Category Archives: 14 – 00 Panamericana 05, 2018 – 06, 2019

Central America – A country rush

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama

Our focused date now is 28th October. That’s the day we have to be in Panama City as we need to show up 29th at 7am for the motorcycle inspection. When we left Lake Atitlan we counted exactly 3 weeks left to cross all countries in Central America: 5 border crossings, 6x temporary export and 5 x temporary import of the motorcycles. One border crossing can last anything between 1.5 and 4 hours… We felt a little bit screwed by the schedule but decided to make the best out of it.
We had one more stop in Guatemala, Antigua. The little town is located in the central highlands and famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It is enclosed by three large volcanoes the Volcán de Agua, the Acatenango and the Volcán de Fuego, the most active one– during our stay they mostly were covered in clouds and it was pretty rainy. Anyhow these were the days they had flooding everywhere in Central America and we decided to use 2 days for route and border crossing planning.

The decision was good; when we head towards El Salvador, Santa Ana we only had a little shower and most of the roads were dried. And this time we were lucky and the track to hike up the Santa Ana Volcano or Ilamatepec, a large stratovolcano at 2,381 meters, was just opened again after the rain. We spent a beautiful day hiking up to the crater lake and afterwards relaxing at the Lago de Coatepeque. We were following a beautiful winding road down south and along the pacific coast and stopped at El Cuco beach. They asked for crazy prices down there; and that not even for nice places. Mostly muggy and pretty abandoned as it is off-season. Finally we found a room for 18 Dollar with shared bath – but as we were the only ones we actually had a private one ;) The first beach since a pretty long time and we really enjoyed swimming, watching the pelicans and the turtle release.

Honduras we wanted to cross in the very south in one day if possible; so in total about 230km from El Cuco. That does not sound much but includes two border crossings: from El Salvador to Honduras and from Honduras to Nicaragua. Also Honduras and Nicaragua are the two countries with the most riots during the last month. We gave it a go and did it as planned within one day. The border crossing were OK, it took time but no issues at all. The road through Honduras was one of the best we drove during this trip. The people looked friendly and were smiling at us all the time and the landscape was stunning. It is a shame that we did not have more time to explore this country. We reached Somotillo in Nicaragua just with the last daylight and found a nice room before heavy rain started again. In the close neighborhood we found a little shop where we bought the famous Nicaraguan ron “Flor de Caña” a cold coke and the friendly woman supplied us with cups and fresh limes. Just on the opposite was a little “Cocina” (kitchen) and we had delicious fresh grilled meat with fried bananas and tortillas – yummy, what a great day!

At that point I should mention that we will not talk much about each single borderXing and their specifics as it would be too much here – this we will do probably in a separate blog. But we know that other overland travelers are maybe interested in these information and processes. If anybody needs information feel free to contact us any time. But be aware this things, some call it regularities changes constantly…

Nicaragua seems to be a beautiful country with lovely people welcoming us and waving. We were driving south along the coast and stopped in San Jorge, Rivas at Lago at Lago Cocibolca (Lake Nicagaragua) the largest lake in Central America. On arrival we had a beautiful view on Ometepe; an island formed by two volcanoes rising out of it. Unfortunately the next two days it was raining cats and dogs without a break so we skipped the plan to explore the island. But we met another couple riding 2up from Chile up north (since 2 years) – the only other tourists we saw in Nicaragua. It is sad to see which problems this country is facing at the moment and we are sure it is worth to see more of it one day. Talking to the people you could feel the fear and uncertainty of their future…

Leaving Nicaragua was much easier than we thought and the little road we chose was nice. For a stretch of about 20 km it turned into bad gravel and we were wondering if we missed a turn at a junction. But no, the road was pretty and the direction right. We stopped in La Fortuna at a hostel with a view on Volcano Arenal; having just enough time for doing some shopping before it turned dark. We are getting closer and closer to the equator and it turns dark sooner and sooner and particularly quicker!

We have both never been in the Caribbean! So we drove towards Limon and the last 100km were horrible – trucks trucks trucks and road construction everywhere… Not Nice! But as soon as we passed Limon it turned into a beautiful windy road along the Caribbean Coast. In Cahuita we settled for a few days and relished the tropical beach live… , Reggae music, swimming, eating fish, drinking some cocktails and tracking in the jungle. It was really fun watching all the animals in the Cahuita National Park. We saw pacas, cheeky raccoons, agoutis, howler monkeys, very nosy white-headed capuchins and even two sloths – only there butt while hanging in the tree and sleeping  (which they do apparently 90% of the day/ their life), but we saw them. Very interesting to watch was as well the busy Atta cephalotes, a leafcutter ant. The snorkel-tour was just a boat trip in the end as the water was too murky after the rain; but it didn’t cost us anything as they refunded the money completely so we purely enjoyed it.
The last border crossing driving the bikes in Central America was from Costa Rica into Panama and we thought that will be easy-going… The best proof you can never be sure how it will be – it took us more than 3 hours due to several reasons. But the most annoying were the checkpoints after the crossing. They asked us to open everything while we were cooking and sweating in the sun. The road heading south on itself was really beautiful and up in the mountains we adored the fresh breeze. You cross De Fortuna Forest Reserve and wonder that there is no possibility to stay. We heard it is a very poor region and populated only by indigenous people. We saw some place which seemed to be a hostel, hotel in the past but everything was collapsed and abandoned. What a pity!

While driving down the mountains we first were caught in the fog and then it started to rain. At the moment we reached the PanAm monsoon started and the highway was nearly flooded. We heard of a place called Noni House run by a couple (Suisse and British) where we wanted to stay. But when we arrived completely soaked Astrid, the owner, told us they just closed to catch a flight to Columbia for diving. Ooh shit! She recommended a place to us directly at the beach in Las Lajas just 12km south. So we waved good bye (maybe we meet them again in Columbia?) and moved in Mat´s beautiful “Johnny Fiesta” (https://www.facebook.com/Johnnyfiestaslaslajas/). The place is great directly at beachfront and the 14 km long beach we do have nearly for our-self.  The only other gust was Daniel, who traveled already more than two years on his bicycle. Nice waves, fresh breeze, pineapples, pipas and coconuts, here and there a beer or a Cuba-Libre. That´s how we can just stand doing our office job ;) and so we stay 3 days.
We all know `the world is small´! Yesterday two French people (Francois and Adeline) walked by and saw our bikes. They are actually one of the couples we do share our container from Panama to Columbia with! How funny!!! So they just moved in with their camper and we are sure we will have great time together… Tomorrow we will drive about 200km south and having one more night before we have to go to Panama City on Sunday…Wish us luck everything is working out well with the motorcycle shipping!

 

 

Trouble to leave Mexico and a welcoming lovely new country: Guatemala

If a border crossing is up-coming we are prepared as best as possible: knowing which papers are required or if we do need copies, for which paper or part we have to pay how much fee, which stamps, stickers etc. we should receive. And if possible where the required places as immigration-, customs-office and in this case the fumigation-station for the motorcycles and the money-changer are located. In our days you will be able to find most of these details in the internet (e.g. wikioverland.org). So everything was in place when we met Mike early morning at the gas station to drive towards `Frontera La Mesilla´. We really enjoyed the windy road heading south-east with a great view on the mountain scenery on the Guatemalan side.

To leave Mexico, any country, we had as usual to check out our motorcycles out of the country again with customs. And in this case we had to get back our deposit which we had to pay when we entered Mexico (2x200USD). The customs officer was calm friendly and it did not take long to process all three motorcycles in the computer, doing pictures of the bikes and the VIN-Numbers. We kindly thanked him and walked over to immigration while Mike took care of the bikes.
The immigration officer asked all our papers and passports which we handed over; as well the receipt of our tourist-fee (533 pesos each) which we had to pay when we entered Mexcico. He sorted the papers and murmured something that the entry/leaving form should be a kind of sticker and not paper and we indicated that it is the only paper we received at the border from the USA to Mexico. It is the original with all required signatures and stamps (in color) as required. He continued murmuring and put the exit stamps on our passports he explained that we will need to pay each 500 some kind of tourist fee again as he cannot find the proof in the system that it was paid already. We looked each other wondering and indicated again that the receipt with tracking number is attached to our papers. The immigration guy took the receipt off and persists on additional paying. So we said: OK, but first we want him to hand out back our original receipt and second we want a new receipt of the additional 1000pesos, including his name so we can claim it back somehow… NOW he was totally freaking out which showed that this was not correct at all, speaking up loud and he snatched the passports away from Kerstin´s hand. In a second he signed our exit stamps as `not valid´ and threw the passports back to us. He said now we need to go back to the Bancajero (customs) and pay each 500 first. We were confused… and went back to the customs officer. When we explained to him what happened he looked amazed and replied there is no need to pay anything `extra´ and he asked where the receipt is which he saw already. We told him the Immigration Officer kept it, is not willing to pass it back and that he signed our exit as invalid unless we pay the additional fee. He looked at everything again and we helpless told him we do not know what to do now. (– all that we had to do in Spanish as none of them spoke any English -) He immediately recognized our situation: the bikes were exported of the country already and the immigration officer does not let us go out of it… He looked serious and asked us to walk over together with him. All that took already nearly an hour and Mike was still outside with the bikes. ( A BIG THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN!!!)
(Nevertheless he´s riding a beamer he´s a really good guy and at the time our hero!)

Both officers were arguing and we could feel the tension. But in the end we walked out again with the customs officer without our exit stamps and he was looking even more serious and worried as well. What the hell is going on here??? He walked back to his office together with us and advised us very gentle to wait once more. We waited, quietly looking each other but inside we started to worry and getting bumpy. The customs officer started making pictures of all our papers, sorting, thinking, writing e-mails and making phone calls… It was clear to us he is shouldering something he do not has to do at all. Trying to stay calm; the time was passing and we informed Mike about the situation. We told him he should give it a try himself. And he walked over to the immigration officer who even did not look even at him while being at the phone (probably receiving an harsh phone call from Mexico City ;) and put the required exit stamp in his pass port. Lucky Mike – but maybe the officer recognized meanwhile that he is in not such good situation… It seemed to us an eternity when the customs officer suddenly asked us to follow him once more. The immigration officer did not have many words anymore and finally asked us to hand out our passports again – and WE GOT OUR EXIT STAMPS!!! Hurray!!! (without that we would not be able to cross into Guatemala!!) Very, very kindly we thanked the immigration officer (F….) and now he was close to explode ;) He turned totally red but couldn´t say anything anymore. ;)

We walked over the last time to the customs officer to thank him for all his effort and patience. Without him we probably would still sit at the border (like in thin Airport movie with Tom Hanks)… Not sure exactly how long all that took, maybe around 3-4 hours and now we had to go to manage the Guatemala border… The narrow road became very turbulent, full of shops and people and vehicles. But everything went well. We found the moneychangers next to the fumigation so we had the required Quetzales to pay. We processed customs with all required copies and received our papers and stickers. And we managed immigration and the paying without any problems – it all just took time. They lady at the Guatemalan Immigration was playing with her mobile-phone so Sascha did the same and they looked like they got an interesting game going on… Sascha won and got all the papers… ;)

Mike´s plan was to drive north-east to Uspantán, El Quiché and visit the father of his friend from Chicago, Alvero. The family is originally from there and Alvero went back to Guatemala after he retired. Our original plan was to go to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, south east. While Mike was waiting at the border he was chatting with Alvero and he invited us to come as well. As the distance to there was about 80km less we spontaneously decided to change the plan and to accompany Mike to Uspantán. For going to Lake Atitlan it was  much too late anyhow so we would had so sleep somewhere on the way anyhow. The ride was wonderful with great views. And wherever we stopped people came towards us and welcoming us to their country and thanking us for visiting it. We arrived at the suburbia of Uspantán with the last daylight and Alverio was waiting for us already and guarding us to his house.  Lily and Lola were already preparing the dinner for us and we went for a great hot shower. While dinner we shared our story and were interested to learn more about this beautiful country. And we all had a good deep sleep in clean big beds. The hospitality of Alvero is incredible and after a powerful breakfast and a visit at his gas station we were leaving to Lake Atitlan together with Mike.

In Panajachel at Lake Atitlan, Sololá, a couple, Jessica (Canada) and Greg (USA) and their dog Moxie are living here since two years. They traveled the Americas on their bikes and now settled here and doing trips with Moxie on the back of one of their bikes.

They contacted us a while ago, that they would like to meet us and that we are welcoming to stay with them. We planned a longer stop at Lake Atitlan, surrounded by impressive volcanoes cause Kerstin wants to do a language course. So it was just a perfect fit well! And Kerstin was curious to meet another woman driving her own bike ;)

We arrived together with Mike who was welcomed to stay as well. Mike left the next day as he has a tighter schedule but we do stay still with them. They are great, lovely and interesting persons and make us right away feeling home. Beside their normal jobs (they are able to do them mostly online) they produce dog collars and travel-pillows out of Guatemalan fabrics (www.ruffontheroad.com). Sascha is becoming more and more a real dog lover and Kerstin did 6 days language school… Not that she became fluent but it helps a lot! We adore chatting and cooking together, visiting friends of them and circled the lake with its pueblos (villages) all around. Beside we could manage to weld Sascha’s pannier-holder the 35th time. We got new rear break-pads for Kerstin’s bike and Sascha changed our rear tires so we do not have to carry them around anymore as spares.

For our further journey we found a container sharing for the Darien Gap, to cross over from Central to South America, and therefore we do have a fixed appointment now. 29th of October we have to be in Colón, Panama to handover our motorcycles. We do not like having fixed dates but at one point we have to commit to one. We enjoyed staying every minute of these ten days with Jessica, Greg and Moxie! We are absolutely sure we will meet again… somewhere, sometime and somehow!!!

Independence day and the last days in wonderful Mexico

The Mexican Independence Day, 15th September, we celebrated with all the great people at the Oaxaca Overlander Oasis. We spent a lovely time with all of them, enjoyed the lunch of the cooking class and went all together for the party at the plaza of San Maria Del Tule. Watching the dancers and the fireworks, listen to the live music and the speeches. And of course we had a few shots of Mescal which was offered to everybody out of a gigantic bottle. The final fireworks ended with a metal-torro loaded with fireworks which they toss around the plaza like crazy again and again. We were just wondering nobody was set on fire while they were doing that. As well we visited one of these days Oaxaca city. It is well worth a visit even though it is pretty touristic. Before everybody was leaving on Monday they organized a surprise birthday cake for Sascha – it was a day too early but they just wanted to celebrate somehow with him together: How sweet! We had to find a room for our spare tires which Calvin from the Overland Oasis kindly ordered for us and so we turned out to be the last ones leaving the place. But we were looking forward to meet one or the other on the road again as we were all heading somehow south…
On the way to the Pacific Ocean we had one more stop up in the mountains, in San José del Pacífico. The place is known as well for its mushrooms, but actually you do not need anything else except time to enjoy this beautiful place. You just sit down in between the clouds and mountains and watch the scenery. It turns out magical how the clouds form, change and vanish…

Down at the pacific coast we finally met Jason, a Canadian guy. We are in contact with him already since Baja but we never met so far. Two days beach, swimming, chatting and then we left together towards San Cristobal. The stretch was too long for one day ride and just before we reached the destination for that day a thunderstorm caught us. We found shelter under a gas station roof with many others for nearly an hour until we could make our last 30 km for that day.

San Cristobal is a beautiful city in Chiapas. The hostel allowed us to park all three motorcycles in their entrance/community hall so we did not have to worry at all. We liked exploring the colorful city, the churches and the markets for three days. One of these days we took the colectivo/little bus to visit San Juan Chamula. The town enjoys unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village and they have their own police force. Pretty famous is the church of San Juan. They do practice rituals in there as chanting prayers and drinking ceremonial cups of Posh, sugar-cane-based liquor while sitting in groups on the floor which is covered with green pine boughs. The church is filled with hundreds of candles and a shaman is healing people at the altar area while bumbling and sacrificing/ killing a chicken. – Can we recommend visiting that place? Hard to say – we saw already many curious places or uncommon rituals. But hey it does not cost a lot and if you are close by just go and find out yourself. You will not find any pictures here from the inside as it is strictly forbidden to take any. And there are guards all around to enforce that! If they see you taking a picture or video they just take your camera apart apparently…
At the last day in San Cristobal we met Kelsey and Tim again from the Overlander Oasis and we went all together for dinner.
Now it was time to think about crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala. We said `good bye´ to Jason and drove to Comitán de Domínguez which is only 80 km away from the border. We arrived at noon and enjoyed our last full day in Mexico while driving to the close by located Chiflon Cascades. It is wonderful place with several cascades, clear turquoise water and pools to jump in; and we were lucky as there were only a few people around.
On the way to there we met Mike, another motorcycle traveler from the States. We agreed to meet early morning at the gas station to cross the border together.

So in part II we will let you know about our challanges leaving Mexico and the lovely new country we finally entered: Guatemala.

 

 

In the clouds

Beetle-Mountain-Town meets volcanic landscapes with a Swiss taste

You know what: We could easily write a novel here: So many beautiful natural sceneries we have seen, the gorgeous people we met, the colorful towns we saw, all the great food we had and all the little oddities and characteristics we saw which makes us sometimes wonder… We try to make it short this time and highlight only a few things.

The plan of the route is mostly unknown until we start to drive or maybe a day before. Sometimes it even changes during the day due to road or weather condition or because we follow spontaneously recommendations we get from somebody on the road. The last day at Guadalajara we had the pleasure to meet another friend of Ernesto. Alberto is a real adventurer on his motorbike. He left his bike in Venezuela and will continue his trip in about a month – so we hope to meet him again somewhere in South America.
We heard about a place south east of Guadalajara called Charly´s Restaurant. It´s run by a Swiss guy and it´s actually in the middle of nowhere. Charly is living in Mexico since 27 years. His “Restaurant” is somehow a real place to meet with fellow overlanders and as well known by locals for the great food and drinks he offers. He has a real fable for travelers and he loves to ride his motorcycle too. He bakes his own bread and has a great knowledge of the entire region. Charly helped to establish a cheese production where he took us too. YUMMI, the first time since we left Europe REAL AND GOOD CHEESE!
A Swiss couple, Erika and Ernst, who travel the world after they retired in their camper-van stayed in his place too.  It was a great time chatting, eating and drinking… ahhh, did I forget to mention the pool? and swimming of course.

Charly offered spontaneously to accompany us together with Ernst for a day trip when we leave. He had a route in mind already and therefore we changed our plans impulsively. Instead of leaving North East (and round Mexico City that way) we were know heading South West together. We enjoyed the half day ride just following Charly through villages and fields…  ;) except maybe the adventure part where he used a short cut which became a muddy water filled pothole path. Ernst flipped the bike once but nothing really happened. At the Volcán Paricutín we split. We did not go up as it was covered in clouds and was looking like we would just enter the rain. We said good bye…
We continued through mountain areas with great sceneries. Now the route changed to pass by Mexico City on the south going east. Little villages, avocado plantations along the valleys and somehow land of nowhere… abandoned villas in the most beautiful spots; canyons and valleys with beautiful views everywhere. Some people told us this is not really an area to go through we remembered… but wherever we stopped for a rest or for food the people were friendly smiling at us and dealing with our little knowledge of Spanish.
Accidentally we head into the `pueblos magicos´ wherever we stopped. Sometimes we had really good experiences and sometimes it looked too touristic to us. Usually we were lucky finding nice and reasonable places to stay. Only in one occasion after a long day ride, again and again in the rain, we were too tired. And after stopping in two three places asking for the rate (all too overrated we settled in a placed which smelled a bit muggy and cat-pi. But hey, we had a nice walk to the lake and `survived´ ;)
Mexico is a big country and comes up with many volcanic areas, archeological sites and beautiful villages wherever you go. It is never easy to detect and decide what to look at and what not. We do prefer to stay in the mountains and usually we drive on an altitude of above or around 2000m. The climate is just perfect up here, because as soon as you are below 1500m it becomes really hot. The only disadvantage is the thunderstorms which usually come in around 4pm; and sometimes if you go up to the summits even earlier. So we drove onto one when we were riding up the volcano Nevado de Toluca. First it turned dark and soon everything was covered in clouds. Then it started to rain and finally to hail. It became a little slippery and we started to freeze and suddenly at 4200m the road was closed. So we returned to the lagoon and found a shelter for a few minutes. Down at the park entrance we were happy that the guard invited us to warm up at his fire place and we shared thankfully some nuts with him. We were luckier with the weather when we rode up early morning to Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl.
We have been the only ones on the road and as soon as we arrived at the view point the morning mist cleared off completely. Fascinated we were listening to the roaring sound of Popocatépetl – an impressive reminder that it is an very active volcano indeed. First we thought the road leading direction Pueblo is closed. But that was only the road going to another viewpoint. And the dirt road crossing over was open and didn’t look too bad. Only at one point in a steep turn with big rocks and deep washouts Kerstin crashed one time and then Sascha shortly after as well.

Two towns we really enjoyed visiting. The first one was Taxco. A beautiful mountain city situated on nearly 1800m. It is famous for its silver mines and shops which we did not know before at all. Much more impressive to us was the location. Riding the Mexican Highlands is really great with gorgeous landscapes and villages. But the view at Taxco from below was just stunning and for Kerstin a bit petrifying. The white houses with complex narrow curvy steep copper stone roads are climbing up the hill and there is a statue of Jesus at the very top of the town, called “Cristo”.
We looked up a hotel before and I was definitely afraid if Kerstin will make it through this narrow labyrinth without crashing somewhere. The town is full of white racing taxi beetles speeding up the curvy steep streets and crossing in from all directions. Completely sweated and full of adrenaline we finally managed to find the hotel. We parked our motorcycles in the lobby – from time to time we do like this kind of comfort – and checked in for two days. A `funny´ thing was that we found out that the Hotel is located just next to the main road and we could have easily avoid this `adventure ride´… but nevertheless we decided to let enjoy the bikes their lobby-parking for our stay.  Sometimes we have the feeling our GPS is looking for more adventure then we do!
We really enjoyed the stay, walking around in this labyrinth and the market lanes, visiting the more than 200-year-old baroque-style church, the Santa Prisca Cathedral and the cultural centre Casa Borda. We were eating delicious and incredible cheap food in the non-touristic areas and last but not least driving up in one of these racing-beetles to the Christo Monument.
The other town we visited for two days was Cholula in Puebla just east of Popocatépetl on an altitude of 2150m. It is considered to be the oldest city in North America, inhabited without interruption since its origins. We found a nice AirBnB for just 300pesos a night with view to the Pirámide Tepanapa, the world largest pyramid (volume wise) and world’s largest monument. Because the site was fully covered with earth and looked just like a hill the Spanish build la Iglesia de los Remedios on the top (a church).

Our room was located above a little panaderia (bakery). We could not resist the smell. They did the best bread and the most delicious cheese pies and we had them several times… ;)

You may wonder if there is anything we do not like here?! YES! The topez!!! Tope is the Spanish word for speed bump. Topes are pervasive on Mexican roads, and they come in varying heights, from minuscule to mountainous. Sometimes they are marked in color or with signs BUT sometimes not and sometimes there is just a sign but no topes…?. But if you overlook them you risk taking off for a short but intensive flight. But the most evil ones are the ones with a little gap in the middle. If you do not see that you can easily get stuck with your tire or rather you are out of control direction wise. It happened to Sascha and he squeezed his foot and nearly drove into a shop-window.

As mentioned before we have September and it is the “Month of Mexico”. The streets are decorated across the country with flags and colorful garlands, which is locally called “papel picado”. On each corner there are vendors with a colorful assortment of flags, balloons, hats and pinwheels, in white, red and green, the National colors. There are flags on the houses, cars, Motorcycles (ours too!!!) and all government buildings and town squares. The highlight is the Grito de Dolores (better known as El Grito, the Cry for independence) It is celebrated every year on the night between September 15th and 16th is a Mexican holiday par excellence. It is the night when all citizens of Mexico celebrate their independence from the Spanish conquerors.

We planned to spend this big Fiesta in Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca Overlander Oasis. We met a bunch of really nice overlanders here and we are curious how the night will turn out… But this we will tell you next time!