Saturday, March 31, 2007
We went white water rafting on the Rio Torro yesterday, about a class 3 rapids,
a lot of fun going down the sulpher river from the Volcano Arenal. Then in the evening we rode up to the edge of the Volcano and got to see the lava erupting from fissures in the side, spewing molten rock and sparks down the side of the mountain, pretty impressive!
Although this place is full of tourists, it is very nice, relaxed, beautiful and well preserved and maintained. We are going to head to the coast today, and see how far we get.
It could get pretty crazy in the next few days as Semana Santa, or easter week begins where all of central america is on vacation and ready to party. hopefully, we can find a place to stay and relax.
Clara was actually a bit happy to see me fall in a ditch on my bike at the border crossing, after all of her tip overs, we were taking a dirt road to get around the traffic and when i looked back to see if she was ok, the road gave way beneath me! No problems, just a bit awkward.
By the way, and i will have more on this later, the hotly advertised product from mexico to here is BIG COLA. We got some photos i hope to post later of some pictures of my favorite central american product. yum yum
Thursday, March 29, 2007
We are sitting at an outdoor cafe in Arenal, Costa Rica hoping to catch glimpses of Volcano Arenal spewing some lava. (I said spewing, he, he). So far the appetizer is great, looking forward to the $9 steaks, and sleeping in our $35 room that has hot water and I get the feeling the power won't go out every day like Nica. Tomorrow some class 4 white water rafting!
We haven't been here 12 hours and we can already see this is the jewel of central america, clean and beautiful.
Amazing what you can do when you disband your army, educate your citizens, and take care of your environment!!!
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007
We have encountered many things on the road so far during our travels, including our fair share of animals crossing the road (why is it that the bull/cow/pig/horse always wants to cross the road right when we are about to drive by?), interesting scenery (volcanoes, vendors), and nice people.
Q1) Do we stink at this point? A1) Not at all, in fact I am happy to report that Kevin and I have been able to take showers EVERY day since we left! (Although the hot water has become more and more scarce the furhter south we go, but when its 90 degrees out, who needs a hot shower?)
Q2) How has the food/drink been? A2) So far Kevin's favorite food has been the 50-cent tacos in Mexico because of price, flavor, variety, and general folklore. I particularly enjoyed the food in Placencia, Belize; and, actually today we had lunch at an out-of-the-way establishment in the middle of nowhere and it was absolutely delectable: fresh fish carpaccio, grilled fish fillet with fresh steamed vegetables, rice, potatoes and salad. Yum! In addition, I have developed a slight addiction to Fanta (orange flavor, of course.) I can't pass it up whenever I see it, I've just gotta have it.
Q3) Have drank a lot of cerveza...Corona? A3) Not! As many of you know, Kevin and I are lightweights when it comes to alcohol, so altogether, we've probably had about four beers between the two of us the whole time. And, yes, Mexicans actually do drink Corona!
So, I hope this helps clear some things up...keep the questions coming.
Here are some pictures of the breath taking views here in Nicaragua...
Kevin and I spent the day looking at waterfront properties around the town of San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua. The beaches here are gorgeous and completely devoid of the throngs of people that pollute many beaches around the world. It is amazing, we spent all day looking at pristine beachfront land and must have seen no more than five or six other people on any one beach the whole time.
Clara and I are sitting on the porch of the 30 dollar landmark hotel in san juan del sur, nicaragua. The waves are gently rolling in across the street on sandy bay shore.
No fun at all.
As we were riding here yesterday we were joined on the road by tim james morgan (timjamesmorgan.com) a brit who we met 4 countries ago in
Guate. He was on the road to peru to meet with his girlfriend. He saw us driving through Rivas as he was putting a new rear tire on his BMW 1150 and zoomed along to catch us. Tiny world! We had dinner with a local american friend he was staying with, sean, who moved here from FLA.
Pretty nice meal on the beach, although we ordered 3 grilled fish, and got 2 fried ones, "welcome to nicaragua" says Sean. As with everywhere we go, drugs are apparently a problem with cocaine at 3 bucks a gram or an ounce or however you buy that stuff.
A bunch of canadiens here, can't believe they'd trade Winitoba for this in March. All you can do here is surf, fish, sail, dive and lay on the beach. No hockey rinks, although you can buy parakeets, monkeys, and large dead lizards on the side of the road!
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Friday, March 23, 2007
Clara had a few problems on the road to Miraflor today, but nothing that couldn't be fixed by Pedro the local welder. So, up at 6 am to catch a bus to support the Sandinista Commune!
Viva la Revolucion!!!
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On March 15th we left Tikal Guatemala headed for Placencia Belize. This was a harrowing day of off-road driving on some really bad roads both in Guatemala and in Belize. Basically, I was eating Kevin´s dust the whole time and trying desperately to stay upright on my bike ridding through craters on the Guatemalan roads and some kind of funky red quicksand in Belize. I felt very proud of myslef for having been able to maintain my motorcycle composure throughout the day and Kevin agreed that I had performed like a pro! The directions we had to our frined Ron´s house were ¨just drive until the end of the road and then ask for Lydia´s place and she will tell you where the house is and give you the keys.¨ Amazingly, as we were crossing the border into Belize (still about 150 miles from our final destination) the official asked us where we would be staying and when we told her that we would be staying somewhere near Miss Lydia´s place, she actually knew who we were talking about! Unfortunately, when we finally got to the end of the road and found Miss Lydia, she had no idea that we were coming and to her credit was nice enough to take the word of two very tired-looking dust monsters that we were friends of Ron and she gave us the keys to his place. The ride was well worth it as the three days spent in Placencia Belize were nice and relaxing. However, Kevin and I played the part of the Northern tourists quite well and true to form got terrible sunburns the first day out on the beach. Non the less, we went scuba diving the next day with some friendly Canadians who were staying in the house behind Ron´s.
We left Placencia well fed, rested, tanned (OK, burnt to a crisp) and eager to get back on the road, just not eager to get back on the same exact roads we had to endure on the way in. Unfortunately, that was the only way to go. But, the roads didn´t seem quite as bad the second time around (the fact that it had rained some also helped with the dust problem) and we made good time back to Isla Flores on Lake Peten Itza in Guatemala. The next morning, Kevin discovered that two important screws had allen off my bike and so we set off to find replacements on the island, and Kevin did a masterful job at working some McGyver magic to repair the damage. Once the repairs were completed and the glue had set on one of the screws we found our way to the Panamerican Highway and headed south in the direction of the border with El Salvador.
We rode hard and made it as far as the town of Chiquimula still in Guate.
On the 21st we made it to the border with El Salvador where it took us one hour to process out of Guatemala and another hour to process into El Salvador. This entailed a lot of waiting under the midday sun for Kevin and a lot of running around in the midday sun for më: making copies of documents and getting this official and that official to fill out forms and sign them and bringing them back to the first official to look at them and taking them back to the second official to re-inspenct them and so on and so on. Two things really seem to get all the border officials really twisted into a knot, one is that both motorcycles are in Kevin´s name yet I ride one of them: ¨Como asi, what do you mean, both motorcyles in his name...hmm, and you ride one of them...hmmm, como es posible esto?¨ The other thing that seems to confuse the officials is that I am the one doing all the paperwork, not Kevin - the man. It has been decided that I will take care of the paperwork at the borders as long as we are in Spanish speaking countries...yey for me! NOT!
So, after our turtle-speed border crossing we had lunch at the nicest looking fast food place either of us have ever been in, no kidding! It was called the ¨Biggest¨ and it was patrolled by an armed guard. With full bellies, we rode through El Salvador (quite a dirty and miserable-feeling country) to a miserable-looking town called San Vicente. The drive included a required drive through the capital, San Salvador, which can only be described as a place not to be visited unless absolutely necessary. It is hot, dirty, polluted, congested, dirty, congested, polluted and hot. One peculiar thing about drivers in El Salvador is that they do not observe the ¨leave the left lane for fast traffic¨ rule and so you will be picking up speed in the left lane when all of a sudden, you will have to come to a screeching halt because there is a hunk of junk jalope vehicle doing about 10m/ph!!! No kidding, 10m/ph in the fast lane. So, I think that this is what that person might be thinking about the definition of maving fast: ¨Fast, oh yes my car goes fast, I mean, it goes faster than my grandmother walks, even faster than she runs and she can really go sometimes, especially when she is trying to catch me to give me a paliza upside my head for being such a doofus!¨
The town of San Vicente is a place that has been hit very hard by wars of the pàst and by a devastating earthquaque in 2001. Their crown jewel was an Eifel tower looking structure at the center of their town square, but since earthquaque the tower is nothing more that a dangerously unstable, crumbling eye sore. We did meet a very nice lady who showed us around town and took us to see the oldest cathedral in El Salvador which also happens to be here. Kevin took some time off from ¨sightseeing¨ to play some basketball with the local youth before we retired to our hotel ¨room¨. About the hotel room, well let´s just say that I am using the word room very, very liberally here. Really, this place gave even Kevin the heebie jeebies. Needless to say, we decided to wake up really really early the next day and try to get the heck out of El Salvador as quickly as possible.
We made it to the Honduran border by 10am and once again it took us two hours to process all our paperwork. In addition, we had to hand over $80(US) in fees on the Honduran side, and this killed Kevin given that we were going to be in that country less than 3 hours.
We drove through Honduras on the Pan American highway and in about two and a half hours we made it to the Nicaraguan border. About 45 minutes later we left the border and headed to the first big city on the map for the night. So here we are, in Esteli Nicaragua. We were woken up this morning by two guards outside our hotel room discussing how much they liked our bikes at 5am, the re-woken up by the 6am alarm that sounds every morning in the city to wake up the sleepy heads that still have not gotten up! Already, Kevin and I both agree that Nicaragua is much nicer than Honduras and much, much nicer than El Salvador. There is a lot less garbage on the roads, which is not to say that they are clean, and the towns and cities seem to be more lively and the people look more ¨alive¨. In addition, we seem to be getting a better value for our money here, although all three countries are very inexpensive. For example, yesterday Kevin got his ridding boots shined in San Vicente for only four dollars and today I got my boots shined in Esteli for only 60 cents!! (Kevin felt he got robbed, or as we say in the Lora-Ospina family, he got the big salami!!)
Tonight we are going to stay in an eco-coop hut hotel in the mountains and supposedly Kevin will be able to get up at 5am and help our farmer host milk his cows. I will be sure to get lots of pictures!
PS: A peculiar thing is that I don´t like riding on mountain roads that don´t have the lines painted on them, it makes me feel that if the lines aren´t there then I am likely to fall off the edge which may not happen if the lines are there...weird, I know!
Thursday, March 22, 2007
El salvador who,
Currently waiting for the pleasure of paying 80 bucks for the pleasure of riding through honduras for 2 hours.
El salvador was grim, dirty, and depressing. But the best roads since usa. Go figure
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Sunday, March 18, 2007
We left New Orleans under threat of a tornado watch, with high hopes, high winds, and a certain sense of bravado to face the unknown. We weren’t half an hour down the road when we started getting large wind gusts which were blowing me all around as we passed the swamps and wetlands around Lake Pontchatrain. The rain soon followed. In strong spurts of downpours, followed by drizzle, then nothing. Then the process would start over again. I was filled with the excitement of starting the journey, so I wasn’t concerned and I was hoping Clara felt the same. She was being a trooper as far as I could see in my rear view mirror, taking the curves and wind on the wet highway with no problems at all.
As the miles racked up we left the fertile land and pine trees of Louisiana and entered Texas. The change was almost immediate with vast expanses of open land, occasionally herds of cattle, and more rarely rows of land ready for the spring plant. The wind was still whipping from the Gulf, a constant companion giving us no real barometer of whether every day was going to be like this on these bikes or if today was an anomaly. My GS1200 is much taller than Clara’s specially lowered GS650. She is about half the size of me, and my bike as loaded up with a large backpack and tent strapped to the back, with panniers and tank bag attached constantly, whereas she just has the tankbag and panniers much lower to the ground. My cross section it seemed to me was about as sail-like to the wind as any Round the World bike would dare be. Clara later confirmed that she could see me fighting the draft vigorously while only affecting her slightly.
As dusk fell we entered the vast expanse of the Houston area. I wanted to get through the city in the evening so that we wouldn’t fight rush hour, alleged to be among the worst in America, in the morning. As dusk turned to night we were in the center of town and after 330 miles and a couple of wrong turns Clara was clearly tired, plus she doesn’t like to ride at night as her eyesight is not well without enough light. Finally, at one turnoff, the bike fell over on her and we decided to find the nearest hotel, where we passed out for the night.
The next morning at breakfast I got punked by the Indian American manager at IHOP. When he brought the bill he told me my card (which should have an unlimited spending amount) was rejected. I quietly freaked out, not noticing the wink he gave to Clara. I was not prepared for this first thing in the A.M. with Clara’s brake light not working, her falling over and now my main source of funds being declined! After calling Citibank and finding out nothing was amiss, I was still in a foul mood as the manager apologized as we went out the door. Looking back, it was kind of funny and he did get me good, we should have taken a picture with him.
The next day it was off to Brownsville, another 300 or so miles of hot, windy Texas conditions. Arid land passed again with the ranches, low vegetation, and cows. Cars on the highway were intermittent, and I pointed out to Clara the many, many central Americans driving pickups filled with laundry machines, refrigerators, and other household goods, often with another pickup truck being towed behind. Clearly a living could be made by taking a 10 or so year old American used vehicle down to their home country and selling it for a profit. We would later see these same guys all the way down through Mexico and beyond. We passed the birthplace of Nolan Ryan and stopped to increase the tire pressure of my bike from 30/30 to 37/39 pounds respectively. I was still getting used to my bike, playing with different suspension settings. I put Clara’s preload on her rear higher but at this point in her motorcycling career, she can’t tell the difference, which is tough with every road being new, every scene fresh, and her getting used to the bike as well.
We spent our last night in Brownsville cleaning the bikes, fixing Clara’s brake light problem by hacksawing off her brake lever knob so that the lever would close properly,(against her vehement protestations, although it did fix the problem) jumping in the pool, ordering a pizza and resting up for the real adventure beginning the next morning in Mexico!
One mile down the road in the morning, my BMW had a problem! A yellow warning light and the image of light bulb appeared on my instrument panel. I paid closer attention to the bike but figured it was probably due to me playing around with the taillight the night before when I was diagnosing the problem with Clara’s bike.
5 miles down the road, we hit the border. The Americans waved everyone through and we stopped at Mexican immigration where Clara’s excellent foresight came into play. It turns out the Mexican authorities had a problem with the ownership of both motorcycles being in my name. Clara had brought a copy of our Marriage License!!! which saved the day. They took copies of that, our registrations, our titles, etc., etc. about $60 dollars of our money and two immigration slips for $23 bucks apiece that we had to pay at a bank somewhere in our travels. While Clara was patiently dealing with this for about an hour and a half, I talked to this nice family from Virginia who was dealing with the same document issues. They had sold their family farm of mostly cows, pigs and other farm animals to move to the Yucatan permanently. The wife was a sort of missionary, and they were going to buy another farm in Mexico. They were bringing their three grade school kids, four dogs and just an eight foot U-Haul trailer of their stuff. They were tired of the regulation and strangulation of the US, and wanted a freer, more friendly atmosphere to raise their homeschooled children. The wife and children had been living in the Yucatan for almost a year and she said that the children already had “better, more real friends” in Mexico than they did in the U.S. Very nice folks, well traveled, and we spoke of maybe meeting up if our travels took us to their new part of the world.
We left the border post and entered another world: Matamoros, Mexico. Quintessential Border Town. We weren’t 5 minutes into the country when Clara said to me at a stoplight “welcome to the jungle!”. It was hot, dirtly, dusty, smelly, run down, chaotic, polluted with no clear signage. If Mexico was all going to be like this, it was going to be a long, long, difficult ride. We took a couple of incorrect turns by following the signs, then circled around back to within 2 blocks of where we started before finally getting on the road to Ciudad Victoria. We were already many hours into our day and just 6 miles from where we slept, but in two different worlds. At this point I had no idea what to expect, and I was looking at the map on my tank bag to see if there were any towns 20 or 40 miles in that we might be able to stay in. We stopped to take a picture at the sign leaving from the town, gave an “air kiss” and headed down the road.
It soon opened up into a delightful country highway with farms on either side of the road, the ground tilled, without plants as they were waiting for the spring growing time. It was prettier than southern Texas with the farms coming almost one after another, rolling past on the decent 2 lane road. We came to the nice town of San Fernando(?) where we exchanged some money, had a delightful lunch of 50 cent tacos, and started to learn how the Mexicans have no idea about highway numbers. Every direction is just given by whatever the next town is. So you don’t ask “where is highway 101?” you ask “where is the road to Ciudad Victoria?”. Another interesting thing they do is take a plastic bag, fill it with water and nail it to the wall. This allegedly keeps the mosquitoes away. “que Padre!” as they say in Mexico, “very cool”
We were making good time around 4 pm as we came to a major fork in the road. The friendly gas station attendant said we could make it to the next major city, Tampico, in a couple hours. So, we decided to wick it up, and take the road less traveled. We took the left turn and experienced motorcycle Nirvana for the next 90 miles. The late afternoon sun illuminated the rolling hills, with the mountains in the distant background. There was lush vegetation, highlighted by the occasional twenty foot tall palm like trees capped off with beautiful white flowers like strings of large white puffy grapes, where both the fruit and the stems were all homogenous. We didn’t find out what they were but children and vendors were selling them at roadside stands, and the ever present speed bumps of which each town had at least 2, one coming, one going with larger villas having many each of them with a vendor at the side or often with a 6 or 8 year old kid in the middle of the road selling fruit, or drinks, or whatever the native specialty was.
Clara was OK with us putting the hammer down and we went almost 80 mph over the excellent roadway, with long straightaways, banked curves and only the occasional car. I was thinking of what a wonderful road this was and imagining on the proper sportbike one could easily average the “tonne” as the British would say, and easily see the fun side of a buck-fifty. This was one of the longest, most fun roads I’ve ever traveled, highly recommended to anyone of the two wheeled persuasion.
We reached Tampico at dark and it was chaos. Clara was exhausted, I was tired and the City was big, imposing and not well marked. We stopped at a Holiday Inn and they quoted an expensive room in dollars, so we moved on. I turned the wrong way down a one way street, got honked at, turned around, took a road towards the beach and was immediately in a rundown area of town. We agreed to stop at the first hotel we found which turned out to be a “No tell, Motel” in this case called “Microhotel”. These are places where you come to do the deed and not be seen. Here is the home of adultery, premarital sex, and the occasional adventure motorcyclist. You pull in, are assigned a room number and drive into the assigned parking space, a door closes behind you so no one can see your license plate or who is in your car, and a stair leads up to your room. You pay in 4 hour shifts, and the laundry machines are rumbling constantly. Our room had a mirror on the ceiling, a mirror in place of the headboard, and a mirror on the opposite wall. Above that mirror was a TV which was tuned into a rotating porn channel, albeit in English. But the price was right, about $25 for 3 4 hour sessions: we promised to be out by 8 a.m.
The next day we had a heck of a time leaving the city, which was overcast and threatening. Kevin ignored the advice of the gas station attendant before bringing us into a big circle, then taking a left turn at a red light, over some railroad tracks and into the waiting arms of the local constabulary.
(insert story here)
The day after the day from hell, we headed off, well rested and well fed on hotcakes. We decided not to try our BMW’s out at the motocross track signposted on the telephone pole, although it certainly piqued my interest. Around 10 miles down the road, everything changed. We reached the top of the climb which led to the central plateau that much of the main part of Mexico is located on, and the land opened up into wide expanses of open land and fields with some faraway peaks. Gone was the tropical dense forest, undergrowth, and mist. After the tumult on the roads the day before, we opted for the tollway which began (or ended, depending on which way you are going!) here. Since we only had about 70 miles to go, it proved not to be worth it as we had to pay about 7 dollars to go seven miles before the highway became free to all. Needless to say, we were virtually the only vehicle on the toll road. We were heading to Teotihuacon, the spiritual home of Mexico, ancient city, and site of the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the moon. Teotihuacon is a about an hour northwest of Mexico City, and before we arrived we could already see the thick layer of smog hanging over the capital off in the distance.
We stayed in Hotel De Luna, in San Juan de Teotihuacon which turned out to be a delightful, friendly town. We visited the thriving marketplace just off the central square that all colonial towns (read: all towns) have. These are made up of a central plaza, usually with the Catholic church overlooking them. The plaza is usually a park, with some greenery, some statues or monuments and maybe a bandstand or other ceremonial platform. There well may also be some government buildings, and then lots of stores and restaurants on the outside of the road surrounding the plaza. The outer roads usually surround this plaza in a sort of grid pattern, before meandering off in different directions towards their various locales.
We had lunch at one of the outdoor vendors, found internet for about a dollar an hour, and a seamstress to fix a rip in my riding pants for $1.50. We lazily walked through town, checking out the shops, got the bikes cleaned, took care of some business and had dinner to prepare for the next day at the pyramids.
Mexicans identify their home as the country of the Sun and the Moon, and you will see these symbols everywhere you go. The symbols are on pottery, stationary, ceramics, decorations, throughout the country. This stems from the ancient city of Teotihuacon, which was a huge city, the most powerful in Mexico in older Pre-Colonial times. It was abandoned, probably due to environmental destruction and the citizenry imploding, well before Cortes got to Mexico. However, the remains of the City were never lost, especially due to the two huge pyramids which remained a holy site and a spiritual center for people to visit right up to conquest. The Pyramid of the Sun has about the same footprint as the Great Pyramid in Egypt but is only a third as tall, about 210 feet. The Pyramid of the Moon is maybe 2/3 the size of the Moon. The City was well planned out with a large thoroughfare at least 60 feet wide and miles long (they still haven’t found the end) with the Moon pyramid at one end, and the Sun Pyramid in the middle. There is also the Temple of the God Quetzalqatl, inside a huge square compound, with many of the original stella still intact on the face of the layers of the temple. These are in the design of animals, the rings of life present in much of the ancient architecture, and of the winged serpent, the representation of Quetzalqatl.
Now a funny story about Quetzalqatl. A couple of months before we were leaving on our trip Clara and I were joking around about how we would fare on the trip and I remarked how because of my pale skin and the fact that I am clearly an alien that the natives would regard me as the “third coming of Quetzalqatl!” She didn’t believe me, and thought I was making the word “Quetzalqatl” up. It had been a long time since I studied my Mexican history, and I had picked the name out of my head in an instant, so because of her ignorance of the name of the Great God I had a bit of self doubt that maybe I had remembered the wrong name. Of course, I was correct, and Quetzalqatl is everywhere in Mexico as one of the two most significant Gods of the ancients. I have been eager to point out the inscriptions and monuments to him at many of the ruins and the Museums that we have visited along the way, much to Clara’s chagrin. Alas, the Mexicans did not bow down before me and offer to give me their treasures as tribute.
We climbed all the pyramids, took pictures, visited the excellent museum and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It is not to be missed, and we thought it was great that we were sharing the ancient city with busloads of schoolchildren who were getting a firsthand look at their history.
The embarrassing thing about the two Pyramids, which is quietly noted then swept under the table at the ruins is that archeological evidence has shown that they were not dedicated to the Sun and the Moon! It has been found that they were temples to the Rain God and Fertility God respectively. Sometime after the collapse of the city, with the Spaniards coming in and eradicating the old religions in favor of Catholicism, this history was lost not to be rediscovered until the 20th Century. Clearly, the Mexicans have decided to quietly acknowledge these facts in the textbooks and to keep forever the symbols of their country as the land of the Sun and the Moon. It would be like discovering a scroll that Alexander the Great was a complete idiot, who happened to have a very hardcore, manipulative, Vice-President named Dick who had the backing of all the big time Macedonian businessmen who had a farfetched dream of taking over the Middle East for their own profit….well, you get the picture. Would the Greeks rewrite history after associating with Alexander for thousands of years in favor of a Dick? No, the scholarly manuals would note the truth while the schoolchildren, and especially the tourists would hear all about the Great history.
When we left the pyramids, we discovered that one of the bars that holds Clara’s Touratech panniers on had fallen off, or had been taken off, as it is fairly unlikely for it to have fallen off in the two mile ride from the hotel to the site. Either way, it needed to be fixed. We asked at the local tire repair shop, and the helpful gentleman there told us about a machine shop in the next town. We grabbed the next taxi, which had a driver clearly constantly ready for the call up to an open driving slot in NASCAR. As we lurched over the omnipresent speedbumps in every town in Central America, Clara told him that we’d like to arrive alive, and he replied to just imagine that you on an airplane! So, I quietly fastened my seatbelt without waiting for the instructional video and stewardess.
We arrived safely to the machine shop, which are the same the world over: black soot and metal shavings covering the walls, the ceilings, the floors, the uniforms and the faces. Sparks flying and loud machines, cutting, drilling, polishing, welding whatever needs to be done. In this case, a tanker truck parked out front with two guys and a welding unit and 70/30 tips crawling around underneath the rear suspension, axle and tailgate. The men inside are at most gruff, and almost always ultimately friendly especially for a comrade of the mechanical arts who has an intriguing story and gadget to fix. It is usually good form to show up a bit dirty maybe with your own wrench or visegrip and to show some mechanical aptitude by taking off the part needed to be fixed or explaining what you’ve done so far to try and remedy the problem, or the best is to display how you’ve used wire, a screwdriver and piece of discarded flotsam from the side of the road to make it 69 miles to them, your imminent savior! At the very least, try and know the difference between metric and standard threads, or show the proper respect for a person who can take a hunk of metal and craft it into just the thing you need, which seems to be a dying art in the “modern” world these days where we just throw things away and overnight express a new one to our mailbox by 10 a.m.
This place did not vary from the norm, with the exception that Miguel, the owner’s son, and all the rest of the men were initially very friendly and helpful. We discussed what needed to be done, I brought a sample of what needed to be made from another pannier to leave with him, he dialed in his calipers for a precise measurement, he asked if he could make it in a slightly altered way from the original which I acknowledged was fine and he told us to come back in two hours.
We walked around this tiny town, again to the central plaza with the Church, saw the field with basketball court, two wooden backboards and missing rims which was a common site in Mexico, and tried to find a replacement handlebar protection bracket bolt for Clara’s bike. She apparently had a contract to field test the stock one for how many tips it could take before snapping, and I wanted to have a spare for the day we found out. We didn’t have much luck at the local “turnillos” which is the name of the street front hardware stores but we did find another 50 cent taco dealer. (Is that how the rapper got his name? Did he used to be a taco vendor?) Not that it is hard to find them, they are everywhere on the streets, usually with a big vat of grease being fueled by a propane burner, some Tupperware bins filled with vegetables they are cutting up and salsa sauces, and one to a few types of meats or fillings, usually chicken as beef is more expensive here. In Mexico we ended up trying beef, pork, mushroom, cow stomach, some other stuff difficult to describe in a non hieroglyphic language, and of course chicken. Many people will warn you away from these street vendors but I felt that the fact that you could see them chopping up fresh vegetables, you saw them cooking the meal in front of you, ‘how bad could it be!’. Luckily, probably, Monctezuma was not to have his revenge on us. We also found a nice hairdressing place where I got the best $3 haircut of my life, while watching old Batman TV shows in Spanish out of the corner of my eye, hearing Adam West’s voice over save Robin from the “crocadilo’s” in the vat that Pharaoh had placed him in. It was a productive day, capped off by Miguel having the part done for us for the grand price of $15, plus his shop had the bolt we needed. We thanked him profusely, told him we’d be back to take his picture, and found a cab home.
Back at the hotel we discovered that the part was about a tenth of a millimeter too wide, so we grabbed the camera and the part and rode back on my bike, where he was happy to grind it down a bit and repaint it. Alas, we had forgotten the camera to the battery!!, but we found out his hours the next day and promised to come by before setting off to Mexico City. At this point, they probably thought us a bit silly, but they were very accommodating the next morning when we stopped by with all our gear loaded up, to take a picture. The world is filled with Good People!
Through the Horizons Unlimited website, we had hooked up with Garry Dymond an ex-Brit English teacher who had lived and raised a family in Mexico for 30 years. He agreed to meet up with us, put us up and show us a bit around the city. We followed him on his Honda CBR1000 Hurricane into the haze, maze, and amaze of Mexico City, land of the quick honk, the omnipresent green and white Volkswagon Bug Taxi, snarled traffic, lane changing and of course barely present signage. We passed through the business district with some very neat modern architecture, tall A frames, and buildings evoking glass sails, before stopping (on the sidewalk) at the famous roundabout with the protecting winged goddess on the high, high pedestal overlooking the City, and the tombs of some of Mexico’s most famous pioneers buried at the base (open to the public if you ask nice!). Garry lived and worked on the south side of the 25 million person strong city, and we were able to get a glimpse of the central exhibit and tourist areas as we rode through. There are multiple museums, a large concert hall, zoo, biological garden, and park surrounding the whole area, capped with a huge flag of Mexico.
Over the next few days we visited as many of these sites as we could, which were so interesting that we decided to stay an extra day. Highlights included the Museum of Archeology with is filled with tremendous exhibits of all stages and areas of Mexico’s history. The Museum of Modern Art, which was not as big as I expected, still was fascinating. It held famous paintings such as the “Two Fridas”, and many other works which were graphic, interesting and questioning of Mexico’s culture, values and women’s position in society. Plus the usual supply of metal and wood forms twisted into weird shapes that a common person like me could never begin to understand the significance of. We saw the traditional upside down swinging from the 70 pole of four traditionally dressed dancers, each time circling the pole 13 times, while one man sits on the top of the pole playing the traditional drum and flute music.
Around the huge main central square of the City, known as the Zocalo, there is the Palacio National, the Grand Cathedral and the Templo Mayor, amongst other Colonial era buildings. The central square is huge and open, a square block, with stone pavers and a huge flagpole in the middle that waves the national flag at least 60 feet x 30 feet, put up and down by military procession every day.
The Templo Mayor is an ancient site of great pyramids built one right over the other that the Spaniards destroyed when they built on top of it. Only recently rediscovered, it has been excavated with a fine museum to the side. This is the site where the Aztec Calender was discovered, the huge stone dial which at first they thought was a type of compass of the sun, moon and stars but has recently been interpreted to be inscriptive monument, perhaps were sacrifices were held. It turns out that the whole of central Mexico City was built upon the old remains of the great Aztec city where Cortes outsmarted Monctezuma and took control of the region. Many, many of the downtown buildings are built on top of the ruins of the previous buildings, all of which are slowly sinking into the mud base of what used to be a lake.
On the Thursday that we were there, there was a huge rally of many different groups in the Zocalo. In particular it was the International Day of the Woman, and there were busloads of women from the Queretaro region, who were wanting their husbands to be released saying that they were just political prisoners. There were other groups requesting equal pay for equal work for women, a longer school day for the children so that women could hold jobs, childcare, safety at work, and other quality of life issues. They were joined by many, many unions and different groups from around the country, all marching in 3 different phalanxes from different parts of the city to converge on the main square. I estimated about 30,000 people in all, “companeros” in the fight for dignity, against privatization of the public utilities and other industries, safe work conditions and against the president of the republic, whose disputed victory in the last election is still questioned by many, many people in Mexico. The Palacio National has been the official home of the President of the Republic for ages, but newly elected Calderon has decided to live and work in another area of town, and it is easy to see why. Whenever he has any official business at the Palacio National there is some sort of protest held, shutting down the streets and causing a huge commotion in the square. The Mayor of Mexico City is from the opposing political party, so he gives them permits to shut down all the streets for the marches, thus making the already terrible traffic even worse. Our hosts told us that the main Boulevard in the City was filled with tents and protesters for MONTHS after the election, with no cars allowed to pass. Not exactly a great way to run a world class city.
The rally started at 4 p.m., and we knew that the taking down of the flag occurred each evening at 6 p.m. Kevin desperately wanted to see and participate in the “Revolucion!”, as we could see and hear the marchers during the day walking the streets with their calls and responses of the megaphones and the crowds. We wound up our sightseeing and took the subway back to the Zocalo. A growing throng of people awaited us, randomly arranged around a big stage, with signs from the different represented groups held alight, and large picture banners of Karl Marx, V. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin(!) strung up on a rope bordering the street on one side of the stage. There were people dressed up in costume, and many with shirts showing their particular allegiance. The speakers implored the crowd to work together for women’s rights, for the worker’s rights, for the rights of the indigenous people, and for a stronger Mexico.
We drifted towards the flagpole as it neared 6 pm, as Kevin figured if anything was going to happen that was the most likely place of action. The square was crammed full of people, and the government had to take the flag down at 6 o’clock. As the time approached and the Marine trucks drove into the square, the speaker asked the crowd to show their peaceful nature, and that the people had the respect of the nation and the traditions of Mexico. Some of the organizers with armbands came and started to make a circle around the flagpole, slowly prodding the crowd to make a 30 meter wide circle so that the huge flag could be dismounted. We were strategically placed in the front row, jealously guarding our position. After some time, the military decided they had enough room and the procedure began. First the military band came in, precisely marching and playing, then the honor guard armed with M-16’s and bayonets, and finally that days lucky (or not!) selected unit and upper brass to handle the flag removing. Most hats were removed and the crowd went silent as the band played, and the flag started to come down. And the band kept playing, and playing, as the flag slowly came down, the wind whipping and making things more difficult than they already were since the troops had less room than they needed because of the pressing crowd. It took 14 men to handle the flag, wrapping it us as they could as it came down, careful to not let it touch the ground. But not careful enough as the stress of the situation evident in their faces led to the flag drooping and touching very seriously at least once and just skirting it a couple other times, and a couple soldiers losing their hats, not good form for the National Flag. Also taking from the dignity of the situation was one of the ever present in Mexico stray dogs taking advantage of the one bit of open space in the square and hanging out, and seeming to stand at attention during some of the music, inside the circle that was opened up for the soldiers. All in all, not perfectly dignified but they closed well, as they took the flag on their soldiers and marched into the huge oak doors of the Palacio National on the edge of the square, followed by the armed guard and the band playing the Mexican National Anthem being sung by the military and civilians alike.
As they marched towards the flag’s nighttime home, we followed in behind with Clara taping the scene, and the stage announcers thanked the crowd for showing the proper respect for Mexico and starting a call and response “Viva the rights of the Mexican workers”. The crowd would throw their fists into the air “VIVA!”, of course Kevin fell right in wanting to be supportive of the compeaneros! At the gates of the Palacio some of the people tried to follow inside but they slammed the huge ancient oak doors shut after the last of the troops. Two women in togas and breast plates kept yelling something about political freedom at the door as the TV cameras rolled. All in all, it would seem as if the people have at least a modicum amount of political freedom if they are allowed to shut down the streets of the capital, take over the main square of the country, and say whatever they want in public while displaying a large picture of Josef Stalin. I don’t think Stalin would have allowed that!
It was a fascinating day, topped off with an evening with our hosts Yvonne and Gary. They took us to the “square of the Mariachi’s”, a place in Mexico City where all the Mariachi bands hang out and look to pick up some work. It is sort of a red light district for groups or 4 or 5 guys in sombreros, matching outfits with silvers studs, and trumpets and guitars. As you drive slowly along the street guys come out at you from in between the parked cars: “hey, you need a mariachi band?” as if you are buying some black market entertainment. The main square is filled with different bands hanging together, most of them traditional, a few with electric guitars or other modern accoutrements. It is a lively atmosphere where lovers on park benches will be serenaded with traditional songs that everyone knows, and a ring of restaurants and stores surrounds the square which houses statues of the most famous Mariachi singers in Mexican history, with a couple statue bases yet to be filled.
We had dinner at a fun tourist trap, where you had to pay a cover charge in addition to your food which covered the entertainment which included male and female singers, a traditional mariachi band in the background, a cowboy who does rope tricks, Mexican dancers, and later a band made up of about 9 boys who looked to be from the same family playing more modern yet traditional Mexican music, all overseen by an MC with shiny gun in his holster. There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule of the Mariachi code that the shortest, fattest, ugliest, toughest looking guy has to play the biggest guitar, and the tallest, gangliest and the second toughest looking guy has to play the tiniest guitar. The other clear thing is that all the Mexicans (and many other Central and South Americans) know all the Mariachi songs, as the people would sing along with whatever number is played.
As we left the restaurant to peruse the square we were treated to a young couple on the bandstand, he proposing marriage to her on his knee, while their well dressed friends surrounded them and three mariachi bands broke out into celebratory playing when she accepted! It was fun, joyous, and an experience surely no one will forget.
The two other major reasons for a mariachi band is to play your party, usually to close it down at 2 or 3 am, and also to show your undying affection for the one you love. The standard procedure is to hire the band (they go for around a $100) and show them the way to your sweet petunia’s while they follow you in their ‘mariachi mobiles’, vans and station wagons that surround the streets around the square. When you arrive at her house, they set up under her window and serenade her while you speak of your love for her, or do shots of good tequila and chime in, or perhaps the best of all is to share shots of great tequila you bring with the father of the one you hope to make yours. Of course this should happen at midnight, so you wake the world and there can be no misunderstanding about who and what the ruckus is all about. “QUE PADRE!!!”
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
We took a harrowing boat ride today across the mighty rio usumacinta which forms the border between mexico and guatemala. We put the two bikes into a tiny boat almost 4 feet wide and about 25 feet long. Clara and I had our hearts in our throats a couple times as we started swaying through some rapids and whirlpools (we were "riding" the bikes in the boat). After about the longest half hour of our life we made it to bethel, guatemala. I thoroughly impressed the boatmen by previewing the next new exercise in kevins motorcycle safety course "ride the bmw up the plank of the boat, take a 30 degree jump to the left off the stern then ride straight up the muddy embankment while yelling 'woohoo' with a spanish accent."
Clara thinks they liked the woohoo the best, plus not having to push the bikes up the hill.
We were greeted by an envoy of four "cerdos" (pigs).
Just for the heck of it we stopped at imigration up the road, filled out a form, took a picture with official and headed along our way. All customs should be so easy.
(Of course kevin wanted to take the boatmens advice and smuggle into the country two kilo's up the river, but clara's clear thinking won out!)
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Friday, March 9, 2007
Upon leaving the pyramids, we discovered that there was a part missing fro my pannier. We were not sure if the part had fallen off at some point or if it had been messed with by a potential thief, either way we had to find how to replace it or risk having my pannier fall off at some point in the future. So, we set off to try to find a machine shop. We were told that there was no machine shop in the town we were staying but that there was one in the next town over. We caught a taxi to take us to San Martin and told him to take us to the "torno en la prepa" (mechanic by the school)and he knew just where we needed to go. He also wante to seem to get there in quite a hurry as he peeled off the road an proceeded to drive at full speed down the street not even slowing down for any of the numerous speed bumps. When I jokingly commented that we would like to get to our destination alive and in one piece, the taxi driver said "just pretend you´re on a plane and relax". We made it to the shop and spoke with the owner´s son, Miguel, who assured us that he could make an exact replica of the part we needed in two hours. So, in order to pass the time, we went to have some lunch (50 cent tacos from a street vendor) and Kevin decided that he wanted to get a haircut because it would only cost him $3. Two hour later we returned to the machine shop and Miguel had our part just as promised and it was exactly what we needed.
On Wednesday the 7th we woke up and went to San Martin to take a picture with Martin and to thank him again for having helped us. We then returned to San Juan de Teotihuacan to meet up with Gary Dymond, a fellow motorcyclist whom we met on the website dedicated to motorcyclists who are making ´round the world (RTW)trips. Gary is a Britton who lives in Mexico City and graciously offered to take us in and show us around for the duration of our stay in the city. We followed him him into and through the craziness of midday traffic in Mexico City. It is a true driving free-for-all here. It is: no-holds-barred-rules-out-the-window-save-yourslef-defensive-and-offensive-driving. Then Gary took us to Xochimilco where we took a nice boat ride down some canals in the south of the city. Kevin and I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening visiting various sites in the city while Gary was at work. We visited the Templo Mayor, the Cathedral and walked around all of the downtown area around the Zocalo. We took the metro a number of times and were impressed at how clean, timely and cheap it was.
Thursday we went to the museum of archeology and the museum of modern art. While we were at the museum of archeology, we heard a march going on outside and found out that the people were marching for women´s rights and the rights of the peasants in small towns and that there would be a rally at the main square (the Zocalo) later on that afternoon. So, after the museum of modern art we headed off to the Zocalo so that Kevin could join the "revolucion" and I could get to see the ceremony of the lowering of the flag. Kevin felt very much at home among the socialists rising up against the proletariat and he kept saying "the revolution will not be televised" and "viva la revolucion!" Anywy, when it came time for the ceremony of the flag the masses at the square made room for the regiments of marines to come in and proceed with the tradition of taking the huge flag down and bringing into the Palacio for the night. Kevin and I found ourselves at the front row for the whole ceremony and it was quite exciting given the circumstances. That night we went to "dinner-and-a-show" with Gary and his wife Ivonne at Garibaldi square which is where all the mariachis hang out waiting to be contracted for gigs.
Last night we made decided to stay here one more day so that we could see two of the most important sights we had not had time to see yet. Today we visited the Palacio Nacional and got a fantastic free guided tour from Julieta who explained to us every important aspect of each of the numerous huge frescoes by Diego Rivera which adorn the walls of what was once the residence of the president. Then we went to the castle of Chapultepec; a fabulous castle on top of a mountain which overlooks the whole city and was once the home of Maximilian and Carlota and a number of other rulers of Mexico. Then Ivonne picked us up and took us to dinner at Coyoacan, a great little bohemian area whith lots of restaurants and shops.
Tomorrow we get back on the motorcycles and head south. It has been nice resting from the riding but we have walked so much every day that we have probably gone to bed just as tired as if we had been riding for 7 hours!
Monday, March 5, 2007
We played it perfectly, kevin went up and started asking him for directions and clara gave him the pissed off wife look and explained that kevin was very agitated because we just wanted to get out of town before the guy could even get in a word edgewise about giving us tickets or shaking us down for bribes. After giving us the exact same directions we had previously received from the gas station attendant we headed off down the road, got onto the highway and out of the hell town known as Tampico, MX.
After riding all day yesterday through the most miserable conditions yet, we have finally made it to Teotihuacan; the site of the largest ruins in Mexico.
Saturday, March 3, 2007
Friday, March 2, 2007
Thursday, March 1, 2007
We are leaving today; in about half an hour our Big trip begins. Kevin has his cool new helmet painted by our great friend Jim McCarthy, I have my MA license in order (passed both my exams, yey!), and we have electricity coming for our house in NOLA. We had a great send-off BBQ yesterday with some of our friends here at our loft and we had a good night's sleep. All is good and it is finally time to go!