Saturday, April 28, 2007

Around the world in 80 days!

Well ok, not the whole world exactly and it was actually 81 days but you get the picture! Helen, Donkey and I left Baja California on the 5th of Feb. and returned on 26th of April, (my 44th birthday; 43 was one thing but 44 was just too old!) having covered 6,390 miles taking in another 13 Mexican states, pretty much all of Belize, (not difficult really as it's pretty small) and a fair sized chunk of Guatemala.

Despite all the rumours of bandits, highway robbers and murderers; we met nothing but the friendliest of people on our way; I'm pleased to say the bike performed faultlessly even though it's now in need of a good service; the nearest thing we had to a problem was two punctures; in the same tyre, at the same time! We came out of our luxury hotel room, (it must have been good, after all 10,000 ants seemed to enjoy their stay there!) to find the rear tyre flat however, there was a gas station across the road with a pump and not half a mile away there was a tyre repair shop. 10 minutes and 20 Pesos, (including a 33% tip) later we were back on the road! And we like to think we're a developed country...

It wasn't all such smooth going though; slip sliding an overloaded and overweight sportbike down 25 miles off Belizean bumpy dust track, (or would have been dust had we not been in the middle of a tropical storm - it is after all a rain forest I guess!) made the potholed, corrugated Mexican roads seem like an American 8 lane highway! Running the gauntlet with Guatemalan buses in the mountains was an education; if you've seen bike couriers in London's rush hour you'll know what I mean! And no I'm not exaggerating; they slow down for no-one, (even passengers getting on and off have to do so at a jog!) overtaking long lines of traffic on blind bends while all oncoming vehicles pull of the road to make way; or is that to save themselves? It's the only time I've ever been overtaken while filtering past stationary traffic on a bike!

We bumped into a live crocodile on the beach in Mexico, a dead one on the side of the road in Belize, a four inch long scorpion in my shorts, (twice!) "hey, there's only room for one ***** in my shorts! Howler Monkeys in Guatemala that didn't see why we should be eating bananas when they had none! Then there was the packs of wild dogs that hunt in towns and are right up there with the fastest at the traffic light Grand Prix! Thankfully the sharks, sting rays and moray eels we saw whilst diving kept themselves to themselves!

We met our fair share of crazies; two of the most memorable ones were Adam from Manchester who is on a five year trip 'couch surfing' the world, ( and a German teacher who is one year into a three year solo trip on a 14 year old and 60 kilo all up weight push bike; 15,000 Kms and counting! ( Made our trip seem a little tame!

We dived in the aquamarine waters off the coast of Caribbean Mexico, along the second biggest reef in the world off the Belizean Cayes and in a volcanic caldera 5,000 ft up in the Guatemalan mountains. Accommodation ranged from hammocks, (I don't care how cool the image is - it just isn't comfortable however much you drink beforehand!) through beach front 'palapas' made from palm leaves to a Holiday Inn, (well it was Helen's birthday!) with cable TV and wireless internet.

We managed over 1,000 miles in one three day period on the way home, (target fixation I believe they call it) the longest of which was 432 miles in 12 hours! And we must have hit and I mean HIT a thousand speed bumps, or ‘Topes’ one half mile stretch of village may have a dozen topes; some painted, signed and even fairly smooth, others cunningly disguised in amongst the shadows of trees and more like riding up a kerb than rolling over a speed bump! UK drivers - be grateful for small mercies, at least your speed cameras are bright yellow!

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Flores - Poptun/Finca Ixobel (68m) - Scuzzville (can't remember the name of this wretched little town and it's revolting hotel with dirty sheets) (289m) - Panajachel (52m) - Santa Cruz (by boat) - Panajachel (by boat) - Antigua (70m) - Huehuetenanago (154m) - INTO MEXICO - San Cristobal (168m) - Salina Cruz (255m) - Zipolite (151m) - Puerto Escondido (45m) - Zihuatanejo (432m) - Barra de Navidad (332m) - San Blas (282m) - Mazatlan (192m) - La Paz (by ferry) - Los Barriles (84m)

14 Mexican States, 2 Central American countries
Average Fuel consumption 54mpg (this compares to 7.5mpg in the RV!! - now do you see why we went by bike?!!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Back in Mexico

We've spent the last 2 nights in San Cristobal at 7000 feet. It's chilly at night and first thing in the morning, but we'll enjoy it while it lasts - heading for the Pacific coast tomorrow! Yesterday we risked life and limb and got on a Mexican bus - (yes I hear the gasps of horror and shock). All in the name of time management and efficiency. We wanted to visit Palenque and Agua Azul (only coz Helen B said we had to!). It was 200km away each way from here and riding just wasn't that appealing for once. The bus tour was a bargain $30 each and carted us round to Agua Azul waterfalls, Misol-Ha waterfalls and finally Palenque Mayan ruins (safe to say I am now offically 'ruined out'!) 14 hours on a bus, but it was an enjoyable day out - we both really enjoyed the laziness of it and the opportunity for Chris to enjoy the view for once. Lots of nap time, time to listen to music on the Ipod - all that stuff we just don't do on the bike - it was worth the money just to be driven!

Met a very interesting fellow Brit on the bus tour trip – Adam. Adam is from Manchester and is ‘couch surfing the world’. So far he’s 6 months into a 5 year trip. Couch surfing is a website organisation that was set-up that people register themselves either to host or to find places to stay on their travels (with fellow members). He's writing a book about his adventures of which I’m sure they’ll be many. So far he’s successfully managed to couch surf the USA and most of Mexico – that is stay for free for the last 6 months (maybe that’s something we need to look into – perhaps there should be a ‘RV-park-in-your-driveway’ scheme!!) Check out his website here.

On our way 'home' now and it feels it. There's a kind of 'winding down' feel to the trip now. And whilst we don't want to rush too much (it is still a trip and should be enjoyed) we're eager to get back. Looking forward to re-visiting a couple of our favourite Pacific coast towns.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Racing Chicken buses & other mountain tales...

Enjoyed some beautiful scenary and riding on our last days in Guatemala. We were up in the highlands where the weather was fresh. We left Antigua and headed NW towards the border and to San Cristobal in Mexico. It was too far in one day so we night-stopped in Huehuetenango - a local market town in the mountains - a bustling place, particularly on the Monday morning as we were trying to navigate our way down the narrow one way streets to head back onto the highway - the market just sprawled itself out onto the surrounding streets so we were dodging fruit & veg stalls, hawkers with candy or T-shirts and a few stray turkeys escaping their baskets only to be hustled back by old women in traditional dress. It was a colourful, hectic place and I think we were the only gringos in town!

The roads were spectacular. A lot of roadworks going on, though that was never a problem for us on the bike - we just got waved through. That doesn't mean it's safe though - you're on your own picking your way through the JCB's and diggers, hoping that the guy doesn't miss the truck and drop a ton of dirt on top of you! It was interesting - and more so once we started racing the chicken buses...The drivers obviously missed out on their calling for Grand Prix driving and so work the buses in the highlands of Guatemala instead. Although we were generally faster, we were getting overtaken by these buses on any dangerous bits that we slowed down for - and especially through the roadworks where they have no regard for the vehicle or it's suspension and whizz past us! The only time we could nip past was when they slowed to drop people off or pick up - and even then they didn't come to a halt - for the poor woman with a laden basket it was a running stop as she flung herself off and trotted off down the hill, basket balanced expertly on the top of her head, chicken tucked under one arm!

It's not just roadworks - wandering pigs, chickens, cows and goats; a fair splattering of local kids begging for money or trying to sell us fruit or woven scarves and bracelets, old men pedalling ice-cream carts (in the middle of nowhere?!), and frail old ladies carrying the largest bundle of firewood on their heads when they should be at home knitting in front of the fire with a nice cup of cocoa.

It's crazy stuff, but so 'Guatemala', away from the tourism of the big city; where we were constantly stared at with curious fascination - after all I guess it's not every day they see a heavily laden bright red sportsbike being riden 2-up by a couple of strange looking gringos in the middle of the highlands!! Must be mad....

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter

It's Easter Sunday today and we have no chocolate! So far Helen hasn't fallen apart but that's probably coz I took her mind off it by taking her shopping at what is probably Guatemala's biggest market! Maybe she hasn't yet realised it's 'Chocolate Sunday'???

So, the market; huge! It's a twice weekly affair in the middle of Chichicastenanga, (shortened by the locals to 'Chichi' which also happens to be slang for boobs - makes asking directions kinda awkward!) which sprawls out from the main square in every direction and is impossibly easy to get lost in. You could walk round in circles for hours not knowing whether you'd 'been to this stall before'; as much as anything coz most of the stalls sell the same things and most of the sellers wear the same traditional costume!

We did the obligatory bartering and came away with a two person hammock for the bargain price of loads less than first quoted. Both parties seemed happy with the deal although I reckon the seller's smile would have been far smugger if he'd known that we now had to carry this colossus another 2,000 odd miles back to Baja on an already overloaded bike!

On the way to Chichi, (no sniggering at the back!) we had to pass through a small village called Solola which was celebrating Easter to the full; they spend the days before dying mounds of sawdust all different colours, then on Sunday morning the whole village turns out to line the streets with miles of the most elaborate of carpet - all made from dyed sawdust and flowers! From a distance you'd have no idea that it wasn't real carpet; and then once all the hard work has been done, they walk all over it and ruin it all! It's basically a huge Easter procession where who knows how many people carry who knows how many 'float' type plinths adorned with flowers, with life size statues of religious figures aboard. The pace is funeral durge slow, (I guess to put off ruining all the hard work) and starts and finishes at the church. Hours later when we passed through on our way back there was almost no evidence of the incredible artwork that had previously brightened up the village beyond belief; not even an excuse to get drunk! Same again next year?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

5 Years, 5 countries!!

We celebrated our 5th Wedding Anniversary today in Guatemala. (So far each anniversary has been spent in a different country - Cyprus, Spain, USA & Canada and now Gautelmala!!)

We've been staying the last 4 nights in 'Finca Ixobel' which is 65 miles south of Flores. It's a beautiful ranch set in the countryside, with hiking, horse riding and lots of good food. It's been a relaxing 4 days.

Tomorrow we move on south. Although we aren't exactly sure where yet - it's Semana Santa (Easter) this week - probably the biggest holiday week of the year for the Guatemalans and everywhere is very busy. We'll see what happens...!