A blog to record our motorbike adventure through the Americas

Posts tagged “Antigua

Another Day, Another Country….Or Two

It’s been a pretty busy week or so since the last update! A few long days on the bike combined with lots of power outages where we are now has delayed this post. We’ve since traveled out of Guatemala, through Honduras and are now relaxing in the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua.

We spent our 2nd week in Antigua doing the same as the 1st week, it was nice to have a bit of a routine after so long on the road. We would go to school in the morning, maybe do some chores in the afternoon and then head out into town in the evening……and we threw in a Salsa class too. It was quite entertaining – the room was tiny and there was at least 12 of us so after about 45 minutes of laughter and stumbling around, all that was left was a room full of very sweaty people. I would imagine that it would take a lot of lessons to make our stumbling look the way Salsa should, we definitely were not moving like Latinos 🙂

On the 1st November, Guatemalans celebrate ‘Day of the Dead’ which mostly involves the locals visiting the graves of their family and celebrating their life. Our school organised a trip to see some of the celebrations in the nearby town of Santiago Sacatepequez – the celebrations involved a huge kite festival and party in the local cemetery.

Transportation to the town was by an old American school bus, aka ‘Chicken Bus’. Central America is where all of the old US school buses are sent when they’re knackered, they then continue to use them for many more years so most are falling apart and emitting plumes of black smoke!! Anyway, it was a funny experience, especially when they parked on a steep hill and made us get off the bus via the emergency exit at the back – okay for most, but there were a few older people on board.

After over an hours walk through crowds of people (almost being crushed) and busy market stalls, we made it up to the cemetery to the kite festival. One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. There were some huge kites strapped up and thousands of people wandering around (and over) all of the graves.

It was like ‘Party in the Park’ only in a graveyard!! I saw a pizza delivery man wandering around, I guess someone had ordered take out 🙂 And an ice cream lady pushing her cart over the graves whilst wondering around trying to make a sale.

Apparently, fancy dress was also an option for these celebrations…..

From superhero costumes to wearing a bucket on you head – anything goes here!

Amongst the crowds Dan was trying to discreetly take some photos of the locals – sometimes they spotted him though, like this lady – and I don’t think she was too impressed 🙂

Back in Antigua, one of the nearby volcanoes, Volcan de Fuego, decided to show a little bit of activity. It erupted few weeks ago and is still pretty active. It was only a bit of black smoke, but we did watch for a while from the hotel roof terrace to see if it was going to put on a proper show…..but unfortunately not this time. I want to see some lava 🙂

We enjoyed our last few days in Antigua wondering the streets and eating great food.

There was also another street procession – you just never know what’s going to happen next in these countries – there seems to always be some sort of celebration, procession or fiesta going on. As we were sat planning out some more of our route, this procession went by. Apparently in remembrance to the death of Christ. When we first saw it the large float was being carried by women, and some of them looked in pain with the weight, but we were told that it is an honour to be able to carry it. The was some sombre music being played by the band that follow on behind.

We bumped in the procession again 3 or 4 hours later, I think the whole town was out following it by this point.

So, eventually, the time came to say goodbye to Antigua, we had thought about changing our plans so we could stay longer, but that would only just delay the inevitable! Here’s me looking pretty unimpressed on the morning of departure. We’d had the best time and met some great people too.

One of the people we had met was Mike, an overland biker from Canada. He is on a pretty similar route and timescale so we decided to head off together to Honduras – a bit of company on the road and someone else to talk to other than Dan 🙂

The border crossing to Honduras was pretty simple, just took a while, but once processed we were on our way to Copan Ruinas – a small town just over the border from Guatemala (see border crossing page if you want more info about this border). At the border, I practiced my Spanish skills on some locals kids whilst Dan and Mike sorted the paperwork – apparently my Spanish is not yet up to the standards to talk to children!! 🙂

Copan Ruinas is another colonial town with cobbled streets – and very steep streets too!

We checked into a hotel for a couple of nights so we could go and explore the nearby Maya ruins. A nice hot shower was in order after a long day on the bike – you just have to be careful not to get electrocuted in the process 🙂

Here’s a few shots from the ruins.

And as is the norm for this part of the world, seeing things you don’t expect, whilst wondering around the ruins we seemed to stumble across what appeared to be a Miss Latino competition. There were photographers, cameramen and a group of girls wearing sashes from different countries around the Americas.

We also saw some Macaw parrots near the ruins….really pretty birds – although Dan was probably more interested in the Miss Latino ‘birds’. 🙂

The following day we rode with Mike right through Honduras down towards the border with Nicaragua. It was good to have company on the road – especially as we had read that Honduras had the highest rate of intentional homicide in the world in 2010 & 2011. That always makes for a ‘not’ very relaxed days riding. There were loads of police and military check points too, a few of which pulled us over, but then allowed us on our way – especially after Mike discovered a tactic of fumbling around trying to put his kick stand out and then making it look difficult to get off the bike – by that time the police were bored and sent us on our way without even looking at our documents….good work Mike!

We arrived in the town of Choluteca pretty late and by the time we found somewhere to stay it was getting quite dark – not really ideal in this country – but it was good to have got down near the border ready for the next day.

The next morning, after eating some left over pizza for breakfast (urgh), we headed for the Nicaraguan border of Guasaule – along one of the most pot-holed roads in the world – yes, even more than the roads the UK 🙂

We went through all of the necessary border processes once again (see border crossing notes).

Here’s the bike being fumigated (who knows what chemicals they were spraying!) and Dan & Mike riding to the immigration office.

And without too much hassle we were on our way into Nicaragua.

This country had a much nicer feel to it than Honduras did – it instantly felt safer and more friendly. The landscape was pretty cool too….more volcanoes.

Some of the roads weren’t in the best condition, but that’s as expected as this country is pretty poor.

We decided to head straight for the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur so that we could enjoy a few days off the bike (again) and also enjoy some sunshine 🙂

From here, we head to Costa Rica and then onto Panama….although all I really want to do is go back to Guatemala!


Back to Skool

Or should I say “Regresar a la escuela!”

I’m not quite fluent enough with the language to write en Espanol so I’ll leave that to Lisa for the next update after we have finished studying 😀

We have been in Antigua for a week now and have found it a great place to study, visit the sites while taking in some history, or just kick back and relax.

The small colonial city was designated a UNESCO site due to historic ruins that are dotted around the area.

Antigua was originally the nations capital but was moved to what is now Guatemala City in the 1700’s due to the risk of lahar’s from the volcanoes surrounding it and powerful earthquakes that have flattened the city several times.

The views from our hotel roof terrace.

Monday morning blues are not really a problem in Antigua.

We get up at 7am, grab a bite to eat on the way to school and then have 4 hours of one-to-one study with a local teacher. Some of the teachers speak a little bit of English but if not, you just have to learn quicker!

Mi maestra, Gaby.

Just around the corner from our hotel is a place called Luna de Miel. They do the best crepes in town, savory or sweet, and is best washed down with a huge smoothie (with a splash of rum if you like).

The city has a strong Mayan influence with many of the street sellers speaking a Quiche dialect.

Stopping for a quick beer at Moto Cafe.

We visited Santa Domingo hotel which is one of the most expensive places to stay in town. It used to be a monastery and has an interesting history.

Yesterday we traveled to the markets in Chichicastenango with another overland biker called Paul along with Betina who is studying at the same Spanish school. The markets are approx 2 hours from Antigua and I thought it would be a good test run for the bike after getting a local mechanic to straighten the front wheel.

The markets in ChiChi are made up of indigenous Mayan people selling everything from arts and crafts to livestock. Some of them are camera shy so I resorted to taking sly shots from the waist to avoid being noticing. It’s pretty easy to fill up a memory card while taking hundreds of shots to get just a few decent ones though.

We arrived back in Antigua but the bike still felt weird and we found that the new front wheel bearings fitted in LA have gone bad so have replaced them after visiting the local moto-store for some new parts.

Celebrations seem to have already started for “Day of the Dead” where Catholics pay their respect to their ancestors.

Locals and tourists get close to the action.

The “Torito” dances around the crowd with fireworks on his back. No sign of the HSE here..

We have our first Salsa lesson this week. Lets hope it’s easier than learning Spanish……

Hasta Luego Mexico, Hola Guatemala!

And that’s about the extent of my Spanish….it’s a good job we’re going to be starting language school in the next few days – you can expect the next blog update from Dan to be written entirely in Spanish 🙂

We finally managed to drag ourselves away from the comfort and relaxation of Mexico’s Pacific Coast. After over a week of lounging around the pool by day, late night swimming watching lightning storms out at sea and also meeting a few of the local insects, it was time to get back on the road.

Here’s Dan trying to stop a tarantula from sneaking into our room – poking it with a stick didn’t work though!!

We had a great time staying in Zipolite near Puerto Angel at Casa Vista D’oro with Val and Max – thanks so much for your hospitality!

Our first day back on the road was a long one….over 8 hours of riding to the town of San Cristobal de las Casas. Another cool old colonial town with great architecture and a very relaxed atmosphere – the kind of town you could hang around for a while, people watching and strolling the streets.

Some odd characters were hanging around though…..it’s the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival at the end of the month – I’m guessing this isn’t usually a feature in the town all year round.

The next day we headed for the town of Palenque to visit the nearby Maya ruins. A shorter day in terms of mileage, but the winding mountain roads, pot holes and topes meant that it took over 5 hours to travel around 120 miles – traveling by motorcycle in Mexico is much more tiring than in the US. We also had a small incident with our tool box which is mounted to the belly pan of the bike – the combination of a pot hole and tope lead to a bent up tool box and a slightly bent front wheel. Not too much hassle, Dan just had to knock the box back into shape and we’ll sort the wheel issue in Guatemala 🙂 I feel kind of bad for Dan, he can’t take his eye off the road for a second to enjoy the views….me neither for that matter as I am the second pair of eyes for the unknown obstacles which might pop up on these roads!!

We spent a couple of nights in Palenque so that we could enjoy a rest day off the bike (all of the relaxation from Zipolite was now undone!) and also spend sometime at the ruins. The Maya ruins date back to 226 BC and are surrounded by jungle so makes for an interesting day trip.

In amongst the ruins were a few waterfalls and pathways through the jungle, where we also came across the biggest ants we’ve ever seen!

Because of the issue with the front wheel we decided the best option would be to head back to San Cristobal the next day and head straight for Guatemala as we figured we could get the wheel sorted whilst we’re having Spanish lessons and not riding the bike for a while.

Is was good to head back to San Cristobal anyway as we had stayed at a really nice guesthouse called Posada Sancris. The owner was really helpful and friendly and they served up a great breakfast too!! The bike developed a ‘squeak’ on the way back so Dan wanted to get some grease pumped into a joint on the bike. The helpful owner, Ernesto, speaks good English, but it took some badly pronounced Spanish on Dan’s part and a brief blast (including dance moves!) of ‘Grease Lightning’ from Dan for Ernesto to understand what he needed – he then promptly took Dan to a local mechanic to sort the problem. I was quite sad to learn that I had missed Dan’s John Travolta impression – but did have a good laugh when he told me about it!!!! I think Ernesto thought he was pretty crazy – I doubt he had ever watched ‘Grease’ 🙂

The following day we headed off early to cross the border from Mexico into Guatemala. We had enjoyed a month in Mexico – it’s quite sad that the US media give Mexico such a bad name and tourism is really low in some parts – we had been repeatedly warned that traveling around would be dangerous, but from our experience this is all just media hype.

We crossed the border at the town of Cuidad Cuauhtemoc in Mexico to La Mesialla in Guatemala. The Mexico side was pretty straight forward. We had to stop in Cuauhtemoc, about 4km before the actual border, to get exit stamps in our passports and cancel the bike permit. The exit stamps were easy, no queues and done in a couple of minutes. The cancellation of the bike permit proved a bit more tricky. You have a pay a refundable deposit when you enter Mexico to get permit for the bike and it came to light when cancelling this that there was a slight discrepancy between the VIN on the registration paperwork and the VIN on the bike – not good organisation on our part as we should of double checked all of this!!! Anyway, luckily the Mexican official agreed to overlook the problem and issued us the refund, but this did leave us with an issue as we have about 10 more countries to enter and exit. A problem like this would likely lead to ‘fines’ by various border agents – it’s not like they need much of a reason to try and get extra money out of people!! So, there we were outside of the government building ‘doctoring’ the V5 registration document with a black pen!!! All we need to do is ensure whenever we enter a country that the bike permit paperwork VIN matches the bike VIN and we should be ok!!!

So anyway, onto Guatemala we went – we had been expecting to be hounded by ‘helpers’ who will (for a fee) assist with getting the necessary paperwork to enter a country. We always do lots of research beforehand so that we don’t need any assistance but we actually didn’t get offered help anyway. The entry process was simple – ride across the border, stop in the ‘coned’ area and get the bike wheels sprayed by the fumigation guy, pay Q12 and get a receipt. Next up, the immigration building is right next the fumigation area – pop in and get both of the passports stamped (there was no fee at this crossing – we have heard of ‘unofficial’ fees at other crossing – but there should be no cost!!). In the building next door you need to show the bike registration document, driving licence, passport and bike permit cancellation paperwork from Mexico in order to get the required documents for the bike to enter Guatemala. Then pay a fee (for us it was Q160 which I’ve read is the standard fee – although I think others have paid more!!) and get the permit sticker for the bike. We double checked this time that all of the permit paperwork had the correct VIN number and rode on into Guatemala.

Here’s a few shots from the border…it’s a pretty crazy market area with people everywhere, but the crossing was generally pretty straight forward and not really any hassle…still many more to go though 😯

Our fist impressions of Guatemala are good, the people seem really friendly and the scenery pretty amazing.

We spent the first night in the town of Quetzaltenango before heading along the Pan American Highway to Antigua.

So far we love Guatemala – just need to get to grips with another new currency and plan out the rest of our route through Central America 🙂