Day 62 – San Cristobal de las Casas, MX to Guatemala City, GU

Day 62 – San Cristobal de las Casas, MX  to Guatemala City, GU   10/22/10     Mileage: 324

Today I say goodbye to Mexico and hello to Guatemala! I’d also be saying hello to my friend Tracy who was flying into Guatemala City to meet me later today and ride with me for the next week around Guatemala! I was up and out the door by 8am this morning so I could get to the border relatively early in the day.

Getting ready for the last few miles in Mexico!

Passing through Teopisca, MX...

Not much going on in Teopisca this morning!

Last PEMEX and chance for gas before the border, so I topped up the tank...

I’ve heard and read accounts of border crossings in Central America that range from not too bad to 8+ hour ordeals, so I wanted to give myself as much time as possible in case of the worst. The air this morning was downright cold…I even had to put on my heavier riding gloves which I haven’t used since Oregon. As I descended out of the mountains it warmed up and became more humid, and after about 2 hours I was at the Mexican side of the border. The first job was to “export” the bike from Mexico which is done at the Banjercito. There were throngs of people on various lines in front of nameless offices waiting for some official stamp or signature so they can get on with their lives. Mercifully, there was nobody on line at the Banjercito….but then again there was nobody working in the office either. After confirming I was in the right spot, now I just had to wait for someone to show up. After 30 minutes an official came out and began to slowly, but deliberately cancel my import permit. Once all that paperwork had been properly shuffled, I was now able to go to the immigration to get stamped out of Mexico. Now with both me and the bike exported from Mexico, I was off to cross the 3 miles of “no-mans” land to Guatemala. As I approached the border, I came upon what I would describe as a cross between a Turkish bizarre and the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The narrow road was lined on both sides with stalls selling everything from farm produce to Nike sneakers to car parts. Squeezed between the stalls on either side of the narrow road was a river of humanity flowing (or trying to at least) in both directions on foot, in cars, buses, horse drawn carts, tuk-tuk’s and one gringo on a moto. I wanted to take a picture but I was focused on managing the craziness!

Here is pic after the crowds and craziness thinned out a bit and I was able to stop and get out my camera.

Here's another after the crowd thinned out...

Once at the border, an official stopped me in the road and informed me that my bike needed to be disinfected and that it would 12.50…payable only in quetzales, the local Guatemalan currency. I had read about this and it is legit and I even got an official receipt. Of course, I’m pretty sure it was just water he sprayed my tires with…but for the equivalent of $1.50, who cares.

Here is my bike being "disinfected" at the Guatemala border, which is 5 feet behind where my bike is parked.

Next I proceeded to the immigration office, and unbelievably there was nobody in line, so I had my stamp in under a minute! Now I was off to import the bike at the aduana office a few doors down. There was nobody in line there either and after filling out a form, doing some other paperwork and paying the fee’s at the bank office next door, I was in! All told it took me only around 2 hours to cross the border, which is better than I expected.

This is right at the border just past the immigration office looking into Guatemala...

 Now I had plenty of time to get to Guatemala City to the hotel and then to meet Tracy at the airport at 9pm. The CA1 road from the border was a twisty jumble of ups and downs through the rural countryside and the same as Mexico with regard to the quality (or lack thereof) of the road. There were however fewer animals in the road…but still some.

On the CA1 south towards Guatemala City...

Another from the CA1 south...

Guatemala is very mountainous, the few shots I got with my helmet camera do not do it justice!

The road is closed, I think I'll scoot to the front past all of this traffic!

I hit Guatemala City at 5:30pm, just in time to have to fight my way through manic rush hour traffic. I had the address of the hotel programmed into my GPS, but there was no hotel in sight when I arrived at the address and I found myself in the shady part of town. I’m not sure what was wrong, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to stay there in the street to figure it out…so I dropped it in gear and hit the gas. I tracked down and checked into a hotel near the airport that had secure parking and dropped my bags in the room. It was now almost 8:15 so I got back on the bike and went to the airport to meet Tracy. Her flight was right on time and we were back at the hotel by 9:45. After a quick drink and a bite to eat at the hotel lounge, we packed it in to rest up for the ride to the coast tomorrow.

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Day 61 – Puerto Escondito, MX to San Cristobal de las Casas, MX

Day 61 – Puerto Escondito, MX to San Cristobal de las Casas, MX     10/21/10     Mileage:  401

It was hard to peel myself from the sheets this morning, but the road beckons. So after another shower just because I could, I set off in hopes of making it to San Cristobal de las Casas high in the mountainous interior of southern Mexico.

Twists and turns on MEX 200 south...

Passing through Salina Cruz, MX

Lane splitting for motorcycles is legal in Mexico and a great way to get through traffic...

PEMEX is more or less the national gas station of Mexico, and they are generally very well maintained, clean, plentiful and often have a little convenience store. They are sometimes like a little concrete oasis in the dusty craziness of Mexico.

Cattle crossing...

The first few hours of riding were nice but average until I reached Tapanatepec, where I had a decision to make. I could stay on the Pan American highway with the relative safety it offers by being the main road north/south or I could veer inland into the mountainous interior region that borders Guatemala where San Cristobal de las Casas was located. I had just enough daylight left to make it to San Cristobal, so I decided to make a run for it. The road climbed away from the coast with each twist and turn and the air was getting cool and dry. After 20 miles I was beginning to second guess my decision as I had not seen a building or another vehicle on the road save for a truck heading down the other way. If something were to happen, I would be completely on my own. I remembered a conversation I had with my friend John shortly before crossing into Mexico, and his advice was that speed is safety…and he’s right. As long as I’m moving, I’m OK. It’s if I stop, or am stopped…that’s when the situation could get beyond my control. So with that in mind, and my loathing to backtrack, I leaned on the KLR’s throttle and hoped for the best. After a while I began to see some cars, buildings and other signs of life and was more at ease. After passing through the bustling city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, the road turned sharply uphill towards San Cristobal and the air got downright….dare I say…cold! At the top of the pass, the GPS read 8,500 feet above sea level and San Cristobal was not much lower than that. As I pulled into town I got caught up in a manic maze of people and traffic on the narrow colonial era streets. It took quite a while to find my way to the town center, but once I did I knew I liked it here! The town center was alive with people and music and I couldn’t wait to get off the bike to soak it all in.

San Cristobal de las Casas town center...

San Cristobal de las Casas city center...

San Cristobal pedestrian only street...

San Cristobal town square...

I found a hotel 2 blocks from the town square with a center courtyard for the KLR and the price was more than right at $200 pesos…or $16 USD. Once settled I was off to find dinner, some drinks and to take in the atmosphere. A few of the streets near the town square were pedestrian only and some of the bars and cafe’s had tables out on the sidewalk. The cool mountain air was a welcome change from the heat and humidity of the coast and it was enjoyable just to walk around and enjoy the scene.

San Cristobal...

I forgot the name of this church...sorry!

There were many inviting places to eat, but I finally parked myself at a cute cafe called La Vina de Bocco for a glass of wine (or 2 or 3!) and some tapas.

La Vina de Bocca...

Afterwards I took another stroll around the town center and called it a night.

Day 60 – Calvario, MX to Puerto Escondito, MX

Day 60 – Calvario, MX to Puerto Escondito, MX     10/20/10     Mileage:  365

I was up with the sun this morning and on the road shortly after. After two hours of riding I rolled into Acapulco and was surprised to find a huge bustling city choked with traffic, and not the quaint seaside resort down I had envisioned. I made my way straight to the waterfront and found a nice restaurant on the beach for breakfast.

Acapulco beach...

Acapulco beach...

Nice little restaurant on the beach...

Inside the cute beach front restaurant...

 After my huevos and coconut water, I high tailed it out of there for the less hectic countryside. The riding was good but average and the scenery was the same.

Passing through another dirty dusty town along the way...

and another...

Entering a military checkpoint...one of dozens I passed through in Mexico. They don't like having their picture taken, but they didn't notice the camera mounted on my handlebar.

Here's another military checkpoint later in the day...

The road south on MEX 200...

MEX 200 south...

Getting my fill of twisty roads!

It was dusk by the time I pulled into Puerto Escondito, and as I’ve been riding since dawn, I was not up to spending an hour searching for a cheap hotel that met all the criteria. So I consulted my AAA Mexico guide and they had 3 hotels listed, the least expensive of which was the Casamar at $42 per night. It was over my budget (as most in the AAA guide are), but wow what a nice place! It had a gated courtyard for the bike, an inviting pool and the room was great….complete with a river stone shower and full kitchen.

The hotel Casamar in Puerto Escondito...not bad for $42!

The Casamar grounds...

Secure courtyard parking for the KLR...

My room at the Casamar was great...

So after a dip in the pool and an overdue shower, I was off to the luxury of clean sheets and a soft bed.

Day 59 – Manzanillo, MX to Calvario, MX

Day 59 – Manzanillo, MX to Calvario, MX     10/19/10     Mileage: 336

 This morning I was up early to give the KLR some mechanical TLC while I had a good spot to do it.

Giving the KLR some TLC....

The road south today was again filled with twists, turns and curves…all which are normally great fun. The difference here compared to the US is the unpredictability of the road surface and any number of obstacles that lie around every blind corner that makes it nerve-racking. As for the road itself, around every corner it could turn from near perfect pavement to loose gravel, dirt or have a bike swallowing pothole. The lanes themselves are narrow and rarely have any kind of shoulder. So, run a corner wide, and you’re in the ditch or over the cliff. 

A deserted beach along the road south...there are too many to count...

....and another...

...and another.

As for what’s on the road, there could be a bus or truck in your lane either to avoid a truck eating pothole in their lane or simply because they are going too fast and veered into your lane! I had a number of these close calls and was forced to swerve to the very edge of my lane, while avoiding the other road hazards. And by other road hazards I mean rocks, coconuts, dogs, chickens, cows, donkeys, pigs, cats, goats, horses and any and every other domesticated and non-domesticated animal! Fences, leashes and other forms of quadruped confinement are simply not used and they are free to roam wherever they like. The herbivores seem particularly fond of the lush grass that seems to grow on the side of the road(where the shoulder should be), and the natural perch from which to graze is of course your lane. Other hazards include slow moving horse drawn carts, broken down trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, etc…all in the road because there is absolutely no shoulder. Sunlight faded before I could reach the next town, so I was forced to stop and look for a place to rest for the night. There was a grouping of restaurants right on the beach, and I asked one of the owners if I could camp on the beach in front of her place. They were already closed, but I did buy some tortillas (and beer) to make a tuna wrap with the tuna I had with me. So, after dinner and a quick dip in the ocean that would have to stand in for a much needed shower, I was off to my tent to be lulled to sleep by the crashing waves.

Sunset on my beach camp...

Day 58 – San Blas, MX to Manzanillo, MX

Day 58 – San Blas, MX to Manzanillo, MX     10/18/10     Mileage: 286

 Morning in San Blas came with the bellowing mixture of advertisements and local music emanating from a truck with large loud speakers that must charge for ads to blast to the local populace, and the occasional gringo tourist. Not being interested in anything they were advertising, even if I understood what they advertising, I packed up the bike and split. Today was mostly about making miles south, with the notable exception of Puerto Vallarta.

Welcome to Puerto Vallarta!

The beach in Puerto Vallarta

Too bad I couldn't stay...the beach looks nice!

It wasn’t in the cards to stay the night there, but I did head downtown to check out the scene. It has a very walk-able downtown area with cobblestone streets and all the typical tourist shops. It has a nice waterfront where I found a bar serving great fish tacos and cold Pacifico…nice!

A great little bar on the beach....

Living the life!

I spoke with one of the waiters who gave me some great advice for the road south…which was to always pay attention to 1) the pot holes and 2) the vehicles in your side of the road avoiding the potholes in their side of the road! He couldn’t have been more right, as the coast road was horrendous south of Puerto Vallarta and was nerve-racking having to constantly dodge potholes and cars around blind curves sandwiched between the mountain side and the cliff. Nightfall would catch up to me in Manzanillo where I found a nice hotel on the water with secure parking for the motorcycle in the center courtyard.

More posts are on the way…

Hi All!

I’ve haven’t been able to find a reliable internet connection to upload all the pictures, but more posts are coming as soon as I do. Thanks for all the great comments!

Here is a sunset from the other day…

Sunset on the Pacific...

Day 57 – Topolobampo, MX to San Blas, MX

Day 57 – Topolobampo, MX to San Blas, MX     10/17/10     Mileage: 464

 Morning came when the phone rang at 7am and I think they were looking for money to extend my stay. Instead, I packed up the bike and beat it south towards Mazatlan. I took the “cuota”, or toll road instead of the “libre” free road as it is in much faster, well maintained and has much less traffic. The problem is it is bloody expensive even by American standards…it cost me over $40 US to go around 300 miles….ouch.

Welcome to Mazatlan!

Mazatlan seems typical of most Mexican resort towns in that the resorts that most people see (and may never leave) are separate from the town itself. I of course skipped resort row and went to the downtown waterfront which was pretty cool and has a nice vibe.

Looking back towards the resort area of Mazatlan...

The Mazatlan town waterfront...

Having a light lunch on the Mazatlan waterfront...

The Mazatlan downtown waterfront...

The Mazatlan downtown waterfront...

I found a little cafe on the water for lunch, and while sitting there I was approached by an older fellow who was interested in my bike. Richard is retired and has been living in Mazatlan for 15 years now. He also rides, so we swapped war stories from the road and he gave me some good info on the road south…including a town called San Blas, which he said was a nice spot to spend the night. After lunch I pointed the KLR south again, now for my new destination for tonight…San Blas. I got sick of paying the tolls on the “cuota” road, so I veered off and started making my way over to the “libre”. Well, it wasn’t long before the road put me in a hopelessly confusing town built like a maze. After making approximately 65.3 wrong turns, I pulled over and asked 3 hombres in my pigeon Spanish if they knew where the Rt 15 free highway was. They miraculously understood my question, but the answer came at me hard and fast in Spanish and I didn’t understand a word. The one guy must have seen my blank stare and saw that we were getting no ware…and I was literally getting no ware…so he motioned for me to follow him in his truck parked across the street. Within a few minutes, and a dizzying number of right and left turns…we emerged from town. He pulled over and I thanked him profusely…and might still be wandering around that town were it not for him taking time out of his day to help the stupid lost gringo find his way. So after another 45 minutes and several more wrong turns, I finally made it to San Blas. This was a quaint Mexican beach town free of anything gringo…I like it! I found a hotel for $24 complete with air conditioning and wifi…sweet! They also said hot water…but like the last few places I stayed…the words hot water are rather ambiguous it seems down here. “Less cold” than the regular cold water would be more accurate. Or, like a lot of buildings down here, they were never plumed for hot and cold running water…just cold. So if you want hot water in the shower, they have shower heads with an electric heater built in, but usually there is no temperature adjustment. Anyway, a cool shower is better than no shower at all! After getting cleaned up I went out to the main square in town and it was alive with people eating, kids playing and teenagers talking and hanging out.

San Blas town square....pretty lively for Sunday night in a small town!

San Blas town square...

This was a cool second floor bar overlooking the town square...a great perch to take in the scene!

I had a few beers at a bar overlooking the square and took it all in and then some tacos from a street vender wich were pretty tasty! Fed and watered, I went back to the barn for the night.