October 13, Salvatierra, Mexico ,Stop: November
5, Antigua, Guatemala,
Distance: 3148 km,
Total Distance: 27169 km [Map]
We continued south in a pace that
looked more and more like a caterpilar's slowly crawl. Mexico's
varying nature and charming towns passed by as we got closer to
the border of Guatemala, a border crossing we looked forward to
with anticipation and expectations.
Holiday from the holiday
A lunch on a not too busy marked day in a little village
Of course nothing goes as "planned" when we travel.
It never has and it never will. But not all interferences are
of a bad sort, as the week following our Guanajuato stay proved.
When we left Salvatierra, we headed southeast towards Cuautla,
a city of a few hundred thousand inhabitants, an hour's drive
south of Mexico City. Before we came to Guernevaca, we rode through
a hilly and lush subtropical landscape that could take the breath
away from anyone. Even the road's terrible condition and the hundreds
of topes, Mexico's world class version of speed dumps,
didn't reduce the impressions.
But we were late and had a mission in Cuautla. Our Mexican/English
neighbors in Spain had sent us the address and phone number of
relatives with whom we could spend a night or two. We felt it
a little awkward to contact them and had postponed it for a long
time. So, accordingly, we called them when we were a couple of
hours' drive away. A pleasant and joyful voice greeted Bente and
said we were more than welcome. We were relieved and pushed on.
The road's condition and the crammed traffic between Guernevaca
and Cuautla delayed us into the dark hours, and when we called
them again to arrange for a place to meet, it was late in the
Cristina and Jaime were all smiles, and during the introductions
it dawned on me that I had met them before, a year and a half
earlier in Spain, when I was in Nerja for a day to pick up Rocinante
and visited our former neighbors for dinner. The ice was broken
in no time and we followed them to their house. Or shall I say
mansion, as it was simply enormous. Completely locked behind high
walls, we entered a patio surrounded by all the different sections
of the house; a gymnasium, a billiard room, a swimming pool, a
huge kitchen and likewise dining room, a spacious office and an
outdoor bar. The servant had left for the day, they said, but
came in every morning. Bente and I exchanged looks, as we started
to realize we would be in for a treat. Rocinante was left in the
entrance with the key in the ignition. It had never been safer.
The first night they took us to a late dinner and we exchanged
information about ourselves.
Jaime was a reknown and respected political radio commentator
and advisor for governors and presidents. Together with Cristina
he owned and managed two radio stations in Morelos State, a satellite
distribution company, owned land and buildings and who knows what
else. They were obviously doing well, and with Jaime's more than
fifty years of experience in radio and almost the same in politics,
he was the best possible source of information about Mexico. When
I asked about Vicente Fox, the newly elected president who would
take office in a few months, he shrugged and said it was to early
to tell whether the change was good or not, because of Fox's and
his staff's lack of political experience. But the next couple
of years would be very interesting, since the change in powers
was the first real change in decades, ending the PRI party's monopoly
on the government.
This is how hot and humid it was in Acapulco. Kristina
y Jaime's German Shepard cools off in front of the gale
When we said good night and laid down in the king size bed with
a king size television to fall to sleep to, we felt welcome enough
to prolong our stay a day or two. It would simply be rude to leave
the next day, and we definitely felt like getting to know this
side of Mexico better, learn more about two very interesting people,
and finally, to enjoy the total luxury that surrounded us. Furthermore,
I wanted to do my own service on Rocinante this time, and I couldn't
have picked a better place to do it.
Home made service
Not that Rocinante was in desperate need of service, but for
the sake of feeling good, we had decided to increase the service
frequency to every five thousand kilometers. It meant changing
the oil, cleaning the air filter, checking all the other fluids,
break pads, battery and many other bits and pieces. There was
a couple of small things that made the bike imperfect. The tank
ventilation was poor, resulting in vacuum created in the tank
on low gas. This, of course, would stop the gravity fed fuel from
entering the carburetors and eventuallly kill the engine. For
a long time we had this problem coming and going, and with the
help of our Tiger mailing list buddies, we were pointed in the
general direction and found the problem. It could be traced all
the way back to our stop in North Dakota, where I had believed
we had gotten bad gas. The simple solution was to open the filler
cap on every stop to let air enter the tank. Another small problem
was that I had lost the air filter vent hose, and would have to
find a new one. Finally, the last and most annoying problem was
the new rear tyre. It was mounted wrong or lousy made, either
way it wobbled around forty kilometers per hour and needed to
be fixed. One probable solution was obvious a couple of days later
when we looked at the tube.
The catch of the day was a tiny little specimen of life
in the ocean, not much after an hours work bringing in the
net on the beach outside Acapulco.[Large
But first it was time to relax and get to know our hosts. The
more we talked the more we liked them. They seemed totally open
minded and genuinely interested in Mexico's future, for all layers
of the people. To us, who had somewhat expected a rich, upper
class couple to care for their own level only, it was a pleasant
surprise. Being Saturday, we went together to a typical village
in the vicinity of Cuautla to visit the weekly marked. This was
after Flor, one of the servants - the other was on fraternity
leave, as was the body guard - had served us a delicious breakfast
and collected our dirty clothes to clean them. As the lousy marked
goers we are, we bought nothing. Not that it wasn't nice all the
handicrafts, but we never have room for anything. But the village
was pretty and had a wonderful backdrop of steep, lush mountains.
Later in the evening we learned how to play Gin Rummy while I
smoked a cigar, and time passed slowly and sleepily into the night.
On Monday I started the service on Rocinante. Yes, I say started,
since it took me two days to finish it. I would not make much
money as a mechanic with the speed I was working, but we are trying,
and sometimes succeeding, to reduce the importance of time. So
the major part of the the two days I spent in a bar stool next
to the bike, coke in hand, while I was considering the next step
or looking back at the last with childish pride. I cleaned the
air filter, our newly bought K/N rewashable, most out of curiosity.
The stupid construction of the filter box made it necessary to
take off the carburetors to get the box out from the frame. This,
of course, took a long time and demanded many brakes and swallows
of coke accompanied by a cigarette. I also changed the oil and
checked all the other bits and pieces the service book told me
to check. It was really easy and would be a procedure from now
When Frank, Kristinas mechanic friend, looked at Rocinantes rear
tyre from within, a possible solution for the wobbling dawned
on me. The tube was way to big for the tyre. It was folded in
several places and would puncture in the near future if we didn't
replace it. Frank, who bent backwards to help me since I was presented
as a friend of an important person in Cuautla, drove for hours
around Mexico City to find me a new tube, without luck. So we
left Cuautla with the same tyre and the same wobble.
Acapulco and Montezuma
We followed Jaime and Cristina to Acapulco, where they were building
a house on the beach even bigger than the one we left in Cuautla.
On the way we stopped in Taxco, Mexico's famous silver town, where
Bente bought two nice bracelets which we later sent home. We chose
to take the secondary road down, since the autopista from
Mexico City to Acapulco is the most expensive toll road in a country
where toll roads generally are horribly expensive. 400 Pesos,
about 45 Dollars, they charged for 400 km. But when the sun was
about to set with hundred kilometers to go, we gave in and paid
the blood money to get to Acapulco in reasonable time. Cristie,
Cristina's daughter who lived in Acapulco, was ready to meet us
and guide us to Jaime and Cristinas little apartment, or quinta,
where we would wait for their arrival later in the night.
Cristie was a energetic party girl in her early thirties, living
with her beautiful twelve year old daughter Melanie - a girl who
we guessed would break many a man's heart in the years to come
- and a maid. With an almost new Ford Mustang, a maid to look
after her daughter on weekends, and a spirit that could keep her
going through the night, she was a woman who never stopped smiling
and laughing. Life was meant to be lived, and she did it fully.
The second day in Acapulco, Montezuma - that old bitter Aztec
emperor - came to spill his revenge on me. Montezuma's Revenge,
what an excellent name for the stomach problems most travelers
experience at least once in Mexico. I didn't get sick or feel
nauseated, I just emptied my interior completely during 24 hours.
Nothing would stick, so Jaime and Cristina bought all the best
food possible for the situation, in addition to feeding me a medicine
they had against diarrhea. It seemed to work, because the next
day I was fine again. Or fine is not the right word, I was too
fine, nothing would come out for days. And then I started to feel
the nausea, which would come in waves.
Either way the Revenge was a small one and nothing to worry about.
We went into town and ate a great dinner together the five of
us, got balloons shaped into hearts and who knows what tied around
our heads, had to refuse the line dance the restaurant employees
wanted us to join, and simply laughed and enjoyed our selves in
this totally tourist-crazy money trap. The town is wonderful from
one aspect, terrible from another. People come in hordes here
because of the sun, the beaches and the nightclubs. And they do
the right thing, because that's what they want and that's what
they get, and they get their money's worth. It doesn't matter
that for us the place was opposite everything we searched for
while travelling, because with the warm and friendly companions
we had, the stay will always be remembered as a fantastic one.
On our way up from the coast of Acapulco, we drove into
the clouds, and we had to prepare for something by now very
unusual, rain. It never happened, though.
Another different version of Mexico
The day we left Acapulco, Mexico changed it's face again, as
it had done so many times. Mexico's nature is the worlds third
most varied, behind Brasil and Colombia, and now we headed into
subtropical mountain jungle. We had entered Oaxaca state and the
scenery was breathtaking as we climbed up towards the clouds.
Indians were everywhere, sometimes looking at us with incredulous
eyes, sometimes ignoring us all together.
At a gas stop, where we once again got gas from barrels, three
children looked at us with astonished faces and asked Bente; "Que
son?" - What are you? She didn't understand the question
and asked them to explain what they meant, something they couldn't.
Luckily the mother came and they repeated the questions. Her answer
was interesting; "They are just like us, only from another
part of the world". The kids shut up but kept staring at
us, the clothes and the helmets. They didn't seem to accept their
mother's simple explanation.
We didn't make it to Oaxaca in one day, as we had hoped, but
came in early the next day and found a hostel close to the town
center. With a hundred or so backpackers and rooms with paper
thin walls, it was a noisy place. We survived though, cause of
the kitchen facilities and the closeness to the town square. The
second day I found a good Yamaha dealer and they promised to help
me in the search for the correct size tube and a new front tyre.
Then came Andreas, a German who was on his way to the US on a
Yamaha TT600 with 45 liter gas tank. He had crossed Africa and
spent three years in South America before this trip. This time
he would go the the States to try to find work and maybe continue
We spent the night together and also the next day, when we returned
to the shop and improved the mounting of my rear tyre. I found
the tube I needed and bought a street tyre for the front as well.
Now I was dressed for the muddy roads in the Andes as a continental
truck driver on the way to North Cape in the winter on worn summer
tyres an no snow chains. But it just had to suffice for a while.
Andreas and the whole work shop participated in the process of
replacing my chain as well. We had carried four kilos or thereabouts
of a new X-ring chain since San Diego, and now I wanted to get
rid of the extra weight. We could still have squeezed more life
out of the old one, but I figured that with the high quality X-rings
and the Scottoiler, I might make the chain last the rest of the
trip. The old one lasted 27000 km, so I had reason to hope.
Monte Alban is located on a hilltop outside Oaxaca City.
It was a huge religious and administrational center for
the Zapotecas. Today it's nicely restored and simply incredible.[Large
It wasn't really long ago that we had a Night To Remember, but
we ended up with a new one anyhow. One night we went out to find
a cheap dinner and ended up with a luxury meal on a terrace overlooking
the main plaza, drinking cognac and smoking cigar. After dinner,
which set us back 55 Dollars - a price to laugh at in Norway but
our budget had changed, we found the bar Otra Cosa. If you ever
enter this bar in the future, look to the left on the white wall
in the entrance. Among all the writing you might catch the following: Bremsevæskebeholder
This is why; in the opening two motorcycles were parked , one
Kawasaki KLR 650 and one Honda CB750 from 1978. The CB was dressed
like a real ratbike, with paint thrown randomly over it, a seat
that was ready for the bin, and every spot once blank covered
in all kinds of strange colors and tones. The owner, Yan from
Mexico City, who had a long beard and an appearance that went
well with the bike, almost knocked me to my knees when expressing
his pure joy and happiness over the fact that I was the first
person in the world to recognize his beloved bike as a true Moto
Roto - a Ratbike. We hung around his bike for a while and of all
things possible, he pointed at the brake reservoir on the handle
bar and asked me for the Norwegian word. I laughed and told him
he had probably picked the worst word in our dictionary - "bremsevæskebeholder",
but gave it a try. His futile attempts to pronounce it made me
laugh more. We were friends for eternity, and naturally he was
quick to suggest he came with us for the rest of the trip to Tierra
del Fuego. Luckily he was only mildly disappointed when I told
him we would leave in a matter of days. After a number of high
fives and other popular greeting methods, many of which ended
in Yan taking two or more steps forward to keep upright because
I missed his hand or he missed mine, he wobbled into the night
on his bike. All that was missing from the picture of a happy
motorcyclist was a fly between his teeth.
Hierve el Agua, just south of Oaxaca City, a place where
water has deposited minerals and created stylish formations.
The bar was definitely a "Otra cosa", and the clientele
too. Apart from Yan, there was this mystical Zapotecan Indian
who called himself Oscar - a name he definitely wasn't born with,
and who discussed Indian rights with such knowledge and intensity
that later, when we said good-bye and he just smiled and said
that no, he had no street or e-mail address, he was living incognito,
I got a very strong feeling he was part of some underground Indian
movement. We had talked for hours and had formed some sort of
friendship. But all he would give us was a strange homepage on
the net, a homepage address that later turned out to be nothing.
Of course, it was late in the night when he gave me the address,
so I could have gotten the wrong letters here and there. The rest
of the clientele and bartender was a mix of Europeans and Mexicans,
all funny people and all clicking together in a group with us.
It was a fun night.
From Oaxaca to Tuxtla, the capitol of Chiapas State, there's
almost seven hundred kilometer of paved, but heavy trafficked
road. We had decided to go for it in one day, even with a little
detour to get the last tube, the spare they had not been able
to get me in Oaxaca, but which their sister dealer down on the
coast had in stock. After a few hours where we made good time,
we were stopped by the police. Since we had already been stopped
three times by the military in routine controls, we expected this
to be of the same sort. But this time it was a car race coming
north, the Carrera Pan Americana, going along the Pan American
Highway from San Cristobal in Chiapas to Nuevo Laredo on the US
border. It was all old cars that participated, and the race delayed
us one hour.
It was a nice brake with more than eighty cars, ranging from
old Volvos and Mercedes to huge American classics, passing in
very different speed. When the last car had gone we were quick
to get going to beat the pack of cars that had gathered. It was
a stupid move, a move that could have been fatal. Behind the race
coming north was an equal or even more numerous group of cars
that had waited just as inpatient as us for the road to open again.
They had probably been racing for many kilometers already, being
used to not meeting other vehicles and therefore taking risks.
We came around a blind curve and towards us came a truck and a
pickup, side by side on a narrow two lane road with no shoulder.
In the last split second I threw the bike over to the right and
balanced on the white line. Bente screamed and both of us waited
for at least the left aluminum pannier to hit the pickup. Out
of shear luck we missed it by millimeters and got through. Within
the next two minutes we met four more pairs of cars coming towards
us, but now we were prepared and drove on the white line with
Bente's fist in the air and my thumb on the horn. It took some
time to get the heartbeat down to normal, but finally the traffic
calmed down and we felt safe again.
On our way south from Oaxaca, we stopped in a little village
in the middle of nowhere. Across the road from our cafe
was four laughing women who, when I approached them to buy
a couple of the tortillas they where making, demanded I
took a photograph of them together. If I did, I could have
the tortillas for free, a trade we couldn't say no to.
We made it to Tuxtla after six military controls and ten hours.
Because San Cristóbal was the real goal for us, we only
spent one night in this very modern, surprisingly modern actually,
and very pleasant city. Anyway we left the next morning and after
a short ride we stopped on the main plaza of San Cristóbal.
At a café, a bearded man with German accent asked us where
we were from and where we were going. Each time I answered he
said "me too" and smiled a little wider.
Gerald was not German, he was Austrian and on his way from New
York to Ushuaia on a BMW R1100GS, a trip meant to last one year
that had started on May the 18th, a week before us. We laughed
at the coincidences and invited him to the table. He had been
all the way up to Labrador in sometimes snowy conditions and had
a lead of four thousand kilometers on us.
Later we would joke about me having to take early morning rides
to catch up with him. We would stick together for the next week,
at least, and what was more natural when meeting other people
in the same errand than to find a pub and tell stories into the
night. So we did, and woke up the next day with a heavy head and
bad nerves. San Cristóbal was a travelers center in a very
nice region of Mexico. Chiapas was most known in Norway from the
uprising among the Indians and the following military controlled
massacres some six years earlier. Luckily this sad situation had
never had anything to do, or had any impact on, travelers, and
probably never would. It was a struggle between Indians on one
side that wanted to improve their own living conditions and the
Mexican State on the other.
We have learned a new trick, something you can only do
with a digital camera (or maybe a polaroid). Instead of
asking the kids if I can take their picture, I now ask if
they want to see a picture of themselves. It works every
time, and in this case, where we shot a few pictures of
Guatemalan kids at a road café, we created a positive
spectacle which brought the whole eight member family over
to look at the shots.
After a couple of days in San Cristóbal we headed south
with Gerald. We had decided to skip Palenque, one of the larger
Maya ruins a days ride west of us, and rather go straight to Guatemala.
It was in some ways too early to leave Mexico, but we had to try
to catch some of the lost time. So, with all our fears about the
first Central American border crossing we left early, prepared
to spend hours on the border. But we had worried for nothing.
The crossing went like a breeze, and after one hour we were in
Guatemala. To get there we had to surrender our tourist card and
vehicle permit on the Mexican side, then fumigate the bike and
get a tourist card and vehicle permit for Guatemala.
A hundred meter into Guatemala the landscape changed again, this
time into the most typical Guatemalan landscape I had seen ever
- in pictures that is. Suddenly the nature seemed to loom over
us, draw closer to the road with steep, lush mountains and narrow
valleys. Everywhere along the road Indians walked in their colorful
traditional clothing. With the easy crossing and the new scenery,
our moods were sky high.
The travelling feeling comes and goes, and it had never felt
better than this. We drove to Quetzaltenango that night and continued
to Antigua the next day. On this stretch we climbed to 3700 meters,
the highest point on the Central American section of the Pan American
Highway. The views to the left and right seemed to go on for ever.
Ahead of us, behind us, and often passing us, were buses. Colorful,
old fashion buses followed by huge clouds of black smoke. As a
joke, we said the most certain way to kill yourself on a motorcycle
in Guatemala was not to drive off a cliff or into the front of
a meeting truck, it was to follow closely a typical bus for two
hours. We swallowed the smoke and passed the buses when we could.
Unfortunately they are the main means of transportation for most
Guatemaltecos, hence they are absolutely everywhere. In Quetzaltenango
the exit road was like one large gas chamber, a very trying ordeal
early in the morning.
Then we arrived in Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala, destroyed
by an earthquake in the 17th century, hence loosing the status
as capital to Guatemala City. Today it's a traveler center, a
place people from all around the world meet to study Spanish and
enjoy a truly amazing city. More than fifty schools and hundreds
of teachers offer their service. Everyone offers one to one tutoring
for 50-80 US$ a week. The town is full of trendy and traditionally
mixed cafes and restaurants, and the atmosphere is vibrant. We
have been here three days now, and will stay another week where
20 hours of one to one studying should boost our Spanish to another
Gerald left today, Saturday November 4th, for Tikal and will
return in a few days. Lars and Tini, a German couple riding a
Africa Twin, are staying another night. We met them on a day trip
to Lago Atitlan, a beautiful lake in the mountains north of here,
and laughed a lot when it proved that they too were on the same
trip as Gerald and us. The only difference was that they started
in Seattle on May 15th and headed far up into Alaska before turning
south. When I saw the bike, loaded in much the same manner as
ours, only with more of everything, I felt good about Rocinante's
Now, let us enjoy Antigua, learn more Spanish - or struggle with
the terrible use of SUBJUNTIVOS, relax and drink beer in the many
nice restaurant patios, talk bullshit with other travellers or
Spanish with our hosts, read books and eat homemade food. The
road can wait a few more days.
Lago Atitlán, seen
from the old Pan American Highway, was a beautiful place.
We went there on a daytrip from Antigua together with Gerald,
and we thouroughly enjoyed the scenery and the twisty mountain
roads - this time without any luggage.
The fountain in the Parque
Central in Antigua.
A Maya woman in Parque Central,
Antigua. How they manage to balance the loads on their head
is difficult to understand, but I'm sure it's a good way to
learn how to straighten your back. She was one of the many
vendors in the street, but in this town they were a lot less
agressive than we had seen elsewhere. Furthermore, they sell
nice clothes and blankets.
Gerald Hofegger's BMW R1100GS
rests on our first stop in Guatemala. The Indian kids in the
background never stopped cheering and waving.
Andreas Höln and his
Yamaha TT600 with 45 liters gas tank. That was enough to go
more than 1000 km on one tank. Good to have in Africa, but
in Latin America he rarely filled it up.
Travelling across borders
can sometimes be a hardship to endure, like these gringos
experienced when they had to pushstart the bus on the Mexican
side of the La Mesilla border to Guatemala.
PS: One day an email dumped into our mailbox. It was from a Mexican
who disagreed in our description of the difficulties Mexicans
had getting a passport(ref 09
Baja and Grand Canyon). According to him the real
reason why poor Mexicans never could enter the States, was that
they needed to show proof of sufficient funds at the American
consulate to be granted a visa. This of course, is a problem for
any poor person. dj