9/25/2008 Belize ~ spinning rooms, zombies, and crooked cops.
We spent a few days in Belize and one day more than we planned. The idea was to get a couple of days rest on Ambergris Caye. We'd stash the bikes at a hotel in Belize City, meet up with Mike Haley, and head out to the Tranquility Bay Resort on Ambergris Caye. That was the plan, anyway.
Mike is a guy I'd been talking to on ADVrider.com, an adventure travel site for motorcyclists. Mike was riding by himself and looking for company, so we made arrangements to meet him in Belize City. His father is friends with an owner of Tranquility Bay Resort, so he arranged a discounted price for all of us since the resort was closed for the off-season. Our first surprise was getting to Tranquility Bay. It's about 10 miles further than the water taxis are willing to run, so we hired Chris and his dive skiff to run us up the coast of the caye. Chris was a cool guy. He asked if his family could come along, so we took a detour to the dock near his house to pick up his wife and kids.
We spent a great couple of nights out at Tranquility Bay Resort. Their accomodations are much fancier than any place Dan and I have stayed on this trip and so we relished the luxury-- fresh seafood dinners, cold beer, and great company in the form of a few staff members and some local BS'ers who hung out on the resort dock. I snorkeled for the first time in years with Dan in the morning and Mike in the afternoon. The reef drops from about 10 feet deep to over a hundred feet deep just a couple hundred yards from the dock. It's truly spectacular and I had close encounters with a huge nurse shark, several sting rays, and one of the biggest spiney lobster I've ever seen.
We returned to Belize City after two nights out on the caye and I promptly got sick after eating a delicious pork plate from one of the many street vendors. I was down for 24 hours in one of the worst cases of food poisoning I've experienced. Listless and nauseous, I laid as the room spinned.
Dan, Mike, and I left Belize City a day later, headed for the Guatemalan border. Just outside of Belize City, we were all stopped at a police checkpoint where we were asked to produce our passport, driver license, and proof of insurance. Now, when we entered Belize, we were told we needed to buy motorcycle insurance at a wooden hut a little bigger than an outhouse. But, after feeling swindled by another wooden hut a a little bigger than an outhouse that charged us for spraying "decontaminant" that looked suspiciously like water, we passed on the opportunity. Dan followed my lead after I produced my Mexican insurance issued by Sanborn. Belize is an english speaking country. I couldn't read my Sanborn policy and I was confident the Belizean police couldn't either. Smart thinking... Dan and I passed the test. But Mike just came clean, confessing that he didn't have insurance. Not good. Mike was detained and after some tense negotiating, relinquished $50 USD cash "fine" and was allowed to pass.
And that's how we spent the rest of September.
9/24/2008 Chetumal - Last stop before Belize.
We're in Chetumal tonight, staying at the Hotel Ucum for $200 Mexican Pesos. There's no a/c or TV, but they have a nice pool. We ran into some guys from North Carolina who are also staying here and traveling south to Belize and Guatemala by bus. Jackson and Patrick are from Davidson, North Carolina. Small world, huh?
9/23/2008 Coincidence?... I think not!
Weird... We've been on the road for three weeks today and we're visiting Uxmal, the "thrice built" Mayan city in the Yucatan. We sprung for a guide today to show us around the ruins and give us some of the history of the Mayan city, which was abandoned about 1,000 years ago. It is slowly being excavated and reclaimed from the jungles which have engulfed it over the centuries. We split the $35 USD fee between us to hire Jorge to show us around. He is a Mayan descendant and his features are distinctly characteristic of that race, though his English is quite good. The fascinating thing about Mayan construction is the precision in which they constructed buildings in relation to each other and to the stars. The entrances and other features of Uxmal's buildings line up perfectly with several other Mayan cities almost 100km away.
9/22/2008 Welcome to the jungle!... again.
We're headed back inland... to the jungles of the Yucatan and ancient Mayan ruins. A little hotel in Santa Elena became home for a couple of nights while we rode up and down the Puuc ruta. Here are some ruins from the first evening there, when we visited the Codz Poop (Palace of Masks-- not the Castle of Poop, as seems more indicative of the name).
9/21/2008 Night falls on another day.
Another day of enjoyable riding in Mexico. We stopped for a swim along the way, then made it to a nice little coastal town just as the sun was setting.
9/20/2008 The land that Mexico forgot...
This day was really quite astounding. We departed Alvarez on a mission to see "Las Cabezas Gigantica", giant stone heads carved by a forgotten civilization almost 2,000 years ago-- but, we found a modern forgotten civilization on the Gulf coast of Tobasco instead. As we rode along lonely stretches of highway, the road conditions worsened until we were almost stopped. Scouting around, we discovered a rudimentary path leading into a coconut tree grove and a thin cotton line strung across the road between two giant coconut trees and a weathered wooden "toll booth" off to the side. For one Nuevo Peso we were allowed passage to the other side of the grove, where we picked up the hurricane ravaged highway once again... until the next "toll booth" a few hundred yards further. We rode through about four toll roads that day, each one carefully lined with palm tree fronds to prevent the sand from sinking into the salty marsh just below the crusty surface. It was nearly dark by the time we reached the nearest town and we gratefully laid our heads on comfy hotel pillows once again.
9/19/2008 Doing nothing but riding...
We're staying in Alvarez, Mexico tonight. We've seen the Gulf Coast again for the first time since Corpus Christi, Texas and it's nice to be in the cool breeze of the sea again. And seeing the coast means fresh seafood again. Dan and I enjoyed delicious seafood platters at a little restaurant across the road from our hotel. I'm also just enjoying the ride right now. I've been doing some of my best thinking ever while riding through Mexico. There really isn't anything else to do while listening to the wind whistle through my helmet, so I might as well take advantage of the serenity and quietness.
9/18/2008 Hustling the local hustlers.
Not really. It was more like we were being hustled as we lost several beers to Hill, a local businessman and public official, and a few of his friends. But we had a blast and got some useful advice after the billiards game on where to go next. All in all, we had a fantastic time in Papantla, Mexico.
9/17/2008 Exploring our first ruins.
El Tajin was a thriving community from 300AD to around 1100AD, but no one really knows who built it. It was less than an hour ride from Papantla, so we decided to leave the luggage at the hotel and rode out to see it. El Tajin is a remarkable place. These huge rocks were hewn with very limited tools, much like the welder we visited in Papantla to have Dan's luggage rack welded after it broke from road vibration navigating very rough roads to Papantla. The guy had only a hammer, punch, and small rectangle of dark glass to shield his eyes from the searing light of his torch flame. Dan and I laughed that we were each carrying more tools than this guy had to operate his entire business. But, he did get the job done. It wasn't pretty, but it would do.
9/16/2008 Weird stuff in the jungle -- Are we still in Mexico?
On the recommendation of our good friend Dayna Lewis, Dan and I rode to Xilitla to see "La Pozas de Edward James"-- a miniature city of strange concrete structures erected deep in the Mexican jungle by a wealthy English aristocrat with lots of time (and money) on his hands. He had befriended Salvador Dali during his travels and Dali's influence seems apparent in the architecture here. Why do the rich often seem to be so eccentric?
We found a cool pool for swimming. It wasn't a very hot day, but we swam anyway. The local kids were jumping from high above the main pool.
9/15/2008 Mexican Independence Day!
9/14/2008 Hanging out in RdC.
9/13/2008 Preparing for celebration.
September 15th is Independence Day in Mexico, so we decided to stay a few nights in Real de Catorce to witness some of the festivities. Real de Catorce is a very cool little Mexican town, recently famous for being chosen as the location to film the Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts movie "The Mexican". Although it's becoming more of a tourist destination, it still retains some of its old world charm.
9/12/2008 The real road to Real de Catorce.
Dan and I said our goodbyes to Roberto and left Saltillo early in the morning. We knew we had a long ride if we wanted to make it to Real de Catorce in one day. The ride was fantastic. Mostly paved, with a 26km cobbled road and 2km underground tunnel to get to the small historic mining town high in the Sierras.
9/11/2008 Chorizo tacos-- breakfast of Champions!
We met up with Roberto, a friend Dan made on one of the motorcycle adventure websites, who offered to show us some cool rides around Monterrey. First stop was breakfast-- Roberto's favorite taco stand in downtown Monterrey. After energizing our bodies for the day, we headed off to Cumbres de Monterrey National Park for an off-road ride through the national park to Saltillo (where we would stay for the night).
9/10/2008 Saying farewell to our new friends.
It was hard saying goodbye, but our chores were done and it was time to ride on. Our Mexican insurance was purchased, Dan's Powelet outlet was installed on his topcase, and his new tires were mounted. I, on the other hand, had very little that needed to be done in Laferia. My knobby tires were wearing well and didn't need to be changed and everything else was done before I left North Carolina. We were still waiting on one thing, however-- Dan had decided to order a heated vest at the last minute and it hadn't arrived yesterday as promised. After several calls to Fed-Ex, it finally showed up at the park a little after 11:00 am. After Fed-Ex left, we packed up the last of our things, said our goodbyes, and rode to the U.S.-Mexican border at New Progresso.
Border crossing is a new experience at this point in the trip and it showed. Because of the free trade agreement, we were able to cross into Mexico without processing any paperwork to import the bikes. This was not what we needed to do and we realized it immediately as we were spit out of the calm, organized atmosphere of the international border into the chaotic, dusty streets of Mexico. So, we turned around and made a second attempt at crossing the border correctly. This turned out to be more problematic than we thought, as we didn't understand the Spanish commands from the Mexican border personnel very well and soon attracted the attention of several well-armed soldiers. As they stood around us debating how we should get back to the customs office, we were directed to drive the wrong way down a one-way entrance. No! The immigration officers did not like that and we were directed to turn around again. For the love of ____________! Can someone please make up their mind! Despite the confusion at the border and our late start waiting for Fed-Ex, Dan and I managed to ride all the way to Monterrey, Mexico by sunset.
9/7/2008 Time for a beer!
Jim grills up a special meal of sweet bread, made from the nape of the neck of a cow.
On September 7th, we rolled into Laferia, Texas to a HUGE welcome from the folks at the Pleasant Acres RV Park . The campground came highly recommended by my parents, who were full-time RV'ers for ten years. Beer-thirty, an afternoon tradition at the park during the hottest months, was a way for the group to celebrate the labor of the day and plan out the next day's work. Each day after completing our "chores" for the day (changing tires, getting motorcycle insurance for Mexico, etc.), Dan and I would join everyone under the shade of John's porch for cold refreshments and good comraderie.
9/6/2008 Time for a swim!
It was hot and time for a swim break as we rode over the Colorado River bridge. No, this isn't the Colorado River-- apparently there are several snaking their way to the coast. Still, it was refreshing and the locals told us the alligators had all been hunted out of the river long ago. We camped again in Port Aransas, which had a beautiful public campground on the beach.
9/5/2008 Attack of the Texas Lovebugs!
Galveston, Texas is an interesting place: the camp shelters in the kooky state park we stayed in looked like Aztec monuments, the lovebugs were as thick as fog, and the crowd on the beach were of the of the clawed variety. A seafood dinner at Benno's was great and the sunset was beautiful.
9/4/2008 Witnessing the damage first hand
One of the "must do's" of this trip was to visit Grandma's house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a challenge getting there. Because the power was out and none of the traffic lights were working, Dan & I rode threw chaotic traffic as we weaved our way through downed trees and powerlines. We didn't know it then, but it was great practice for city driving in Mexico and Central America. Grandma had prepared a great dinner for us, which had spoiled in the refrigerator after the power outage. We had canned soup and crackers and a wonderful visit with her.
9/3/2008 On the tail of Hurricane Gustav
The traffic was horrible from Atlanta, Georgia due to the many "re-evacuees" returning to the hurricane affected areas. Many of the campgrounds along the I-10 corridor were closed. But, after stopping and asking several times, we were able to find this quirky campground in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
9/2/2008 And then there were three...
Our first day greeted us with a little unexpected trip troubles as Dan had a rear flat about 45 minutes east of Atlanta on I-85. We replaced the tube only to have it puncture again on some exposed steel threads sticking out from the inside of the tire - time for a new one. Along comes a good samaritan, who took Dan and the rear tire to a motorcycle shop at the next exit where he bought a used super moto tire (the only 17" tire they had) and had it mounted. All said and done, we spent several hours on what should have been a half hour repair. Hot, tired, and hungry we rode to Dan's sister's house in Atlanta where we are staying the night. As we rode into the neighborhood, we ran into Deb and Aiden (Dan's sister and nephew) and picked up our third rider, Aiden, who accompanied us to the garage on his battery-powered motorbike.
For more read ...
I'm back in the States now and am in the process of updating my travel log. For your convenience, I am posting the most recent updates at the top of the page so you can quickly view the newest material without scrolling down.