Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 78 (127km): To the beach!

Again the rain was coming down this morning. It is sort of the theme of our adventures in Costa Rica. Luckily it cleared long enough for us to pack the bikes and set out. Actually we put on our rain gear for nothing cause it didn't rain on us at all.

We were heading to the coast. Nowhere in particular, just to a nice beach somewhere. We figured we could decide when we got there. Soon enough we got to Puerto Limon. We didn't stick around but from the road it looked like a dirty place. All we could see was a cruise ship at the dock. We quickly took a right and headed for the Panamanian border. The road paralleled the ocean for a little while and then snaked inland. 
Banana country!

We decided to stop for some food in Cahuita. It is a little sleeper of a town on the coast. The lunch was actually quite amazing, but again pricey. Food in Costa Rica is on par with prices in Canada. It's quite shocking actually. We picked up a guide book for the beaches and began to make some plans over lunch. 
mmmmm nachos

Our first choice was Puerto Vargas in a national park. After lunch we drove up there but found out that they no longer offer camping. Okay Plan B was to check out a few campgrounds we'd read about in town. We found them all right but they were pretty sketchy, though in fairness they were quite cheap and near the beach. We decided to give camping a miss and went into town to check out a cheap hotel option. We ended up staying at the hotel. By the time we got the bikes unpacked it was windy and rainy so we didn't even go to the beach.Time flies when you are trying to find a place to stay.

So we didn't achieve our goal of the day: going to a nice beach. I guess tomorrow is another day.

Day 77 (105km): Put a little colour in your cheeks, garden naked

What a good night's rest. Last night was going downhill fast and then it shot back up the hill after we met Hector and he gave us such a nice place to stay. We made plans to have breakfast with Hector and Lorenzo so we got up early. After a quick grocery run to AMPM we were stocked and ready to go. The fresh croissants were AMAZING! Wow, I should have bought more. We had a nice breakfast with the guys in the house and heard about their adventures from the previous night. Unfortunately Hector had to leave early to go to a bike rally so we said goodbye and got a group photo. 
Outside with the bikes
We spent the rest of the morning doing laundry and getting things up-to-date on the internet. We also played with the dogs. They were so cute. By mid-day we were ready to leave. The sun was out, and it was actually quite hot. We knew it was going to be tricky navigating ourselves to HWY 32 but off we went in sort of the right direction.

We got hopelessly lost, asking for directions and getting turned around several times over. In the end Alberto sent me to ask for directions and a fellow motorcyclist offered to show us the way. I didn't realize it at the time but I was using the ol' Daryll technique. The biker weaved his way along the tiny roads and took a million different turns (we weren't going to find our own way). He sent us on our way at the sign that said San Isidro (with an arrow). Oh the illusive San Isidro, how you had evaded us until now. We took a few more wrong turns until we eventually found 32, but we didn't have to go back into San Jose.

We had to pay a toll 50 colones (which is almost nothing) per motorcycle to take the road but it was well worth the effort to find it. The road travels through the Braulio Carrillo National Park and I thought it was amazing. We were driving through a mountainous rain forest. The vegetation was so dense and green, it was almost taking over the road at times. It was a cool experience, and I enjoyed it very much. It was the type of scenery I image when I think of Costa Rica.

Once we popped out on the other side we were on the hunt for a place to stay. First we tried Guapiles, but all we could find was a fancy country club/hotel. Then we tried Guacimo but it looked like a sad town. We were starting to get worried that the search for a hotel would end up as successful as last night but while driving on the highway en route to Siquirres (our last stop to find a hotel) I spotted a hotel: Rio Palmas. Interestingly enough, it turned out to be a nudist hotel. It could have been a cannibal hotel for all we cared, we were happy to find a nice hotel within our budget for the night.

The owner was from Florida and she was amazingly friendly and helpful. We had a delicious meal at the restaurant and went for a swim in the pool. There were nudists about but I guess a lifetime of growing up on SSI and certain someone's affliction for gardening naked prepared me well for an occasion such as this. I didn't really notice.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 76 (178km): Expect the unexpected

During the night it started to rain, and continued to rain all night. It was absolutely pouring down when we woke up this morning. The field we were camped in was half field, half lake. We waited out the rain and ate some breakfast inside the tent. The rain didn't stop persay but it did relent a tiny bit. We saw our opportunity and grabbed it. We quickly packed everything and drove East. 
To illustrate the soggyness

Once on the road the rain varied from extremely hard to light drizzle. Either way we got very wet. The route we wanted to take wasn't exactly straight forward; it involved lots of turns and new roads but it was more or less easy to navigate thanks to the signage in Costa Rica. Only a few times did we have to take a leap of faith and assume we were going the right direction based on process of elimination. Our final navigational change came when we took an awkward right hand turn towards Volcano Poas. The road was fun and it seemed like it would have been scenic but 150m from the road was engulfed in a gray haze.

The road was narrow, windy and straight up. Then there was a series of signs (which I blissfully missed as I drove along) stating “No Access” and then a second sign “Detour” and lastly “Road under maintenance”. We drove over a bridge and then the road turned to dirt. The road alternated between terrible weathered pavement and dirt. It was a windy mountain road and pretty fun. We had no idea that today would turn into such an adventure. The rain had subsided somewhat and was coming down only lightly. 
For our efforts we got to see a cool waterfall

We arrived back into civilization shortly after 1pm. We were only about 30km from San Jose (the capital) and you would have never guessed it by the state of the road. The plan was to find a hotel anywhere in the area and take it easy for the rest of the day. We were both wet and I was cold. The only thing on my mind was a hot shower and dry clothes.

We started the search for a place to stay in Heredia. After driving around (stopping, asking) for almost an hour we found no suitable matches. We were only 7km from San Jose so we decided to drive into the city and find the BMW dealer. They had not answered our emails or the phone when we tried to call them yesterday. We made it to the BMW dealer (with the help of a taxi driver) but it closed at 1pm on Saturdays. 
Lurking outside a closed BMW
It was now after 3pm so we restarted our search for a Hotel. Again we could find nothing suitable. We did find a Subway so we stopped for a bite to eat. It was delicious. Our last ditched plan was to go downtown and find a hotel. We stopped at a Days Inn; it was 112 USD for the night. We managed to navigate ourselves to the city center but it was dirty and a bit of a disaster to drive in. Again we found no suitable options. Five o'clock was now approaching and we had still not found a place to sleep. We decided to give up on San Jose and drive back out of town.
We saw several Subways driving around San Jose

We were on our way back to Heredia to stay at the dirty hotel that was charging 36 USD/night. Beaten and tired we were ready to accept defeat. In situations like this a guide book, such as a Lonely Planet, would come in handy to point us in the direction of some cheap accommodation. While we were driving back a young guy in an SUV flagged us down. We talked to him and it turns out that he rides a BMW Dakar. He offered us a place to stay for the night and we gladly accepted. Hector (our friend in the SUV) led us to his home where we stayed for the night.
Hector's Dakar hanging out with our F8GSs

We are so grateful to Hector. We were given amazing accommodations. He came along at the perfect time. It turns out that he would like to do a similar trip one day. Good luck Hector and keep in touch. 
Where Hector lives


Day 75 (202km): One half of the Arenal Loop

We left the coast for the interior highlands. Our destination was the Volcano Arenal one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. Being at the beach is nice but everything gets covered in sand and the humidity is gross.

We were excited because today, after a long time, there was an opportunity to take photos of riding en route. It is so difficult to take photos on the ride because there are very few places to stop and pull over (especially with 2 bikes). We stopped at the friendship bridge (a noted point of interest on our map) and above lake Arenal. It was a pretty full day that even included wildlife sightings: monkeys and a herd of coatimundi. 
The friendship bridge
Coatimundi crossing

It felt like we were bypassing all the touristy areas to get to the “camping” at the entrance to the park. It was like tourist overload as we were driving through the Arenal area. I was frantically trying to read all the signs. I did notice that they offered kite surfing and wind surfing but I'm saving myself for northern Peru.

We got to the campground (which was just a field on some farming land) and set up camp. Unfortunately the volcano was covered with clouds and according to the camp host (Freddie) it had been covered for several days. That was a bit of a buzz kill but at least we could see the volcano from the camping area so if the opportunity presented itself we were ready. 
Our best view of the volcano (what we were hoping to see)

It got dark. It rained. We didn't see any lava from the volcano.

Day 74 (152km): Pura vida

The rambunctious teenagers staying at the campground felt the need to scream at 5am this morning so I was up a little early than usual. Also I think there were howler monkeys. I think that noise is one of the most difficult to sleep through.

It was a short ride off to the Nicoya peninsula and to the town of Samara. Once we got off the Panamerican highway the roads were narrow and pretty quiet. It kind of felt like we were driving somewhere in Europe, well except for the palm trees. One thing that stood out like a sore thumb was that we were the maniacs on the road now, not the other drivers. The aggressive driving habits we had adopted for the rest of Latin America were no longer necessary. There were several one lane bridges on the road to Samara and the opposing traffic actually yielded to me, my socks almost fell off, so we mellowed out our driving a bit.

We stopped for Pollo Campero in Nicoya just for old times sake. Sadly the menu wasn't the same as in Guatemala. And kids don't be fooled, there's no free wifi in Costa Rica. 
Pollo pitstop
When we got to Samara we asked the police where to find the campground I had heard about. They told us where it was, and that there were lots of thieves in that area (we weren't robbed thankfully but we kept a more careful eye on our tent). We checked it out. It was right on the beach, had some nice cocos and the bathrooms were of satisfactory quality. Alberto did his thing: body surfing in the waves and I did my thing: went for a walk on the beach in the rain. We spent the afternoon at the beach or hiding in the tent when it rained. In the evening when the rain had stopped and the sun was going down, the ocean was filled with surfers.
Out spot, with the beach behind
I enjoyed watching the surfers
Another day coming to a close

Day 73 (152km): First impressions are everything

While I had a bad first impression of Nicaragua it was quite the opposite with Costa Rica. I think Costa Rica and I are going to get along very well.

Another hot and steamy morning in Granada. We packed the bikes and hightailed it out of there. When we reached the Panamerican highway I assumed we should go left (since that seemed like the logical thing to do) but again there were no signs. I just had to assume. It was the correct decision, but it's more comforting when there is a sign to confirm that you've made the correct choice. It was a windy ride on the road. The road follows the coastline (more or less) of Lake Nicaragua and I guess the wind whips across and then onto the road. 
Windmills to take advantage of the strong wind

We got a glimpse of Isla de Ometepe from the road but sadly the peaks of the volcanoes were covered with cloud and of course there was nowhere to really pull over and take a picture (the story of our lives). This border crossing had the potential to be very painful because it is more or less the only border crossing.

It was a really ugly border; a dirty mess both in terms of paper work and general appearance. Very muddy and completely disorganized. It took us about an hour to exit Nicaragua. The line-ups were pretty crazy because tour buses come and go and tons of people get dropped off at once. Thankfully the Costa Rican side was much more organized, though it still took us quite some time to get everything sorted out.
Alberto and Throttlemeister trying to figure out the border

It was raining by the time we left the border (the customary afternoon rain shower). We didn't have far to go though so we didn't bother with water proofs. After a quick gas and money stop we made our way to Santa Rosa National Park. It was so nice. It was organized and civilized just like a Canadian or American park. We camped next to an huge funky tree and watched the wildlife: huge birds, deer, monkeys (though not at the campground). 
The campground: with a picnic table!

Final Thoughts Nicaragua:

We didn't really stay in Nicaragua long enough to have any final thoughts. The roads were very nice and the drivers were more laid back that other places we've been.
Lake Nicaragua was a disappointment. There were very few speed bumps though. Which is always nice.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 72 (0km): Here I am at, Granada!

Nicaragua and me got off on the wrong foot. Today started quite a bit better. My first order of business was to find a spa so I could get a long overdue massage (my back/shoulder was KILLING me). The massage did not disappoint, for 26 USD I got the best massage of my life! We went for a scenic walk around the city (to the central park and then to check out the shoreline of lake Nicaragua). The central park was pretty and the buildings were nice. The lake was dirty and the viewing area was derelict and smelled like pee. Not pleasant. We picked up some groceries on the way home so we could make lunch and dinner. After having lunch I spent the afternoon planning our route through Costa Rica and trying to figure out if there was anything else to see in Nicaragua. It was a pretty low key day. 

Church near the central park

Walking the streets
Lake Nicaragua

Day 71 (376km): Thieves plus one fake license lighter

The day started out well. Our hosts made us a delicious breakfast (eggs toast, cheese, fresh banana, fresh avocado...). It was so yummy. Afterward they gave us a tour of their property which has over 25 different fruit trees. It was amazing. Sadly we had to leave but we wished we could have stayed longer. We dropped by the University to say goodbye to Fernando before heading out of town and to the border.

It was a nice ride and we made good time to the border (Las Manos), though we didn't know we were at the border until there was a rope barrier. As we were approaching the border, for the last kilometer, there were semi-trucks parked all over the place (in both directions). It was weird. Only enough room for one lane was left. Also the other weird thing was that the border was at the crest of a hill (not the best parking situation for our bikes).

First stop was checking the bikes out of Honduras. This was pretty straightforward and completely painless. Then we drove up the hill and went through a chain gate/barrier. We were now in the Nicaragua zone. Some fixers tried to harass us but Alberto quickly told them to take a hike. First we sorted our bikes out to enter Nicaragua. Again this process was more or less seamless but kind of slow since it involved too many different people having to check the VIN# and sign-off. Then the real fun started: trying to get ourselves into Nicaragua.
Getting things sorted out

First we had to leave Honduras. The Honduras window is right beside the Nicaragua window. Once at the Honduran window Alberto was told he needed a piece of paper from some other window about 30m away (Alberto was taking care of all the paper work since it was a chaotic border. I guarded the bikes). So off he goes to get some random piece of paper. When he returns to get our passports stamped out of Honduras we find out that we have to pay for the privilege of leaving Honduras. WTF! I call bullshit, but I've heard of other people having to do this and the lady gave us a receipt. Our only line of defense is to get an official receipt after that we are at their mercy. Then he got us stamped into Nicaragua, which costs 12 USD each. Again we were a little pissed about that price. They gave us a cardboard token that we needed to keep safe and give at the exit and were told we would need to pay another 1 USD to leave. We bought our mandatory insurance (which sucks cause we're only going to be in Nicaragua for a few days) so we were another 12 USD lighter (each). After that some guy asked for our 1 USD we were told about (some municipal tax for the privilege of using the border) again we got a receipt. We had to go to the police station, the final bureaucratic stop, to show our insurance and vehicle documentation. Thinking we are free I put everything safely away. As we approach the rope gate to leave another boarder guy appears from nowhere and asks to see some document. He was pretty sketchy and unclear which document we had to show so Alberto is producing all the random papers we had collected by this point. He is eventually satisfied and we make our way to the rope gate, where we produce our priceless cardboard token. Yes we are free even though we felt like we were robbed!! I was ready to punch someone in the ovaries by the end of it because every time Alberto would go up to the migration window they'd tell him he had to go somewhere else to get a piece of paper. It was a terribly organized border when compared to Corinto which looks like Peace Arch! 

Anyways so we were free but I was pretty angry after the 2 hrs of border shenanigans. So we were on the road but needed to make up time because we were headed to Granada (~4hrs away). Thankfully the roads were amazing; so smooth and with plenty of straightaways for passing. We had approached a line of cars stuck behind a chicken-bus so we worked our way past them. There was a car, then us and then the line of traffic. Ahead was a toyota pickup parked in the middle of the road. Not giving it a second thought we went around the parked vehicle and I commented how unsafe it was to park in the middle of the road (with no brake lights on!) when people are traveling at 80 kph or more. Anyways about 100m down the road there was a police stop. The car ahead of me went through, we were stopped and the vehicles behind us went through. Hmmm I guess they wanted to ask us where we were going. I directed them to Alberto.
If only the border sucked less

The policeman asked for his paperwork and specifically his driver's license. Apparently we had broken the law when we crossed the solid yellow line to go around the parked vehicle on the highway. At first Alberto was calm and tried to explain there was a stationary vehicle in the road. When the policeman didn't seem interested he started to get angry and asked him if he expected us to crash into the stopped vehicle instead. Long story short (since we were there for probably 30min) Alberto gets into a rage which involves him going ballistic on the cop who has his license, to the point that his partner quietly went over to the police car to get their machine gun from the trunk. He didn't do anything with it it, he just put the strap over his shoulder and came over to talk to me. I think he was saying that they were going to keep his license, and since I was pretty unimpressed by the situation I just spoke to him in English knowing he'd lose interest. Alberto thought the cop was threatening me and went even more crazy leaving cop1 who he was talking to and getting all up in cop2's face. I think he threatened cop2 and then went back over to cop1 to lecture him on how keeping his driver's license was illegal and that it was his property. After Alberto had said his piece we left, ticket in hand and one fake license lighter. The condemning part of the whole situation was that cop1 didn't even try to give me a ticket or write any of Alberto's personal information on the ticket. It was a blatant attempt at extortion.

I was already still angry with the border shenanigans and now I had got into the kind of fume only Devils can get in.

What do these cops do with all the photocopies of licenses they take from Westerners? Does anyone ever go back for their license? What really pissed me off was the infraction the police gave us. I would have been satisfied with a speeding ticket, since we were speeding, but crossing a yellow line? It was pretty lame. After getting through Honduras without a single issue with corrupt cops I was pretty disappointed with Nicaragua.

The stupid police fiasco was another delay we didn't need and now we were really falling behind. The good thing was the roads were so great we could drive really fast. We made one wrong turn near the end of our journey because there were no signs. Luckily we had a suspicion that we had missed our intersection so we stopped and asked for directions. We found the right way and low and behold there were some signs en route once you were clever enough to find the intersection. The approach to Granada was probably the prettiest of any city we've driven yet. It was raining a tiny bit and getting a bit dark (my low beam had blown, again, so we were desperately trying to get to our hotel before dark) but we made it into town and followed the directions Daryll had given us to get to Hotel Oasis.

They had been stalking our SPOT and came outside to find us. We got the bikes settled and a room and went off to dinner. We had not had lunch so dinner and some liquid was very welcomed. We hung out at the Hotel/Hostel when we came back. It has very nice common/social areas, plus free tea!

Honduras Final Thoughts:

Navigational Signage was excellent in Honduras. We didn't once get lost  while we were there and we were getting lost almost daily in Guatemala. However there were no distance signs (you know, the signs that tell you how many kms to the next town). There are distance signs in Nicaragua but navigational signage is poor. It seems as though you can have one but not both.

I found myself saying “What the F*ck?” with regards to driving more times than in Mexico and Guatemala combined. Honduras was a serious step down in the driving food chain. People were just totally brainless on the road. They would try and lane split with you cut you off when passing you. I was in disbelief most of the time.

Honduras has every American fast food chain you could imagine. Not that I eat that much fast food when I am in Canada, but it was kind of comforting after a long day to be able to turn to some familiar food.

The Caribe was amazing. We would have liked to spend more time but a combination of time constraints and rain cut our beach time short. It was a must see in Honduras though for sure.

We were not stopped at a single police checkpoint in Honduras.

Day 70 (34km): Being normal for a change

I just don't have the stamina any more. My normal bedtime doesn't typically drift too far past 9pm so last night I couldn't keep up with the guys and eventually surrendered the fight at 11:30pm. Going to bed early though meant that we were up earlier than most.

We walked down to the equestrian ring to find Fernando getting a bit of riding time in. Afterward, we (actually everyone but me) had some sheep soup for breakfast and then some sheep meat for lunch. It looked delicious but sheep meat is a bit too rich for me. 
The finished product

In the afternoon we went to see a movie. We watched Due Date, an amusing and funny movie. It was a nice break in our normal routine. We had to keep moving though so we quickly came back to the house to pack up and leave for Zamorano University. We didn't want to drive at night and the Stalinesque regime at the university dictates that all students be back on campus by 6pm on Sunday evenings so the guys had to get back as well. Fernando set us up with accommodation at a retired professor's house. Aurelio and his wife have a lovely home and we are very grateful for their hospitality. We enjoyed some tea and toast with them before crashing for the night. 
At the mall

The gang

Day 69 (64km): What Agro students do for fun

This morning my communication system decided it was bipolar. It wasn't working and then it would work but it wouldn't let me turn it off. It was out of control and once again it went crazy the day after driving in the rain. We switched it out for the other one that was broken which now seemed to be behaving itself. Only time will tell.

It wasn't hard to be on the road early this morning because we both wanted to leave that motel as soon as possible. Later we asked some locals where all the hotels were? The answer was that there pretty much weren't any. Truly bizarre, a capital city with very few hotels.

We drove out to Zamorano University, where Fernando (Alberto's cousin) attends. The school specializes in agriculture. When we arrived we waited in the parking lot for Fernando. 
Alberto and his cousin

There were some speakers set up and they were playing music. It was offensively loud (80dB, according to my iPhone app), and still sounded too loud with my earplugs in. We spent the morning and afternoon hanging out with Fernando at the University while his friends sorted out some of the details of the day. They arrived back on campus with a truck and the boys went off to buy a sheep. While we were waiting in the parking lot Alberto and I observed a peculiar past-time of the agro students. They were selling vegetables to people, but this was an aggressive and cutthroat activity. They would approach potential customers in mobs. It was quite amusing to watch. 
The vegetable sellers

The boys returned with their sheep, Roger, and off we followed them to Tegucigalpa. After a trip to the store for supplies they proceeded to butcher the sheep, again a weekend activity of agro students? We spent the night hanging out, drinking and cooking up sheep. 
Roger, he didn't know what he was getting himself into
Cooking the sheep up

We stayed the night at Jorge, one of Fernando's classmates, family's house. Thank you to our hosts Don Jorge and Pamela, it was very helpful of them to give us a place to stay for the evening while we were visiting Fernando. It was an awesome evening socializing with Fernando's friends: Jorge (Piolo), Santiago (Sebo), and Roberto.

Day 68 (400km): Let's get down to business

Today we must have crossed half of Honduras. There were two routes we could take, according to our map, from La Ceiba to Tegucigalpa (the capital). Option 1: unknown road 41 and then highway or Option 2: soulless highway all the way. It was raining, and it had been raining hard. We tried to get confirmation from locals what the state of 41 was; pavement or dirt? We couldn't confirm the quality of road 41 so we had to surrender and take the mindless highway all the way to Tegucigalpa. We just couldn't risk ending up on a road that was mud soup and then having to back track.

The rain was on and off in the morning but we decided to wear our rain gear. For a while there (until we reached Tela) it looked as if it wasn't going to rain. I was a bit disappointed. If I am going to go to all the trouble to put my rain gear on and then go through the inconvenience of wearing it, it had better rain! Once we started heading south inland we got some rain.

We passed a beautiful lake, Lago de Yojoa, and then it REALLY started to rain. There was no messing around now. There were rivers running down the road and I could barely see. The problem with driving in the rain in latin america is that driver's don't drive with headlights on so it's very hard to pick out oncoming traffic. We seemed to drive over a summit of sorts before descending into Tegucigalpa and there was road construction going on. We got amazingly lucky because we were always in the line that was moving.
Nothing really to report

We were looking for a hotel outside or on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa but we didn't see any. So we followed the signs to the airport thinking there would be hotels there. Again we didn't see any. It was now dusk and I was cold and wet. At this point all we wanted to find was a hotel of any kind. We started to leave town and on the way out we found a terrible motel you can rent by the hour. Oh well, it had a hot shower. That was about the only perk, and it wasn't cheap! We started looking for a hotel about 1.5 hrs ago and this was the only one we saw.
Drying out our clothes in our sad hotel room

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 67 (0km): Singing in the rain

As forecasted, it rained. The rain started sometime in the night, and it came down hard. It actually woke me up. It was fun to listen to lying in the bed, but it kind of killed our plans to soak up some beach time before leaving on the ferry in the afternoon.

The rain had stopped around 10am so I decided to go for a walk to the shops, which ended with hilarious consequences. Soon after I set out on my quest the skies opened up and the rain came down once again. I was immediately drenched. At that point I wished I had brought my gore-tex jacket and socks to the island. So I was a soggy wet mess by the time I got back to the hotel.
Completely soaked

Leaving for the ferry I was still wet. In this situation my icebreaker clothing, which I stand by wholeheartedly most of the time, showed a kink in it's armor. Wool when wet has a smell not unlike wet dog. So I was cold and smelly.

Then disaster struck! When I arrived at the ferry terminal (a 20min cab ride) I realized that I had left my iphone in the hotel room. Crap. There were no cabs in sight and I had to get back to my room and back to the ferry. I eventually found a cab and managed to negotiate a decent round trip fare price. My phone was waiting for me at reception and I was a happy camper despite the 1hr plus round trip. That was almost a huge disaster.

It was a bit of a sad way to leave Roatan, in the rain, but after talking to the cab driver it sounded like we were extremely lucky with the weather. The sunny days we enjoyed were a small break in the rain they had been getting solid for the last 3 weeks. The crossing back to the mainland was a little rough but without incident. The sky was horrendously dark though and it was raining pretty hard in La Ceiba when we arrived. Given the circumstances we sucked it up and stayed at the expensive hotel where we had left our stuff for another night. We weren't exactly going to pack our bikes and ride off in the rain just to find a cheaper hotel and then unpack everything again. Instead we went to Wendy's for dinner and then walked through the Mall nearby. 
The sad weather

One thing we've noticed about Honduran major cities is that they are heavily influenced by American fast food chains. Food choices include everything you would expect to find anywhere in the US.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 66 (0km): Beach hopping

This morning was a little cloudy compared to yesterday (it was called for in the forecast because rain is supposed to be coming in for tomorrow). We took a cab and went to West Bay beach where we were told the sand was whiter. The sand was indeed whiter and the beach was quite a bit nicer. It was obvious why all the high end resorts were down here. 
West Bay beach: blue water and white sand

We found a nice quiet spot at the west end of the beach. A bunch of people with wrist bands were in the area; cruise ship? All inclusive resort? Either way they all seemed to be gringos.
Our spot for the day

We rented a set of snorkel gear and Alberto immediately went exploring. There was coral only 20m from the beach; it was quite ideal for tourists. The water was a little colder than the sheltered waters of Half Moon Bay but it was very nice. There were more fish at this beach than what we saw yesterday. I got to swim with schools of beautiful blue fish and the fish never seemed scared. They just swim along not even giving you a second look. It was an amazing experience and there were tons of brightly coloured fish that we hadn't seen yesterday. 
Getting my snorkel on
Living the good life

Water sufficiently snorkeled and sun burn acquired on back we went back to our little section of the island. It actually started to rain ever so slightly. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then we went back to the hotel. Alberto started sorting out his pictures and I went for a kayak around the bay. The water was a bit choppy which made it hard to see anything but I still have a fun time kayaking around. Once it got dark we again hid in our room. 

And then the clouds started rolling in

Day 65 (0km): Welcome to Paradise, our first real taste of the Caribe

We decided to go wild and treat ourselves to a bit of luxury so we took the ferry to the Island of Roatan this morning. I was actually pretty excited just to take the ferry. I like riding my motorcycle but I do miss the ocean. We took the Galaxy Wave ferry; it's a fast cat. We sat on an outside deck which was really hot until the ferry got going and we got a breeze. The colour of the water was a bright blue but once we got out on the open ocean it was hard to notice. By the end of the ferry ride I was getting a little seasick. Catamaran ferries have to be the worst transportation for open water regarding motion sickness. 
Trying to fight off motion sickness

When we arrived at Roatan there were two HUGE cruise ships docked at the island.

The water was amazing, and we could see the white sandy beaches. We took a cab from the ferry terminal to Posada Arco Iris (a hotel I had found on the internet). In situations like these it helps that Alberto looks Latino. He doesn't get the full tourist treatment and we can usually get a decent price for things like taxis. It was probably a 20min taxi ride to the village of West End (the touristy side of the island) where we hoped to stay. The hotel turned out to be pretty good, on the beach, not too pricey, good amenities, so we stayed. 
The entrance to the hotel

First things first we got changed, rented some snorkel equipment and went swimming. 
Look I found a shell


The water was warm and clear. Roatan boasts the second largest reef in the world so all we had to do was swim out from the beach a little ways and we were there. There were all kinds of fishes with amazing colours: blue, red, green, and yellow. We probably spent 1.5 hrs snorkeling the reef. It's easy to see why this island is a mecca for diving. When we came back to shore we walked into town to have something to eat. We chose a place that was right on the water (we're going all out on our vacation) so we could enjoy the view. After some food we checked out West End and then came back to our hotel. We went back down to the beach so we could enjoy the sunset. 
We found this bike on our walk around town
Sunset: when the boats have to come in for the night

Once it got dark we went back to our room to watch a movie. We aren't really nightlife people so usually when it gets dark we head back to our room anyways. The bugs were kind of bad though so that was another reason to seek shelter once it got dark.

Day 64 (202km): Tela or not Tela, that is the question

We reluctantly left San Pedro Sula and Manuel and Pilar's generous hospitality. We had such a great stay at their house. When you are on the road it feels really nice to be in a normal house and be normal for a little while (even if it is only for a few days). So recharged with clean laundry and full stomachs we hit the road to Tela and some beaches. 
Saying goodbye

It was a hot day in San Pedro Sula (~30 degrees) so getting out of town and through the multiple traffic lights got a bit sweaty. At one point there were intersections with traffic lights (that didn't seem to work) and it was a mad free for all. It was an interesting experience.

Once we were out of the city (which really wasn't that bad) it was smooth sailing to Tela. The highway was 2 lanes about half of the way, but once it went down to 1 lane there were plenty of passing opportunities so we were never held up for very long. When we reached Tela we tried to find a hotel. We couldn't find any decent hotels within our budget by driving around but the tourist police officer gave us directions for a hotel I had written down from Lonely Planet. Our search for the cheap hotel turned out to be a wild goose chase that left us in a random tiny village where people had no idea about hotels. We decided to give Tela a miss, even though the beach looked really nice, and we went straight to La Ceiba.

The drive to La Ceiba was pretty nice. The mountain range on our right hand side was scenic and enjoyable to watch. We had the name of two hotels where we could leave our bikes to go to Roatan. We found the first one and didn't bother looking for the second one because it was getting late. Finding somewhere to leave our bikes wasn't really an issue. It was finding somewhere to leave all of our things too (bags, riding gear …). So we went with the slightly pricey hotel because they could look after everything. It was worth the piece of mind and hopefully everything will be waiting for us when we get back. 
A view of La Ceiba with the mountains in the background

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 63 (0km): Relaxing in San Pedro Sula

It was amazing to have such a nice sound sleep. Our gracious hosts, Manuel and Pilar, have a beautiful home. We spent the morning researching and planning our route through Honduras. We had been given lots of good advice the night before on places to go and see so we wanted to figure out what we were going to do. In the afternoon Manuel and Pilar took us out to a Peruvian restaurant in the city. There we also met up with their friends (who we had met the previous night). The food was amazing; I'm excited to go to Peru and try the real deal everywhere. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the Inca Kola, it was a bit too sweet for my poor taste buds.

When we came home we watched a movie with Manuel and then after that I think I feel asleep. There's just too much excitement in my life. I'm a tired duck at the end of the day. 
Our gracious hosts: Manual and Pilar outside their lovely home

Belated Final Thoughts of Guatemala:

Guatemala was a great place to explore, which I guess is common knowledge because there were tons of backpackers around.
My favourite part, actually my favourite part about any country and usually my deciding factor on whether I like it or not, was the scenery. It seemed like the water in Guatemala was photoshopped. All the water bodies were beautiful colours of blue, even the rivers (which in Mexico were typically full of silt and brown). The scenery, in particular the volcanoes because they were new for me, was beautiful. I think the highlight was Lago Atitlan where we camped on the lake. The climate in Guatemala was perfect for motorcycle touring. It wasn't too hot and it wasn't too cold. When we camped at Tikal, which is in the same region as Palenque, there was a huge difference in the temperature (Tikal being more comfortable).
Overall driving in Guatemala was a more pleasant experience than in Mexico. While the drivers still subscribed to the same Latin American driving culture, it was better in comparison. Excessive speed was a less common issue and people tended to stay in the their lanes more. The only major exception to this were the Chicken buses, which drove like psychopaths. The road surfaces (of the roads we took anyways) were an improvement. They were mostly smooth and well maintained. Navigation signage was a major issue though. It was typically non-existent or confusing when it was present. There is definitely some work to be done in that area.
The food was really good, and overall much better than eating out in Mexico. Maybe it was the lack of picante aspect to everything or just better selection but we both noticed a difference in quality the first night in Guatemala.
And lastly just a random comment. I found that merchants were reluctant, and in some cases refused, to accept Q100 bills. It's silly since these are the only bills the ATM dispenses. Typically I'd try to use a Q100 bill to pay for something that cost Q40, so not a huge stretch. It was so weird that when we bought some groceries totaling Q29 one evening we couldn't pay. We had Q26 in change or Q100. The merchant took our Q26 in random change instead of trying to change Q100. But what makes me more suspicious is that these merchants deal in cash all day long, I refuse to believe they can't make change.


Day 62 (202km): Into Honduras

The funny thing about traveling is the people you meet. Once we had the bikes packed up, we spent about 45min talking to people that were interested in us and the bikes. That's part of the magic of traveling. By the time we did leave Rio Dulce it was raining a tiny bit. We decided to chance it though and didn't put on our waterproofs.

The ride to the border was nice, and not very long. Finding the way was surprisingly painless considering our track record for navigating in Guatemala. It would be easy to miss the Guatemala check out though since it is a run down building, sitting unassumingly at the right side of the road. We got our passports stamped out and then our bikes sorted out with SAT. There was a slight issue because we didn't have a stamp in our passport for our bikes (thanks La Mesilla) but the SAT guy let us go. The Guatemala check out was several kms before the actual border and on the way to Honduras we reached a road blockage. There was construction work happening on a bridge and we had to wait, thankfully because we are bikes at the front of the line. It was about a 1.5 hr wait, but we managed to sneak through first once traffic started moving so that made a huge difference. 
Guatemala customs
Waiting for bridge construction

It's very obvious when you reach Honduras (big sign, huge immigration complex ...). The Immigration guy was giving Alberto a hard time saying that the visa he acquired in Canada had expired. He tried to explain that his 30 day visa started the day it was issued not the day you enter the country. Not very likely since it's pretty standard operating procedure for a visa to start once you enter the country. Anyways, he was giving us a hard time and then did us a favour by letting us use the VISA. Then when he charged us the tourist entry fee (3$) he charged us in Lempiras; okay that's fine. He was a very difficult person and when I was asking him and trying to understand what the fee was for (since he had taken it upon himself to convert it for us) he just got angry and refused to explain anything. Not the best representative for the country of Honduras. So passports stamped, we went to the Aduanas to get our bikes sorted out. The girl at that office seemed more interested in selling jewelry to her co-workers than processing our paper work. It was an extremely slow and inefficient process but it was painless otherwise. Overall I would say it took 1.5 hrs.

We were happy to be on the open road, papers in hand. We asked the policeman at the checkpoint leaving the border area how long it would take to get to San Pedro Sula. He told us that we could probably drive 160kph and that it wouldn't take very long. Then he leaned in to see Alberto's speedometer and said, oh you can do at least 220kph and it will only take you 30min. So the police say we can speed like crazy on the roads? Good to know. We kept our speed at a more sensible 110kph and made good time to San Pedro Sula.

So far the navigational signage in Honduras has been a serious improvement to Guatemala. We only were lead astray once, in Puerto Cortez, even though we had been warned by a guy at the border. All of a sudden we were offroading, and I got very muddy. The road linked up with the main road though, and it was only 1-2 km. The HWY was a toll road and we didn't know what to do. Two of the operators came out of their booths to direct us around the toll booth since motorbikes don't pay. YAY! Take that Mexico!

When we arrived in San Pedro Sula we stopped at a Pizza Hut to call our contact in the city. There were no pay phones in the area but the Pizza Hut manager let us use their phone. Afterward it seemed like the entire staff was outside looking at our bikes and asking us about our trip. They were so generous and friendly; they even gave us something to drink. Soon Manuel arrived to escort us to his home. 
The Pizza Hut staff checking out the bikes
His home is amazing, and our bikes are safely guarded by a security guard. His family: Manuel and Pilar and their two children Manuel Jr. and Santiago have been very generous in inviting us into their home. It was Pilar's birthday during the week and she was having a party this evening. We had a great time at the party: Pilar and Manuel are flawless hosts, the food was amazing and we met lots of interesting and friendly people. I was so tired though, and already up waaaaay past my bedtime, so I didn't survive the entire party.