Paradise (?) Revisited, 4 Countries in 1 day, Guatemala Still Gorgeous, Mediocre Moles and More Mexicana Madness in Puerto Escondildo

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May 30th 2006
Published: May 31st 2006
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Sorry, I’ve edited and re-edited but it’s still a long tail!

Starting off…..Back in sweaty, sultry, sloow, San Juan del Sur, if Puerto Viejo was desultory San Juan is sultry…..more gringo developments arising around us and a Japanese funded port facility (many Nicaraguan road bridges are signed “with the love and friendship of the people of Japan”, now I understand!) and the dolphin research centre next maybe?… but it’s still beautiful, maybe No. 2 after Bocas, went for my early morning dip and copped a sea wasp across my arm, blisters and pain, vinegar cure, sunsets at the Iguana Bar, D still hanging in, the usual crowd and some interesting travellers as always.

The bay is a classic, perfectly round horseshoe with high cliffs on both sides of the entrance. The waves break around the shore in smooth symmetry from one side to the other, at low tide the boys will be playing beach football, the game just flows on for an hour or two, any number of kids, goals are scored but nobody is counting, skill levels astounding.

In the middle of town the market is hidden away, a couple of narrow lanes lead back into the
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darkness, takes a few minutes to get used to the dark then you see the little shops lining the pathway, cheap clothes, gaudy fabrics, all weird manners of underwear, lingerie, buttons, baubles and bows, down the back the fruit stalls stand out in a shaft of light from a hole in the roof, piles of mangoes, bananas, oranges, papayas, spuds, cabbages, a pretty sorry selection all up.
The whole market is covered in a low fibro cement roof, painted black to add to the gloominess, 5 concrete bunkers, one is the meat shop, don’t ask!, the other 4, identical little comedors, food places, each with a whiteboard on the wall, a jarbled, crowded menu on each, similar, foods in spanglish and espanol, inside each one are 3 or 4 women like a generational thing, the older woman, couple of younger ones, mostly pregnant or nursing babies, must be something in the water?, babies and toddlers roaming around underfoot, big wood fired stove, huge vats of steaming, rendered whatever, but the food is great…, bony, lumpy, indescribable, but great, and you eat at big tables, chair styles range from the ubiquitous plastic, beer sponsored numbers to carved, cane seat dining room
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models, table tops covered with embroidered lace, under heavy duty plastic sheeting.

Out on the street, the glare of the sun is intense, a beaten up horse is parked at the corner, he is attached to an amazing cart, held together by chewing gum and string, it has rubber tyres, well, strips of old tyres have been nailed to the wooden wheels, a framework of timber scraps makes the cart and a huge double car seat balanced on top, ropes and old leather tie it all together, it shares road space with a straggly bunch of taxis, massive 4x4s of the real estate agents and gringos, little utes, sometimes a bus passing thru’, and a range of bikes, pushies still the preferred mode for most, little motos and quads, in fact not all at once, it is remarkably quiet at the moment, real low season so I’m happy.

I swim in the morning, usually out to where the fishing boats are moored, no more jelly fish thankfully, then clean up and brekky in the market dives, get some photocopies made for the next 4 or 5 border crossings between here and mexico and check the internet…typical morning, then light lunch, siesta, writing, late swim, then down to D’s Iguana Bar for sunset cocktails, meet up with the local crew, some are passing thru’ like me, others more or less staying here, from 2 years to 2 months, eking out an existence at whatever they can, some just retired and able to live off investments.
I’m gathering a bank of characters for someday writing about, one thing about life on the road, especially solo, is the range of characters you meet, just astounding, I’ve met about a dozen people who have been to Cuba including a Swedish chica was able to stay 6 months, all had wonderful experiences, once they got out of Havana, I so want to go back there….just can’t see it this time..

I had a look at the map yesterday and it’s (only) 1100 or so kms to the Mexican frontera, 2 or 3 days tops ? (IF…. the roads are open, fronteras straightforward, weather reasonable etc) so I’ll stay another day, it’s open stage at the Iguana on Tuesdays and everyone’s getting excited (doesn’t take much) but should be good, German George the carpenter who wants to be a photographer plays bass, American Bill, former computer programmer, been here 18 months, plays guitar and sings, D sings, others bring instruments and I think everyone gets roped in sooner or later, jesus wept!

It was a Big night but I had to go early and rode carefully, the roads good except for the odd distraction, halfway between Managua and Leon, following a truck, waiting for the passing op, he plunges into a huge puddle, more like a small lake, no time to change course and I figure he knows best, I follow….as the front wheel goes right under I realise it’s a bit deeper than I thought! I’m committed tho’, one of the suspect design flaws of the bike is that the air intake is up under the tank, only 750mm above ground level, the positive is that the bow wave created as you enter water (and as long as you keep moving!) keeps it free…a huge wave of muddy water rises up and crashes over me, from helmet down, I’m covered in obscure mud, the water is over my knees, everything goes wobbly, look to where you want to go (Luke) be the bike, yeah, yeah, we get thru’, After those Costa
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bridges anything is tame! However my nice clean bike (and Me) are coated in quick drying cement! Hijo de puta! However, soon I see a huge storm ahead, half hoping it will hit and wash me off but the lightning is too close and the wall of water too extreme, I get to a town and shelter in the servo, play games with the kids, also sheltering, find an amazing hotel, meet Byron from Nth California, will be in Oz later in the year, wish I had more time to talk, seemed like an interesting guy, maybe in Oz.

So, another day….crossed from Nicaragua thru’ Honduras, El Salvador and into Guatemala, 4 countries in one day!

Guatemala is so colourful, some compensation for the shit and derision they suffer. Back to good roads, altho’ one detour that meandered off into the jungle for 10 kms, our bizarre caravan….a solid line of cars, buses, trucks and a moto, streaming slowly like a column of ants thru’ the bush. Back to the little women, overloaded, looking just like the dolls, swaddled into shapeless bundles by the most intricately woven tapestries, reds and purples, the brightest colours, jet black long hair,
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dark sparkling eyes, glint of gold capped teeth. Back to the evenly spaced out dogs.
Back to Antigua, lost a little lustre but still cool, a disturbing number of fcuking evangelistas, norte americanos, I sometimes see in their eyes the glazed, dazed look of the Yellow People of the 70’s, haven’t they got anything better to do? Like educate these people maybe?…..
Back to the Guatemalan Muscle Buses, squat, powerful, cornering at alarming speeds, belching smoke and emitting the most fearsome, gutsy, roar, fantastic, screaming along then braking to a sliding stop at any moment to pick up and drop off, always washed and polished, the elaborate, often corny, religious and film star based works of art all over them.

Then another frontera and back to Mexico, land of the long straight stretches and sudden deviations. 45 mins getting thru’ customs, some misunderstanding about my failure to hand in papers on the way out! Fang off to catch up time and10 kms down the road I come across all the vehicles that passed customs while I waited, plus many, many more, a 5 km hold up, I take the outside and pass 500 vehicles, finally the one-lane bridge and
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an accident, I sneak thru’, laughing, just made up 5 hours time.

I must say, throughout all latino America, the truck and bus drivers have been exceptionally professional, polite and helpful, sometimes you have to get out of their way, but they have a big job to do. Most of the car drivers however, shite!

So now Mexico, long straights, hot and dry, need the music and the armour to stay sane and cool, now turning inland, back to the magic of Oaxaca where I spent a couple of fabulous weeks some 5 years ago(?) the road up, omg, only in Mexico roads this good, I’d thought some of the roads in suramerica were good, but this is the real thing, 200 kms of endless, winding, curvery, perfectly engineered, line marked, paved and signed, perfecto!
But what happened to Oaxaca? I ride into a big city, wide freeway style roads, modernity, where’s the little mountainside village I knew and loved? I knew there was an airport here but now big jets scream on over the city constantly. I stop a taxi and ask the driver, he laughs, much has changed, si senor, shows me where I am
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and the way to the zocalo, I’m really hanging out to sit in that square again, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, however, he tells me it is closed off for traffic, 5 million teachers from Oaxaca state are staging a sit-in strike, they have taken over a dozen blocks around the zocalo, they have been there 2 weeks and maybe 2 more to come! So, I find a hotel just off centre and stroll to the zocalo, the streets are covered in plastic sheet roofs, little tents, families camped out in the streets and in doorways, unbelievable, but all orderly, (well, they are teachers) I have to stoop to get under a maze of twine strings criss-crossing the streets.
The zocalo is packed with families camped out in their school groups, little cooking fires, pup tents, cardboard the flooring of choice, many of the restaurants have just closed up, others are open with almost no business as the square is cramped with camping families, and the kids are coping so well, there are many families, no choice but to bring the kids I guess, finally I have my beer in my favourite place but this is
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so weird, I talk to some of the teachers, how can they, and their families, live like this for so long? Dedication! And they are asking for a whole raft of things, not more $ but better conditions and asking where went several million $$ ear-marked for teaching that appears to have gone missing. Whole families living in tents, some just under a sheet on cardboard out in the open, but all seem clean and neat, how do they do it is astounding stuff. These are resilient, passionate and tough people who really believe in their cause, education, and they are right on the money, without good education we have nothing. See where manipulated, revisionist education is getting us! But hey, we can always blame the teachers.

In one corner of the zocalo a big square forms and a clown entertains the crowd, all part of the teachers’ scene, and in general, the locals support them, even when it means their businesses suffer for it, there appears to be no rancour whatsoever, there are streets and streets, totally cut off, no access to the shops, community at work!…inspiring stuff. It’s just so hard to imagine the local community in
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Oz being so supportive…I wish they could, maybe when education is appreciated sufficiently, or the option of paying for private schooling (here? Perish the thought) is not an option, will it be.

I met a gringo in San Juan, one of the educated, we were discussing the implications of the US senate debate on immigration, those awful xenophobia-titivating arguments, so familiar to us from children overboard etc, will it degenerate into the same thing, there’s already the fear that they (the Latinos) will take over the culture, aren’t we a nation of immigrants though, isn’t that what makes us/them strong, and what about the positives, the family values, you never see babies unattended in latino, the old folks live at home, the original extended family, the roles they play, invaluable, no nursing homes in latino, no child care centres, who has the richer, healthier culture? Who has a problem with detached, disillusioned young people, and depression, there seem to be some parallels with our Asian immigration policies.
D was telling me about the ex-pat community in San Juan and how many of them are a bit NQR somehow, past their use-by date maybe, schadenfreude or that déjà vu thing
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again, shades of the Aussie bar owners in Viet Nam. Not so much the Euros I’ve met bbut certainly some of the seppos fall into this category.

Another day, another 200 kms of incredible winding roads back to the coast, I’m up in the clouds, almost chilly, am I on the right road? Jesus wept, I don’t want to go back thru’ all this, this is so cool, but hard work, after 2 hours I’m getting tired, getting dizzy, endless curvery, on the way up ruta 180 was 5th gear stuff, this is all 3rd and sometimes 4th gear, constant hard braking, endless sharp bends, I’m becoming disoriented, have to stop and take a breather, pull off and nearly drop the bike, totally fcuked…take a break and then back to it, down, up, across and down, will this ever end?….finally Pachulta and the relatively straight coast road to Puerto Escodido, I need a break!

A perfect sunset, small smudgy clouds in front, the pink, purple clouds behind, for a minute or two the froth of the surf has a surreal pink colour, never seen that before, too bizarre, the last brave surfers are catching the last dusky waves,
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the surf here is so powerful, huge waves just rise up from nowhere and crash down, awesome stuff.

Up just at first light and down to the beach, the ocean is so deceptively calm, looking out it appears flat with just a slight ripple, then suddenly a massive wall of water rises up, jesus wept (again) (sorry Benno) some Niagra Falls, or Viagra Falls, how can this happen, from nowhere, a monumental wall of blue green, translucent at the peak, feathering, reaching out, then curling and crashing down, the power is mind boggling, the survival chances less than nil, but there are tiny figures out there, the surfistas, launching their tiny fibreglass boards down the face of this monster, unbelievable, and many snapped leg ropes and a few sorry souls battling their way out of the shore break and collecting the two halves of their boards….gutsy play whatever…and did I rent the boogie board? And did I brave the Puerto Escondildo break? No fcuking way!! Ha!

So much for a day off, I needed it after the Oaxaca ride, so much after a fair lay-off, took out the mapa and see just how far I have to go,
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wishing I could just stay in Mexico for a year or so, what a fantastic country.

Altho’ now, coming back, I can see the gringo influence more clearly, the culture is changing with the influx of the surfistas and the touristas in general, sort of like the Oz influence on Bali, just the locals aren’t quite as cool as the lovely Balinese.

OK, see if I can get some pix up…..and then the ‘puter goes sleepy byes for a few days, maybe Mazatlan and the ferry to Baja in 3 or 4 days, then maybe back in the US of A by next week, who knows, I’d like to go diving in Baja but I know I’ve got to keep moving…or do I??

Love youse all…..

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