The ruins of Copán have sort of lived up to the hype but obviously the people telling us about Copán have never been to Guatemala or Mexico. By no means as big, detailed and preserved as Tical or any other of the about dozen other Mayan cities I have incurred but mind you Copán are by far the oldest dating 700 A.D.
From there on the Mayans have migrated to today’s Guatemala and later, the Yucatan peninsula. Throughout the travel I have noticed some major misconceptions in the western world about the Mayans. First, no, they have not been helped by extraterrestrial. They have achieved all by ingenuity, intelligence and hard work.
Second, they have not been wiped out by the conquistadores nor by disease. There is over 5 million indigenous people claiming to be of Mayan descent. I have seen hundreds and met dozens. Sadly, the vast majority has been misplaced by the Spanish colonization and to todays date has not found and probably never will find its place in todays society. Prior, all indigenous people lived from the land without any form of a united government. All of the sudden Central and South America starts to be extorted from its natural resources and the people used as slaves on fields and properties that a week ago belong to them, while Spain is becoming the richest of the nation in Europe. Those who were not enslaved might as well wished they were upon the introduction of the monetary system. Trades are becoming obsolete and everything from tools to clothing is brought from Spain. The food of the land they own now has to be sold to purchase other goods necessary for survival. It was a win/win for Spain and not just them. The same went for Holland in Africa, Portugal in South America and the Kingdom in pretty much every corner of the world. Mayans, who understood more about stars and planets than most of us do today are introduced and under force made believe in a new God. Christianity is introduced and churches are built but still to this day, the indigenous do not sit in the benches but kneel on the church floor.
As we all know the western system has never left but just took on a new form. Colonization has just taken a form of corporation. Huge companies such an Exxon and Chevron have moved in and now are extorting, enslaving and polluting the countries. The people never see the benefit of this except the governments that will never leave because it is these same corporations that pay for their insane pensions after just a 6 month employment. This goes for gold and diamonds in Africa, silver mines in Bolivia, sugar cane in Brazil, etc….Africa is not poor. None of these countries are. They are just being raped. Woooow, Back to riding.
I have some commitments in Playa Jaco next week so we are going to pick up the pace a bit. After Copán we set off on a 200km ride through the mountains.
We crossed 3 mountain ranges before descending to La Esperanza. We have seen a total of maybe 15 cars all day. The scenery was so amazing that I lost Alex completely as I couldn’t find myself to go over 30km/h.
As if someone cut the road off, the last 20km go from asphalt to dirt. A fairy common thing in Central America. It’s dark and cold when I get to La Esperanza. Alex is nowhere in sight as I zigzagged the town so I find myself a hotel a block from the main square. A three floor new construction for…. wait for it…. waiiit…$6. The spooky thing was that not too many tourist come to this place. Im not even mentioning foreign, so I had the whole place to myself. I head out for the usual stroll around town and what do you know? Coming around a corner there is Alex.
A fairly uneventful but a nice ride trough the Cordilleras. We took off from Salamá, Guatemala and continued on towards a small crossing in El Florido. Most were side roads except for a 50km stretch infested with tractor trailers. Had a quick stop off in a small town along side the road in a valley reminiscent of southern Austria. Most of the surroundings were pastures with milka cows so we had to get a taste of the local cheese. Sadly, tofu would be a good comparison. Further ways the hill tops change to coffee plantations. Awkwardly, upon descent, one last change to never ending fields of wine. Something I would never expect. We had a small taste but it was nothing a westerner is used to. Everything was Porto sweet and they to tend to mix the wine after fermentation with different fruit juices such as tamarindo and pineapple.
The bikes need constant attention. Not as much as things are breaking down but more preventative. At one of the stops I notices a frame bolt shaking its way out. A FRAME BOLT! It wasn’t easy to screw back in either. Makes me wonder what else is loose on the bike that I don’t see.
“It always works out” I say. Alex’s front of the bike keeps getting sprays by mud and water because of the useless aftermarket supermoto fender. Anything from headlight, windscreen, radiator, dash and himself are constantly covered. At one of the small town just before the border is a clothing store that has some used MX gear as well and, you guessed it, a used original fender from a Honda CR250. It will now officially be the most colorful KLR.
We get to the border around 1:30pm and despite there was barely anyone crossing we spent the most time there out of any previous ones. Seems as neither country cares about the person entering as the bikes get through way more screening than the individual. As a person it’s a simple stamp out, pay your visa/entrance and stamp in again into the entering country. Way different story with the bikes in these two countries though. We might as well been transporting nuclear waste. Where as in most countries the paper work is returned upon leaving, Guatemala insists on making copies the old school way, carbon paper, and than make copies of that, and presenting them on the Honduras side. Honduras than insists on sixteen, yes sixteen more copies of all our paperwork and theirs as well. Of no border crossing in Central America will do this for you. We came well stacked thanks to previous experience but I didn’t carry a binder with me. Usually there is a privateer on either side with a copy machine. This one was up the hill on the Honduras side so we freely pass the gates without anyone paying attention to us. Out of all the paper work we get one in return to be handed back upon leaving the country. Good for 90 day roaming. Upon leaving we show the paperwork to the cowboy operating the gate and he waves us through.
The town of Copán is only 10 km pass the border. A tiny, colorful colonial town with a great atmosphere. Cafes, restaurants and hotels at every corner. A foreign presence is felt here as some of the owners are European and North American. Just when I thought Guatemala is cheap. Our top notch hotel is 400 lempiras. At today’s rate, that is $18. Dinner last night, consisting of an appetizer, 2 full meals, 6 beers and 6 tequilas was came out to $38.
Not sure if Copán ruins are the only ones in Honduras. I assume so. Regardless, as the Mayans started here and over the centuries migrated to Guatemala and finally the Yucatan, they are one of the oldest ones. Can’t wait for tomorrow.
Just little booboo on my part in the morning as I led us deeper in and backtracked us by almost two hours. The time is not the issue but the hard driving and the abuse of the bikes. By noon, the bikes and our butts were happy to get of the dirt roads after more than 200km in the past three days and we head south in direction of Guatemala City. The rest of the day we spent zig zagging the Cordilleras way up in the clouds. More than a 100km of flawless tarmac with super twisties, some going around 270 degrees. I ran out of memory cards while in Champey shooting all the beautiful natural wonders and Maria finished it of completely by having a one on one with the camera last night. Luckily I was able to find some knock-off micro chips in a camera shop in the town of Cobán that we passed through. A few 8gig micro cards should do it until the end of the trip.
We spend the night in Salamá. I find a hot spot to skype Rogers as my phone seems to have been cut off in the past day. After 30 minutes on hold I’m told that it in fact has been blocked for unusual roaming usage but that they have to transfer me into a different department to reactivate. After another 45 minutes on being on hold the answering machine goes on. Turns out that I have been on hold so long that the hour striked 9pm and that particular department closed. The nice lady on the machine even asked for a number and a promise that they will call back the next day. What number exactly when you have cut me off?? Awesome.
Now officially top 5 destination is Guatemala. In my world anyway. Semuc Champey is 10km of a very rough ride of steep ups and downs. The only way for a tourist to get there is on the back of a pickup truck that occasionally run back and forth or renting a 4×4 in Antigua or Guatemala City.
The pools of Champey are nothing like I have ever seen before. It consists of a wild river that turns off into a cave system just a few feet before the pools. The crystal white pools with beautiful clear water are the main attraction.
Millions of years ago, sea shells got crushed and pulverized and later hardened to form these pools with water flowing into them from way up in the jungle. I have tasted the water from the streams and it is so heavy on minerals it’s almost salty. Of course I don’t settle just for watching these from eye level so while Alex stays for a dip I go for the exhausting, 30 minute steep path way up on top of one of the mountains.
Well worth it. I ran into our Croatian friends there that we met the night before in Languín. Way down was less exhausting but dangerous as very little light gets through the canopy and the path is very slippery. A dive into the crystal pools was so welcoming. Making way from one pool to another either over the natural dam or under, through a small cavern. The ponds are full of fish that just nibble on your skin. An exfoliation of kinds. Of course this wasn’t enough. From the Croatians I found out that there caves a few hundred meters from here. You don’t need to convince me. So this was probably one of the coolest things I have done in my life. One this about Guatemala is that the level of security in places like these is zero. One of the Croatian girls Maria, a couple from Cali, me and the guide are handed a candle each and set out for well over an hours exploration of the cave. My first thought is, will these candles last an hour? Endless number of stalagmites and stalactites in an endless cave. 11km to be exact. We only went in just under a mile but it was a mile of swimming crawling through tight spaces and up waterfalls to get into the other levels of the cave system. Most of the hike was done half submerged. All of this was done with the hopes to keep at least one candle going. Half way through we knew the candles were not gonna last so we started putting some out to save them for later. Because of a still swollen ankle from my bike spill back in August, I passed on a dive into a pond inside the cave but I was the first to slide my body down a sort of tunnel opening into the unknown.
We are now 3:1 as Alex gets dumped off his bike again. Well, not sure if #2 should count as he just forgot to kick out his side stand and thus leaned the bike into emptiness right in front of our hotel back a few days ago in Isla de Flores.
My bike is short to follow. For whatever reason I did not wear ear plugs coming back from Champey. 99% of the riding I do. As we hit the pavement in Languín I hear a cling as if a piece of metal hit the ground. I try to stop but no front brake. Using the rear and gearing down I pull over. One of the screws holding the front caliper flew off and the other is hanging by a few threads. I walked back a few dozen feet and surely enough there is the bolt on the cobble stone pavement. What luck, I’m thinking. Not only that I heard it drop but especially that it didn’t happen anywhere else on the 120km stretch of steep hills and 500ft drops on either side. Remember when I was getting my front brakes fixed in Cancún? The bikes have really been getting a beating the past two days. I’m really surprised that more hasn’t happened but a drop of thread lock would have prevented this. All I had was crazy glue, so a few drops on the treads and back in they go. Easy fix at the side of the street.
We spent the night with the Croatians in this awesome hotel that consisted of a number if straw huts alongside the river. Consuming Gallos and Brahvas long into the night before a good bye to them as they were heading up to Tical and Cancún.
Did I mention that we barely ever paid more than $20 for a hotel in Guatemala? Food is insanely cheap too. About $5 for two big breakfast and pure Guatemalan coffee.
We have a few more nights in Guatemala before taking on Honduras. We are both insanely pleased with it and I will definitely return to discover more of this beautiful country. Too bad about the well deserved bad rep. Guatemala a fairly small place with little population averages 500 murders a month. Yes, that’s almost 17 murders every night, not mentioning traffic and other accidents. December had a whopping 544 murders and 29 deaths over the New Year’s Eve we spent here. Overall we never felt threatened even in the remote places. On the contrary, people were very friendly everywhere we have tackled. I even got down a few more Mayan phrases from the lovely Mayan ladies back in Languín where we stayed for the past 2 nights. They don’t have words for “to buy” or “purchase”, but I got down phrases such as “mas natatin qua” for “I love you”, “mantita kek” for “ride me cowboy style” and “masli sam” for “thank you”.
By far the hardest drive ever. I have done some similar to this type were I would venture off on a 250 XT or a CR but the rewarding destination had us pushing on. I have had a spill last summer on a road easier than this. This one dragged on for 100km deep in the Guatemalan jungle of the Cordilleras
Semuc Champey is supposed to be the 8th wonder of the world. I will be the judge after seeing the 7th only a few weeks back. We set off from Rio Dulce but choose not to take the easy 350km ride but opt for the hard, 130 kilometers.
Enthusiastically we hit the dirt mountain road. Results start showing shortly. The bimmer is the first. The bolt on the left side of the headlight happens to hold the left projector light has come loose and gone MIA. The headlight is now bouncing around loosely and in danger of breaking of completely. A bolt that happens to be the same size is taken off my crash bar for replacement. This bolt is too long so a few washers and a Canadian toonie where I knock the center out make for a perfect spacer.
Second scare comes minuted later when I pass Alex as he thinks that he has a blown front shock. Hundreds of thoughts get processed instantly. Ok. Trip is on hold. Need to find a truck to put the bike on. Get the bike to Guatemala City. All and all, about 8 days to get back on the road. What a relief it was to find out that only the front fender got bent and jammed under the front wheel. What a relief.
Every time we ask for directions the ETA seems to be getting further. We never really knew the distance but the first time frame we got was 2 hours. After an hours driving, the couple of guys that walked out of the bush said three. Another hour goes by and we are getting really exhausted as this seem to be the reminiscent of a Dakar rally stage. The group of Mayan girls just turns around and runs when I ask them so I opt for the man walking this kids. “Dos horas”. C’mooon.
It took us about 5 hours to drive this technical course of 100km to get to Languín. The last stop with a restaurant and a hostel before Champey. Beat, we settle in one of two hostels awkwardly called Rabbi Itzam that happened to be full of Israeli backpackers. Never in my life would I have thought I would drive this far for a dip.
Another crappy night and morning, so I decide to do something about it but not sure what yet. As soon as the market opens up I head out in hope to find a cure. Before you know it I’m standing in front of a store that besides other stuff seemed to be selling remedies and ointments. I briefly describe to the shaman with his fingers full of gold rings what is happening. Without hesitation he seemed to know what the problem is and pulls out two packages for me to choose from. Hmmm. The blue pill or the red pill. I opted for the more expensive at $4.90 which of course will give better and faster results than the $4.50 package. “Ok. Could you come over here and slide your shorts down” he says. “No, man. I got the flu I think” I reply confused by his request. “I understand” he insists. “Could you come over here and slide your shorts down” as he points for me to come behind the counter. Now that the package is open and he is reaching for a syringe off the shelf, its coming all together. Without hesitation and disregard of the morning passerbyes I go over and drop them. “I give you the thinner needle” he says as he is mixing the yellow and the transparent content on the vile. That made me really happy as it was the needle thickness that really worried me and not him using bare hands full of gold rings on his fingers and not disinfecting my left butt cheek. I pick the syringe up for inspection to make sure there is no bubbles in it. Good. Gitty up!
Whatever this stuff was, the results were instant. No longer was I worried to go on a 2 hour boat ride to Livingston. On the way there little native kids are pulling up to us on little dug out boats in either hope to get a gift or try to sell us sea shells.
Next stop on the way was a small bar on the water that had hot springs right next to it. Up above the bar were some caves and caverns. All ran by natives.
To get to Livingston we back tracked a bit back to just a few kilometers from the southern most part of Belize. Livingston is now a small fishing town but used to be and very important port and trading place back in its day. Now its economy is based on tourism. A variety of cultures live there from East Asians, African, European and Native. The interesting thing is that it is not an island but is completely inaccessible by land. There is a few beaten up vehicles there but just like everything else, all brought in by barges.
New Years was spent right in front of our hotel where the only party in town took place on the basketball field. In many South and Central American countries I noticed, that people don’t really give a damn about the quality of the sound, as long as it is super loud and has tons of bass.
As predicted, the cold can no longer be ignored and I feel like a complete sack of s***. Sore throat, watery and tired eyes, pressure in my ears that won’t pop, runny nose, weak body… No time to waste and haste. We pack the tents up, jump on the bikes and head out towards Rio Dulce. I wanted to get there early to catch up on blogging and get a rest. The bikes have been awesome. We have eased up the throttles in the past week and beer getting over double the distance. I’m getting almost an unbelievable 480km per tank cruising at 80km/h as oppose getting a mere 180km on a tank with the same bike with a modified exhaust running around the highways in Canada at 120km/h.
Just as a torrential downpour starts we pull into Rio Dulce. Not sure what to think of this place. On one hand it seems like a poshy gateway to the Caribbean with marinas, big yachts and people boogieing around the delta on Seadoos. On the other the downtown core was no shortage of a market in Thailand. We could barely squeeze down the Main Street on the bikes as it is completely filled with market stands felling anything from cell phones to home made food. Right down my alley. We settle at a hotel a stone throw away from it all with view of the delta across the marina. $20 per night was hard to turn down.
Immediately drop my bags in the room and run to the market. So many goodies that I could not identify. As I’m negotiating a deal on a fried fish wrapped in newspaper the 80 year old lady at the next stand breaks off a piece of her home made whatever and tries to jam it in my mouth. No success there. I did end up buying a fried green pepper stuffed with veggies though. Now. Where do I consume all this treasure? Bar Las Vegas says the sign deep inside the market. All riiight! How convenient. Have a cold one with it. We waltz in like we own it. But wait…. Why is it so dark in here? Old guys sleeping heads down amongst tables full of beer bottles. Those not sleeping are barely standing. Groups of young punks playing with cellies staring us down, but an unusually high ratio of semi good looking women sitting randomly through out the place. “4pm Sunday?” I’m thinking. I look up as perhaps I made a mistake on the date as I notice tube televisions placed above, conveniently in each corner. Each was playing a different hardcore porn. Oh, I get it. I reluctantly sit down under one of those TVs followed by Alex. Even the $0.75 beers couldn’t make me stay longer that it would to devour all the stuff from the market. I don’t think Alex has said one work the whole time. I did enjoy my fish and stuffed pepper though. I had my camera and really wanted to tape the place but with Alex combined we were no match to the group of vatos that would surely like to borrow my camera for a while. We jet the place as the old drunks start approaching us to start conversations.
The Caribbean sea will be able to take a breather once I’m gone. Despite being sick I still have an unsatisfied hunger for seafood. We head to the ranchos on the water so Alex can have his dinner too. I could not resist the seafood soup. A huge bowl with 2 whole crabs, about 10 shrimp, a number of huge mussels and an entire fish at the bottom. Heaven.
We said bye to Blake the previous night without a doubt that we will cross paths on this trip again. Not an uncommon thing. We have been running into the same people ever since Mexico. He was rushing to a family reunion in Antigua some 500km away and we were going to backtrack to the ancient city of Tical. By now I’m totally sick. I felt a sore throat the day before but thought that if I ignore it, it will go away. All the tequila and Gallos have just added to it not to mention a slight hangover. The morning was a struggle. Tical is off the grid way in the jungle and what a sight. The day was so fulfilled with excitement that the crappy feeling has totally gone until the next day. My jaw dropped when I entered the Main Square. I know I have said this before, but this, this has outdone anything on this trip.
I was so hyped to see this place that I never grabbed a map guide. I climb up the highest spot possible and just when I thought I have seen the best of it I see two more temples out on the distance to the west. Without hesitation I set out westward. I find Alex to ask him to join me but he is still limping from our little incident when we tripped over the Tropic of Cancer way back in Mexico. To add to the sorrow, he thought it would be a good idea to kick a coconut laying on the road while doing 80km/h. Yes, using his already swollen foot. He politely declined.
Cool thing about this place that there was very little tourists. Tikal is luckily not very easily accessible and Guatemala is not the most popular tourist destination. It damn should be.
I found myself alone almost every time I went off the main path and every time I was getting myself into a never ending maze of Mayan structures. The other cool thing is about Tikal is that it is in the middle of the jungle and thus not maintained to a degree like Chichen Itza. You can not see from one place to another through the trees and there is no abundance of wild life either. I have seen wild turkeys and pizotes roaming together, with spider and congo monkeys above. It all added all that much more to the atmosphere. I make it to temple IV and clime all the way up. What a sight. Nothing but thick jungle with now the main place and temples I and II in the distance. It was a perfectly sunny day, but to add the the spectacle a dark cloud with a tube of rain and a rainbow coming at us from the left.
I spend about 3 hours exploring and getting educated. The ancient city is spread over an area of more than 100km square and at one point had up to 80 000 inhabitants. Over a million pieces of artifacts and tools have been dug up and apparently over a million still hidden in the ruins that to this day still have not been excavated.
I find in at the off the grid hotel/ cabins by the parking lot and not surprising, he is sitting there with the Czechs that we ran into in Belize city. The hotel owner let’s us pitch our tents up on the grounds. Nice. I missed camping and there was very little choice as it was nearing dark and the closest town with a hostel is 50km away. Not that we couldn’t afford the $75 cabins but the further south we get the further we seem to push the envelope on how little we can survive. Cold shower and a toilet. What else could you possibly need. To top it off they ran the generator until 9 to keep the beers cool. We dragged it long into the night. No big good byes as again, we might see each other in perhaps another country down the road. That night we decided to go 200km south to Rio Dulce and than perhaps take a boat down the river into Livingston on the Caribbean side again. They decided to head west to Semuc Champey
I forgot to mention that, despite its bad rep, both Alex and I were extremely impressed with Mexico. Towns, especially in the south were super clean. I have even seen encouragement for recycling. Nothing but friendly people along the way and wherever we hung out. Even though we probably broke the traffic laws a few hundred times with or without the presence of the police, there was never any trouble nor bribes necessary. Police was always friendly and helpful. Despite thousands of topes (speed bumps) we have gone over, Mexico is in my top ten.
Remember Jim and his wife, the club owners that we met at Chichen Itzá? I got an email from him that he featured us on the club sites. www.musclebikesofamerica.com and www.musclecarsofamerica.com Thanks Jim. I will be sending the photos shortly.
We pack up and head out towards the Guatemalan border about 100km away. We drop by at a hotel/ restaurant about 20km from the border to get a coffee. Coincidentally, the South African owner was from Boquete, Panamá and we had a lot of friends in common especially from the bike club there, the Macho Montes.
Again, easy border. By now we are getting into the routine. In and out. Having no lineups really helps. Thus far, the Canada to US border was by far the most dreadful.
Beside us pulls up an old school, camo KLR with Ontario plates. Blake is an awesome dude from Ottawa that has been doing the same trip and has been on the road four months now. We drive together about 80km to Isla de Flores. Amazing town on a lake island. Very reminiscent to old Quebec. Narrow cobble stone streets with music coming out of the tons of restaurants and bars. In someway I feel pity for people who buy into prepackaged vacations in the ordinary vacation spots. We have hit dozens of magical spots along the way that are easily accessible for single travelers, couples and families on any budget.
We settled in a nice hotel for only $30 a night overlooking the lake and backing onto one of these cobble stone streets. Due to its tiny size, there is no back nor front yards on Isla de Flores so the nice lady let Alex park his bike right in the front lobby and I drove mine down the hallway right up to the room.
After the usual stroll through this beautiful island town, we set out to the boardwalk where there is dozens of stands and vendors selling local food. For 10 Quetzales (equivalent to about $1.25) I had a filing supper of 6 tostadas with just about every possible topping. And I was told it gets cheaper the further south we go.
We meet up with Blake and head the bar district to share many amazing stories and many more beers.
“Porque no tacos sin picante?” as the little girl in the Taco Bell commercials says. All the spicy food is taking its toll. With an abundance of public toilets this subject should not be taken lightly. But it tastes so gooood.
We cross in the morning into Belize. Pretty simple. The whole process took no longer than 10 minutes. Stamp ourselves out, stamp the bikes out and get a promise that the $400 deposit that we left in Brownsville will be credited. Shoot across into Belize, get insurance for the bikes, drive down half a mile, get the bikes fumigated, (the guy never even gets out to spray them) stamp us in, stamp the bikes in. No lengthy paperwork, no line ups. Present the passports at the gates. Done. Beautiful Belize here we come.
What are these crappy roads? Garbage everywhere. Slums along the road and the smell of septic everywhere? I’m sure it’s going to get better further down. Nope. Still the same. We get into Belize City as it starts raining. Drive around for a while with no luck of finding a hotel. Finally after almost an hour we find a small hotel not far from downtown. Good deal for about $40. Very little septic smell and a place to lock the bikes. I’m used to suicide showers but never have I’ve seen one with a plug. What can you possibly plug in there?
We head out to the water front. Town is kind of sketchy but I have seen a lot during all the travels so feel pretty comfortable. It has a lot of potential if it was cleaned up and the roads fixed. Stopped of at a bar right on the water called Bucket Bar. You can’t just buy a single beer here. Only a bucket of six. That was no problem as by the time I got to the table randoms are approaching with “Where you from? What’s your name? Can I have a beer?” By the time I made it across I had one for me and one for Alex. So a bucket later we set of for a stroll to where the cruise ships pull into. Austin was the guy who promised to get us anything and everything. We had a few beers with him in front of his store and I got a pair of fake Ray Bans from him for $8.
On the way back we run into some Czech backpackers. Bucket Bar seems like a good idea. I was grateful I brought my action cam. It must have been a good night. I woke up with an empty wallet and a hangover. The camera will tell.