Wednesday 26 September 2007

Crossing Borders in Central America

Central America contains alot of borders each with their own problems! But by far the worst must be Honduras. Today I set out at 6 am from La Libertad El Salvador and got to the border at around 9am. I had stopped in San Miguel on the way to get some cash, but the ATM wasn't working. This was the start of the problems. The exit was easy, but then came the border, literly hours of bloody paperwork. Easily it was the worst border crossing I have ever done. The system is totally inefficient and scattered, no one is responsible for the whole process, and there is the constant pest of the people offering to help (for a propina!!) No nesicito ayuda!! Estoy bien gracias! but after 4 hours of waiting to get three stamps I was ready to have a fit. Anger management is a task I have to learn. But after hours in the hot sun I was finally ready to get moving through Honduras. by this time I had only 3 US dollars left in my wallet and was starving.
Making my way to Choluteca I was in desperate need of a bank. To my horror 99% of the banks here dont take Mastercard.. only Visa. I was starting to get desperate, I needed fuel and food,.. and all on 3 USD. After a few calls to AIB in Dublin and Mastercard, I resorted to asking at Western Union and all the other financial places in town. After 2 more hours I found the only ATM in the town that took Mastercard! I held my fingers and jumped for joy when it gave me the cash!
Deciding I didn't want to stay another minute in Honduras I skipped on food and bolted straight for Nicaragua. Crossing the border at Guasaule. Compared to earlier this was breeze taking only 20 minutes. Also had the pleasure of the weirdest conversation with these truckers, trying to find out how much swear words in know in Spanish, and naturally they were inquisitive about the trip. I thought I would make Leon before dark, but the minute i crossed the border it became apparent this wasn't going to happen. The roads ceased to be roads, and the pot holes were huge. I bottomed out on the bash plate countless times, even shaking the right mirror loose. This is 3rd world road! It improved nearer Chinandega, until the road was relatively normal black top. I arrived in Leon after dark, and went straight to the Rough Guide. I picked the best place they had recommended, it its really good.
Hotel Los Balcones is an immaculately restored colonial building with original wooden floors, shutters, and loads of character. Right now I think this is what I imagined Panama to be like. Its like a seen from the Taylor of Panama. Going to check out the area tomorrow and then head to Managua.

El Salvador

I spent a lot of time trying to decide which route to take into El Salvador. At first I considered hitting Tikal and coming in through Copan to Honduras and then El Salvador, but to be honest I was in no mood to go looking at more pyramids in the Jungle. So instead while having a nice breakfast of huevos y frijoles I opted for the coastal route.
It really is amazing with some stunning views of the Pacific crashing wildly onto jagged rocks. Actually it reminded me of a tropical Killiney on a grand scale with no houses (if such a thing exists). After exploring the coast and consulting the Rough Guide to Central America (thanks Brennan) I opted to spend the night in La Libertad. After a brief chat with the lovely girl in the tourist office I found some cheap lodgings for 12USD for the night, and immediately made my way to the restaurant. Food was good, and with the most expensive item on the menu being 4.25 I was in heaven. Even had desperados with Antonio Banderas on TV (in Spanish of course).
I planned on taking some surf lessons here, but the waves were huge and there was nobody in the water. After speaking with some surfers it was decided that the current and waves were in for the week, so no lessons, pity. I will certainly have to come back here, maybe to Flores over near the eastern side.
By chance I ran into Niall from Portmarnock in Dublin. He was back packing around and of course when two Irish guys get together you must have a drink. ! But after a nice evening it was time to hit the road to Nicaragua.

Antigua – Guatemala

Located between the volcanoes of Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego Antigua was the central city for Spanish Central America. After an earthquake in 1773 the capital was destroyed, and the administrative centre was moved. However a lot of the old colonial buildings remain here. I arrived amidst a cloud of fog which obscured the vistas but did give the city an eerie feeling.
Given it was Saturday accommodation was difficult to find. After a long search of some pretty drab places I finally found a hotel called Los Amigos, it is on 7a. Whatever you do, don’t stay here ever. I was given a private room, where I thought my stuff was safe. After I came back from dinner someone had gone through my stuff and my mobile phone was missing. There were only two keys and I had one. So the only possible thief was the owners. I questioned them but they denied it. The excuse offered was they had plenty of phones, where she promptly produced two phones and her kids all had nice phones also.. Couldn’t help thinking how many other guests they had robbed. I called the police but they were useless. Just as well the phone was the only thing of value in the room. So to the owners of Los Amigos .. in my best Mexican “Chinga tu madre”!!!
But apart from this sour note the rest of Antigua seems quiet nice, there is a good market where I picked up a Barcelona replica shirt for the equivalent of 6 euro. There are some good bars also; the best I found yesterday was Mono Loco, a lively sports bar.
Sunday I took a tour to see Pacaya Volcano which was amazing. The minibus wound it way up these really atrocious roads, seemingly impossible until we reached the village of San Francisco. It’s a far cry from California and really a very poor purely indigenous hamlet. From here we met the guide and set off up the hill. It is a 3 km walk through the jungle until you emerge on a ridge for a perfect view of the lava field. We proceeded down to the lava, so close we actually cooked a head of corn in the lava and got within feet of a flowing river of lava. No were in Europe could you do this! The insurance guys would have a fit. I met some nice people, including two people from Lanzarotte in the Canary Islands. It was really satisfying to be able to continue a conversation for a few hours in Spanish.
The journey back was weird. The darkness came down really fast, and we found ourselves stumbling down the side of a mountain through a jungle, with only a walking stick for feeling our way. Torches don’t exist in Guatemala I think. But it was an experience. We got some really cheap beers back in San Francisco while waiting for the bus. Also was great to see how the kids reacted when we gave them some bread.. the oldest took charge and shared it out equally so they all got some! I think in Ireland one would have run off with it. But I was sad to see that they were barely surviving and a small piece of bread was like gold dust.

Saturday 22 September 2007


Finally i decided to leave Mexico. Boy it was a hard decision. Originally planned to stay here only a few weeks, but ended up more than a month and a half. San Cristobal, my final stop in Mexico was awesome. Stayed at La Grigua guesthouse with my lovely Italian hosts. By pure chance one of my friends from Vallarta had an interview for her Masters in the University at the same time. So I met up with Carolina and spent some time checking out this great little town.
Today i left at 6.30 am to get to the border early when they were opening. Crossing was no problem, simple affair, handed in my Mexican permit, and drove across no mans land to Guatemala and got the new one. The only incident was when I went to put the bike side stand down in some gravel, and it disappeared, and of course there would have to be loads of people watching when the bike fell over.
The Pan American to Antigua is mad, there were a lot of landslides from the recent hurricanes which were still being cleaned up, along with road works. All the cars get stopped, but in true Guatemala style a bike gets waved on.. so here i was dodging huge earth movers and trucks weaving through the work in progress.! it was fun. No to check out the city and get some food.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Independence Day

This evening I arrived in San Cristobal, and my time in Mexico will soon be at a close, but the last few days were a lot of fun! and certainly not without incident. Be it running from the police or fighting a foam war against locals at the Independence day celebrations in Oaxaca, never a dull moment.
After a nice two week rest in Mexico City and taking in all the sights including the museums, the houses of Frida Kalha, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky among others I ended my time in the City running a police check point. There is a road called the periferico which is a highway that circles the city. By far it is the easiest way to get around the city. The only problem is motorcycles are not allowed on it! How stupid. So .. on Saturday morning when I was leaving I took a chance on it.. gambling all the police would be in the Zocalo for the celebrations. But I was wrong. There was a checkpoint on the inside and I was on the outside of three lanes. Next thing i was being called over and being told to stop!.. Well i wasn't in the mood to argue or pay a fine, so i twisted the throttle and took off. Catch me if you can. Logic was i was paying a fine anyway so might as well try and get away... and it worked! hahaha.
After a long drive arrived in Oaxaca, which is really nice town. Also there was a great bunch of people in the Hostel Mezkalita. It was Independence day so of course there was a big parade and lots of music etc. We joined in and somehow ended up marching in the parade. Don't think we were supposed to be there.. but we ended up in there anyway.
Most of the locals had spray cans with foam in them. Which were being used to foam any random passer by. After getting "foamed" a few times we all decided some retaliation was in order. For 10 pesos a can we had some of the best fun in the last few weeks! chasing people around the square soaking them in foam! and of course getting hit ourselves! Was a fun night.
Today I made the 7 hour ride to San Cristobal del las Casas. So tomorrow some exploring will be done!!

Friday 14 September 2007

Finally my New Lid

After two weeks of waiting, today I finally received my new Arai XD helmet. I need to celebrate. I decided to order it at the end of August from Motocross Giant, a store based in Los Angles and have it shipped to Garrys here in Mexico City, the idea being that i could arrive here and pick it up. Unforunately things didnt quiet work out that way. Despite my instructions to send the lid by overnight DHL, the guys in LA sent the Arai by regular mail. So two weeks later after daily calling the postoffice here said we should go to the local office and have a look. So we set off to miramontes to the postoffice.
But well bureaucry is an understatement. Everything is recorded in paper ledgers! the woman looks up a book, not there, tries another, then another, then asks someone else, and 40 mins later comes back and asks what is your postcode. So a quick call to the language school and we get the number. Ah no.. you are in the wrong office you have to go to another one! so armed with this new info, we find the next place, again its look up the ledger time.. and after a conversation with another postal worker, they decided it would be good to check the computer! then its oh yes its here! YES! time to celebrate, finally two weeks later the lid is here. But this isnt quiet there yet, so after some searching in the store room they come back with the helment, and the bill for the customs duty! double taxation! US and Mexican tax! not fair. Also had to sign a million pieces of paper, and mark in the famous ledger. But I am not complaining, now i have my new lid, and i must say its amazing! much quieter, more comfortable and lighter, I feel safer already.
Also I have had the added bonus of two weeks in Mexico city, and the opportunity to meet some wonderful people.

Monday 3 September 2007

Protests and Fame

Well its another day over and I am still at!!! in Mexico City. Garry is this really cool English expatirate biker who fell in love with a Mexican girl Ivonne, got married and moved here 30 years ago. He now puts up random stray bikers like Alaister and myself who happen to be passing though Mexico City! Garry contacted me on the Hubb and suggested i come visit! which I am glad I did.
We have had traditional Mariachi nights, visits to the Teotithuacan Pyramids, touring around downtown Mexico City, visits to Tres Marias, the market, and lots of bike DVD's! anyone passing through has to drop in and say hi!
Last night we spent some time downtown in the central square where we got some really delicious Churros. Which are a dough type snack, best eaten with hot chocolate. It so happened that in the square there was also a protest by the supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador the former mayor of mexico city and the dude that lost the last presidential election, which he claims he won. 1 year later he is still protesting! so we joined in for the fun! The square was quiet lively as the place is getting ready for the independence day celebrations which are in a few days time. So the entire central square is decorated with lights and banners etc.

Today we set off on a moring ride to Tres Marias, for breakfast. All the Mexican bikers gather there on Sunday mornings and (normally) show off! We were promised wheelies down the middle of the street and everything. However the weather had another idea. It rained and rained. Still we had breakfast and checked out the local stalls! At one of them we had this rather surreal moment where a father who was getting a jacket for his daughter asked if he could get a picture of myself and Al with her... guess he must of thought we were Charlie & Ewan or something! hate to dissapoint him.
From here was set off south to Cuernavaca with Garrys promise of Sun! "it will be so much warmer there" ... ummmm NO! so after a mutany in Cuernavaca we took the toll road back to mexico city where we stopped off at the market. They have the best pork crackling in the world here.
Of course gringos who are two foot taller than everyone else and in bike gear tend to attract attention! soon we had people coming up and saying hi, and taking our picture. It really was quiet delightful. We had free milkshakes, and even got to try Brain Quesadillas.. (actually they were quiet nice) can fell my IQ increasing already