The Coast, Oaxaca, and South to Guatamala


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Central America Caribbean
September 21st 2009
Published: September 21st 2009
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First off, some admistrivia: I find the largest amount of time creating these blogs is organizing and uploading the photos. I have been posting all my pictures to Flickr , so I will discontinue posting pics here and direct you to Flickr to see them. I have arranged Flickr into an overall trip, with sub-folders with specific geographic areas. When you get to my Flickr
site, click on the tile of photos on the right side of the screen "Canada to Agentina by Motorcycle", then drill down from there.

Again, my Flickr site..

I left off my last blog as we reunited with the coast at Playa Azul. We had descended from the interior highlands and the weather turned hot and humid. We were literally dripping when we checked into our hotel. The hotel did not have hot water heaters, yet the tap water was scorching hot. We walked a block to the beach after we settled in and got a beach-front table for supper. Bungalos de la Curva, 300 pesos, N17.98374 W101.60952

The next morning we hit the road going down the coast, our biggest worry was how we were going to circumvent Acapulco, a city of about 3 million. Bruce spent considerable time looking at maps and figured it out. I was skeptical at one point when he took me down a highway, then we did a U-turn to head the other way. He had figured out that we needed to use a cuota highway, and it was only accessible from the northbound lanes and we were headed south. The cuota highway took us around Acapulco, we came out back on the beach to the south where we found our next night's stay. Hotel Trinidad, 400 pesos, N16.69009 W99.62713

The drive down the coastal highway actually did not afford any view of the water until we arrived in Puerto Escondido, our next night. This is a well-developed tourist town with some nice resorts, and surprisingly inexpensive. This is the off-season and it seems to attract lots of surfers. We stayed at a hotel right across from what must be the most popular surfing beach. Hotel Ines, 580 Pesos, N15.85332 W97.05524. The hotel had AC, a nice pool and restaurant. We had supper and breakfast at a beach-front restaurant across the street. At breakfast I counted more than 50 surfers out on the water.

At supper we met Tina and Rue, a British couple two-upping on a V-Strom 650, the same bike Bruce and I are riding. We moved to their table and had a wonderful evening chatting with them. Tina has a great sense of humour and infectious laugh. Rue is more subdued, but still a lot of fun. They were staying for another day so we said good bye to them as we left for the evening. They are heading to South America too, not on a schedule, but planning to ship their bike home from Rio. They are experienced bike travelers, having done a lot of Europe and into Russia and other old Soviet block countries.

The next day we got back into the twisty roads (that are not for pussies), and gained and lost thousands of feet before arriving in Oaxaca at about 5400 feet. The trip that day was only about 250 kms, but it took us over 7 hours with few stops. At one of the summits we crossed there was a military checkpoint with a friendly crew who even posed for pictures. I spent quite a while talking with them about my trip and our bikes. In Oaxaca we found a hotel that was recommended in a guide book (Hotel Cue, downtown, 600 Pesos, N17.05806, W96.72614). It was a very nice hotel with a secure parking lot next door. We ended up spending 3 nights there. The night life was fantastic, focused around the town square. The first night we wandered around watching people, the vendors, kids playing. The hotel is next to one of the town's markets, and we found a food kiosk to eat. The next day we rode up to the Monte Alban ruins site, probably the most remarkable ruins site I have ever seen. The civilization here lasted from about 800 BC to 500 AD, a span of about 1300 years. I have posted a few pictures here, but if you want to see more, go to my Flickr site (you can find a link from broomhall.ca).

We arrived back to our parking at Monte Alban to find another bike parked beside mine, and the rider. Garth was a Kiwi who had been riding for the past few months in the US and Mexico. We had a good chat before heading into town with him following. And who should we find at the side of the road on our way into town? Tina and Rue. We stopped and suggested that they follow us to our hotel and stay there, which they did. With Garth along, we agreed to meet at 7 in front of the hotel to head off for supper.

We picked a restaurant with a table outside facing the town square, and started to decide what we were going to eat and drink. More correctly, what we were going to drink before we started to worry about food. The conversation started out about bottles. But if we all were drinking beer, perhaps there was a serving in larger quantities. Ah, the menu quoted “Jarras”. I asked the waiter how much beer was in a jarra - one litre. I started counting how many Jarras we wanted and the waiter excused himself to reappear with a picture of a beer container he explained held 5 litres. It was an upright tube, tap on the bottom, with a centre column filled with ice to keep the beer cold. They set up a new table beside us, put a pedestal on top of it, then brought out the 5 litre column of beer. A waiter was stationed in close proximity to refill our mugs if they got less than half-full. Five people, 5 litres, seemed to be a good fit. The waiter did his job while we ordered supper. I think I had a Parilla, but the evening got a little fuzzy after that. Halfway through supper the tube was empty, and another appeared. Garth decided that another 5 litres was called for, and we killed that too. Five people, ten litres of beer. Do the math to explain why my head hurt the next morning.

The next night we picked a little classier restaurant on the square, again with Tina and Rue. I believe Garth had left to visit friends in Mexico city. I should mention that our stay in Oaxaca coincided with the countdown to Mexico's 199th anniversary of independence. Lots of celebrations were going on in the square in the evenings. Our last night in Oaxaca was the night before the 15th, which is the anniversary. Tina and Rue decided to stay on for another night to take in the party. Bruce and I left in the morning, in opposite directions. Supper that night was fabulous, I had a sirloin steak with a blue cheese sauce. Wow.

Bruce was only planning on traveling with me for 6 weeks or so. He was thinking about riding with me to Panama and having his bike shipped home, but all his emails to shipping companies were either not answered or poorly so. Oaxaca was the point where he could still ride home and be within his schedule. The next morning we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I was heading for the Guatemala border by Tapachula. It was a bit far for one day, so I randomly picked a town about half-way to look for a hotel. As I pulled into Arriaga, there was a good-looking hotel on the highway. Secure parking, air conditioning, pool, internet, restaurant, and only 200 Pesos (Hotel Maria Eugenia, N16.22923, W93.91070).

The ride to Tapachula was only a couple of hundred kilometers, so I wasn't in a rush. An hour or so into my ride, I stopped at an Oxxo store (the Mexican equivalent of a 7-11) for a drink. The stores are also air-conditioned and have seats and tables so I can sit and cool off a bit, and keep an eye on my moto in the parking lot. A guy pulls up to the store in a late-model pickup truck, jumps out, and wandered around my V-Strom with wide-eyed fascination. He then came inside and I asked him if he liked my bike. We chatted briefly, then he jumped in his truck and disappeared, only to return 5 minutes later with his Suzuki 650. His moto was a single-cylinder version of a 650, air cooled. I haven't seen this type in Canada. Anyway, he was all questions about my bike while we stood outside, and he kept asking people to take his camera and take pictures of us. I gathered he was quite a wealthy guy, he told me about his farm crops, his chain of tire stores. He showed me pictures in his camera of his Hummer and his vacation home at the beach. He invited me to stay at his home, but I thanked him and said that I needed to travel on to Tapachula that day.

Tapachula is an industrial-looking town, certainly not pretty like a colonial town. I got lost in the usual downtown gridlock looking for a hotel. Eventually I found one that probably was the best one in town, or one of the best (Hotel San Francisco, 610 Pesos, N14.90038, W92.26656). It had all the amenites, AC, Pool, Restaurant, secure parking. My goal that day was to get some money changed into the Guatemalan Quetzales. However, I didn't count on the national holiday, everything was closed. I found a currency exchange house and was there at 9 the next morning to get some currency before crossing the border into Guatemala.

How not to cross borders!

My trip plan for Guatemala is to avoid Guatemala city. I am driving the “CA-2” highway instead, which is also supposedly faster to get to El Salvidor. My entry point therefore was to be in the city of Hidalgo, about 60 kms south of Tapachula. I arrived at the border unprepared for what was next. On my way into Tapachula, I passed a customs station in the northbound lane, but I just kept going. At the border, I discovered two things in the wrong order. The first thing was that I needed to have my tourist visa canceled, and this should have been done at Tapachula. The migracion guy said I had to drive back to Tapachula to pay the exit fee and cancel my visa. After some discussion and whining on my part about going back, he said for 200 pesos, he could “fix” the problem there. I coughed up the money. Then I crossed the border and arrived in Guatemala. I was expecting to find Mexican customs at the border to cancel my temporary vehicle import document, nope. The nice people in Guatemala explained I had to get this canceled before I could enter. On my way back into Mexico I found Mexican customs and they explained that I had to go back to the customs office on the way into Tapachula to get my importation canceled. so, back I went. It was a simple matter to close it off and get the necessary papers to enter Guatemala. I drove back to the border under threatening skies. The afternoon convection was in full throttle, and a storm was imminent. I got through the border fairly quickly. I already had my exit stamp from Mexico (the 200 Peso donation), so I proceeded to Guatemala. First stop was fumigation, 12.5 Quetzales for that. Then to migracion for a stamp on my passport, then on to Aduana for the importation of my bike (40 Quetzales). Lots of paper shuffle here, my passport, driver's license, registration, exit papers from Mexico, copies of everything, then more copies after stamps had been received. It was fast however, less than an hour.

I should say a bit about the “ayudantes” or “tramitadores”. These are people who make a living helping people through the maze at a border; for someone who doesn't speak any Spanish, this could be a daunting task. I was accosted in Mexico long before I got to the Guatemala border, people would walk out on the streets in front of me, yelling and trying to get me to stop. I just ignored them. As I got closer to the border, they were giving chase on motorcycles. I stopped a couple of times and told them clearly that I didn't need their help. They got the message and left. That said, when I got into Guatemala, there were a few hanging around the fumigation station. They didn't push themselves on me, just told me what was next. One fellow kind of took over and the rest disappeared. I did all the talking with Migracion and Aduana, and he just pointed me in the right direction for the next step. When copies were needed, he took me to the copy shop. I appreciated his low-key approach. At the end of it all, he gave me directions to get out of town, and never asked for a cent. I gave him a small amount that he seemed pleased with.

After leaving the border town, the skies were black. It started to pour, and I stopped to put on my rain gear. I was riding in a good downpour for about 5 minutes when I came across a hotel beside the highway. Any port in a storm will do. I stopped in and had a look, my usual routine: “tiene habitaciones?”, then “quenta questa?”, then if I'm not shocked by the price, “puedo verlo?”. If the visual inspection passes, I have my place for the night. My overall travel plan was to travel early and get some miles behind me before the afternoon convection takes over. My false start at the border put me a half-day behind, so I only got a few kms into Guatemala on the first day. Tomorrow I should be back on plan (Hotel San Esidro, about 5 kms south of Pajapita, 120 Quetzales (about $15), N14.70996, W92.09227)

Crossing the border into Guatemala also had a time change, I was back on Mountain Time. I was up an hour earlier in the morning as a result, and was loaded up and on the road by 7 AM. It was great as there was still some cloud cover from the night before keeping it cool. I got about 2 ½ hours of riding in before the clouds cleared and the sun rapidly heated things up. The roads in Guatemala proved to be not too bad at all, perhaps a bit less quality than Mexico. I was able to make pretty good time. With the early start, I could have crossed the country in one day, but thought I should see something other than the miles and miles of sugar cane crops along the highway.

A look at the map showed a beach town coming up, Monterrico, about 20 kms south of the highway. I had also seen some signs advertising the place. It was still early, so I stopped at the town at the junction to Monterrico (Taxisco) and found an internet cafe to check my email, then headed for the coast. At the end of the road there was a dock with a bunch of small barges. What was up with this? A guy approached me as I was shutting down and asked if I was going to Monterrico, explaining it was a 4 km boat ride to get there. This was getting interesting! I asked what was there, would I find a selection of hotels? Apparently a wide variety, so we negotiated a price of 100 Quetzales to take me there ($8). I drove my bike over a rickety assortment of planks to get on the barge, and then off we went.

I likened the barge trip to the Florida Everglades, it was a series of channels through swampy marshlands and mangrove jungle. I asked the boat driver if the water was fresh or salt water. He said that in the rainy season the water flowing off of land keeps it fresh, and in the dry season it backfills with more salty water. We passed a few other barges going the other direction and the driver would slow down to negotiate the waves. I watched with some concern as the wooden barge would twist and bend with each wave, then asked the driver if they carried cars on these barges too, and apparently so. The barges are big enough for one car. I don't know if I would risk a car on one though.

We arrived in Monterrico and docked on a cement ramp. A few fellows showed up and we pushed the bike off onto shore. One of the guys was a tout for some local hotels and asked me what I wanted in a hotel. I thought, what the heck. He helped with the bike, I'll help him. He led me on his bicycle through a maze of sandy lanes through a neighbourhood of rickety homes until we came to the beach and a selection of hotels. We stopped at a few along the way that I discarded without going in. I asked for a place on the beach with air conditioning, and the next place was to order. The Hotel El Mangle (N13.88848 W90.47935) is an interesting place on the beach. The tout took me on a tour and showed me a room on the ground floor (my usual preference). On the way out, a woman suggested he show me the “pen house”. We found our way through the bar, up a flight of stairs, across and up a cat-walk into a small room with a large balcony overlooking the ocean. “No hay mas preguntas” I said, “no more questions”. This was it, and a two-day stay too. Oh, and for about $25 per night.

On the way in, I saw a man who was kneading dough beside a wood-fired oven. On my way back to collect my luggage, I asked what he was making - pizza dough! Well, I just figured out what was for supper. I didn't expect to find home-made dough and a wood-fired oven beside the sea in Guatemala! I saw as the afternoon turned to evening that it is a popular spot for pizza, and well-deserved. I had a seafood pizza with lots of shrimp. I have to say one of the better ones I have had!

It was such a pleasant spot, I stayed for two days and got some routine tasks done, moto maintenance, washing some clothes in the sink, and a few emails from an internet cafe. I caught a barge back to the mainland at 7 AM the next morning and pushed on to El Salvador. I crossed the border around 9:30 after the usual paperwork.

My next blog will pick up at San Miguel, El Salvador. I retraced some steps my daughter Melinda had there.

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6th October 2009

Oaxaca
Jeff's sister went to Oaxaca every year for a long time to help a team of volunteer surgeons perform eye surgery on people who came out of the mountains and walked for days to get help. Blind people who could see for the first time - totally amazing stuff and stories - miracles do happen! She loved the people, the town (I have seen many pictures of the central square) and the famous black pottery that is made there. Sounds like you had a good experience too.

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