How to handle a big motorcycle accident in Guatemala

I spent a couple of days hanging out in Antigua, trying to avoid riding in the rain before I hit the border with El Salvador. But, the rain never stopped, and I got itchy feet to get moving, so I packed my gear and hopped on the bike early in the morning.

While riding through the city of Escuintla on my way to the border with El Salvador, a taxi driver had the bright idea to turn left in front of me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop before hitting him, as I had already tested my emergency braking earlier in the morning on the wet roads. Instead, I tried to make an emergency avoidance maneuver in front of him, as there was traffic coming up behind him including a huge chicken bus. There was no way I’d be able to make it past him unless he stopped his taxi, which he never did. I impacted the front of his car and was thrown off the front of the bike, did 2 somersaults in the air, hit the ground and slide about 10 feet into a drainage ditch full of water. When I was flying through the air and sliding on the ground, the only thoughts in my head were “This is me dying, this is me dying…”. I was blown away when I stopped sliding and realized that I could move my arms and my legs without too much pain, and was able to stand up without any problems.

I crawled out of the drainage ditch and went to assess the situation. My luggage had exploded and I had gear all over the road. Traffic had stopped, and I ran into the road to start collecting things. I also had my eyes open to the group of people who had started to gather to see what had happened, to make sure they didn’t start nicking things. After collecting everything from the road and pushing the bike out of the way of traffic, I went to talk with the other guy in the accident. He was a taxi driver and didn’t own the car, so we called the cars owner and he came by after 10 minutes. After that, I only talked with him and not the taxi driver. By that time, the Police had come as well. My Spanish has gotten a lot better (even if I never think it does) because I was able to talk to all of them about the accident. It basically came down to this: the taxi driver and owner had no money to pay me (so they say), and the police said that if we can’t come to an agreement on who owes who money right there that they would take the other driver and myself to jail and impound our vehicles until we figure it out. I was on the phone with a friend who was talking to a Guatemalan lawyer, and he confirmed that this was the case in Guatemala. So after learning that, I made the decision to call everything “even” and not have the guy pay me anything, even though the accident was his fault. We were able to convince the police to let us go without paying them any bribes, so everything worked out fine on that front. I realized that the most money I would get out of the other guy would be at maximum $500US, and there was no way that a day or multiple days in a Guatemalan jail would be worth it. Plus, I had the fact that I was a gringo going against me, especially if the driver and I went to a court to have things settled.

The taxi and Oscar post accident... you can see the crazy amount of damage to the front of his taxi.

You can see the point of impact with his vehicle and the drainage ditch I slid into after being thrown from the bike

The taxi was not usable after the accident. You can see my bike surrounded by kids checking out the damage in the background.

After dealing with the police and the other driver, I had to find a truck to take me and the bike somehwere. While making phone calls and talking with all of the local people standing around, a local guy drove by in his truck and offered to give me a ride to wherever I needed to go for free. I couldn’t believe the offer and was skeptical at first, but he had some of his workers come pick me up and take me to his house where I hung out with his wife and daughter, having lunch with them and after a few hours, loading up the truck and leaving. He took me to Panajachel, which is where I was living before I left. I wasn’t sure where I should go (either back to Antigua, or to Guatemala City), but I knew that I had good friends in Pana and could see a doctor about any injuries that I had.

After arriving back in Panajachel, I went to the local clinic and got checked out by a doctor. He said I was incredibly lucky to be young, strong, and in the shape I’m in as most other people would have broken bones or done worse in the kind of accident I was in. I only had some strained muscles and tendons in my shoulder and knee, so he prescribed some anti-inflammatory, pain pills, and some sleeping pills as I was having trouble sleeping.

It took me about a week to decide what to do with my trip: see if I can fix the bike and keep traveling, sell the bike for parts and start traveling on buses or hitchhiking, or call the trip finished and head back to the US to start a normal life. Through a friend of a friend, I found a great mechanic in Guatemala City who could actually straighten my bent frame, so I decided to head back to the Capital, drop the bike off with him and fly back to the states to buy parts and see my family for a couple of months.

My time at home was great. I spent a lot of time with my sister in Chicago and then my brother and the rest of my family in Michigan. After almost a year of being away, it was good to see everyone and recover both physically and mentally back at home. I found all of the parts I needed to fix up Oscar, and paid about $300 total for everything. It would have been about $1500US to buy all of the parts in Guatemala! So the trip home was definitely worth it in a monetary sense, and also allowed me to get my head back on straight and get motivated to do some proper traveling again. My brother was a big inspiration to me before returning to Guatemala, encouraging me to make the most of my trip and the incredible opportunities I’ve been blessed with while traveling. I came back to Guatemala inspired and excited to keep traveling again.

To get Oscar back into running shape, I needed to purchase an entire new front end, including the suspension, tire, headlight and bracket, handlebars, steering column, and radiator. The frame was slightly bent, but only the front portion where the steering column is housed. My mechanic, Fritz Klimowitz, is known to be the best mechanic throughout Central America. He’s a former motocross champion and well known mechanic in Guatemala City. I went to him based on the recommendation of a friend, so was hesitant to leave my bike with him at first. But after getting to Fritz’ shop and seeing proper motocross race bikes and adventure bikes (KLRs, huge BMW adventure bikes, Africa Twins, etc.) in his shop getting serviced and repaired, I was confident that he and his mechanics could handle the work.

Need a mechanic in Guatemala? Swing by FKR in Guatemala City - 10a. Calle 4-38, Zona 9

Oscar's front suspension, sheared in half by the accident

Fritz showing me how bent the steering column was, and what it is supposed to look like.

Bent, smashed, and twisted radiator. I'm glad the same thing didn't happen to me.

New (used) parts waiting to be installed! Getting these through US and Guatemalan customs was a breeze and I had no problems at the airport.

Oscar spent about a week with at Fritz’ shop getting fixed, and I spent my time with an incredible family that lives in the capital. I befriended them when I was staying in Antigua, and they opened their doors for me and allowed me to stay with them in Guatemala City free of charge, drove me around the city to handle the problems with my bike, and basically were a home away from home while I was taking care of everything. They even dropped me off and picked me up from the airport, and tried to help me with my expired documentation for my motorcycle.

The family and I spent time in Antigua and around the Capital, and I went to church with them a few times over the month I stayed with them.

My Guatemalan family in Antigua

My brother Arturo translating my Spanglish to proper Spanish with Fritz. Arturo was a huge help with Fritz and with SAT.

After being back in the states, the documentation for my motorcycle had expired and I had no luck getting an extension from SAT, who is the Guatemalan equivalent of the DMV in the states. Instead, I forged my documentation for my motorcycle and changed the expiration dates so that I could use the documentation when I get pulled over by the police. I could run into problems if they decide to call in my information to their headquarters and actually look up the information, but that has yet to happen in the 50+ times that I’ve been stopped by the police so far throughout Mexico and Guatemala. The only problem this presents is the fact that I won’t be able to cross the borders with Nicaragua or El Salvador, stopping my progress South. This was at first a tough decision for me, but after thinking about it, I’m excited to be going back to Mexico and have some big plans for my life when I get back there.

The first day of getting my bike back, I kept singing my own little diddy around my family… “Estoy feliz, estoy feliz… estoy super felizzzzz!” I gave them all rides on the back of Oscar through their neighborhood and helped run errands around the city.

The first ride on a fixed-up Oscar. New front end including a black fender to complete the Frankenstein look on the bike.

I ended up spending an extra week in Guatemala City getting some kinks worked out on Oscar. The new wheel I purchased wasn’t true and was causing some problems at speed with the steering and braking, but Fritz came through and fixed the problems and I was finally ready to hit the road and head back to Panajachel.

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Living on Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala

I contacted the manufacturer of my rear suspension (Cogent Dynamics) to let them know what had happened to my suspension and what options I had to get it fixed or replaced. Luckily, Cogent is a kick-ass company and offered to cross-ship me a new suspension within a day since my shock was still under its year warranty. Because of the problems I had shipping items through Mexico, I reached out to a friend I had made in Guatemala City who owns a sporting goods store, and asked him if he had any shipments coming in from the US that I could use.

He let me know that if I ship the package to his shipper in Miami, I could get the shock delivered via one of his crates within a week, for a cost of only $15US. I jumped at the opportunity of a cheap and secure method of shipping the shock to Guatemala, and started to make plans for what I would do with my time in Panajachel.

I made quick friends with a few of the locals and some other travelers who were either working or spending time in Pana. Steve, a young guy from New Hampshire, convinced me to hop on a boat and head across the lake to San Marcos, a small town on the lake with some cliff jumping.

Cliff jumping in San Marcos, Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

After spending a few hours swimming, jumping, and soaking up the sun, Steve and I went back to the docks to wait for a boat back to Panajachel. While sitting there, some of the young locals tried selling us their jewelry, clothes, and food. Instead of buying anything, I started singing songs and learning new songs from a few of the girls.

Singing with some Guatemalan kids in San Marcos

After a week of hanging out with Steve, traveling around the lake, chatting with girls, and cooking food on my roof-top campsite, my shock has finally arrived back in Guatemala City. I unload my luggage as much as possible, bringing only my essential survival gear and tools to fix my bike, and tighten my suspension down as much as it will go in hopes to eliminate the bouncy-bouncy-bouncy when I hit any kind of bump. I roll out of Panajachel and make my way to Guatemala City, a 2 hour ride that has been the most brutal I’ve ever had on my body. Every bump, dip, and pothole in the road goes straight up into my body, not having any suspension to dampen it. I can’t wait to get my shock swapped out and get out of the city.

I pick up the shock from my friends store and start poking around at some local motorcycle shops to see if I can use some space to swap the shock out. One of the mechanics at the local Honda shop says I can come early the next morning to do it before his bosses got there, and could use his tools if I needed any help.

The old and the new. Huge thanks goes out to Cogent Dynamics for helping out and sending the new shock to me free of charge!

 

The blown seal at the bottom of the shock

I always prefer working at a shop with proper air tools and cleaning supplies instead of on the side of the road.

Getting back to Panajachel on a fully functional bike was a pleasure. My friends there had convinced me to stay for Semana Santa, which is a hugely important week-long holiday in Latin America. All of the hostels bumped their prices up by 2 or 3 times the usual rate, so I ended up camping on the roof of a hostel for 2 weeks. I actually prefered the peace and tranquility of camping, going to sleep when it gets dark out and waking up with the sun and chickens in the morning. The week in Panajachel was wild, the streets packed with tourists and Guatemalans, beer trucks and dancing girls, and drinking on the streets from dawn to 3 or 4 in the morning. I was glad to not be actually traveling around Latin America during the week, as traffic was terrible and hostels and hotels were full up and increased in price.

I spent my days exploring around the lake on Oscar. The lake has some nice roads surrounding it, but I much preferred to take the secondary roads and small trails that wind through the mountains between small Mayan villages.

One of my favorite trails around Lago de Atitlan, between San Antonio Palopo and San Lucas Toliman. Follow the signs for the "Secondary road" to Panajachel

Oscar and I took a break on a washed out section of cement near San Antonio Palopo

After spending a few weeks in Panajachel, I decided to pack up my things and hit the road to El Salvador. But, as luck would have it, my plans would be permanently changed when I got close to the border, and the continuation of my trip would be up on the chopping block.

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Crossing into Guatemala – accidents, police problems, and beautiful scenery

Leaving San Cristobal de las Casas early in the morning, in the freezing cold and draped in fog, I made it to the La Mesilla border crossing at the frontier of Guatemala. I hadn’t done much research on the border crossing before hand, so I lost some time missing the Aduana and Banjercito buildings for my exit from Mexico. After asking around at the border, I was sent back up the road a couple of KMs to the buildings, where I handled my motorcycle exit paperwork and got myself checked out of Mexico. The Guatemala border crossing was pretty straight forward, although La Mesilla is a small and hectic border town. To enter the country, you pay about $1US to get the bike fumigated, then are allowed to pass across the border and start taking care of your Guatemalan paperwork.

Parked in front of the Mexican Aduana near La Mesilla, Guatemala

First things first — check myself into Guatemala. I have my passport checked and stamped within 5 minutes, but end up staying in the office for another 15 minutes arguing with the workers about a 20 peso “fee” I was charged. All of the other people coming through were paying a fee ranging from 20-60 pesos, but I knew from reading online that the border crossing into Guatemala was free. So, I kept asking the workers for a receipt for my 20 pesos, which they kept giving excuses for not having.

“I’m waiting for a receipt for the 20 pesos I paid you.”
“You need to go to the bank to get the receipt.”
“Ok, which bank? Where is it? Do I need something from you to get the receipt?”
“It’s the bank down the street.” (points indiscriminately down the road)
“Which bank? What’s the name? I need a receipt for paying the 20 pesos”
“We don’t give receipts for that. It’s too small of a fee.”
“Look… I got a receipt for paying the 8 peso fumigation fee. Here it is. That’s even smaller!”

After going around in circles a few times, the boss in the office eventually caved in and gave me the 20 pesos back. I was glad that I had already had my Passport stamped and stayed in the office to get my fee returned, as it was just going into the pockets of the border workers. I’m also glad that my Spanish has improved enough to have an argument with someone and be successful. Previously, I have to express my disappointment with non-verbal cues, and can’t get across the point I’m trying to make. It’s now much easier for me to argue with someone, and understand what they’re saying to me in a difficult situation.

The next step was to checkin my motorcycle. In the next building, an officer fills out your paperwork, checks the VIN on your bike, and issues the necessary permits for entry. I then went to a bank next door to pay the import fee. After putting a sticker on my windshield, I hopped back on the bike, looked at my maps and GPS, and made my way towards Lago de Atitlan.

A few hours into Guatemala, and I’m stuck in traffic. There are lane closings on the road, and it’s full of construction trucks, chicken buses spewing diesel exhaust fumes in my face, cars, and motorcycles. I finally make it past traffic and get back on my way, but while trying to avoid a particularly large vibrador (speed bump), my rear wheel slips off the road and down 6″ onto the dirt side of the road. My bike slides sideways trying to gain traction, and the rear wheel comes over the curb and back up on the road. But at this point, the rear wheel is pointing at an angle and has instant traction, which causes me to lose control the bike and get thrown into a low-speed high side crash, where I get launched off the front of the bike and hit the ground.

My first concern after crashing is the traffic behind me. I hop up off the pavement and get out of the way while checking my body for serious injuries. Not feeling anything too serious, I lift up the bike and push it off the road to check for damage. It looks like the rack for my panniers has bent, but it’s still usable after using a ratchet strap to secure the pannier. I take a break for 15 minutes, waiting for the adrenaline to leave my body and assure that I’m not too injured. My hand is sore, and I have a couple of scraps along my shin from my impact with the road. Luckily, my gear did its job again and I have no serious injuries at all. I’m continually grateful that I purchased the gear I’m using as it’s protected me from lots of minor drops and falls and a couple more serious accidents.

I continue on my way to Lago de Atitlan, riding through the small mountain villages around the lake. It’s foggy and chilly in the mountains, and I’m anxiously waiting for my first glimpse of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Aldous Huxley said “Lake Como [a lake in Italy], it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”

Before I glimpse the lake, I stumble upon a broken down adventure rider on the side of the road. I pull over and meet Jeremy, a Canadian guy riding through Central America on his 1979 Honda CX500. His blog is located at www.jgblog.ca.

Jeremy on his '79 CX500, broken down in the mountains near Lago de Atitlan

Jeremy has broken his clutch lever and is trying to repair it, but doesn’t have a bolt he can use. I dig through my spare parts and find a bolt to fix his clutch lever and reattach another broken part on his bike. Jeremy has been in Guatemala for a few weeks and is on his way to Antigua after spending some time in Lago de Atitlan. I decide to join him and we make our way to Antigua.

Riding secondary roads around the lake, Jeremy and I get a little turned around and I hear him honk behind me to pull over. I move to the side of the road and slow down, but my rear tire locks up and slides along some gravel, sending me down into a a low-side crash. Once again, I stand up and check myself for injuries. Sore from my previous accident in the day, this one just compounded the soreness and adds more to the other side of my body. Oscar, my bike, is even more beat up than before. My luggage rack has cracked in a couple of places and my pannier hangs down perilously close to the ground. I’ve also shattered my second tool-holder.

My second broken tool-holder at the front of the bike.

The bent and broken luggage rack after 2 crashes

Broken and cracked welds on the luggage rack

Twisted and bent headlight bracket and broken speedometer housing, but still usable

Jeremy and I spend an hour getting my luggage reattached and picking up tools from the ground. We’re still hoping to make it to Antigua, but it’s starting to get late and the light is fading. The last thing I want to do is ride at night in Guatemala, especially after having 2 crashes in my first day here. We are making good time on our way, but the sun dips behind the horizon and we’re riding in the dark. My headlight bracket has been tweaked and doesn’t allow my lighting to work very well, so I follow Jeremy closely. We get lost, turned around, and end up riding around Antigua for an hour before we finally make it into town and to a hostel that he knows about.

I’m sore, hungry, tired, and stressed after riding for the last 14 hours, 2 hours of that in the dark. It’s been a crazy first day in Guatemala: 2 crashes, a busted bike, sore body, and riding at night. How exciting! We settle down at the hostel and relax. I’m thankful that I’m ok and the damage to Oscar is minimal and can be easily repaired.

The next couple of days were spent relaxing and recuperating at the hostel and hanging out in Antigua, which I’ve had described to me as “Traveler’s Disneyland”. The town has been built up over the last 15 years around tourism. There are more travel companies, shops, restaurants, and coffee shops than I’ve seen in a long time. Not necessarily my preference when traveling, but there’s a great nightlife with loads of Spring Breakers on short trips, so the restaurants and bars are packed in the evenings.

Packed house on a Friday night in Antigua

Always nice to practice Spanish with a cute Guatemalan

Jeremy and I score some wonderful and safe free camping in the city, and jump all over the opportunity to camp out, work on our bikes, and stay somewhere for free. A couple of other Adventure motorcyclists are camping at the site, so we all tell stories and work on fixing our bikes. Nick, a British lad who has driven through Africa, Europe, and now the Americas, has his engine in pieces after bending a rod, and is doing a complete rebuild.

We setup shop at the campsite in an abandoned building, and spend spare time reading, exploring the markets and land around Antigua, and trying out some of the culinary options in Guatemala.

Camping in Antigua

Shop setup in an abandoned building in Antigua

The morning ritual, coffee and scrambled eggs

The people who ran the campsite kept asking us to move our tents to different areas of the property. I didn't mind too much, since I was staying there for free

Antigua from above

Oscar didn't mind posing for a few snapshots

After a couple of weeks in Antigua, Jeremy and I agree to make our way to Panajachel, a town on Lago de Atitlan. It’s only a 2 hour ride to Atitlan, but Jeremy and I ran into some trouble with a couple police officers. They waved us over to the side of the highway, asked for our documentation and started asking for “recuerdos”, or souvenirs. I play my usual non-Spanish speaking dumb gringo routine, and feign ignorance at what they’re asking for. Jeremy tries to do the same, but decides it will be easiest to give them some gas and a couple of cigarettes so we don’t have any more hassles.

Trying to figure out what to do with the corrupt police in Guatemala

Jeremy's got a good idea -- give them some gas from his spare tank

I make niceties with the other officer while smoking a cig

About 20 minutes after our run-in with the police, I feel a weird sensation on my bike while on a rough road. The bike seems to be bouncing up and down like a spring every time I hit a bump. I know I need to see what’s going on, but there’s no where on the road to pull off, so I have to wait a half mile until a dirt section opens up. I jump off the bike and see oil dripping from my new aftermarket rear suspension.

Checking out my blown out rear suspension

Aiiieee Guatemala... you've been rough to me so far

The main seal at the bottom of the shock has blown out, and all of the oil for dampening the suspension has dripped out onto my rear tire. I clean up the most I can, and decide that I can limp the bike the next 20km to Panajachel. Jeremy and I ride frustratingly slowly, but make our way to a cheap hotel in Panajachel.

Secure bike parking at the small hotel in Panajachel

Beautiful Lago de Atitlan from the roof of the hotel

Watching the sunset over the lake

The view of Volcán Atitlán from Panajachel

Enjoying the view

Panajachel is beautiful, and I’m glad to be stuck there waiting to see how I can fix my rear suspension. It’s been easy for me to settle down someplace for a couple of weeks or a month, and I decide to do the same in Panajachel, as it meets the requirements I have for someplace to stay: cheap, beautiful, comfortable, with friendly people and places to explore.

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Moto-exploring in Oaxaca, Mexico

With only a few days left on my 6-month Mexico visa, I don’t have a lot of time to spend in Oaxaca. But, I spent almost 2 months in this state before and know some places that I want to see. Plus, this time I have Oscar back, and can go and see anything I want. First stop – Hierve el Agua, or “the water boils.”

Hierve el Agua is about 70km east of Oaxaca City. Typically, you have to get a ride to Mitla then hop on a truck to take you through the mountains to Hierve el Agua. I decide to unload the bike a bit and take the long route through the mountains. Stopping in a couple of small villages at the base of the mountains, I ask around to find the trail and get pointed in the right direction. However, the locals warn me that the trail is 1-lane, dangerous, and remote. Perfect! I make my way on the trail, happy to be off-roading again with Oscar and taking in the incredible views.

Taking the back way to Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca, Mexico

The trail is rough and impassable at this point. Trying to turn around was a difficult process in the 90F heat. I sweat, curse, push, and drop Oscar a couple of times, but after digging out rocks for 15 minutes, eventually get the bike turned around and back to another fork in the trail.

The trail isn’t always as difficult, and eventually turns into a beautiful switchback dirt road that I keep turning around on to ride again and again.

After 3 hours of riding in the mountains, I arrive at Hierve el Agua just as a school field trip is leaving. The students are curious as to what the heck I’m doing out here, and a group of young girls comes up to talk to me and see if they can take pictures. I reply “Claro que si” or “Yes, of course” and the entire class comes running up to the bike, asking me the usual questions — where are you from, how old are you, how big is the bike, how fast does it go, you came all the way from Chicago?? Their teacher encourages them to speak with me in English, so I give her a hand and ask them all some easy questions while we’re snapping photos.

Taking my route through the mountains, I bypassed some of the “tolls” that a tourist usually has to pay to enter the site. The land that Hierve el Agua sits on is in dispute — two towns claim administration and therefore you have to pay twice to enter, once coming through the town and once at the site entrance. But, regardless of how you enter the site, it’s worth it.

One of the man-made swimming pools. The water is spring-fed and full of calcium carbonate and other minerals. After sweating my ass off riding through the mountains, I strip off my riding gear, take a swim, and lay in the sun.

 

 

Swimming at Hierve el Agua

 

 

The deposits of calcium carbonate.

 

 

Posing in front of cascada grande, or the big waterfall formed over thousands of years of deposits of calcium carbonate.

 

After leaving Hierve el Agua, I take the same trails back through the mountains to the main road that runs back to Oaxaca. There are numerous towns off of the highway that are full of artisans. I pick one, Santa Ana del Valle, which was recommended by some friends in the city.

I love going to small towns and villages in Mexico, and Santa Ana is exactly this. There were exactly 0 other tourists in the village for the 2 hours I was there, so I was able to meet some of the locals, play basketball with high-schoolers, and purchase my first souvenir of the trip.

Beautiful, hand-made rugs, runners, and bags were available in the town square. After admiring the pieces of art, I asked the ladies working the cost of some of the items and was blown away at how inexpensive they were. $30US for a large, 10'x20' rug, $10US for table runners, and less than $5 for handbags. I purchased a small pouch for my video camera, which they customized with a strap.

The ladies customizing my pouch with a new strap.

 

 

My first souvenir of the trip, a pouch for my camera.

 

 

After a couple of hours in Santa Ana del Valle, I swung by Tule to see the famous Arbol del Tule, which is the largest tree in the world.

The trunk of the tree has a circumference of almost 39', which is 10' bigger than the next largest tree, the Giant Sequoia

 

It's hard to get a good picture of the tree since it's so huge.

The beautiful manicured gardens around the church.

 

 

After 2 days in Oaxaca, I have to make my way South to exit the country asap. However, before I leave, I sign the wall at Hostel los Amigos.

Bike parking in the restaurant in Hostel los Amigos.

My signature in the upper left corner of the picture.

Previously, I took a van from Puerto Angel to Oaxaca City on Hwy-175. The van ride was miserable, since 175 is one of the curviest roads I’ve ever been on. But I vowed to myself that I would ride the road with Oscar and decide to head out and make my way back to the beach.

The view is incredible, but tough to see while riding Hwy-175 since you spend 8 hours going switchback-to-switchback.

I pulled off in one of the small towns along Hwy-175 to see a festival in full swing. I’m not in the mood to traipse around, so I go through the town to some small dirt roads and trails in the mountains. I’m looking for a campsite, as it’s getting later in the day and it’s still another 2 hours to the beach. After asking around and having no luck, I hop back on the bike and decide that I can make it to Puerto Angel just after dark.

Taking a break

The view for my break.

I only spend 2 days in Puerto Angel, relaxing, swimming, surfing, and hanging out with my old friends. Afterwards, I decide to make my way back to San Cristobal de las Casas, where I stayed for a month over Christmas and New Years. It’s relatively close to the border with Guatemala, and I want to see my friends there again before I exit the country.

I need to get to Guatemala before my visa and TVIP expire in Mexico. It’s been 6 months since I entered the country, and I’ve absolutely fallen in love. Originally, I was planning on spending 2 months in Mexico, but after arriving, my pace slowed way down, I made some fantastic friends, ate the best food of my life, and realized that I really do love this country and want to spend more time here. The scenery and culture are incredible — you can go from sweating your ass off at the beach in the morning to freezing your ass off 4 hours later in the mountains.

I passed through brutal deserts in Baja, had the scariest (and most epic) ride of my life on the Espinazo del Diablo, partied it up during Cervantino in Guanajuato, lived with Mexicans in Guadalajara, had my first serious accident of this trip while going to Mexico City, toured the country via bus and hitchhiking, lived on the beach in Oaxaca for a month, and explored so little of such a huge country that I can’t wait to go back.

If you want to take an adventure motorcycle trip, I would recommend Mexico any time. It’s close to the US, has easy entry/exit requirements, and has some of the best on-road and off-road riding I’ve ever done. The people, culture, and food are second to none, and you can spend years in Mexico without seeing everything. Yes, there are drug and violence problems in Mexico right now, but you need to take news reports with a grain of salt, and do your own research before you make a decision.

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A little Spring Break action in Cancun, and getting back on the saddle (finally!)

February 20th – March 25th, 2011

With only a month left on my tourist Visa for Mexico, and still without the parts I need for my motorcycle, I had to make some decisions on how to get the parts in time to exit the country. My sister and her husband are taking a vacation to Cancun, so I decide to hop a flight from Mexico City and join them for a few days at the beach. I order the parts and have them shipped to my sister, who can bring them along and give them to me when we meet. Score!

My time in Cancun was mixed. It was great seeing my sister and brother-in-law, but I was sick (for the first time on my trip) with traveler’s diarrhea. Also, Cancun was a huge shock to me after being in Mexico for the past 5 months. The beach is absolutely gorgeous, but lined with gigantic hotels and resorts as far as the eye can see. I was staying in the town of Cancun, as the prices of a hotel on the beach are ridiculous after paying <$5 a night throughout Mexico. Going out to the bars is also completely unlike the rest of Mexico — most places wanted a $40 cover charge to enter which also bought you drinks for the night. But $40! The most I’ve spent drinking in a night since getting to Mexico has been $15, tops. And it was depressing to see the typical American spring-breaker in Cancun, drunk, sunburned, yelling at people in English, and being obnoxious. I only spent 4 days in Cancun, but I know that’s more than enough for me. I came to the conclusion that:

Cancun is the Las Vegas of Mexico.

The good news is that I got a tan, spent time with some family, and got the parts I need for my motorcycle. Yipee!! Flying back to DF, the first thing I did was go and pick up my bike. Riding for the first time in 2 months was fantastic, even if it was through stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

With 2 weeks left before my Visa and Motorcycle Import are expired, I decided to head back to Guadalajara to see my friends and spend a few days before riding across Mexico to get to Guatemala. The ride to Guadalajara was long — 12 hours in the saddle in 1 day. While I could do that easily before, my stamina has disappeared and it was a long, hard 12 hour ride, but I had a big smile on my face the entire time.

I didn’t do much in Guadalajara besides relax with friends and eat my favorite foods.

After 2 months, Oscar is back on the road!

Delicious, delicious Tortas Ahogadas in Guadalajara

Chilling with Wendy and Danny

After spending a few days in Guadalajara, I made my way back to Guanajuato to see some friends, including Eric and Sabrina who have returned from Panama and settled down in Guanajuato for a few months.

Mid-ride coffee break between Guadalajara and Guanajuato

Mike and Sam grilling up dinner -- burgers, chorizo, and homemade guacamole (drool)

Eric and Sabrina settling in nicely to life in Guanajuato

Guanajuato at night, still one of the most beautiful places I've been in Mexico

After 2 days in Guanajuato, I made the long trek back to Oaxaca City.

Taking a break on the ride between Guanajuato and Oaxaca

Oscar taking a break along side the road

The beautiful view in Oaxaca

Another picture of the same thing, because it's awesome

Making it back to Oaxaca, I revisit Hostel Los Amigos, but this time with my bike in tow. I’m determined to check out the things I couldn’t see the last time I was here, and do some epic riding down to the beaches of Oaxaca.

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The culinary capital of Mexico – Oaxaca City

February 12th – February 24th, 2011

After a quick shuttle ride from the beach, I arrived in Oaxaca City and wandered around until I found an inexpensive hostel named “Hostel los Amigos” with a motorcycle parked inside. One of the owners, Buba, is a fellow rider and member of a local riding club, “Curvas Peligrosas” or Dangerous Curves. The hostel is fairly new, and empty, so I score a cheap bed in the empty dorm room and start exploring the city known for its cuisine and political strife. 2 years ago, protestors took over the zocalo (main center) of town for 5 months until the military had to come in and force them out. The protests were started by the teachers of the local school union, hoping to improve their pay and benefits. More protests happened while I was in town, which I’ll get to in a bit.

A friend, Marion, and I went to the east part of Oaxaca to check out Mitla, one of the most important archeaological sites for the Zapotec culture. The site is about 40km east of the city, so we hopped a bus (man I miss my motorcycle) and road to the site, checking out the market along the way and eating some grub.

The ruins of Mitla

The ruins of Mitla in Oaxaca

The intricate mosaics on the ruins. No mortar was used to secure them! They all support each other

The church at Mitla. The red color was used all throughout the ruins (but has since faded from most parts)

My French friend Marion posing in Mitla

Peekaboo! The columns supported a huge roof (36 x 6.4m) over this part of the ruins

Marion and I tried to get a ride to Hierve el Agua, but the trucks wanted at least 5 people to go and the site was closing soon, so we decided against it and I vowed that I would come back to check it out on the motorcycle. Instead, we decided to check out the some of the famous local cuisine – tlayudas and chapulines.

Marion didn’t enjoy the chapulines (grasshoppers)

Chapulines!

Tlayudas - the original mexican pizza

I spent a couple of weeks in Oaxaca, relaxing, reading, exploring, and making friends, but the most exciting part of my time there was the political protests. I took a walk through town in the morning and noticed a huge military presence – an entire batallion (about 500) troops all geared up on trucks and buses, ready with their 50-caliber guns and riot gear. Little did I know that Felipe Calderon (the president of Mexico) was in town to meet with the local government and the teachers union, Section 22. However, Calderons security team decided that he shouldn’t meet with the teachers union because of security, and the teachers union started protesting. That’s when things turned for the worse, and a huge protest broke out. At first, I made my way back to the hostel and took cover on the roof, watching the progression of the protests. Tear gas was being launched at groups of protesters, who were smashing the windows on banks and government buildings, and throwing rocks at the riot police. One of my friends convinced me to head outside and see the action up close, so we both hit the street.

Sadly, my camera was broken so I didn’t get any shots of the action, but here’s some photos and video from press coverage.

Riot police all geared up

Huge groups of riot police swarmed the zocalo to try and handle the protestors


Some of the action between protestors and police
Protestors set ablaze to a full-sized semi truck that was carrying barriers and riot gear in the main zocalo of the city. Then the protestors held back the fire department from arriving at the scene, which took them almost 30 minutes.

The next day after the protests, people kept coming up to me and saying “I saw you on TV this morning! You’re the gringo that was on TV!” Worried at first that there was some footage of me protesting (and that I would be deported), I held a low profile until I found out the video was of me, watching the burning trailer, on the news. For the next week in town, people kept coming up to me and telling me that I was the guy on TV.
It was fun to be the famous gringo in town for a bit, but I had to take care of the missing parts for my motorcycle and leave town to head to Mexico City.

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What do you do for a month in the tranquil beaches of Oaxaca, Mexico?

I spent close to a month at the beaches in Oaxaca, living in Puerto Angel and taking daily trips to the other local beaches, Zipolite, San Augustunillo, and Mazunte. I stayed at The Hotel Almendro, a small hotel across from the beach.

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The beach in Puerto Angel, across the street from Hotel Almendro.

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Chuma’s new pitbull puppy, Kilo. He’s only 6 weeks old at this point. We gave him a bath, and immediately afterwards, he went rolling in the dirt and sand to get the stink of the soap off of himself.

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A completed deserted beach at Playa Ventanilla

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Sunset at Zipolite. The surf break was just off the island in the middle, and broke both left and right depending on the swell.

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A small swell breaking right one evening in Zipolite. The local surfos run the show in Zipolite but were more than happy to let a gringo catch some of the crappy waves on the side.

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My 2 best friends in Puerto Angel, Susan from NYC and Mr. Bean (the locals call him Frijole) from the Oregon coast. They both spend 5-6 months a year in Puerto Angel, escaping winter in the north.

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Yes, there are sharks in the water here… big sharks. This one was caught by some of the fisherman/surfos in Puerto Angel.

I convinced Wendy from Guadalajara to come to Puerto Angel for a week to celebrate her birthday. We hired a boat for the day and went exploring in the ocean.

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Swimming with sea turtles in open water. This turtle had some plastic netting caught on his flipper, so we removed it and let him continue on his way.

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Wendy and our skipper

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We spent an hour on this private beach which is only accessible by boat.

We also took a boat tour of the mangroves in Playa Ventanilla. Beautiful toucan birds and huge crocodiles were everywhere. A group of families have created an animal reservation in Playa Ventanilla, helping to improve the population numbers of the crocodiles and protect the sea turtles and their eggs during nesting season. It’s a beautiful area to explore, and very inexpensive at 80 pesos/person for a tour of a few hours.

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There were fences around most of the biggest crocodiles, but this one was just chilling near a walking path we were on. Our guide warned us that crocodiles can run faster than humans on land, but only after I had gotten within 10 feet to take this picture.

The other thing I spent most of my time doing in Puerto Angel was reading on my new Christmas gift, the Amazon Kindle. This device is seriously the most kick-ass thing ever to come along for motorcycle travellers. I’ve loaded up PDF versions of travel guides for all of the countries I’ll be visiting, along with PDF topographic and street maps. All of the text in the PDFs is indexed, which means you can do a quick search on the Kindle and have all relevant information come up within a few seconds.

The battery life is close to a month… a real actual month and not a marketing-speak month. It’s lightweight at 8.5oz, or with the lighted cover, about 15oz, and packs much easier than carrying along a selection of paperback books and travel guides. At this point, I’ve given away my paperback travel guides and other books I was carrying. The lighted cover is great for reading at night or in your tent, and can also double for an emergency flashlight. My version of the Kindle includes Wifi, and has been very useful for discreetly finding open Wifi hotspots that I can then use with my netbook.

After purchasing some ebooks and downloading a ton of ebooks from the public domain, I’ve got close to 100 novels and stories with me at all times. So, whenever I’ve got down time, I whip out my Kindle and read. I’ve also been using a piece of software called Calibre, which I setup to automatically download digital content from some of my favorite websites and put it on my Kindle about twice a week. With Calibre, I’m able to read the NYTimes, Chicago Tribune, The Economist, CNN, ArsTechnica, Slashdot, and all of my other favorite websites at any time, without needing to have internet access.

After spending a month in Puerto Angel, I was ready to move on. I decided to head to the city of Oaxaca while I wait for my motorcycle parts to arrive to Mexico City.

Posted in adventure, Mexico, vagabonding | 1 Comment

Interview – 5 Months of Motorcycling in Mexico with Stephen Sper

My good friend and film-maker, Ben Slavin, over at www.MotorcycleMexico.com, asked me to do an interview with him last week and I happily obliged. We talked about traveling in Mexico, speaking Spanish, safety, and lots of other topics. Ben has also just released his great documentary about riding motorcycles through Mexico, aptly named MotorcycleMexico.

Head on over to his site to read the interview and order the DVD.

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Leaving San Cristobal and hitchhiking across Mexico

Guess what finally showed up in San Cristobal? One of my packages!

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This one contains a couple parts for my motorcycle, a pair of winter motorcycle gloves, a couple of books, and a Christmas gift, an Amazon Kindle!

With some of the spare time I had in San Cristobal, I decided to take photos of some of the great street art and graffiti. It’s very popular in San Cristobal, and it’s more original than most other places that I’ve seen.

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Stop torture!

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A Zapotista cat. Translation: Liberate! God is shit!

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One of my favorites – corporate workers following the grim reaper to their death

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Get informed, get organized, get control. The revolution has already begun.

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Frida Kahlo saying “Fuck shit up!”

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My beautiful hippy friend friend Melissa imitating The Virgen de Guadalupe with Nemi Zapata above

I’m still waiting on another package in Mexico City with a new front brake rotor, but the package is still in limbo with Mexican customs, so I have some more time to burn until it arrives. I decided to head to the beaches of Oaxaca after hearing great things about them from everyone in San Cristobal. I don’t want to take a bus – it’s expensive, long, and uncomfortable, so I decide to hitchhike there. A couple of guys I’ve met in San Cristobal decide to join me, but the morning we are supposed to leave, they both back out, so I’m hitching solo.

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Early morning in San Cristobal – cold and foggy.

I’ve never hitched before, but get some good advice from the folks at Hostel Ruca Che in San Cristobal – stay near the Cuota (toll) roads, make sure you have space in front of and behind you so people driving can see you and have enough time to stop, and a great place to grab a ride is at a toll booth. I take all of these things into consideration and head out of town to the cuota road that heads west towards the state of Oaxaca.

My first ride is with a middle aged man from Veracruz. He’s heading home to family after spending a week in Chiapas for work, and we swap stories of traveling and he tells me about his family. He also offers to drive me to his place in Veracruz, but I decline because I want to get to the beaches in Oaxaca. After a 3 hour ride, he drops me off at the intersection of some cuota roads. My next 3 rides are short – less than 15 minutes each, but every one is interesting. A car full of girls drives by, screams, slams on their brakes, and reverses back to where I’m standing. A husband and wife pick me up with their 6 year old daughter in the back seat, who is sitting there with her birthday cake on the way to their family party. The next ride is from an old Mexican couple in a huge pickup truck.

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The view from a back of a pickup truck in southern Mexico

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Hitching a ride!

After getting dropped off by the old couple, I walk through a small Mexican town so that I can be at the edge of town heading towards Oaxaca. I’m not having any luck getting a ride, and the sun is blazing down on me as it’s the middle of the afternoon. A few taxi drivers are relaxing and hanging out in the shade near a restaurant and call me over. I chat with them for a while, smoke cigarettes, tell stories, and one of the guys offers to drive me for free to the next major town where it will be easier for me to catch a ride. Great!

The next ride I get is from a 80s American-music loving trucker, on a long distance haul from southern Mexico to northern Mexico. He’s playing songs that I haven’t heard since the easy-listening station at the orthodontist office. But, we get along well and chat as much as we can. We drive through miles and miles of wind farms, and he drops me off in the middle of them at an intersection. The sun is setting, the wind is blowing hard, and it’s starting to get cold. There’s nothing around except windmills and 1 Pemex gas station. I realize there’s no way I’m going to get a ride after dark, and I’ve got a splitting headache from sitting & standing in the sun all day long. I decide to sleep at the Pemex, next to the building and protected from the brutal wind.

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The windmills

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My bed for the night, a Pemex gas station

It’s a long night, but I manage to sleep decently well after the security guard at the gas station tucked me in on the cement ground with his blanket. In the morning, he also offers to show me the right bus to take into the closest town of Salina Cruz. Salina Cruz is a major industrial port in Mexico, and it has bus routes to the beaches in Oaxaca. I get there early in the morning and check out my options – no busses are available until 5pm, and it’s 8am. I’m not opposed to taking a bus at this point, as I’m still tired and feeling sick from the previous day of hitching. But, not wanting to wait all day in Salina Cruz to arrive at the beaches past dark, I say “screw it” and start walking towards the edge of town to look for a ride.

A truck stops after 5 minutes and offers me a ride. There’s 3 guys in the cab, and one of them speaks English after living in LA for 3 years, so I hop into the back and settle down for a long ride. They’re heading to the beach as well and can take me most of the way. Score! But, my gut is telling me something… there’s something I don’t trust about these guys. This is confirmed at our first stop for something to drink, when they ask me to open my bag and show them what’s inside. I ask them why, and tell them I’m not carrying anything illegal like firearms or drugs. They nod their head but insist on seeing inside my bag. I open it up to show them the surface, and close it shortly thereafter. We get back into the truck and continue on the way, but now my gut is SCREAMING to me that something is not right. These guys may be small, but there’s 3 of them, and they could have a weapon, or they could call ahead to their friends and jump me whenever they want. So I take the matter into my own hands and hop out of the back of the truck at the next set of topes (speedbumps). They don’t notice, as they continued on driving without me. But I’m glad I listened to my gut, because if something did happen, I would have beaten myself up over it. On this trip, I’ve learned to listen to my stomach and follow my instincts, and I have had a  pretty uneventful travel for the last 6 months (which is a good thing).

It’s not long until I’m able to hitch another ride. 3 hours in the back of another truck, and I see a sign for “Puerto Angel”, which I recall being a beach that Eric  and Sabrina highly recommended to me after they spent time there. I jump out of the truck and into a shared-fare taxi with 5 other people. Rolling into Puerto Angel around noon, I find a nice hotel, negotiate the price down to something I’m comfortable with, unpack my bag, and go jump into the water. It’s the best feeling in the world after being without a place to lay my head the last 2 days, and I decide to spend a good amount of time in Puerto Angel relaxing, recuperating, and hanging out with Mexican and American expats. Puerto Angel is a small fishing village with minimal tourist infrastructure, but I’ve got a beach, a cheap place to stay, internet, and some new friends with a car Smile

I’ve finally realized something after traveling for the last 6 months – my focus has moved from an “adventure motorcycle trip” into learning to live my life on the road, with the motorcycle now being my biggest hobby/love while I truly live abroad. I’ve been without motorcycle for the last 2 months, and the 5 weeks before that, I was living full-time in Guadalajara. So almost 3 months not making any progress on my way South, completing one of my original trip goals. And that doesn’t bother me, at all. Of course I miss my bike, Oscar. I dream of it regularly, and take every chance I can to talk about motorcycles with locals and other travelers. But at this point, the motorcycle is just my preferred method of transportation. I’ve ridden buses, hitchhiked, taken taxis, shared vans and boats, most everything. And while nothing compares to the freedom, spontaneity, and excitement of being on a motorcycle, my trip is now much less about the riding and more about the people I meet.

You can reach any restaurant in a city, see any site hundreds of miles from the city, visit anything that sparks your interest IN THE WORLD, all without the barrier of finding transportation and paying for it. And what’s more fun than making a new friend and taking them along with you? I’ve had a great time sightseeing around cities with a local sitting behind me, giving directions, pointing out the interesting things, and making the experience that much richer. You also get that experience hitchiking, albeit differently. Not so much on a long-distance bus, in my experience, which is one of the reasons I don’t like buses (in addition to not fitting on them, physically).

Posted in adventure, Mexico, RideReport, vagabonding | 3 Comments

The Mayan ruins of Palenque and Turquoise water of Agua Azul

Eric and Sabrina booked a cabana in El Panchan, a small town just outside the entrance to the ruins of Palenque. After another miserable night time bus ride (I’m really missing my moto at this point), I join them in the cabana which is tucked into the middle of the rain forest. We head to the ruins the next day, hoping to get an early start to avoid the heat and humidity of the rain forest.

Walking into the park, I got the chills… even though it was 80 degrees out. The ruins are incredible – white rock structures jutting up into the sky, propped up against the backdrop of the rainforest. The 3 of us explore all over the park, walking up and down the stairs to most all of the major ruins, inside tunnels, down the mountains to see less excavated ruins, and even find a path into the dense forest to do some exploring of our own. I felt like a real explorer in the thick of the jungle, until my cell phone rang Smile

I’ll let the pictures Eric and I took do the talking. If you are traveling through Mexico, you must visit Palenque. It’s been one of my favorite things from the trip so far.

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Ruinas de Palenque

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Eric inside one of the tunnels in the ruins.

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At Palenque

Looking out on the jungle from the Ruinas de Palenque

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Howler Monkeys woke us up at 6 in the morning in Palenque
The next morning, I was woken up at 6:30am by a terrifying noise. It sounded like jaguars or another giant cat were in a fight and ready to rip your face off. I rolled out of bed and stumbled outside to see 4 howler monkeys climbing through the trees.

The next day, to help escape the heat, we booked a tour to see Misol Ha and Agua Azul, two water attractions between Palenque and San Cristobal. The giant waterfall at Misol Ha was featured in the movie Predator, so Eric and I were pretty excited to check it out and see if we could take any predator-esque photos ourselves.

Misol ha

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Eric trying his best predator impression Smile

After 30 minutes at Misol Ha, we continued onto Agua Azul, an absolutely beautiful river winding through the rain forest, with huge white waterfalls tumbling into crystal clear, turquoise water. We spent 4 hours here, swimming in the water, eating empanadas from tiendas, and relaxing in the sunlight. However, be careful as the current is very strong and surprised me a couple of times… and I’m a strong swimmer.

Swimming at Agua Azul

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Diving into the turquoise water

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I am still waiting for a package in San Cristobal, so I decide to hop another late-night bus back there to wait in my cheap hostel. Eric and Sabrina are continuing on to Guatemala tomorrow, so we’re finally parting ways. However, I’m sure we’ll meet up again on the road. We seem to travel about the same speed and I really enjoying traveling and spending time with them.

After I receive my package in San Cristobal, I’m going to go back to DF to finish fixing my moto, then return to Guadalajara for some more time. I’ve got some small projects I want to work on, and I miss Wendy and the other friends that I’ve made there. I’ll get south, eventually, but I don’t see any reason to be in a hurry to get there.

Posted in adventure, klr650, Mexico, RideReport, vagabonding | 1 Comment