September 1 and we are a month from departure with so much still to do to be ready…but inspiration and encouragement are relatively easy to find:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…
Sunday, September 30 – Edmonton to High River – 370 km – We’re on our way!
Perhaps the menu title should be changed but we will hope you’ll not be too concerned about today’s ride being included in the ‘October’ postings. We left Edmonton this morning on a day that felt more like November than late September. A very cold morning! We didn’t leave early as a) it was cold, b) we wanted to have breakfast with Tony’s kids, Mike and Vanessa and c) we wanted to stop by the Santa’s Anonymous Toy Run to make a gift. We didn’t ride with the Toy Run, but did drop off a cheque to help out with their fund raising.
So about 9:30 we finished breakfast and layered up in the Capilano Mall parking lot – where the Toy Run starts – feeling a bit like a pair of Michelin Men as we headed out. The sun peaked through on occasion, and the ride to Red Deer was not too bad – cold, but beautiful fall colours. A coffee stop in Red Deer then back on the highway to Airdrie. The wind was picking up, and it was barely above freezing. We whizzed by Calgary with increasing wind then we stopped in High River and agreed that although we’d only put on about 370 km, it was time to stop for the night. We were chilled through, the clouds were low and grey and it was starting to snow. The cars coming out of the south were covered in ice. The forecast for what we thought was our destination – Lethbridge – did not look good so High River it is for an evening to thaw out.
Oh, and Tony had to fix a few things on my bike … one heated hand grip that wasn’t working and then he had to tape up one signal light. We had pulled into a parking lot before checking into a hotel and for some reason – perhaps I was just frozen! – I managed to drop my bike. Thankfully ‘just’ a broken casing for my signal light (although the light still works!), and a cracked fairing on the front : ( right side. Vee is still absolutely ridable, but we thought it was time to stop for the day.
After we stopped mid-afternoon, the snow kept coming down. We were glad to be warm, safe and dry. Sweet dreams, sleep well!
Monday, October 1 – High River, AB to Helena, MT – The coldest 615 km we’ve ever ridden!
This morning we left High River about 10 AM by the time we loaded our gear and felt like it was warming up enough to ride. Last night’s low was about -7. Pretty damn cold, let me say! By 10:00 it had warmed up to about -1, with drizzle coming down. Electric vests, hand warmers on high, great ‘hippo hands’ covers for gloves and handle bars (thanks to my brother Rick for crafting them for us – we have appreciated them in the last two days.)
Looking at today’s forecast which is for record amounts of snow, we want to get out of here while we can! A cautious departure from High River, heading down Highway 3 to Lethbridge. The skies were grey, the drizzle continued for the first hour or so, and thankfully we only had to deal with frozen drizzle plastered on our windscreens, but the road wasn’t icy. By the time we got to Fort McLeod, it had warmed up to at least +1! A coffee stop in Fort McLeod was needed and by the time we left Timmies most of the ice had melted off our windscreens.
As we traveled the skies were lightening, and it was definitely warming up – thank goodness! We breezed past Lethbridge and headed south on Highway 4. A quick stop in Milk River where we noticed the wind once we stopped – it was howling!
Off to Coutts where the line up to cross the border was moving slowly- it took us about 40 minutes to get across the border and into Sweet Grass. In Shelby we stopped for a late lunch and found it had warmed up to 66F which was a lovely change. Then headed to Great Falls and enjoyed a gorgeous ride through the Big Belt Mountains on Interstate 15 to Helena. The mountains were beautiful, the colours of the rock walls ranged from shades of pink, red, grey, and a few greens. Add in regular whiffs of pine scents along the way, some curves lined with rock walls, and not a lot of traffic. The best part of our ride so far.
We checked into a Wingate then walked to find dinner in a city that has no street lights – no wonder no one walks here. Finally found an excellent couple of beers and some good chicken at the Suds Hut after trying to find food and a drink at two other places.
A 600+ km ride today but we have many miles to go – with Tropical Storm Rosa scheduled to arrive in Salt Lake City about the same time as us, we’re a bit concerned about heavy rains ahead. We will hope to sleep well and see what tomorrow brings.
Tuesday, October 2 – Helena, MT to Logan, UT – 694 km
Today was a long day on which we tried to make up some miles. With one eye on weather forecasts following Rosa, and one eye on the skies, we left Helena about 9:30 which was a bit later than we had intended but after a shared sleepless night we weren’t up and at ’em any too early. I won’t return to the Wingate in Helena in any hurry. When built no one installed any sound insulation so the extraordinarily loud snorer in the next room actually kept us awake. And with no fan in the bathroom or any heating/fan control in our room, it was not a comfortable night. I expected better from the Wingate brand!
But despite not much sleep, we managed a good day’s ride of almost 700 km on the I15 and Highway 91. The traffic was not heavy in the morning, even in the areas where long stretches are under construction. A brief stop outside Butte to take a picture at a historic site just off of the highway – the photos aren’t great, but we will try to take more and better pics once we’re not feeling rushed.
We stopped at an info centre in Butte hoping for current update on roads and storm conditions as well as options for heading south on something other than the Interstate. We reached the conclusion there aren’t any other options other than going through Yellowstone which would take us to much higher elevations and the risk of snowy roads. So we carried on and stopped in small town of Dillon for an excellent lunch in a tiny café. Keeping an eye on the grey and heavy skies it seems there is a bit of lightening up happening to the south and east of us, so that’s promising. We made a stop in Roberts, just north of Idaho Falls for ‘helados’, our traditional mid-afternoon ice cream break when on long trips. Then raced past Idaho Falls and took an exit onto Highway 91 – much less busy, beautiful scenery, even a few curves to enjoy. Finally we arrived in Logan, just as the skies were turning black with rain clouds and the sun was setting. We checked into a Days Inn, got the bikes unloaded before the rain came down and we headed out for dinner – but no beer because we’re in Utah, you know.
Today we rode through gorgeous country, beautiful ranchlands with fields full of cows – and one of goats on Highway 91 (phew they are smelly!) – other areas with beautiful rock formations, and one spot late in the day where a complete rainbow was visible. But we’ve still got lots of miles to go to get to Tucson on Oct 5 … then hopefully we will slow down and smell the roses along the way.
Was encouraging to hear that we may have missed the worst of the rain, although there were times today when the winds sure howled. Riding for hours in gusty winds at 80 MPH (that’s the speed limit, so gotta keep up with everyone else!) was tiring. We’re hoping for a good sleep tonight, and will head to St George tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 3 – Logan, Utah to Panguitch, Utah and Thursday, October 4 – Panguitch to Kingman, Arizona – 1078 km
This update covers a couple days as we were too tired to post yesterday. We spent a night in Logan, Utah a few hours north of Salt Lake City. After a couple of thunderstorms over night the sun was shining for our morning ride. We headed over a mountain pass to get back on the I15 interstate and the dreaded commute of heavy traffic on six lanes doing 75 MPH around Salt Lake City for a stressful 90 minutes. There was only one dead stop as someone lost a load of lampshades in the middle of the road.
We bailed off the 15 at Provo Bay and got back on the 89 South for curves and better scenery; had a lovely afternoon cruising the back country and small towns. We decided to call it a day in Panquitch just outside of Bryce Canyon. Had a wonderful dinner at the Cowboys’ Smokehouse – we would highly recommend for dinner and dessert of course (and they serve beer as not many places in Utah do :).
Got some great information from Samuel (another bike enthusiast ) about some good roads and scenery for us to take on our ride to Tucson. Thanks! After a coffee stop in Kanab the owner’s father stopped to chat about bikes and routes. Good thing we talked with him as he told us the highway we were heading for had been closed overnight due to a washout north of Cameron. So we missed a scenic ride but avoided putting on miles and having to backtrack. But we missed out on ‘the best cookies’ at Jacob Lake. We headed west instead of south to get back to the I-15 and headed for Las Vegas. There’s a big canyon in the way which means there are not a lot of options to get around it!
Stopped for lunch in Hurricane at the Mainstreet Café – we’d recommend the food here and send out a warm hello to the ladies of the Red Hat Society. Back on the highway we rode through desert with amazing views, and decided to detour around Las Vegas by taking a road through a National Park which cost us $40.00 for a 7-day park pass – nothing available for just driving through. The scenery was great but the temperature was rising. We made a brief stop at Lake Mead then we headed to Kingman for the night.
Friday, October 5 – to Vail, AZ to connect with Rick – 554 km
Considering how cold it was when we left Alberta, we’re now adapting to high temperatures and fast traffic. Today was all about super-busy roads with loads of trucks traveling along at 75 or 80 mph. Not enjoyable, but we had a place booked in Vail and had to get there to meet Rick who was riding from Ontario to meet us.
We rode through desert with amazing views, took a road through a National Park which cost us $40.00 for a 7-day park pass – nothing available for just driving through. Grrr. Scenery was great but temperatures were rising. We made a brief stop to look at Lake Mead and surrounding area. Then we headed for Phoenix – horrible multi-lane traffic again, raced to Tucson which we hit right at rush hour, then on to Vail which seemed in the middle of nowhere. We were very happy to arrive at a house with a Vstrom with Ontario plates parked on the driveway! Rick had arrived several hours earlier, met our host Aaron and bought some beer, so all the important things were looked after.
We enjoyed Aaron’s house which was very comfortable, and beautiful too – lovely back yard with gazebo, grapevines, and a view of the desert. Aaron had lots of info to share about the flora and fauna of Arizona. He’s also an avid photographer and had some beautiful shots framed in his house.
A dinner of fabulous barbecued burgers and a good evening of conversation was a lovely change from the frantic pace of the early part of the day.
Saturday, October 6 – Vail to Hermosillo, MX – 370 km – and the Joys of Bureaucracy
We all had a great sleep and greeted the day with fabulous lattes – many thanks to our wonderful host, Aaron! – then loaded up the bikes and headed for the border crossing at Nogales.
We managed to get our immigration-tourist visa to prove we crossed the border legally. Then 21 km past the border we pulled into the vehicle import permit office to pay a fee – which will be rebated when we leave. This was a bit of a lesson in paperwork. Need photocopy of passport and driver’s license … on one page Can’t be on separate papers. So we paid for copies, lined up to get vehicle permits and Rick ran into a snag. He didn’t have original of his registration and a copy will not do. He was told to ride back towards Nogales about 10 km to an office that could sort this out. So he rode north, Tony and I waited in a shady spot for about an hour when Rick let us know he was heading back to Tucson so Sande could FedEx the original to him. With it being Thanksgiving in Canada this weekend, this will take several days.
So Tony and I headed to Hermosillo where we had an Airbnb booked, arrived just as the sun was setting – driving into setting sun in busy traffic was a challenge. Found our home, thankfully well air conditioned as we were roasting. Threw a load of laundry in, showered, walked about .5 mile to fabulous restaurant (Ballesta) where we feasted and relaxed. By the time we got home for the night we were feeling very relaxed! For the next few days we are heading to the coast for some R&R on a beach and will try to hook up with Rick later this week.
Sunday, October 7 – Hermosillo to San Carlos – 214 km in the blazing sun
Had a lazy morning so were on our way a bit later than usual, heading to a Telcel shop (thankfully open on a Sunday morning) to get a Mexican SIM card for Tony’s phone. Then stopped at an automotive store for oil as my ‘Strom is a bit low. Finally headed out of Hermosillo a bit after noon. We took a secondary highway towards San Carlos, our destination for today. Thankfully the distance wasn’t great as the desert wasn’t very scenic – flat landscape, cacti and shrubs, narrow pavement with almost no shoulder if needed, kind of boring to look at for hours on end. Lots of closed businesses on the roadside which were sad to see. A few very skinny cows and horses along the way, not much else to look at. There were perhaps 3 curves along the way, several dips in the road – the kind that are fun to ride through, making my stomach feel like it does when a roller coaster drops, then rises – and several potential bike-eating potholes. There were a few Dr Suess-like cacti along the way too – did he ever travel in Mexico!?!
Arrived in San Carlos, a town just north of Guaymos in the late afternoon. We cruised through the town which stretches along the coast before checking into a hotel which seems pretty comfy and has secure parking – something we always look for. Felt good to get off the bikes, check in, clean up and stroll along the marina near the hotel. Out for dinner, and a quiet evening. Tomorrow we probably won’t ride but will instead spend some time by the pool.
Monday, October 8 (Happy Thanksgiving!) and Tuesday, October 9 – San Carlos to Yecora – 365 km
We enjoyed a very lazy Thanksgiving day puttering around San Carlos – we slept in, sat by the pool for a while with no one else there as it was quite windy, wandered around the town a bit, walked down to the beach, stopped at an excellent restaurant for lunch (La Palapa Griego) and continued our stroll. Picked up a few things at a nearby grocery store, headed back to the hotel for a nap. We took my bike for a brief ride up to a point at which we had stopped yesterday to view the ocean and the sunset. The colours weren’t fabulous, but it was a nice ride, not wearing all of our gear. Back to hotel to start packing up in preparation for tomorrow’s departure. It was an early night for us, but didn’t last long as neighbours cranked up the music on their patio at midnight. A call to the front desk and they turned it down, but about 1 AM the party on their patio started again so another call and things did quiet down… but I’m sorry I didn’t call their room this morning just for fun!
We left the hotel about 9:00, made a few stops as we left San Carlos and headed for Guaymas, then Cuidad Obregón. We stopped at a tourist attraction that is sadly unfinished but looks like it could be amazing. There is a 120 foot tall statue you can see from the highway for miles. It is a Yaqui dancer (or maybe warrior?) but it was only this evening I was able to look up what the statue is. The buildings and plazas on this site look like they were not finished so the whole place seems to be falling apart. We didn’t get good pics due to where the sun was, but check it out on line – there is lots of interesting detail. Just sad it doesn’t look like it will become the interesting information site it could be.
Then onto the 117, a secondary highway. This was the kind of ride we came for! Narrow road, very,very twisty, amazing views of foothills and mountains. Temps cooled as we gained elevation and left the coast behind. The road has no shoulders or guard rails, it carves through rock walls, many of which have dropped rocks onto the road, and brief glances at the scenery were all we could make. There are no pull out areas and none of the paved viewing sites that we are used to. Despite the narrowness of this road, many trucks use it as a haul route. We saw more semis than cars.
The truck drivers are excellent, although they do sweep around curves,often well over the lines which would be freaky if you were coming towards them. Thankfully that didn’t happen to us! Many times in slightly straight stretches they put their left signal light on when it was clear to pass them. So we did on many occasions!
At the intersection of 117 and MX16, the army was out in full force – more than 3 dozen soldiers stopping traffic in all three directions, checking on what, I don’t know. But since they were all in their uniforms and carrying firearms, we stopped! Quick questions of where we’re from and what we’re doing, and we were waved on our way to ride more twisty turn-y roads for the last 47 km into Yecora. Again fabulous scenery, but no photo opps as there is nowhere to pull out. From rocks to tight turns to cows, from potholes to areas where we could see pavement washed away along road sides, this was a great ride but one that took concentration.
For the most part the pavement was in good shape (except where rocks have frequently fallen onto the road), except the last 10 km before Yecora where the pavement becomes very rough and beat up. We were very glad to arrive as the sun was setting. We pulled into the only hotel in town – Hotel Michel – where they did have a room. Very basic, no amenities at all, only one plug with two outlets for charging electronics, and not much for hot water we discovered. Lots of trucks stop here and the restaurant across the parking lot (Restaurant Michel) does a good business. So we grabbed a cold beer from the store across the highway, sat for a few minutes as the sun set – we’re glad not to be navigating this highway in the dark! Enjoyed dinner and a quiet evening…
Wednesday, October 10 – Yecora to Creel – 265 km
I slept like a rock in Yecora, despite a somewhat noisy hotel. Perhaps an occasional sleeping pill isn’t a bad thing! We slept in until almost 8; the morning was foggy so an earlier start wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway. Breakfast and loading gear took a while, then a stop for gas and we were on our way about 10 AM. Highway 16 is amazingly twisty. There are a few sweepers to enjoy, but most curves are very tight, many have rocks (or cows!) on the pavement, so it was not a high-speed ride today.
The scenery here is stunning. Mountains, the occasional spot where you can see the green mountainsides covered in trees, huge rock faces of various colours in many places, and luckily a blue, blue sky above. By afternoon though it was hard to see the road surface in the shadow of the trees that grow right up to the roadsides. Every curve – the road was nothing but curve after curve with very few straight sections – seemed to have potholes or rough pavement at the apex, combined sometimes with rock falls. Then there would be perfect pavement for a bit until the next curve a few seconds later. I found myself grinning broadly as we enjoyed the spectacular ride in spite of less-than-perfect road conditions.
As we gained elevation, the trees and shrubs changed, often reminding me of pine-scented roads in Alberta and BC. At one point we stopped to view a waterfall a Basaseachic, a few km off the highway. The stop was a nice and needed break, and the views from this lookout were fabulous. A very high and narrow fall enclosed by a gorge and rows of mountains filling the horizon – my description does it no justice. But it is one of the very rare viewpoints where you can pull off the road. With literally no shoulders, there were no other places to stop on this incredibly scenic road.
Today’s ride was only 265 km but it took us all day. We arrived in Creel about 5:30 p.m. and checked into a Best Western. Many of the hotels in this town don’t even look open, so we didn’t feel we had lots of options. And after last night’s very basic stay, we wanted a property with hot water (missing from Michel’s in Yecora!).
Tomorrow we hope to get bike maintenance done and ride to the Copper Canyon. Will spend another night in Creel, then head south towards Durango.
Thursday, October 11 – to amazing Copper Canyon
We spent part of this morning looking for a place to get an oil change in Creel, but didn’t have any luck. With instructions from the hotel front desk and a map, we never did find the place with the sign ‘Taller’ where Francisco would do oil changes. So we gave up and went for a ride.
The Copper Canyon is about 40 km outside of Creel, along another incredibly twisty and scenic road with glimpses of views I wanted to stop and see – but no where to do so. We arrived at big signs pointing towards the Barrancas del Cobre. Once off the highway we followed a sand-gravel road, rode along a gravel runway, up another twisty, rocky rough road where we parked the bikes and went for a walk.
There are significant developments here to support tourism – a restaurant, huge kids play area, a tram across one of the six canyons that make up the Copper Canyon, plus about 6 or 8 zip lines. There are hiking trails, suspension bridges, bungee jumping, all in the interest of creating a tourist-attracting adventure park. Accommodations are here too, from low budget to high end. But it must be low-season (we don’t mind!) as nothing seemed very busy at all.
We took the tram across a canyon and wished we would have had more time to explore there. Despite all the developments, it is the incredible views that make this a worthwhile place to visit. I wish we would have had more time – like days – to explore and hike as the trails looked amazing. A few hours wasn’t enough but that’s what we had, so we enjoyed ourselves.
Headed back to Creel and took a ride another direction to check out the Cascades Cusarare, about a 20 km ride. Well we got to the place where signs pointed right, we turned onto a very steep rocky slope that turned into a rough gravel road that ran along a narrow stream. We rode for about one km where a bridge crosses the creek and a few vehicles were parked. But it would have been another few kms to hike to view the falls. As the sun was setting and I was worried about riding the trail back to the highway, we turned around and headed back to Creel with a brief stop at Lake Arareco.
Only 185 km today, but a tiring day – lots of sunshine, focused riding, and awesome scenery. I think many people are unaware of how gorgeous this part of Mexico is. Truly jaw-dropping in places.
Friday, October 12 – Creel to Hidalgo de Parral – 422 KM
We had agreed to meet my brother, Rick in San Juanita this morning as he was riding from Hermosillo and spent last night in Basaseachic. We connected easily – this isn’t a busy time for tourists, it was easy to find each other in the small town.
Stopped at a Honda shop in Chuauhtemoc where we managed to arrange for oil changes for all three bikes and to get them done right away. Rick’s Spanish and google translate were both important elements of these arrangements! At first they thought we wanted to just buy the oil, but with nowhere to dispense with the old oil we really wanted this done in a shop and we were lucky in getting this done. Headed towards Parral for the night. Did a lot of straight stretches of road, one toll road that is part of Highway 16 – this section was fast and in good shape, unlike some of the rougher sections that we hit later in the day. Scenery was mostly agricultural today. Lots of apple orchards, other fields, some covered with huge stretches of netting, and as we moved into foothills this afternoon, huge fields of scrub and brush lined the road. All were fenced, some had cows in them, but many seemed empty. I guess I don’t know much about Ag production in this country. Lots of vendors on roadsides selling apples, corn and melons.
Got to Parral a bit after five and found Los Hotel de Arcos where Rick had booked accommodations. Lovely hotel with small courtyard patio and secure parking. Made a short walk for cold beer and dinner – place had good reviews online, I won’t recommend Sienna Pizza. Food was so-so and they don’t serve beer. We had to stop in a place next door for our beer before going for dinner. Oh well, we were fed and felt better as we hadn’t really stopped for lunch. Shared 6 tacos at a little place in La Junta about 11:30. Those susas tacos did t stick to our ribs (those were the pickled cow brains!). I definitely preferred the pollo and pork options that we tried.
Saturday, October 13 -Parral to Durango – 418 km
Seemed a long ride today, partly because of heat, partly because of construction on the highway. It seems many highways in Mexico are being twinned and in places today there were some stretches of road where traffic was diverted onto packed gravel-dirt lanes while new pavement is installed in lanes that are closed. Seemed very dusty at times, but that didn’t stop cars and trucks from passing each other. We were glad to arrive on Durango in late afternoon and to check into a Best Western property to cool off.
Speeds posted on Mexican roads seem optional. Today like every other days we cruised relatively slowly through 60 or 80 km zones while cars and trucks pass us doing twice that speed. Same in construction zones. The only things people slow down for are the topes and speed bumps that seem to be in the entrance and exit to every town. And they mean business – we fear we might loose an oil pan if we tried to speed over them.
Sunday, October 14 – Durango to Mazatlán -385 KM
Hard to keep track of dates – or days of the week on this trip. This morning we started from Durango towards Mazatlán on the most amazing road I’ve ever ridden. The first 40 km or so were on the new highway 40 – marked on signs as 40D. This is a recent build that links the east coast to the west and has reduced travel time from Atlantic to Pacific considerably – although it is a toll road so many people can’t or won’t use it. The old highway 40 is still in use and is an amazing road with continuous curves as it climbs over the mountains. The route starts at about 1,870 meters above sea level, climbs to 2,700 meters , then drops to sea level upon arrival in Mazatlán.
There are more than 2,000 tight curves, many hairpins that turn more than 180 degrees, often on blind corners overgrown with vegetation. This road is called the Devil’s Backbone or Route 666. There are absolutely amazing views, but again, no where to stop and look. In many places the curves are very tight, mostly blind, often gravelly, and the roads are all quite overgrown, especially in the lower elevations where trees and shrubs grow in the narrow roadsides and lean over the pavement. Happily there is little traffic, although some big trucks and semis and buses do use this road. It took most of the day to travel just over 300 km as much of the trip was at low speeds with engines revving as we braked for corners, dogs and cows. It was disconcerting to meet vehicles cutting corners into our lane, but thankfully we didn’t have any problems, just a few scares along the way.
We arrived in Mazatlan in the late afternoon, feeling the heat. Headed to hotel, which felt like it took forever to get to partly because of heat. So checked into a place Rick had booked, it is on the beach so a move in and clean up before dinner and a walk on the beach was about all we had energy for. Although we did change rooms after our dinner out as the lock on the door didn’t seem to lock. It looked like the door had been kicked in at some point. So loaded up a cart and changed rooms …. it is amazing how much stuff three motorcyclists can carry!
Monday, October 15 – around Mazatlán – 14 km
A productive day in Mazatlan! Right after breakfast we dropped laundry off at a nearby lavatoria. At $70 pesos for 4 kilos, we were glad to get clothes cleaned for a very good price.
We learned a few new words in Spanish today … ‘auto bano’ is one phrase we became acquainted with. But after dropping off laundry we rode over to a Suzuki shop where Rick got a new shift lever installed. It isn’t the OEM one, but is one jury rigged as he broke his shifter yesterday hitting a pile of rocks on one shoulder where he was pulling over and couldn’t see in the shadows. So a temporary fix was done that should help with shifting until he finds a new shift lever.
After that repair, we we directed to an auto-bano – 3 guys spent about 30 minutes scrubbing weeks worth of bugs, road dust, spattered oil and all sorts of other grime off of the bikes. They scrubbed the rims of the tires, armour-alled the side cases and polished the windscreens. I don’t think my bike has ever been so clean! We were very happy to get this done as well.
Nothing special later in the day – in the heat and humidity, we spent some time planning our ride for the next few days and then went for a walk on a quest for a Mazatlan or Mexico sticker. We weren’t successful, but did stop for some excellent ceviche and a beer mid afternoon. Walked back to hotel, mostly on the beach, puttered around after picking up laundry and starting to pack for tomorrow’s departure.
We will head back towards Durango on new highway 40D to check out the many tunnels and bridges that make this road an engineering marvel. Plus it will be good to get back to cooler temperatures. Booked a place in Vicente Guerrero for tomorrow, heading to Zacatecas on Wed in hopes of finding a place to replace the seals on my front forks which have started leaking a bit.
Tuesday, October 16 – Mazatlán to Vicente Guerrero – 350 km
Today we are heading inland again, partly due to another tropical storm building over the Pacific and partly because we are heading to Zacatecas for some bike work.
Today was another ride through stunning scenery. This time Tony and I took the new Highway 40D back towards Durango, while Rick opted to ride the old highway again. We had an Air BNB booked in VG and agreed to meet there.
The new highway has similar views to the old one since they cross the same mountains and gorges, but on the new highway we could take a few more glances at the scenery without risking our lives! The engineering and design of this road was amazing – 63 tunnels that have a combined length of 11 miles plus 32 bridges, including one that is the second-highest suspension bridge in the world. It was amazing to see. Although this ride was much easier than yesterday’s we enjoyed it, despite the occasional rain shower.
Arrived in Vicente Guerrero in late afternoon and hooked up with Rick as we were gassing up the bikes. We rode into the small town of unpaved streets, rough riding as we searched for our Airbnb. We finally found it, and although no one answered the door, we parked the bikes in a gated garage that was open (looked locked but wasn’t) and with the help of a neighbour, found a beer store, picked up a few and some munchies and headed back to the house. We sat on the sidewalk with Mari for company as we rehydrated and chatted – Mari had very little English, and my Spanish is not good at all, so it was a lot of effort trying to communicate not very successfully! At last our host Maricela let us in with huge apologies. She and her husband Luis were lovely, welcoming and generous. Although we were a bit concerned that no one was home, when they arrived they were wonderful hosts. Luis drove us downtown to a restaurant they recommended for dinner, then we walked home after a heavy shower.
Interesting town – mix of very rough streets, the occasional horse and rider galloping through, farm vehicles, old cars, as well as motorcycles of all makes and ages.
We chatted with our hosts for awhile after we got back to their place and called it a day.
Wednesday, October 17 – Vicente Guerrero to Zacatecas – 230 km
We started the day sharing breakfast with host Luis at a nearby Gordita stand – a woman makes a selection of tortillas stuffed with eggs, meat, cheese, tomato, potato, and much more. We enjoyed a selection of flavours and watched many of the locals who are obviously regular customers stop by too.
We left Vicente Guerrero on highway 45 heading for Zacatecas in hopes of finding a Suzuki shop there that can replace the front fork seals on Katherine’s bike. They’ve started leaking oil and we hoped to get them replaced in Zacatecas. Rick had called (since his Spanish is much better than mine!) and the shop confirmed they had the parts needed so that’s where we headed.
This part of Mexico is beautiful. Farmland in a huge valley, surrounded by mountains in the distance with trees, shrubs, grasses, fields, flowers, and a road in good condition. We climbed elevation getting to Zacatecas and upon arriving in the city found it a bit challenging to ride. Our first stop was the Suzuki dealer where we learned they don’t have the seals, but can have them delivered …. in 7 or 8 days! Since that won’t work, they were very helpful in finding a dealer in Guadalajara that has confirmed they have the seals in stock and have scheduled he bike for service on Friday. Hopefully this all works out!
So we meandered our way to our hotel on very hilly streets, paved with stone. It seemed every time we turned a corner in old neighbourhoods where sidewalks are higher than the streets, sometimes more than 12” higher, where traffic is heavy and corners sharp, where we got turned around several times as we searched for our Hotel Posado Telerosa.
The roads were incredibly narrow and steep – a bit scary on a loaded motorbike when you don’t know where you’re going. Finally found hotel after being diverted by road closures as the (apparently) big car rally (Carreras Panamericana) was arriving in town at the same time as us, and were staying in same area.
Anyway, found hotel, found the parking garage which turned out to be on the 4th floor – our room is on the third. This is not a newly built parkade! It just demonstrated the incredible elevation changes within a single block.
Settled in, wondered around the area with Rick and Tony admiring several of the rally cars , finally found dinner at a very mediocre restaurant and called it a night
Thursday, October 18 – Zacatecas to Guadalajara – 320 km on Highway 54
We roamed around the nearby streets looking for a breakfast place. It seems nowhere opens to serve breakfast before 8 AM so we certainly didn’t make an early start. It is a cloudy morning with some mist or light drizzle so we won’t do the tram as we won’t be able to see the city in this weather.
Finished breakfast, headed back to hotel to load bikes up. Chatted with a German fellow who was parked beside us. He is also riding to Ushuaia, although it sounds like he’s had lots of problems with his bike. He figured he will ride it as far as he can and then push it off cliff. That didn’t sound very promising!
We headed out of the garage, with me feeling somewhat stressed about the potentially slippery streets. Up steep hills again, down steep hills, around corners, riding on narrow streets with lanes about wide enough for 1.5 vehicles. Some one-way streets that we luckily never started the wrong way down – but it was close. By the time we got out of the city, the temperatures were rising, and I was certainly more than warm enough! Breaking out in a cold sweat while wrestling my bike around the city wasn’t great fun. But no issues, we found our way, and I won’t rush back to Zacatecas on a motorbike. But it would be an interesting city to learn more about.
The ride was a nice one today. We stopped in Tabasco for a brief rest and to cool off a bit – the day is getting hot! This is why Rick prefers to start so much earlier than us, but he’s adjusted to our schedule, despite the mid afternoon temperatures. For Tabasco to here the ride was excellent – through a gorge surrounded by mountains covered in trees right to the tops. We zipped around curves and hairpins, although many locals passed us. You can tell they know the road! There were views of a very tall waterfall closer to Guadalajara but as usual, nowhere to stop on a narrow road with no shoulders.
Into Guadalajara through what seemed crazy traffic to our hotel. There are traffic circles with multiple lanes going around- 3 or 4 at least, with drivers changing lanes to merge in and out. I’m sure we didn’t do things quite right but we managed to find our hotel and get checked in.
A while later we caught a cab to a restaurant as there seem no restaurants near where the Eco Hotel Guadalajara is located. But it is only about 15 minutes from the bike shop we are heading to in the morning.
Friday, October 19 – sightseeing and motorcycle repairs
Interesting day in Guadalajara. Had to check out of hotel that we’d only booked one night, so loaded up this morning and headed to Suzuki shop where we were relieved to learn they do that the parts needed for my bike. They will get the work done by 1:00 this afternoon which is good news. We then found a place nearby to grab breakfast – or perhaps brunch since it was almost 10 by the time we found a little place to eat, finished sometime after 11 and headed into the centre of the city on two bikes. I’m not fond of riding on the back, but for now while my bike is being fixed I won’t mind too much!
Was glad to find a place to park in a private, guarded parkade and we wondered about the area near many of the historic cathedrals and government buildings. We didn’t have a long time to spend as we wanted to be sure to get my bike before the shop closes at 2:30 for siesta, as many businesses do.
The ride into and out of this downtown area is a high traffic one. I guess that’s what happens in cities of over 5 million! We found our way back to the Suzuki shop and found the work done – yay! The parts and labour certainly cost less than they would have in Canada or US – about 110 $Cdn. Hopefully the new front fork seals last as long as the old ones did!
We then headed to our AirBnB place for the night. It is not that far from where we stayed last night. Took a bit of navigating to find our way, but the place and our hosts are lovely people. Jorge owns the property, but his parents, Carmelita and Manuel met us to let us in and show us the house. It seems eminently comfortable. We walked to a nearby restaurant that Jorge owns and had an enjoyable beer and light dinner. A walk back home and that was about it for the day.
Saturday, October 20 – Guadalajara to Silao – 325 km
Up and packed up for 8 am. This is when George’s restaurant opens, so we arrived there about 8:10 all ready to head out as soon as we grab a bite of breakfast. This was a good meal, but took longer than we had anticipated… we weren’t on the road until almost 9:30, following our meal and then conversation with George and his parents, a few photos, and many good wishes.
Glad to get out of the city – this kind of traffic isn’t my thing! Headed for Silao tonight we’re Rick booked a hotel on the outskirts of the city. En route we talked to a couple of riders at a convenience store. They are heading to a weekend rally in Leon and wondered if we were going the same direction. Similar but the rally isn’t on our radar. But we did see lots of other bikers after this heading in that direction.
Today’s ride took us through major agricultural production areas. Farms and greenhouses everywhere, orchards, many crops like corn that I recognized, many others that I didn’t. It is clear where Mexico makes much of its money. The land is beautiful, that is for certain.
Sunday, October 21 – Silao to Puebla City – 530 km
A long day, not the most pleasant riding, partly on interstate toll roads and partly on secondary highways that go through heaps of small towns. Every small town has at least a half dozen huge topes that traffic crawls over. Doesn’t help make much for time when wanting to get to your destination. The skies to the west were black and threatening this afternoon but we didn’t get rained on, despite threatening looks.
We arrived in Puebla City in time for rush hour, finally found our house, unloaded, walked around the area to find a place for dinner and headed home for a fairly early night. Today we agreed was our least favourite ride in terms of traffic volumes, number of tools booths and topes, and just feeling we had to put some miles on. It appears we’ve been successful in avoiding Tropical Storm Vicente. Hoping to do the same for incoming Hurricane Willa.
Been amazingly lucky with weather so far – hope that continues for us! Tomorrow heading southeast, perhaps towards Veracruz or further south. We will see what the weather brings in the morning and will decide then where we will head.
Monday, October 22 – Puebla City to Veracruz 350 km
About 350 km today, Puebla City to Veracruz. Most of the ride was through beautiful farmlands surrounded by amazing mountains. The horizons are filled with peaks, there are glimpses of deep gorges with the sidewalls completely green with trees and shrubs. Although I haven’t seen Africa, the views today reminded me of what I think Africa would look like in some places. So much greener than I expected, so much farming going on, some of it with old muscle for technology. Saw a field of stooks today, and labourers in the adjoining filed continuing to stook the crop.
The ride was good, lunch in a little town along the way – not sure where – was excellent. We stopped for pollo asado, but the brisket on offer was so good that’s what we had. A half a kilo of meat plus fixings for about 90 pesos. Seems so inexpensive.
Pulled into Veracruz to experience the worst traffic we’ve seen yet. A major road is being constructed, as is a railroad crossing. The lights were flashing as if a train was coming so traffic was stopped and backed up for miles. Cars and bikes were pulling onto the shoulder which in some places was just a big, deep puddle. So we did too with Rick and Tony enjoying it, and me following along hoping not to drop my bike. Happily I didn’t but it was close a couple of times. We rode along until the shoulder dropped into a gully, crept back onto the road in amongst huge trucks, buses and heavy traffic, then back onto the shoulder to go around the backed-up traffic. It was hot so I’m glad we were moving, but the traffic seemed just crazy. Once into Veracruz things were okay once we found our Airbnb, unloaded and got into the pool to cool off.
Got some laundry going and went out for dinner on the waterfront – we walked over for dinner and cabbed back. But a pricey meal at almost $1200 pesos. More than we are spending on accommodations! But good food. Might have to find less pricey places for the rest of our time here in Veracruz.
Tomorrow’s project is finding a new chain for Rick’s bike. He’s phoned several places and no one seems to carry what we thought would be standard sized chains. Most parts need to be shipped in and that takes a week it seems. But we will see what we can sort out tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 23 – Day off in Boca del Rio
Rick went off in the morning looking for a new chain for his bike. None of us thought it would be hard to find what is a pretty standard chain for motorbikes in Canada, but a 525 chain is not common here in Mexico. He spent the morning looking and finally finding one, although it sounds like it took some doing.
Tony and I had a quiet morning, took the bikes for a wash about a block from our place, we found a French patisserie and picked up a few things, stopped at a small grocery store for a few things, wondered around a bit, just relaxed. In the afternoon we walked down to the beach for a bit. We went out for dinner with Rick and ended up stopping at a tiny little kiosk on the street where we had the best empanadas any of us have ever had. Caught a cab home and started getting organized for tomorrow’s ride to Cárdenas, en route to Palenque.
Wednesday, October 24 – Veracruz to Cárdenas – about 420 km
Today was a hot one. Even though we were on the road early (for us!) just after 8 AM, it was already hot out. With high clouds and bright sun it looked like it could rain, but it didn’t. But the temperatures were hot and sticky for most of the day.
We took the highway 180 along the coast through Alvarado, Santiago Tuxtla, Acayucan, and heaps of other small towns. Every small town seems to have its own style of topes – 6 or 8 skinny topes about a foot apart, single huge topes that are about 10” high and 3 feet wide, and every combination you could imagine. Bottom line is they are all very effective at slowing traffic to a crawl.
We’ve learned that many traffic signs in Mexico seem optional. Speed signs especially, but also, double lines do not mean ‘no passing’. Topes are spots where motorbikes can often pass cars and trucks and buses, so that’s what we do. Also flew past several police vehicles with officers standing in the back of the trucks, looking for who knows what – happily not us. A nod or a wave as you go zipping past seems fine.
We stopped for fabulous pollo asado in a small town – we don’t even know the name, but the chickens were roasting as we went through the town, they smelled amazing, and lunch was fabulous. A good choice for us?
This afternoon we came upon a huge traffic jam – a huge long line up of trucks and buses and cars creeping along a road for miles that is under construction. We passed a ton of trucks, etc on the shoulder …. probably illegal, but better than sitting for hours in traffic under a roasting sun. This wasn’t an easy ride with huge trucks on one side and a drop on the right side of the road. A gravelly shoulder didn’t make for an easy ride, but at least we got through it quicker than if we’d waited our turn. I fear I will be a terrible driver when I return to Alberta having developed habits such as ignoring lines on the road regarding passing ,speeds, etc.
Arrived in Cárdenas about 5 pm, found our hotel and enjoyed a cold beer before heading out for dinner. We’re all feeling that today was a tiring ride, partly due to the heat and humidity, partly due to the riding in heavy traffic for much of the day. Not exactly a relaxing way to carry on.
Expect a short ride tomorrow to Palenque where we will spend two nights and a day exploring the ruins that have made this area so well known. Ciao!
Thursday, October 25 – Cárdenas to Palenque – 225 KM
We didn’t rush this morning as today’s ride was supposed to be relatively short. After looking at maps part way here we started looking for a road that would make a longer ride, but would take us into the mountains, rather than in the hot and humid coastal areas. But we managed to miss the turn so stayed on the 180 toll road and then after Villahermosa onto the 199 which brought us to the town of Palenque in the late afternoon.
Riding here in the heat and humidity means as soon as you stop moving you want out of your riding gear and into an air conditioned room – or pool. The place Rick booked – Kin Ha Resort – has two pools, is a lovely site, and is incredibly quiet. There are maybe 8 or 10 other people here and no one staying near us. Very quiet and peaceful.
We cooled off in one of the pools once we unloaded gear, but with little shade available, and with tepid water temperatures, it wasn’t quite as refreshing as we’d hoped. But it did feel a bit decadent to be lallygagging in a pool in the blazing sun on a Thursday afternoon. Post swim we rode into town (were about 4 km out of town, but very close to Palenque archaeological site) for dinner and a stroll around. The speed with which darkness falls still takes getting used to. And the complete blackness takes getting used to as well. Riding back to the hotel felt odd too in the total darkness, even though the road is lined with hotels and resorts.
We all crashed pretty early as it was a tiring day, but another day of riding through amazingly beautiful country from farmland to mountain valleys. Crazy busy cities like Villahermosa are the hardest part of the ride as far as I’m concerned. Too much traffic, too busy, too big. I’m hoping we can avoid the great big cities as we continue south.
Friday, October 26 – visit Palenque, swim at Cascades de Misol-Ha
Had a lovely breakfast at the hotel before heading down the road towards the ruins at Palenque. The site is really amazing, considering how much is still to be excavated. The Mayan classical and post classical history was very interesting to learn about. We hired a guide who gave us an excellent overview of the tombs, buildings, ball court, and then we walked some jungle paths to learn about some of the plants and some of the other tree-covered hills that cover other buildings. I can see how a person could spend years here learning about the Mayan people and their lives from 200 BC to 800 AD when their civilization was at its peak. Astronomy and mathematics were certainly areas of study where the Mayans far surpassed other cultures at the time. A most interesting morning.
After our tour we stopped back at our hotel then Tony and I headed off to see a waterfall that is about 30 km away. For this ride we put on riding gear rather than the shorts and shirts we wore this morning. It feels really odd to ride in less than full gear, but in this heat, we rationalized our choices for this morning’s short ride. For this afternoon we did ‘gear up’.
The waterfall at Misol-Ha was lovely, although I wasn’t happy that we had to pay a fee to use the road, then we had to pay a fee to get into the waterfall area. Somehow I’d be happier if there was only one spot to pay, no matter what the charge amount is. Anyway, we parked in a shady spot and hiked a short way to see the falls which are beautiful. There are paths that go behind the falls where the air is lovely and cool. We sat for a little while on a few rocks with our feet in a pool, then we walked around the big pool where the water lands and drains away into a nearby stream. We had were hot again after a short walk so decided to go for a swim. Refreshing, that’s for sure! It felt good to swim, didn’t feel quite so good to pull on clothes over wet swimsuits to ride back. Is it any wonder I got weird looks at the gas station when we filled up the bikes and I went in to pick up a few cold beer? I probably looked like I’d wet myself! Oh well, whatever the young men behind the counter had to say amount themselves, I didn’t understand it! Perhaps that’s a good thing.
It was a good day and Palenque is an amazing place. Truly awe-inspiring.
Tony and I will head to Guatemala tomorrow with the intentions of seeing Tikal, another huge site. Rick is going his own way to meet his wife, Sandra in Lake Atitlan in a few days. After we see Flores and Tikal we will see where we head next and will see if we reconnect with Rick or make our own way through Central America.
Saturday, October 27 – Palenque to Santa Elena, Guatemala – 330 km
It rained last night but the temperatures didn’t drop much. Although we left Palenque about 8 AM, it was muggy, hot, sticky even that early in the morning. We were up and packed, although breakfast always seems to take along time. But since we may not stop for lunch, perhaps a hearty breakfast is a good thing!
We headed out with Rick for a short while before he headed off towards San Cristóbal and we headed to the border with Guatemala at El Ceibo. Riding in southern Mexico I was reminded of what an important role agriculture plays as a source of income for so many. Farms, herds of cows, many gauchos on horseback riding along the roads, chickens and other fowl, and large fields of different crops bordered the roads we took.
The 140 km it took for us to get to the border took three hours. There was a stretch of gravel road which Google Maps directed us to follow. I have no idea what road it was, but it did get us to the border-crossing at El Ceibo. Upon arrival at the border, we had a lesson in bureaucracy …. it appears that the person who filled out my paperwork three weeks ago in Nogales included the model of my bike in the spot where the license plate should have been recorded. This wasn’t a huge deal, thankfully, but required a phone call and some paperwork that a very helpful border agent looked after. Next time I guess I should check the paperwork more carefully…. Then we discovered we couldn’t find another document that we needed to exit the country – a receipt from the Banjercito that meant we had to pay a ‘document replacement fee’. Can’t argue with bureaucrats, so we learned our lesson about hanging onto paperwork until one exits a country.
On to the smaller and definitely poorer facilities on the Guatemalan side of the border. Started paperwork at the immigration trailer – accessed by a set of metal stairs with a handrail wired into the sides that probably wouldn’t provide much support if one tripped going up or down the very steep steps. Then needed photocopies of documents to import our bikes – a 5-minute walk down the road in the blazing sun. Then back with papers, need to go pay a fee at another trailer that doubles as a bank. This one has a small bullet-proof window and a small opening at the bottom to slide paper or money through. But with a generator running right behind this trailer, it was almost impossible to hear what the person in the trailer wanted. Eventually I got my receipt, went back to the first trailer, where Tony was waiting to trade me places to make his own payment.
Then we pulled up and paid another fee to have the bikes fumigated. There were dozens of tuk-tuks buzzing back and forth over the border and they were never stopped, but our bikes and one other car that crossed at the same time we did had to be sprayed down. Tony mentioned that the large black pig we saw wander out of the jungle, cross the road, and then go back the way he came didn’t seem to have been fumigated. But with my less-than-good Spanish, I thought better about sharing that observation with anyone official at the border!
After two hours we were free to go so carried on down a road heading towards the archaeological site at Tikal. We’re spending a couple of nights at St Elena about 50 km away from Tikal.
Immediately upon crossing the border it is clear Guatemala has less money than Mexico. The quality of the roads deteriorated and the number of road signs dropped as well. It seemed there was one long settlement stretched out along the highway we were on, and speed controls in the form of wreck-your-suspension topes were common. Only these topes are not indicated by signs, they are not painted, they are just huge ridges in the road that could do some damage if you weren’t paying attention. And sometimes there are several within a single kilometre. Then several kilometres go by without any – thank goodness!
There are many small farms along Highway PET 13. We saw some fine-looking flocks of chickens and ducks, many cows, pigs, horses, all combined with amazingly green and lush forest – or jungle, I’m not sure.
Getting used to the free-range pigs was one thing. Getting used to a huge number of small motorcycles, scooters, and tuk-tuks in the more populous areas is another. Many three wheeled vehicles, some peddle powered, some engine powered are common here. They all scoot along at a good pace except when they have to slow to a crawl to get over the huge topes along the roads.
We arrived in St Elena just as dark was falling. A quick stop at a bank machine for quetzals meant we were able to pay a tuk-tuk driver to lead us to our hotel so we weren’t navigating in the dark on a very busy Saturday night. At 6:00 pm this place was rocking – lots of traffic, many businesses open, people on the streets, a busy, busy place.
Was good to get off the bikes and check into our hotel. It has been a hot and sticky day, so getting out of our gear and finding a cold beer was a high point of the day. Out for a bite near the hotel, then a quiet evening catching up on-line.
Sunday, October 28 – a day in Flores, Guatemala
We spent today puddling around in Flores. Our first order of business was to find an open Claro store at which we could get a SIM card for Tony’s phone. This was a bit of a priority since the hotel’s wifi is painfully slow. We enjoyed strolling about the island of Flores this morning. It is sad to see areas where the water level of the lake is rising and putting buildings and other infrastructure at risk, but much of the island is beautiful. Lovely flowering trees and shrubs everywhere, brightly painted buildings as found in so many sea-side communities, interesting twisty cobbled streets to meander around. We even found fabulous iced coffees and smoothies to help us cool down at 9:30 am!
Then a stop at a busy mall – the shops weren’t busy, but the tv screens in every store were tuned to the same soccer game and many people were watching. I’m not sure who was playing, but you could tell when there were near-misses or calls by the refs that weren’t popular. Moans and cheers indicated whose team was doing well – or not.
We managed to get a SIM card with our limited Spanish. How did anyone travel in the days before Google Translate and Google Maps!?! This one is supposed to last us until we get to Panama. We strolled around St Elena a bit, snooped through a market a few blocks away and saw the biggest most beautiful avocados ever! The produce here is always so tempting. If we had a kitchen I would have certainly bought a few things to enjoy.
We spent part of the afternoon following the locals’ lead with a siesta, although ours was spent on line looking at where we will go tomorrow when we leave St Elena. We are planning on riding to Tikal in the morning and spending a few hours at the ruins, then heading to Sayaxche where we will spend the night. Then we will see if we can arrange a visit to Crater Azul the following day. We haven’t done much sight-seeing given the 10,000 + km we’ve put on in the last month, so we hope to stop and see a few things as we continue our travels through Central America.
Monday, October 29 – Santa Elena/Flores-Tikal-Sayaxche- 200 km
We checked out of our hotel in St Elena this morning – we’d certainly stay again at the Quinta Maya again – and headed to Tikal for an amazing experience at the ruins. Tony and I weren’t really sure what to expect in comparison with Palenque, but I think Tikal is more impressive. Perhaps my opinion is influenced by a lack of oxygen though – we climbed staircases on three of the pyramids and felt we’d had quite a workout!
Upon arriving at Tikal and being stopped at the gate to buy a ticket (passport required), we rode almost 20 km down the road to the actual site where we met our guide Amado in the motorcycle parking lot. The road is lined by signs cautioning against speeding with frequent animal crossing signs -snakes, deer, tapirs, jaguars, turkeys, each have their own crossing signs in several places along the access road. I didn’t see any of these creatures but did see a bright toucan perched too far up in a tree for a clear photo.
We met Amado where we parked the bikes. He waited patiently as we got ready for our tour – out of riding gear and storing it securely, finding footwear, bug spray, sun glasses, hats, shoes, etc, all seems to take longer than it should. Finally we were ready to spend 3 or 4 hours on this huge site on what appeared to be a showery day.
Appearances can be deceiving though. Despite a forecast for 90% chance of thundershowers, by about 10 AM the skies were clearer, the sun shining and the risk of showers seemed non-existent.
Tikal is an amazing place. The size of the structures here, the age, and the almost 1000 years of Mayan civilization that built such an amazing number of huge temples and buildings that have only been partially uncovered from the surrounding jungle is incredible. The view from the tops of different pyramids of other ones was enlightening. We found the visit and information provided by Amado very valuable. From the incredible structures to sighting birds in the jungle – Amado has an amazing eye for various birds- and information about the spider monkeys, howler monkeys, jaguars, and many other creatures as well as plants on the site – his $60 fee for 4 hours was well worth it.
About 2:00 we grabbed a quick bite at Tikal before heading back towards St Elena, then catching the road to St Ana and making a cross country cut to La Libertad (more and larger topes than anywhere I’ve ever been before – every half block there was a skid-plate scrapping tope crossing the road. )
Then on to Sayaxche where we caught a ferry across the river to access the town for the night. An excellent dinner at a restaurant suggested by receptionist at our hotel – the Thirsty Cow – was a 5 minute walk from our hotel. We caught a cab to go to dinner as we had to find an ATM first and it had started to rain. The ride took us back to downtown, almost to the ferry landing, then back towards our hotel for dinner. Hitting topes when in the backseat of a tiny car makes me feel badly for anyone riding a bus here – the continual bouncing about would be exhausting in short order. Ah well, we will just appreciate being able to stand up on the footpegs for most of the topes we will come across.
Tuesday, October 30 – Sayaxche to Coban – 285 KM
We had a great sleep in Sayaxche! It seemed odd but we were the only people at our hotel and it looked like the place has 35 or 40 rooms. But it was a quiet night which is always a good thing! The hotel has great security for bikes and other vehicles …. the big gate locks the parking lot and the guard dog (‘el perro no es malo ’) is let loose in the parking lot. He does have a great big bark, but apparently is a friendly dog. We didn’t wonder around after dark to confirm this though. Climbing all those stairs at Tikal meant we slept well and didn’t need to roam around outside after our dinner.
The morning was the usual – grab breakfast at the hotel and load up. Today we had good intentions of heading to Lanquín, a town surrounded by rivers and caves in the limestone. We knew the road to Lanquín would be a tough one, but thought we’d give it a try.
Heading out of Sayaxche while gassing up another motorcyclist stopped to talk. He’s the first touring biker we’ve seen since talking with the German fellow we met in Zacatecas. This fellow is from California and noticed us at Tikal yesterday. He stopped when he saw us at the gas station and we had a good chat about plans. He’s heading to Antigua for a few days and is then heading south. He agreed to send us info he found about a company that ships bikes by air across the Darien Gap. Hopefully we will have wifi available so we can see if he follows up!
Today’s ride took us through more mountainous country where agriculture is king. There are communities that stretch out on either side of the highway with many more ‘tumulos’ than we like – these are the extra large Guatemalan version of topes that are really effective at slowing traffic down. But when they are a few hundred feet apart, it seems a bit much to me. Anyway despite these traffic slowing measures, the country is amazingly beautiful and seems bucolic.
We saw many cows and horses, often tethered right beside the road to graze. We saw several areas where men and boys were clearing the roadsides – working with machetes they were cutting through the jungle undergrowth. Looked like very hard work in the heat and humidity. The machetes are something we’ve noticed here – it seems that every man or male teen owns one and carries it with him. We’ve often seem guys walking on the roadsides carrying nothing but a machete here. We see them being carried in towns too. I can’t help but wonder what kind of security issues these would cause at home.
We also see people walking beside the highway, often carrying huge bundles and packs. Women and girls carry things on their heads, men and boys carry things on their backs. Bundles of fire wood, long planks, huge bags of produce, so much is moved here by human muscle rather than mechanized options.
We often see people standing on roadsides, waiting for buses – small vans that are often crammed to the rafters. Or we see trucks with the boxes full of people sitting on benches or on the edges of the truck boxes, getting rides to wherever they are heading.
Today’s ride took us from Sayaxche south to Raxruja where we detoured around a bridge washout and headed towards Lanquín on what was a beautifully twisty road through gorgeous country. Then the pavement ran out … we started on the gravel section that had lots of loose rocks, deep ruts where water flows down, hairpin turns, big potholes and general gnarly conditions. After a few kilometres of this, we checked our handy Google Maps which let us know the next town – Sebol- was an hour away. That is, it was 17 km away, so obviously the road condition doesn’t get any better. We decided to turn around and head back the way we came to find some pavement for the rest of the day.
I was glad to get back to pavement as riding down steep rocky roads on a fully loaded bike isn’t my kind of fun. I can do it, but will admit I don’t enjoy rattling along over stones that spring out from under the tires and make me feel a bit unstable. The oncoming traffic – yes, there were buses as well as cattle haulers going up and down this road so it couldn’t have been that bad, right?!? Well, that might be the case, but we opted for the easier route today.
Returned to Raxruja where we stopped for a late lunch and decided to head for Cobán for the night. Our post-lunch ride was a bit on the damp side. It started to drizzle in places, but this never cooled things off at all. We were glad to get to Cobán as clouds were getting heavy and dark was falling. Found our hotel, had a great dinner and called it an early night. Checked in with my brother and agreed to meet tomorrow at Chiquimala and decide where we will cross the border into Honduras later in the week.
Wednesday, October 31 – Cobán to Zacapa – 207 km
Happy Halloween! And our 30th anniversary of meeting. From Rankin Inlet to Ushuaia and many points in between, we have been very fortunate. Today we celebrated by finding a place in Tactic, Guatemala for oil changes. We were surprised when we realized we’ve put on almost 5000 km since the last one. As we are planning a few long days to cross Honduras and Nicaragua it seemed a good idea to get this done today.
The place we stayed outside of Cobán last night was beautiful. The Casa Kirva Hotel is a beautiful building with stunning grounds. The road in was a bit of a challenge – a steep rise from the highway lined closely with 12 foot hedges with two concrete tracks and grass in the middle. Head up the hill, come to a paved circle so you can make a 90 degree turn and climb another steep hill. I’d hate to run into someone heading in the opposite direction as there would be no room to pass so someone would have to back up … and bikes don’t do that well, especially when pointed downhill!
This morning’s ride was lovely. We were at fairly high elevation and last night was the first time we’d felt cool air for many weeks. The temperatures this morning as we descended the mountains to lower elevations were mild and comfortable. The scenery of tree covered mountains stretching as far as we could see, row upon row of mountain peaks filling the horizon were stunning. Sunshine and many shades of green made for some lovely views – with nowhere to stop, of course. This is s truly beautiful country.
By the time we were back in a valley it was getting hot. I think it warmed up about 10 degrees in 10 minutes. The longer we rode, the hotter it got and the heavier the traffic. Is it because we’re getting closer to the border? I’m not sure. We arrived in Zacapa in time for rush hour and in time for Google Maps to get us completely turned around in a very traffic-heavy city.
We managed to get merged into a demonstration of some sort – a huge number of vehicles, motorbikes, and pedestrians protesting something, with two tired and hot Canadian bikers stuck in the middle somehow. Thankfully we extracted ourselves and finally found the hotel that Rick had recommended and booked – in the middle of nowhere. We have a tiny room, but the pool was cool, the beer was cold, and dinner was good, so it all worked out! Getting out of riding gear felt great. Although we didn’t put many miles on – only 207 km, it took a long time when we factored in stops for oil changes and a bike wash, plus traffic backlog due to various construction sites as well as a stalled semi, then the challenges navigating Zacapa’s very busy, very narrow, cobbled and bumpy streets it seemed to take longer than it should have.
Today’s route took us from Cobán to Tactic and on towards San Jeronimo, St Augustin, and Zacapa. Tomorrow will take us to Honduras.