Monthly Archives: December 2015
22nd-26th December 2015 Christmas in Panajachel, Guatemala
We moved into a wonderful house for 5 days over Xmas. The beautiful, 2 bedroom casa is behind a mysterious green door in a very ordinary street, leading down to the lake and cemetery.It is hard to imagine that such a lush, tropical garden lies behind the green door.
The house is amazingly comfortable and a fully functioning home, with a full kitchen and two fireplaces plus wonderful outside space and three dogs to keep us company.
We walked into town each day to buy everything we needed for Xmas dinner and drink beer or smoothies.
The views across the lake towards the volcanoes are exceptional.
The tourist market is full of the textiles that Guatemala is famous for.
We decided not to do presents this year but I did get a poncho and Dave bought a purse from a gorgeous, wrinkly, old lady in full traditional dress. Actually all of the women wear traditional woven fabrics, with each village having its own distinctive designs.
We really enjoyed our Xmas dinner of stuffed peppers, stuffing, roast potatoes, cauliflower puree, carrots and cabbage. We followed it up with a banana and mango crumble.
We were lucky to find a shop selling vegan chocolate truffles and cookies so we did not go without treats. We watched a lot of cheesy movies on the computer and had roaring log fires going in both the lounge and bedroom on different nights.
It has been a really wonderful Xmas and we feel very lucky to be here. We are also thankful for Facebook and Skype giving us the chance to keep in touch with family and friends over the holiday.
Tomorrow we move on to Antigua, Guatemala. This is another stunning colonial town. We will be there until the New Year and then cross into El Salvador.
Monday 21st-Tuesday 22nd December Arriving at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
We have had an amazing couple of days travelling from Coban to Panajachel. It is funny how the hardest days are often the best. Yesterday we we riding for over 7 hours, including getting lost and finding our way back to the correct road. We did not get off the bike for over 4 hours at one point. We were rewarded with a wonderful view of a volcano and a cold beer at the end. We cooked a lentil curry and fell asleep in a very comfy bed.
This morning after admiring the view from our apartment again, we left for the 90 minute journey to the lake.
We expected it to be easy as it is a major tourist route. We went through a town with the steepest roads I have ever seen. Must have been a 1:2 incline. I had to shut my eyes going down so no photos. It was like a fairground ride. The road was very remote, except for the occasional truck.
There were some great potholes and Dave did a lot of standing on the pegs.
Then really very unexpectedly, we came to a river where the road and bridge had completely collapsed, probably some years ago and we had to ford the river.
I got off to test the waters and take pictures as Dave rode through.
I am pleased to say that although I was calf deep in water, my Timberlands did not let in and my feet stayed dry. Dave did a great job getting himself and the bike across. I am glad he has been going on these off road holidays with Jason over the past few years.
As if by way of reward, we then reached a really exceptionally stunning viewpoint where the lake and volcanoes could be seen in all their glory.
Another Big Day
Tough Day Yesterday
16th-20th December Belize and Northern Guatemala
We crossed into Belize without any problems at the border. We actually bumped into another Brit riding a Triumph Tiger who was doing a round the world trip solo. The first overland biker we have spoken to in 5 months.
We were quite shocked to see how desperately poor Northern Belize is. As poor as anywhere we have been including Malawi, Nepal and Cambodia. People were living in tiny, falling down shacks and the landscape was pretty desolate.
Belize is tiny and you can ride across in a day but we decided to take two days so we could visit the coast. The stunning islands or cages are not accessible by bike or on our budget so we went to Hopkins on the mainland Caribbean coast instead. En route we took the Hummingbird Highway. We did not see any hummingbirds but there were plenty of potholes and some rough road surfaces at times.
We loved Hopkins. It is a real Belizean village with just a few cabanas and small guesthouses. It is pretty poor but the people are friendly and there is a real community feel.
The language in Belize is English and it was great to chat to local people without a language barrier.
We treated ourselves to a beachfront cabana as it was only for one night and we were greeted with a coconut each cut down from the nearest tree. We had a few beers and some veggie curry at a beach shack and chilled out.
A local dog adopted us as is always the case.
Belize was a British colony right up until the 1980s and in the local shop we could buy PG Tips and McVities Digestives. The biscuits were stale but our dog friend enjoyed them.
The next day we rode to San Ignacio and I spent the night with a high fever. I am pleased to say the the antibiotics have now worked and I am completely recovered from the tooth extraction.
The border crossing into Guatemala was something we had dreaded, expecting it to be long and hard. Arriving at the Guatemala side, we met a couple of young boys who were trying to earn a few dollars helping tourists through the formalities. Douglas and Osman were a pleasure to have around and we enjoyed their company and valued their assistance. The Guatemalan border staff were helpful and friendly and we crossed both sides in 1 hour and 20 minutes.
We rode straight to Tikal. This is one of the major Mayan ruins in Central America. The Mayans built this city a little after same the Romans built Ancient Rome. When you think about it like that, it is not that impressive but they did not have the wheel or metal tools.
These Mayan cities made up of dwellings, administrative buildings and temples were right in the heart of the jungle and still are today.
We arrived in the middle of the afternoon but in doing so avoided the other foreign tourists who throng in their thousands at sunrise. We loved the fact that there were Guatemalan families sitting around on the grass with children running around, as if it was still a living city.
We really enjoyed the brief jungle experience a lot. We saw an endangered howler monkey and a few other animals and birds. I made sure I got up at 5am to hear the jungle come to life and I could hear the terrifying growls and scream of the howler monkeys in the distance. We hope to encounter them more later in the trip.
The staff at the hotel in Tikal were truly amazing and it was a wonderful welcome to Guatemala.
The next day, we rode to Flores, a tiny islet, in a large lake, linked to the mainland by a causeway. There were some lovely colourful buildings and cool looking restaurants.
We stayed in a nice apartment overlooking the lake which was very comfy and we were able to cook.
Yesterday we left early for a long journey to Coban on our way to Lake Atitlan for Xmas. The journey started and ended with a lot of potholes.
At one of the towns, there is no bridge and so you have to use a ferry.Dave and I love a ferry so it was a real treat. We also go to chat with another Brit from Nuneaton who is travelling here for three weeks.
We passed some amazing Mayan towns with huge markets that we had to ride straight through. The women still wear local dress but don’t like having the pictures taken.
Late in the day, the rain started coming down and the roads become a bit worrying. Some of the bridges were out at points during the day and roads were being resurfaced in patches.There were also some uneven surfaces and huge potholes.The cloud came down low but it was still pretty.We were pretty wet and a little cold when we arrived but the hotel was cosy and welcoming and the owner brought us hot tea. We are holed up here today waiting for the rain to pass. Just two more days until we get to Panajachel and Xmas can start.
Tiger at 14,000 Miles
About ten years ago, somebody told me that if you put Metzeler Tourance (original) tyres on your bike, you can then forget about them; they will never puncture and they will never wear out. Well, our front wore out; it has the dubious honour of being the first part to be replaced twice on this trip (or any of our trips).
Going over these blog posts, it looks like it did 7,000 miles; that’s not all that much for a front tyre but, in fairness, we are fully loaded and the rear suspension is high making us more nose down than usual.
By this point we were heading for Belize and Guatemala and really had no idea where to get a tyre. With a vague feeling akin to dowsing, we headed for the Yucatan and the cities of Merida and Cancun.
In Merida, we tried Ducati, Kawasaki, Motomundo (closed down) and a BMW dealer that only had cars till we happened upon Cyclegear. Cyclegear had a rack of modern large capacity motorbike tyres like it was just normal. They didn’t have a Metz in our size so we got a Bridgestone Battle Wing.
I used my last filter and did an oil change in Puerto Escondido on the coast in Mexico. Till then, we had topped up with USA sourced 15w50 Mobil 1 but, once that ran out, we needed to do a change because in Mexico, Mobil 1 is 5w50. Silver seems happy with the new oil and we have brought a spare litre with us through Belize and into Guatemala.
General Wear and Tear
Silver is now so filthy he must only be photographed at a distance. Two bolts have rattled loose, one from the dash and one from the hugger that already has a tenuous grasp of life. I haven’t cleaned him properly since sometime in California although I did wave a hosepipe at him in Merida on the Yucatan.
Triumph triples are really smooth; the bolts have rattled loose because of the increasingly poor surfaces we are traversing.
8th-14th December-Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico to the Belize Border
It has been a funny few days. We started our time on the Yucatan peninsula with a wonderful evening and morning in Campeche, a beautiful, small colonial town painted in pastel colours.
Campeche is famous for its chocolate so we treated ourselves to breakfast at the chocolate cafe. Chocolate lovers will be pleased to learn that there are many of these cafes in southern Mexico.
We ordered the traditional hot chocolate which came with a great deal of ceremony as it was prepared at the table.
It all looked very exciting but disappointingly the drink tasted of nothing at all. The vegan sandwich was another matter. Served on local chocolate bread (bread with dark chocolate nibs in) and with a chocolate dressing, it was tasty and a little rich.
The plan had been to spend a couple of days in Merida to see the splendours of this stunning city. However, the filling from my root canal fell out a couple of days before and so seeing a dentist was a priority. It turned out that the tooth was cracked and could not be saved and so I had to have it extracted. It was a prolonged business as the tooth was hard to get out and so I was quite unwell for most of our stay in the city. Fortunately, we were staying at a lovely, large house that we had been upgraded to by our lovely Airbnb hosts so we were very comfortable but we did not see much of the city. While we were there, we managed to source a front tyre for the bike which was a huge relief as it was starting to look like we might have to ship one from Triumph direct. Apart from coming close to running out of fuel one day, and Dave doing an oil change in an abandoned, half built church, all has been quiet on the Triumph front.
We may still need to ship some parts we need in the coming weeks though.
Leaving Merida, we went to Cancun to do some more business. The riding on the Yucatan has been very dull. It is very flat but the roads are very fast. We were grateful for this lovely juice stop a couple of days ago. Here in Mexico, it is easy to get freshly squeezed licuados including jugos verdes (green juices) that are cheap and delicious.
Cancun was our last stop in real civilisation for a while so I got a much needed haircut and we stocked up on essential toiletries etc.
I caught my first glimpse of the Caribbean Sea between the banks of massive hotels that line the beach in Cancun (not somewhere I would return in a hurry but great shopping). We also managed to find an Indian restaurant (the best since North Wales nearly a year ago).En route to the border, we stopped for a night in Tulum and then another in Chetumal, a few miles from Belize. We did not manage any sightseeing as my mouth was and is still badly swollen and it looks as if I have managed to get an infection in the gum. We are laying low and hoping things improve in the coming days with some antibiotics.
So this is our last night in Mexico.We arrived exactly 2 months ago to the day.We have ridden over 4,000 miles here in Mexico and the bike clocked 14,000 miles across the whole trip today. Here is the route.
The highlight for me by far was Baja.
Next was Guanajuato.
Then San Miguel del Allende.
The time here has been wonderful but a little fragmented by job interviews on Skype and my visit to Hong Kong. It has also been blighted slightly by the ongoing issues with my tooth. There are a few places along the way that we would have liked to have seen more of but we will be back before the spring and will get a second bite at the cherry.
Reflections on Mexico
- It reminds me a lot of Thailand in many ways.Weird I know.
- I totally loved Baja. It surpassed expectations.
- The colonial towns are amazing.
- Outside of Baja, the landscape is a little disappointing.
- The Mexican food is terrible for vegans.
- It is very, very clean here and hotels are of a high quality compared to what I expected.
- People are quietly friendly.
- It is a pretty easy place to travel.
- I have not felt unsafe once since I arrived here.
We are now excited to be crossing Belize, very briefly en route to Guatemala where will be spending about 3 weeks. We will be at Lake Atitlan for Christmas where we have rented a house with fireplaces to try to create some seasonal atmosphere. Before then, we will be getting into the jungle and crossing the mountains so it looks like a lot of fun.
22nd November-7th December 2015 Morelia, Michoacan to Palenque, Chiapas Mexico
It has been a strange time over the last three weeks with travelling in Mexico, interrupted by a 10 day visit to Hong Kong for me, while for Dave, my side trip meant a long stay on the Pacific coast of Mexico waiting for me to come back. We are now back in the swing of travelling together and the trip is made all the more enjoyable by the knowledge that I have a job for next school year and we will be moving to Hong Kong.
The last place we visited before I left for Asia was Morelia in Michoacan. This city is not visited much by gringo tourists but we were so glad we went as it was stunning and very European.
There were great vegetarian restaurants and we stayed in a cute colonial house where they let us bring the bike inside the courtyard.
This is also the place where I realised for the first time that I speak Spanish. I had no difficulty communicating with the housekeeper Lupe which quite surprised me.
One of the highlights of our stay was Sunday when the main street is closed to traffic to enable local people to cycle, rollerblade and do other things right in the centre of the city that they would not be bale to do normally. We had a ringside seat, right opposite the cathedral and spent a lazy early afternoon there drinking beer.
I then went off to Mexico City on the bus. The bus was luxurious and easy and I stayed overnight at one of the airport hotels before my 23 hour flight to Hong Kong via LAX. I had a scare as I had not realised until I boarded my flight that I would have to go through immigration in the USA before getting on the flight to Hong Kong (weird I know but this is how they do it in the USA). Technically I was not allowed back into the country (until I visit another country that is not Mexico or Canada) because of my visa situation. I stayed calm and for some reason, the immigration officer did not seem to notice my illegal status and stamped me in for another 90 days. Phew!
After returning to Mexico City via Toronto, I flew to meet Dave in Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca.We spent 2 hot days there and then two days in wonderful (but also hot) Zipolite, just down the coast, drinking too much beer and eating chips (french fries) every day, while I recovered from the trip.
Zipolite is a hippy paradise consisting of stunning beach, great restaurants and a laid back vibe. We loved it there but our room was not as comfy as we would have liked, mostly due to the heat.
We headed off to the mountains for three days in San Cristobal de las Casas. This is another amazing colonial city built at 2,200m. On the way up the fog descended upon us for a while and we could hardly see 30m ahead.
Our cottage was gorgeous and fully equipped with everything we needed except a heater. Luckily we have full thermal underwear and light down jackets and we wore them for most of the three days we were there.
The town is really beautiful and atmospheric but hard to photograph due to the traffic and the lack of light on gloomy days. Most of the people here are indigenous Mexicans and they look very different to the rest of the country, much more how you imagine people look in South America. We also saw a lot of women wearing traditional dress, consisting of a thick, hairy, black skirt and a colourful shawl. You can see some if you closely at the picture below.
On our first day in town we encountered a bike rally of about 100 bikes in the main square. We have not seen many bikes since arriving in Mexico, nearly 2 months ago and it seemed they were all here in one place.
We really loved the atmosphere here but were driven out by the cold in the end.
The journey down to the lowlands was 200km of winding, mountain roads with a lot of fog and some rain.
The villages are poor here and remind me of Laos or Nepal but they are not as quaint.
Arriving in the thick, moist jungle of Palenque, our intention was to stay and extra day to visit the Mayan ruins. However, our plans were thwarted by very heavy rain, forcing us to stay in the hotel and chill out for the day (never a hardship). We will pick the ruins up on the way back through Mexico in a couple of months.
We are now heading across the Yucatan peninsula and down into Belize and across to Guatemala to arrive at Lake Atitlan in time for Christmas weber we have rented a house for the holiday.