Tag Archives: Motorbike travel

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video: The road to Popocatepetl and Cholula, Puebla