (with floods)

Cool roads

Cool people

Weddings

Coupled with a few little indiscretions

On arriving to a town called Lanquin, we hit up a local soccer match between Lanquin and the next village across.

It was quite the affair, jumping up and down, yelling and throwing rocks at the players was actively encouraged. The raucous behavior of the crowd was only equaled by ambivalence of the large number of armed police in attendance.

We were glad the local team won.

Getting our exploration on, local bat caves were checked out.

Furthering our motivation for exploration, off we went to Semuc Champey (loosely translated to “where the river flows under the water”)
Local style transport

More checking out the area

And toughing it out

It rained a lot, and the next day we took a day trip across to Rio Dulce, roads varying from a little hectic

And then it started to get epic.

This was like a powder day at the snow, except the landings were a little harder.

We stopped at an amazing little Canyon

Where a cool kid paddled us in a canoe upstream – he was an amazing little guide, but it felt a bit bittersweet, he was 12 and for most people his age, it was a school day.

The views were incredible though.

Further up was a waterfall with hot spring water (cascada calliente) which we sometimes jumped off

And other times we fell off it

We are now in Antigua, time has been spent mostly checking the place out, catching up with some fellow motorcyclers and doing motorcycle maintenance, I broke my mirror, my left footpeg snapped off, bent my crash guards, and Tim broke off his number plate – and is not to be found again (we are sourcing a “local” solution). We have been blocked from going to lake atitlan by rains blocking the roads – but have since found of an off-road trail there that we should be able to get through, most likely a day trip tomorrow.

El Salvador most likely Monday, famous for amazing surf beaches, nice coastline, and the highest murder rate per capita in the world.

Cancun to Tikal

October 9, 2011

Cancun to Tikal

Back in Cancun, we were happy to be back in a land with great food and we found our motorbikes in the same condition we left them, Tim’s fine, mine still broken. Sought out a local shop and got that sorted we headed through the hotel zone of Cancun, I can describe it like a worse version of Vegas, with a beach. Not a fan – but from the number of tourists there my opinion must be in the minority. We continued further south, doing our best to avoid the boring highway filled with tourist buses.

We found some nice Cenotes (pronounced see-note-es) – caves with water in them.

And saw some wildlife as we did it.

Staying in Tulum, we went off to check out some more old stuff. I didn’t think the ruins were that impressive, but their location was.

Heading south, we enjoyed our final Mexican roadside BBQ chicken feast.

We crossed the border into Belize, it was easy, simple and free*!
[SIZE=1]*well, apart from the mandatory fumigation and insurance… which with some sweet talking to the border guards, we didn’t purchase[/SIZE]

The landscape changed, contrary to Mexico, Belize has taken a more conventional approach to its tropical wilderness – which is bulldoze it for farmland.

We got to Belize City, and toured the city, having a laugh with the locals – it was enjoyable to have long conversations with them (Belizeans’ speak English) – we were told many times not to walk and night, and were offered various substances even more frequently. We still quite liked the city though, Caribbean vibe, with a mix of African-American gangster.

The island of Caye Caulker was our destination, and we found it hard not to like a place which has been hit by a hurricane, splitting the island in two – so they build a bar so you can sit in the spot where the island was.

We went on a snorkeling tour, where we swam with all forms of impressive wildlife
Manatee’s (like a Dugong for the Australian’s)

Sting Rays

Eel’s

Fishies

Sharks

Turtle’s

And beautiful Coral

Back in Belize city, we found some “alternative” routes with all the important stuff

Mud

Waterfalls

Amish

On the way out of Belize city we were stopped at a routine police check point, one more junior police officer was happy to send us on our way, his more senior compatriot saw doller signs at the end of it. The game of chess began. He asked for our licenses, we handed over one our few International Driving Permits, he asked for local insurance – which we didn’t have. I began my BS escapade using one of my preferred tricks – lots of stories, handing him lots of paper, trying to chew through as much of his day till he got exhausted. He didn’t, he was experienced at this. We got to the point where he dragged me aside and said he can do me a favor and cut me a break, but what am I going to do to return the favor. Out of bills any smaller than US$20, one left my hand to his and our transaction was complete and we were on our way.

We crossed through the border to Guatemala, things got a little more serious – border officials with pistol grip pump action shotguns. We followed all seasoned travel advice and road through central America at night time, in the rain, off-road. We got near Tikal and called it quits.

We hit Tikal in the search of old stuff.
Old Temples

Old Buildings

Old Inscriptions

And signs that don’t really need a translation.

Heading further south tomorrow. Bandito country.

Cuba

October 4, 2011

Cuba

We boarded our Russian Thunderbus for Cuba, an A380 Airbus this wasn’t, cue the lights flickering, the crew running around, the cabin filling with smoke, and us smiling like a kid at Christmas.

Landing, overwhelmed by old cars, pollution, humidity, beautiful buildings, tourists, poverty and quite a wonderful setting for a city.

We decided to get our tourist on, and visit some of the sites

This fella’s mug was everywhere.

In the tourist areas, the city was beautiful.

Where the locals actually live, equally historic, but could do with a little more maintenance.

I like my cars big, American and old. I am not going to apologize for the flurry of photos of them.

We toughed it out for a few days in Havana

We filled our time in by going to the revolution museum, where we got an interesting and incredibly one sided account of the revolution in Cuba. Walked around the city during an evening where the locals told us that each street had to have a celebration to celebrate communism. Interesting choice of words I thought.

We hung out with some local kids who’s past time was running across 3 lanes of traffic on the Mercado (Havana’s largest and most famous street), hopping the curb, jumping a 2ft wall and then in the next step leaping 10ft out to a small area of ocean where there wasn’t rocks that would end the day in a light case of quadriplegia.

Purchased crazy orange soft drink that I think was just refined sugar

Checked out the locals “ration book”

Smoked (good) cigars

Punished ourselves by going to some terrible beaches

Havana was a place with a lot of character, I enjoyed the city but probably wouldn’t rush back.

We headed down to Trinidad, instantly I liked it.

An old slavery town which made its fortune on the burgeoning sugar trade back in the late 1500’s

We found a casa particular (essentially a family that has a spare room that they rent out to tourists) called “El Chef”. Lobster was on the menu, it was incredible, and it was $10US. Nice place, amazing food, well recommended.

We saw a hill overlooking the town. Lets climb it!

Sweating like pigs in a butchers shop, we made it to the top and woke the security guard up from a slumber. Expecting to get asked to leave in a not so polite manner… nope. He invited us to come round the back, climb this rickety homemade ladder to the top and explained the history of the place, pointing out which houses were built, where the slaves landed and all the farms that have grown sugar for over 400yrs. Cool stuff.

We checked out the beaches, and were reminded of the dichotomy of Cuba, there is 2 currencies, “CUC” and “National”, the former for tourists and the latter for locals. It isn’t the only point of separation between those who are citizens and those that are visitors.
Tourists

Locals

Other points included transport
Tourists

Locals:

We enjoyed ourselves much more with the locals.

Returning to Havana having thoroughly enjoyed Trinidad, our capstone was probably the most fun. A taxi ride to the airport.
In a 1948 Chrysler.


(note the sticker)

Which then broke down. Even better!
So I put my supervision skills to the test.

Smoke and flickering lights awaited us on our airplane. Cuba was enjoyable, didn’t have enough time to explore. The people are very nice, although most (at least in Havana) want something from the tourists, that something is usually money, it is much much poorer than I expected.
Now the last couple of days in Mexico as we head to Belize.

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