I find myself oftentimes wondering if, being one-and-a-half months into this adventure, it is going quickly or slowly. Looking at the map, we have made it around 1/3 of the way, yet I feel like setting off from Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz was an eternity ago.
Hi Friends, I write you from La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Registrations of this adventure have been a bit delayed due to lack of internet, 12-hour riding days, motorcycle damage, and pure procrastination. This entry will take you from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala to Granada, Nicaragua.
Leaving you last in Lake Atitlan, we packed up from Hotel Utz Jay (www.hotelutzjay.com), being seen off by the owner’s son, who is also a motorcycle addict. He offered us some tips on where to go and what to see, and after swapping stories on motocross and having a good giggle over the “Chadapoult” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC4f9TCg4zw), we were on the bikes and heading towards Antigua, GUA.
The ride into Panajachel was less than desirable; twisty roads, at night, pouring rain, downhill, tailgating chicken bus, and all after 10 hours of riding. In contrast, the ride out was beautiful weather, awesome winding road, uphill, and passing the lumbering chicken busses. This is all coupled with an unprecedented view of Lake Atitlan and the San Marcos Volcano. We stopped a few times for photos of our bikes, the lake, and a few cascading waterfalls. The road between Panajachel and Antigua was largely a four-lane highway with little traffic and several passes through the mountains that reached 8,000 feet. Getting up to these elevations offers a welcome respite from the daunting heat of the lowlands. Only stopping for lunch we approached the valley and volcano that marked our arrival in Antigua, Guatemala.
Antigua is a wonderful Spanish colonial city that was once the capital of Guatemala, until its destruction by a huge earthquake, prompting the Spanish to move the city to the, now known, Guatemala City. Pulling into the city, it is striking to see not only the proximity but the size of the three Volcanos that ring the city. We found a well-priced hotel with secure parking, we grabbed dinner and a couple of drinks and completed our now famous, 830pm crash. On a side note, Keith and I have a system for picking who-gets-which-bed-in-the-hotel-we-chose. This is necessary because of the undying martyr-ism that both Keith and I practice and the universal truth that one bed is inevitable, a luxurious fit-for-a-king sleeping domicile, and the other… less than a cot or berth fit for the average 4’10” Guatemalan woman. It is a simple solution. When looking at the beds, Keith gets Left and me, Right. Antigua was one of the rare examples of equality in slumber situations.
The next morning we were off early to explore the city and see some churches and old buildings. The city does retain a surprisingly antique charm that was preserved with intention. The streets are cobbled, there are no signs protruding or obvious and even the ruins are preserved to decay in a natural but observable manner. The city’s climate was also a big winner for the adventure. The basin of the valley sits a 6,000ft, so we were treated to temperatures in the low 70s and 50s during the day and night, respectively.
Again, we enjoyed a mild nightlife in the city, grabbed an awesome Japanese dinner, and finished the night with a walk through the historical city. That is correct, Japanese. The owners were backpackers and ended up never leaving. We heard of this great place and were ready for a change from meat, rice, plantains, and beans. At the supper, we were pleased to meet a Glenn from Berkeley. Glen was a traver. Antigua is one of his favorite destinations. Offering us a few suggestions for the rest of our journey, the night was finished with a final walk through the artistically lit city and its buildings. The last night offered reflection that, as we moved further into Central America, we were finding more of a Spanish influence.
The next day was marked with the now-familiar anticipation and excitement of crossing another border, this time into El Salvador (ES). As expected, the several-hour ride toward this new land allowed for a time of both positive and negative thoughts to drift through the mind. Expectations of beautiful surf, beaches, and more reasonable prices were dominant, but the thought of the tumultuous history of El Salvador and the notorious gangs that spawned and exist in this country were present. We now anticipate having this thought, but I am becoming more versed and exercising a more yogic view of positivity. That coupled with Keith’s famous, “positive things happen to positive people” mantra, allows us to approach new and unfamiliar territories, with a bit less anxiety.
Through customs and immigration on both sides within three hours is a big win on this trip. The decision to enter through the less popular and more remote border crossing of Valle Nuevo was a plus with the respect to time, but a little daunting because of the approach to ES. It was straight into the jungle. After completing the formalities and up a small hill, we were treated to decent roads and a substantial electrical storm. These storms are becoming more frequent now, but do not always present us with what we call a “rain event,” prompting the closure of our ventilation on our Klim riding gear, thereby cutting off any chance of fresh air touching our sweaty bodies. Enter the sauna, described as swampy, smelly, and hot. Sorry. J
Making our way through the countryside of ES, we became more comfortable with the nuances of the country, the changes in traffic and driving habits, different modes of transportation (most notably the chicken busses had flat fronts), the signage, and the change in the faces. It is interesting how the weather can change your approach to a new country. During this inclement weather event, we both felt as though people were smiling less and staring more, but we would come to surmise that it was us that was nervous, more aware, dampened by the adverse weather and new surroundings.
After about 2 hours in ES, we arrived at the small surf town of Playa El Tunco near La Libertad. On approach, it seemed as if we were back in Tulum, Mexico, but 25 years ago. A small strip of pavement is skirted to the right by small surf hotels on the beach and small public kitchens and bars on the left. Informal wouldn’t be the right way to describe the place that we stayed. When greeted by the owner of Casa Miramar (https://www.facebook.com/HotelCasaMiramar) he showed us to a room with A/C and said that it goes for $70 US, but “tell me how much you will pay.”
We said no thank you and went to look at another place. Inferior, but much better value, the competition said that Casa Miramar was a $30/ per night place. We went back and within 3 minutes the A/C was cranking and we were in the pool. As it turned out the surf was not great, but the location and the views were impressive. The rock beach jutted off northwest unto the horizon, to be met with an amazing sunset. The staff and other patrons of the hotel contributed to this being a highlight stop on the trip. Surf would have been nice, but not necessary. A fun side note is that many of the people in these surf towns know exactly where Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz is…. Also known are some of the more notable surfers from the community.
The next day we knew that we only had a two-hour ride to another surfside beach pueblo of Playa El Cuco, so we made the poor decision to have a later start in the sweltering heat. This place was recommended to us by Ryan “Mickey” and Jameson. They stayed at a beautiful place right on the beach that we stopped in on. As usual, we were headed off to price compare the nearby establishments. On the beach are a couple of hostel-type places with no A/C for very reasonable prices.
After checking in on these we made our way around the cove and up a hill. Noticed a gate and a two-track road that heads down a beautiful point. At a minimum, we would have a beautiful view of the bay, at best we would find a cool hotel. Down the road we went me in the lead, to find a closed gate. Hot and ready to get out of my riding gear, I turned around and headed back down the road. Here comes the lesson…. Keith looked a little further and told me that he was going to walk the property as he had seen surfboards and some people. I waited in the shade. Keith came back on the radio and said the place was awesome and I should check it out. Come to find, I had turned away from one of the best places, with the best people. Lesson is…. Sometimes the gold is one more shovel full away, so keep digging.
We had accidentally come across a gem. AST Surf Hotel Punta Flores (www.astpuntaflores.com) is a 7-room hotel on a point, where guests can see about 5 surf breaks and be in the water in 3 minutes. We checked in. Come to find that it is a rather new place and the owner, Dave “Big Wave Dave”, of Redondo Beach, was there to do a photoshoot and marketing campaign. He had a couple of pro surfers, photographers, and other marketing people there, all soon becoming new friends. We relaxed in the pool, took dinner overlooking the breaks, and relaxed. The next day we received an invitation to go on a “boat ride,” and with no hesitation, we said yes. Who cares where, when, or why… it’s a boat ride. Soon to find out the next day was a full day of sun, fun, photography, eating, boating and napping.
The day started at about 9 AM with a 30-minute ride to the port town of La Union. After boarding our Panga-style boat, we enjoyed another 30 minutes of putting through the many islands of the Gulf of Fonseca, which like a land peninsula, is surrounded on three sides by El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. All of the countries are within eyeshot of each other and consequently, some of the many islands are disputed territory. Our first stop was an old lava flow and lava tubes that made it to the bay many many many many years ago. After that, we headed towards another island oasis that Dave gave the moniker Fantasy Island.
The name did it justice. Perched upon a cliff was a small boutique hotel with a palapa-style open area, adorned with dining tables, lounge chairs, and hammocks. We would spend about 4 hours here eating, drinking, and relaxing. I even got some fishing in. After departing, the boat headed towards another small island that seemed deserted (it was Monday). Soon after arriving, the bar miraculously opened and we were having drinks and listening to loud music.
Heading back in the boat to La Union, we were exposed to a bit of a frightening lightning storm directly above us. It was a harrowing 30 minutes, in darkness paused only by proximate high voltage. Everyone was scared in the boat. We made it safe and sound.
Back at the hotel, we talked, ate, and crashed. Dave offered some great advice on what to see and what to do, as he has seen many of the places that we are headed.
The next morning, we were up early and headed towards Nicaragua, by way of Honduras. Although it is a bit disappointing to be inclined to skip a whole country because of fear of danger, we decided to make Honduras a “flyover country.” News, actual stories, and gut instincts made this a tough but clear decision. We could make it through the whole country in about 3 hours, in daylight. We expected it to take us 1.5 hours to get to the ES/HON border, 3 hours to cross HON/NIC, 2 hours to get to Leon Nicaragua (NIC), and about 2 hours at each border.
Everything seems to take longer on a bike. We left AST on time at 730am, got to the border about 9 am, into Honduras at noon, through Honduras at 4 pm, into Nicaragua at 6p and then some of our major rules were broken. Riding at night, riding at night in rain, riding tired, riding tired at night, riding tired at night in rain, and all of the above in a new country.
There were no good stops between the border and Leon, Nicaragua. We were treated to the trifecta of horrible roads, pouring rain, and night riding. Add in an electrical storm not helping with vision, semi-trucks within inches, and no lane markers painted. It was 60+ miles of the challenging road. Fortunately, the bad roads became good after about mile 20, the rain stopped about mile 40, but it was still night for the last 20 miles. Pulling into Leon, we had an idea of the hotel where we wanted to stay. We showered up and headed into the square for some food. We were treated to another beautiful city which was reminiscent of Antigua with the Spanish influence, but a bit more modern. Street tacos (different from Mexican tacos, more like taquitos) put us to sleep.
The next day we walked around early in the morning and enjoyed a nice breakfast. It seemed to us that Leon is quite a nice city. The people were gathered in the squares, the school kids were fastidiously dressed in uniform and the traffic moved along nicely. A place one would like to live.
Knowing that we only had two weeks to get to our boat in Panama, we decided to head off to a “Dave recommended” city of Granada, NIC, a short 2-3 hour ride. We departed early for a leisurely ride.
Keith and I switch who is in the lead, so the sweep can take in the views and not worry about navigating. About Managua (1.5 hours), I noticed Keith’s riding was not typical and after a few close calls I inquired (translation= “bro… your riding like shit”). Upon his explanation he let me know that his clutch cable was hanging on by a thread and had been stretched beyond the point of disengagement (translation = “bro….you try riding with no clutch”). To Keith’s credit, he did an amazing job in the heavy traffic tight turns, and quick stops with little or no clutch. Upon arrival in Granada, he had no clutch cable (see pictures).
We checked into a nice affordable hotel with secure parking. A rest day was next so the repair to Keith’s bike could wait until the morning. Again we walked the streets, enjoyed the tranquility, and relaxed. The next day was repair day. How do you repair a clutch cable? You bring a buddy with a spare. I had read that clutch cables sometimes get snagged on branches or ripped off during falls, so I bought one and stuck it in my pannier. It paid off. Shipping one in would have been 5 days and likely $200.
Keith and I are still discussing repayment. I can’t go too steep on him, because it is very likely that he will have something I need in the next 8,000 miles and payback is a *. It was a 15-minute fix for Keith and we again had two operational motorbikes. We kept the old cable if we need an emergency repair. We would just need to find a local as capable as Dagoberto in La Paz, Mexico with my speedometer cable.
Off to go and see more of the city, we enjoyed a relaxing day. We headed to the local volcano for a tour of a coffee plantation and some zip lining. The interesting part of the coffee plantation is that the majority of the coffee in NIC is owned by an Italian family. It is also interesting to note that all of the coffee is transported by helicopter from the farm to the processing plant. after enjoying some zip-lining, we headed back down to town. We had dinner while we planned our next stop in San Juan del Sur at the southern end of NIC.
The next day, again we were not rushed because we only had a 2-hour ride. Walking out to the bikes in the secure lot we noticed two men working and painting. Upon arrival on the bike, we noticed that there were two beautiful and freshly painted birdcages next to our bikes. We also notices that both of our bikes had been freshly painted. That is right, the two sweet men that worked in the yard, had gotten a job spray painting these large birdcages next to our bikes. There was a significant dusting of overspray on the entirety of our bikes. I was upset, but in evaluating the situation, knew that these guys wouldn’t have the money to make it right, so why to flip out. I calmly showed them what happened, as it was clear by the paint on the cage, the floor, and all the other cars in the lot.
I only got upset when instead of apologizing, he denied it. Walking away was the best thing to do. Quickly the owner of the hotel arrived and saw what happened. Rudy put two of his guys on it and Keith discovered that WD-40 will take most of the paint off after a good soaking. We agreed that in compensation for the damage to the bikes, we would take a bottle of WD-40 and another free night in the hotel. Maybe not fair, but Keith and I estimated that about 4 hours of elbow grease would take the grey out of our bike’s hair.