Tuesday, January 25, 2011

San Cristobal, MX to Antigua, Guatemala

1/21 Day 2 in San Cristobal, MX:
Got in touch with Mauricio via email and set a meeting for the next day, then talked to a couple of long distance style MC riders downtown. From what I could gather, they said there was motorcycle convention in town the next day, so I thought it would be nice if Mauricio comes that same day. I am staying an additional day to take these events in and I am looking forward to the company.
Went for a café con leche and took some pictures around town, including the massive market area up in the hilly part of town.
All while waiting with anticipation for Day 3.

1/22 Day 3 in San Cristobal, MX:
No contact with Mauricio and I could not find any Motorcycle Convention. I fell into another wave of homesickness or maybe just “fish out of water” feelings that I thought I would not be able to shake. I considered a northbound route for the next day without knowing what else to do. I spent a bit of quiet time in the hotel room that afternoon to consider the darkest of scenarios, maybe something happened to Mauricio on the way over and he was unable to contact me. Maybe I misunderstood the riders Spanish about the rally and the convention was the next day, or maybe just outside of town due possibly to the large numbers of bikes that may be expected.
I didn’t know and I was in an unshakable funk, I turned the movie channel on… just at the opening credits for Wuthering Heights. About halfway through, I was about ready to cut my wrists, metaphorically of course.
I did enjoy the English country dancing scene, however.
About the time Kathy tells Heathcliff “…don’t say to me you love me, for it would destroy me …“
I turned the TV off tossed down the remote and bolted out of the hotel toward downtown. Two blocks later I noticed about eight big LD duelsport bikes outside a restaurant, one of which I recognized from the day before. I grabbed a couple of pictures and went inside. There were at least twice the number of riders than bikes and they had an entire room to themselves.
Seeing all those conversations in Spanish among so many strangers to me, did little to boost my fallen spirit even though I knew I had to introduce myself at some point, simply because it would be out of character if I didn’t. Apparently unnoticed, I stepped outside again to consider a strategy.

I walked around the block thinking I would catch everyone mounting up to leave but by the time I got back there they were just cracking open more tequila bottles and clicking shot glasses together. I make my move.
To the fellow nearest me … “I hear a few of you came from a long way to get here, can I get your signature in my travel book”?
“Sure, I’ll sign. Where are you from”? He struggled to enunciate in English.
Feeling not only relieved he understood the question but a complete turnaround occurred in the entire room shortly after the answer “I rode down from New York City”

The Boyz have come through for me again. Gonna miss them at the handoff at Mooshine, Illinois, in April. They provided me with my opening, I latter explained fully about the fallen riders and the purpose of the TAG.
It turns out there was a class held by a Guatemalan riding instructor, Raul Toledo, who I was introduced to in less than five minutes and five signatures later. Raul wrote a small book called “Moto Tips” and was holding court explaining riding techniques with words and gestures as well as selling and signing his book. He signed and gave a copy to me, and I expressed a deep appreciation. The faces at that table were riveted to his every word and I assumed they all knew each other. But I later found that they had only been in contact, but never met him until he was invited to hold this class.
I got about six pages in the STOC TAG book filled with Mexican and Guatemalan riders, pictures, a few invites to come stay over, and an offer to ride with Rauls group over to the border with Guatemala the next day. Also Carlos, a San Cristobal resident, offered for me to tag along on a prearranged ride through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador over the course of about 10 days starting the 26th of January.
All this with only a bit of disappointment from a few that I would not allow them to pour me a drink. I didn’t say a word about drinking and riding but was aghast that these guys were mostly going to ride after this, albeit a very short distance for the most part.
About half of them drove to the restaurant in cars donning there riding gear and I can only assume it’s because they knew they’d be drinking but I didn’t ask.
After about an hour of celebrity, fourteen signatures, and a half hour of Raul explaining riding techniques and a quite a bit of shot glass toasts I said I would be happy to travel with Raul and his class the next day. I excused myself and said I needed to go get a few things packed to be ready at 8:00AM.
Once out on the street, I opened an email from Mauricio. He apologized profusely about not showing up and said something came up in the family, that I should be certain to stop by again on the way north, “Please Please” Meanwhile, I have another solid contact in Mauricio’s city of Tuxla Gutierrez, Jose Antonio Olguin Ruiz. Maybe I can introduce them to each other at a meal. Their was another rider who said he knows Mauricio after I described his Harley.

1/23 Day 4 in San Cristobal, MX:
Now I feel my heart soaring. I can’t sleep past 4:00AM so I am up getting ready for the southbound ride. I am packed and ready to roll before the hotel doors are unlocked. The attendant heard the WEE engine and threw open the gates. I roll down the steep drive out onto the streets of a virgin Sunday at 7:00 AM in search of coffee and breakfast. I stop at a stand in the plaza area under one of the churches where I enjoy a hot cup of joe and a tamale, $1.
A young couple with full backpacks walk over to me and then I recognize them as Nora and Vincent, the couple who signed the book on the beach back at Mazunte.
They had just stepped off the bus and were looking for a particular hostel that is apparently hard to find.
They looked pretty ready for a bed at that point, but it was great seeing them and enjoying a breakfast together.
The meeting and departure was late. I guess we can blame the tequila for that. Raul is riding a 20 HP 150cc Yamaha race bike and has be showing riding techniques to guys riding big beemers. While on the road to Guatemala, Raul, surprised me with his ability to stay with everyone on the straights and do very well in the turns. I would not have ridden as fast as that group if I were alone. The topes were all over, even in the turns so it was a spirited ride for me.
At the border it was just me and Raul after everyone broke off. We met a 20 something Wyoming rider, Cyrus, on a dirt bike and we decided to wait for him to get checked in so we can ride as three. The border crossing was uneventful with not even one “helper” solicitation. I just snapped a few pics including the money changers dealing with Raul.

We had a bit of fun running into deepest Guatemala together mostly led by Raul, the local. Cyrus was quite a character with enthusiasm about many ideas for bike accessories but didn’t have a working center or side stand because of an unplanned get off on an unpaved road. He did have plenty of broken things on his unique bike though.
At the lunch stop he hopped his bike up onto a walkway of the kfc style chicken fast food chain and in a very upright position and in gear leaned the left hand grip gently against the plate glass window. The local security guy asked him very nicely to put it exactly where I already suggested, up against a short concrete wall. He obliged without hesitation.
His bike shares many of the same parts as some KTM’s but I forgot the name of his bike. He claimed to have a drinking water reservoir in the swing arm, and he uses it with a bite valve. Raul thought he was a dreamer, enthusiastic but not in the real world. We both agreed he was crazy. Smiled a lot though.

We exchange email then Cyrus broke off to meet people in Panjachel. Raul and I were still making headway toward Guatemala City where he lives. We rode through the high mountain darkness after we stopped for bowls of hot soup to warm us. At one point we were riding with about 30 feet of visibility while in a cloud at between 9 and 10 thousand feet elevation. There were many landslide remains along that road and both directions of traffic had to share half the road many times. Other than that, the mountains and countryside is dangerously pretty, but don’t look to long, something is always lurking around that turn that’ll need a riders full attention. An emaciated dog wandering through traffic aimlessly apparently asking everyone “Please kill me”

I got to tour Guatemala City after hours on a Sunday evening so the traffic was barely detectable. I was surprised at how neat the streets were, trash free, at least on CA 1 through the city. Took us about 20 minutes to come all the way through the entire city on a major freeway. The next day will be a different story when I back track through the same way we came in only in rush hour traffic.
I enjoyed the company of Rauls two children who both speak English and were very polite and hospitable. The dogs, Mocha and Chachi were very curious but friendly. His son Daniele, is a 600cc super bike racer and has many trophies as does his father Raul. Daniel is learning Japanese and wants to go into international business. He’ll do well.
I felt like I borrowed a family. Felt good.

1/24 Day 1 in Antigua, Guatemala:
Raul warned about the rush hour in Guatemala City. We rolled out of his gated community, he on the 150, me on the WEE. While on his way to work, he wanted to lead me at least part of the way toward Antigua along the route that was such a pleasure to ride the night before and is now jammed with busses, cars trucks and is very smoky with exhaust fumes. Except for the fumes, the hour or so it took to backtrack through town was no worse than what I have been used to in NYC, although that is not saying much.
Antigua is a historic colonial town with thick walled buildings lining all of the streets which are paved with cobble stone. The giant market is a must see. Bring your negotiating skills. The chain eateries are in town but it’s funny to see a McDonalds or Subway with three foot thick walls keeping the character of the towns historic buildings.

Today I get a chance to update this ride story while waiting for Carlos and his couples group to show up later. Hope I don’t feel like a fifth wheel on the next leg of this trip though Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

More pics at :


  1. So glad you got through the rough spots and are back on track. As lonely as it feels at times, there are people just around the next bend to take you into the "world family". So glad you are making progress SOUTH and still heading to your destination. We'll keep shoveling snow; you keep heading south. There will be lots of stories when we all get together again.

    GARLIC ROSE - Madison, NJ - it's a place we all need to go!

    Look forward to photos from Panama. Looking forward to the days for your next adventures.

    Love, Jo

  2. Fabulous pictures and great story. I love how the pictures show that people are the same no matter where you go - kids love to play, people love their families, people love to travel and experience the world in many ways - that the differences that divide us really don't exist. Your introspection adds a great deal of dimension and depth to this adventure. I love that you are able to do that.
    Happy 11th Anniversary (officially yesterday) to us.
    Muchos besos y vaya con Dios mi amor.