Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Panama


We hardly made a mile into Panama, when the road was blocked by a fallen tree.

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We had to wait about 15 min until they cut some branches, just enough room for our bikes to get across. But then we entered a fairy tail land.

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Costa Rica and Panama look like a totally different world in Central America. A lot more developed, very clean, more people speaking English. And Panama even more so. And as a bonus, in Panama they use the US dollar. No more conversion headaches.

As we left the border quite late (around 1:30 pm) we did not have time to get too far. Plus, the weather was not really on our side: it was either too hot, or raining. So we had to stop on the side of the road and put the raining gear on.

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We rode about 180 km, and then we stopped at a gas station to gas up. There was a restaurant nearby, with a big lawn behind, so I went and asked them if we could camp there. “Sure, but is it safe for you to camp here?” (whatever that means). “Why? Is it not safe around here?” “Well, no, it’s just that there are lots of venomous snakes and raccoons here. This is not Canada, this is a wild place”. Well, we decided that we were not going to sleep-walk and we wouldn’t step on any snakes, so we camped there. We set up our camp, we put the bikes under a palapa there, and then we had some burgers and local beer at the restaurant.

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As the place looked like a perfect scenario for theft and robbery at night, as it was behind the restaurant and right by the forest, we decided we could not leave our bikes unattended there, so Chris mounted his hammock right there under the palapa, between our bikes. And apparently there were quite a few people passing by in the middle of the night, for whatever reason.

In the morning we had some porridge and eggs and on the road again. We went all the way to Panama City. Here we are crossing over the Panama Canal.

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We stopped at Mamallena hostel, a very nice place close to downtown Panama City. As they had no rooms until the next day, Chris convinced them, in the spirit of Christmas, to let us put our tents in the backyard for one night.

Same evening, one lady that was staying in the same hostel got robbed, right in front of the hostel. They stole her thick gold chain she had around her neck. Now I don’t want to insinuate anything, but so far, all the stories about theft and robbery that I heard here are something like this:

On Caye Caulker Island, two girls left the disco bar completely wasted and that night they got robbed in their hotel room. They didn’t hear anything, but when they woke up the next day, their stuff were missing.

or

In Panama City, a guy leaves the bar late in the evening, drunk, and he wants to walk to his hotel; takes the wrong turn and he  finds himself in a bad neighbourhood and he gets mugged.

I don’t know why it looks to me like common sense. Don’t walk out there drunk or wasted, especially at night. And don’t show signs of affluence, any travel website tells you that. I am not saying that it couldn’t happen to anyone, just for being the wrong person in the wrong place, but most of the time it can be avoided.

And now leaving that aside, we went to see the famous Panama Canal from close, and see the big ships crossing through. There is so much engineering behind it, it’s unbelievable. We all took a cab to get there. Vasile and I on the front seat, and the rest of the guys in the back:)

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And here is the canal. There are different compartiments where they adjust the water level for a smooth crossing between the Atlantic/ Caribean and the Pacific.

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Then we went to see the Casco Viejo of Panama City (the old town). It is gorgeous!

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And also, this is the first proper downtown we’ve seen in Central America so far. It’s beautiful.

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While walking around the old town, our friend Cory points out a sign to us and goes “I don’t know what language that is”. And guess what the sign was.

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That’s right, that was a sign for Merry Christmas in Romanian!!! Who would have ever imagined that we would see a sign in our mother tongue in Panama! That was so funny.

Then on the 26th we had our Christmas dinner at the hostel, withThai food and sangria .

Today we will ride to the boat. We will camp there by the water, and then tomorrow we will be on the boat, starting our 5 days journy on the water. Details to come once we get to Cartagena, hopefully safe and sound:)

Categories: Panama | 2 Comments

Costa Rica


The border crossing from Nicaragua into Costa Rica took forever. There were kilometers of trucks on the line on both sides. So we used one of those guys at the border who, for a tip, help you with the paperwork. On the Nicaraguan side the guy really deserved his tip. He helped us skip the line and we finished there quite fast. On the Costarican side, all they did was to show us where to go, but it took about 2.5 hrs to finish all the paperwork, so they didn’t really help us much. Anyway, we managed to get out of there around 1.30 pm, and we passed again by hundreds of trucks that were waiting at the border to exit Costa Rica.

At the border we met again Cory and Kurt, the two Canadian guys we met in San Felipe when I was injured. We met them again at the border between Honduras and Nicaragua, then we met them in San Juan del Sur, and now again. There was another guy with them, Chris, who started the trip in Alaska. Since we are going to take the same boat to cross from Panama to Cartagena on December 27th, we are probably going to ride together until then.

So we all rode together and we stopped at Playa del Coco and checked in at Pure Vibes, a nice hostel with pool and everything.

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Kurt was supposed to meet a guy who brought him some parts from Canada for his bike. In the meantime Vasile and Chris decided to do the oil change on the bikes too. So while I was sipping some margarita, the guys were put to work:)

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Kurt, happy with his new shock

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The next day we all hit the road again heading to Playa Grande. Playa Grande belongs to the National Park Las Baulas (Leatherback Turtles), which protects Costa Rica’s most important nesting site of the leatherback sea turtles. I really wanted to see those turtles .

We took the shortest route, on the coast, a really nice scenic gravel road, very bumpy at times, with some steep up and down sections. We even had a few water crossings.

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We got to Playa Grande and we found the Eco Centre, just so we are told that the group for that night’s tour was complete. As these turtles are highly endangered, the beach is closed at night and it’s protected, so they can come and nest in peace. There are organized tours for a limited number of people every night. It looks like we just missed one. In vain I tried to tell the guide that we cannot stay till the next day, since we have a boat to catch from Panama, the answer was still no. As I was so excited about this, the guys agreed to stay one more night in Playa Grande, so I can see the turtles. We just had to come the next day at 8 am to sign up.

The night was a very fun one, drinking rom and playing cards, with lots of jokes and laughter.

Here, if you go to a bar, the barman starts pouring you the drink and he looks at you to tell him when to stop. And this is what happens if you don’t say when:)

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The next day Kurt woke up early and went to sign us all up for the turtle tour. The rest of the day we chilled out by the pool and on the beach and playing billiards.

At 6 pm we showed up at the Eco Center, as we were told, just to find out that as the turtles don’t come on a set schedule, they could arrive anywhere between 6 pm and 1 am, so we would just have to wait there. As we were waiting, the guys got hungry and they went to eat at a little bar on the beach. $21 for fish and chips, and apparently the fish was frozen fish fingers. Costa Rica is extremely expensive!

By 8 pm most people were gone. Kurt, Chris and Cory left too, so it was just Vasile and I left. Around 9 pm we were preparing to leave too, since we were going to have a long day the next day, when we were announced that a turtle has been spotted on the beach. We were supposed to see the whole nesting process: the laying of the eggs, the covering of the nest and the turtle returning to the water. Apparently while they are nesting they are in trance, so they do not feel the human presence, that’s why people can go close to watch. But while they are digging the nest they are not in trance, so we had to wait a little further for the turtle to prepare the nest. Unfortunately the turtle sensed us or something, because it decided to turn back into the water. That’s when we were allowed to go close to it and watch it. We were half a meter away from this huge, heavy, 2 m long reptile, the biggest turtle in the world and the 4th largest reptile. It was magnificent! I felt like I was at National Geographic or something. Unfortunately, since leather-back turtles are very sensitive to light, we were not allowed to use cameras, so we do not have any pictures. But I was so happy I got to see it! This is a picture found on the internet, just to give you an idea of what exactly we saw.

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The day after, we woke up early and hit the road. As our friends were using the GPS, the GPS took us on the shortest road, which was some gravel again. But not too much, and soon we got onto paved roads again, since we had a long day ahead of us. We had to get somewhere close to the border, so we can cross the border the next day. So that day we rode about 500 km of   very busy roads. In Costa Rica the traffic was denser than in all other countries, on all roads. At some point it started raining too, which was a bliss in the beginning, since it was so hot, but after a while I got cold. I guess I acclimatized so well to the heat here, to  the point where when the temperature dropped to 24 degrees in the rain, I turned my heated grips on:)

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We stopped for lunch at a funky restaurant, Outback Jack, but very expensive though.

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Here we are trying our new prescription glasses:)

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We decided that we would cross a less busy border, Rio Sereno, so we rode through this beautiful landscape, with green luscious hills and nice winding roads. It was an epic ride! Sometimes when we travel we feel bad that we cannot take enough pictures to share with everyone.  But we fill our eyes with all those beauties, and we keep them in our hearts. Pictures don’t do justice anyway. Here are some of the few pictures we did manage to take.

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We stopped in San Vito, a gorgeous little town on the hills. We found a nice hotel with decent prices (for Costa Rica, where everything is very expensive). Then we went out for dinner and we had a great time. That led to another set of cards play back at the hotel, with more fun and laughter.

Next morning we cooked breakfast (we decided that we wanted to eat healthier), prepared some sandwiches for the road, and we left to the border. The road to the border was very rough gravel, thank God it wasn’t too much, only 12 km. We got there, and just like most border crossings in Central America, a bit confusing. No signs to inform you of anything. So we put ourselves in a line, just to find out that that’s the Panama immigration office, not the Costa Rica one. And we had to exit Costa Rica first. So we found the Costarican office, we did our paperwork and we headed to the Panama border. There were two different long line-ups: one for the locals, and one for the tourists. In the locals line up there were a lot of indigenous people. I loved the fact that they are still wearing their traditional clothing. We did not take pictures as most of the time they don’t like to be photographed by tourists.

We waited on the line for about two hours, and when we got to the office they asked us if we have the insurance for the bikes. Well, how can we have the insurance for the bikes if we didn’t go through immigration yet, so we don’t have a stamp in the passport yet? Well, we need the insurance first. Can we go and get it right now and come back? Sure, but I have to go on my lunch break for an hour; but I’ll take you in first when I’ll be back.

So we went to get the insurance, but guess what? They are on their lunch break too. But the guy showed up in about 20 min. That’s when we realized that there was an hour difference between Costa Rica and Panama, that’s why the guy was back from his lunch already. It’s funny, you cross the border and there is an hour difference right away.

In the meantime we figured we could have our sandwiches too, in the shadow of a tree:

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We finally managed to get the insurance, went to customs, did the temporary import permit, went back to immigration, got the stamp in the passport, back to customs for another stamp, fumigate bikes and off we go! We are in Panama! And it only took us four and a half hours:)

Categories: Costa Rica | 2 Comments

Nicaragua


The border crossing into Nicaragua was the most frustrating one so far. Firstly, we got to the border and we saw this huge line up of  commercial trucks.

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We had to actually squeeze through to get to immigration. We finally made it there and surprise: we met with two other riders from Vancouver,Kurt and Cory, that we had initially met in Mexico, in San Felipe, right after my accident. After a long chat and catch up on how their trip was so far and how ours was, we finally went to immigration.

Apparently there is a C-4 agreement that says that Canadian tourists who travel through Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua can travel freely through all these countries for 90 days without having to do any immigration formalities anymore. So basically you only have to do them once you enter any of the four countries, and when you exit, but in between we should be able to travel in any of these countries for 90 days. Well, that’s in theory. In practice, they do not apply it. In every single one of these countries they made us go through immigration, and even though they do not put any stamp in your passport, since you have the C-4 stamp, they make you pay all kinds of entry and exit fees, and you cannot do anything about it, it’s like arguing with the walls.

So at entering in Nicaragua, they asked us to pay $10 USD each as entry fee (besides other kind of fees like administrative, municipal etc). As we only had local currency (we had just exchanged it before exiting Honduras), I asked them how much would that be in cordobas. I did not ask them because I couldn’t convert myself but I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page, and I don’t just give them what I think it’s right. And they told me 8-900 cordobas!! Thank God I used to be pretty good in math in my young days, so I realized that was a big scam. $20 USD should have been 480 cordobas. So when I told them, they said “Well then you pay in USD” “Why do I have to pay in USD if I am in Nicaragua, I should be able to pay in local currency, just give me the correct amount” “No, you are a foreigner, you have to pay in USD, it’s the law” “Well, could you please show me the law that states I have to pay in USD? I do not have USD on me, I can pay in Cordobas” “If you don’t like it, then turn around and go back to Honduras” and he threw the passports at me. So we had to exchange money into USD at the exchange guys that are there, at the border, at whatever rate they wanted. This was very frustrating. The guy who talked to us like that wasn’t even sitting at the desk, he was just standing around there, and he looked like the janitor. When I asked him who he was, he said he was an official. I asked him for his identification number (since he did not look like an official at all) and he refused to show it to me. In these countries it’s so funny cause at the border you get stopped by all kinds of people and they ask for your passport, and they walk away with it, and you have no idea whom you just gave your passport to.

Anyway, long story short, this was the most time-consuming and frustrating border crossing. So far we did not have any major problems, but this one was very frustrating. I can deal with poverty, with misery, with lack of comfort, with anything, but what kills me is when I feel powerless like in these situations. There is nothing you can do. You either do what they want, and pay what they ask, even though you know that it is a total rip-off, and you should not pay anything, or you don’t enter the country. To be honest, when he told me to turn around to Honduras, I was very tempted to do it. Now I understand why there are not too many tourists in these countries.

The incident at the border put a negative spinoff on my first day in Nicaragua (well, what was left of it, since we got out of there after noon).

We rode to Esteli that day where we stopped for the night.

IMG_2604The next day we drove to Granada, by Nicaragua lake. Granada is a nice old town, that has a lot of history behind it (about 500 years old). It was the first European city in mainland America.

IMG_2615In Nicaragua we started seeing carriages pulled by horses.

IMG_2618Lots of really old cathedrals and churches.

La Merced Cathedral

IMG_2623 IMG_2626View of Mombacho Volcano from the cathedral’s tower

IMG_2658Cathedral de Guadalupe

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IMG_2628In the evening we went for dinner to a nice restaurant. It seems like Canadians are everywhere. The owner was a Canadian from Quebec, married to a Nicaraguan women.

As we were walking back, I felt something falling on my head. Initially I freaked out as I didn’t know what it was, but it was just a tiny scared geico lizard who fell on my head from some building. As Vasile was trying to take it off my hair, it started running around on Vasile’s T-shirt. That was so cute.

The next day we went to see the famous Granada islets. And this is how we got to the boat.

IMG_2684The wheels were so crooked that we were almost going in zig-zag.

The islets were beautiful. We saw lots of colorful birds, and the Spider Monkey. Most of them are private islets, with nice big houses, owned by the rich people in Nicaragua.

IMG_2699 IMG_2706 IMG_2718I saw an Ara Macaw on the fence. This is a bird that I’ve been wanting to see since I was little.

IMG_2719 IMG_2723The Spider Monkey

IMG_2725The white head capuchin monkey

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IMG_2749Montezuma Oropendola birds and nests

IMG_2740The next day we left Granada planning to go to Omopete Island, on Nicaragua lake. We went to the ferry around noon, we bought the ticket, and then we waited until 2 PM for the ferry.

IMG_2763IMG_2766But after a two and a half hours wait, when they loaded the ferry, turned out they had no room for us. They load the trucks first, then the cars, and bikes at the end. So we watched very frustrated as the ferry left without us. “But don’t worry, there’s another one that leaves at 4 pm” “So then can we put the bikes on now, to make sure we have room?”, “No, bakes are last”. So we realized that even if we waited until 4 pm, chances were we still wouldn’t have had room on the ferry, and it would have been too late in the day to do anything else after that, so we gave up and we left. Of course we made sure they gave us back the money we paid for the ticket.

This is La Conception volcano on the island that we were planning to hike the next day. Well, too bad, there will be other volcanoes. I have to admit, this would have been a hell of a hike in this scorching heat.

IMG_2761So we left the ferry terminal and we rode to San Juan del Sur, a little surfing village on the Pacific.

IMG_2767 IMG_2771 IMG_2773Here we met a guy who took the same boat that we are supposed to take to cross from Panama to Cartagena, Independence, about a year ago. He told us some horror stories about his experience with this boat, so he made us thinking. I’ve heard from everyone that the seas are very rough in that area, but apparently they had 10 m waves!

The next day Vasile changed his rear tire.

IMG_2776Then we celebrated my birthday by going to a surfer’s beach, having a good swim and then a good dinner and some beers.

IMG_2779 IMG_2789And as I promised, I made progress. This is the spider I found in our room, and I, MYSELF, killed with cold blood:) I could keep my cool while I took the picture, but once I tried to kill it, and I didn’t aim properly, it started running around and that’s when I freaked out. But I still managed to kill it eventually. This was the bigger spider I have seen in my life. But I guess I should wait and see how big they are in Costa Rica.

IMG_2796One thing that we could not help not noticing in Nicaragua was the garbage dumped everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE! In the city, outside the city, on the road, on the side of the road, on the beach, in the water, EVERYWHERE! And many drunk people before 4 PM:) I guess they have a good life. Other than that, Nicaragua is a beautiful country, worth visiting.

Tomorrow we will be off to Costa Rica. Details in the next post.

Categories: Nicaragua | 3 Comments

Honduras


We got to the border to exit Guatemala, got the stamp in the passport, and when we asked them where we cancel the bikes, first they said we don’t need to do that, but as we insisted (as we know we DO have to do that if we don’t want to have problems later), they told us that the Customs is back about … 1 km according to one of them, 8 km according to another officer. We were having a bad feeling about this when we turned around, and we were right. We drove back and forth looking for SAT, the Customs. Since it is a government building, we were looking for some big sign on the building, but nothing. We were riding again toward the border, when we see this big barrel in the middle o the road with a handwritten SAT on it. There it was, we found it! No big signs on the building or anything, just that. We cancelled the temporary import permits for our bikes and then we exited Guatemala. There is an 8 km stretch between the Guatemalan border and the Honduras border. When we got to Honduras, we went to get the same temporary permits for the bikes and they charged us $35 USD per bike. So far, this was the most expensive we have paid for these permits. As we were not expecting them to be this expensive, we did not get more cash before the border and at the border they did not have Credit Card machines. We paid for the permits, and we were left with $5 USD, out of which $2 we paid to make copies of all our paperwork, for the lady at the customs. We were just hoping that we did not need to pay anything else. Once this done, we went to Immigration to get the stamp in our passport, and Vasile and I went to two kiosks next to each other. And guess what: we had to pay $3 USD each for some entry fee. We started explaining to the lady that Vasile was dealing with and the old guy that I was dealing with that we have no more cash, but we are willing to pay with Credit card. No, they had no credit card machines, we had to pay in cash. The lady who was dealing with Vasile’s paperwork seemed to be nicer and she wanted to let him get away without paying, but my old guy was very strict, and he said “No, you don’t pay, you don’t get into the country”. We were in a weird situation now: we could have tried to go back to Guatemala, and go to a bank, but we could not guarantee that we wouldn’t have run into trouble, since we had cancelled the import permits for the bikes, and we had the exit stamps already. The other solution was for one of us to pay (since we only had enough money for one of us) and to go into Honduras to the closest bank, which was at about 40 min ride, according to the nice lady officer. Riding 40 min there and back for $3 USD!!! Turned out the lady officer was nicer than we could have ever expected. She pulled out of her own purse 60 lempiras ($3) and gave to Vasile so he can pay, without the old guy seeing. She just saved us, and we were total strangers to her! Plus, I am imagining the $3 for her did not have the same value that it does to us, it’s probably worth a lot more. This was unbelievably nice of her! And due to her, we started our trip to Honduras on a totally positive note, and we started loving Honduras already!

And we kept loving it! Honduras is a beautiful country and it looks like it’s quite developed. The roads were very good, the buildings seem bigger and stronger, the cities have pretty much everything you find in a Canadian or US city: all the brands and all the store chains.

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We stopped first in Puerto Cortes, about 50km after the border, planning to stay there for the night. But when we got there we realized there was not much to see there. Plus, we were told there was no Scotiabank there, but that we would find one in San Pedro Sula. So off we go to San Pedro Sula. But we got there, and no Scotiabank. On top of that, the traffic was crazy. We were moving with 5 km / hr through the city, honking, cutting off, sharing lanes again, in one word very tiring. And we were hungry too. So because of that, we decided to get cash at any ATM, get out of the city and then find a hotel.

It seems as we go south the traffic gets worse every day. In Honduras the traffic has been the worst so far. I’ve been almost ridden over by big trucks or cars many times, and yet they were honking at me for not getting out of their way, even though I had the right of way. At some point we were riding on a big highway, and we had two lanes on our direction. Suddenly I see a big commercial truck coming towards me, from behind a turn, on my lane, and I was just overtaking a truck on my right. For a split second I thought I can’t see well, but soon I realized my eyes were not mistaking. Then hearing Vasile yelling at me on my Sena device “Go, go, go!” confirmed for me that I was right. So I pulled the throttle as hard as I could and I finished passing the truck on my right, swerved and changed lanes in the last minute to get out of the way. Soon I realized this was happening a lot. I have never seen cars overtaking on the opposite lanes on a highway with multiple lanes and double yellow line! So basically we were keeping on the right lane, and only got onto the left one if we had to pass, and even so we had to be very careful not to run into an oncoming vehicle. We have seen many many times big commercial trucks showing up from behind a turn, on our lane. We are lucky that bikes are smaller, so we can swerve towards the side of the road or the shoulder and get out of their way, but I cannot imagine how this feels in a car, or another truck. I guess the rule of “the bigger goes first” applies here. Also, the rule “slower traffic keep right” does not apply. They go at whatever speed they want in any lane, so you have to keep changing lanes if you want to go faster. Anyway, bottom line, here you have to be very aware and focused on the road. A full day of riding can be very tiring here.

As we were getting out of San Pedro Sula we were looking for a hotel, but it seemed as if they all disappeared. There were no hotels in our way. So we kept riding. Around 4:30 we saw a sign for a Motel, so we went to check it out. The rooms were looking pretty good, but the girls there said they cannot give us the key for the room. As we wanted to go out and have dinner, we insisted we wanted to have the key for the room. They told us that they have to wait for their father for that. The father arrived 5 minutes later. A very nice old guy; he told us he can give us the key, including the key for the garage. Then he showed us the room again, and he mentioned that we have the porn channel on tv. Turns out this was a place where they were renting the rooms per hour, for …certain clienteleJ and that’s why they were not usually giving away the key of the room.  In Central America almost all hotels sell the rooms for one, two, three hours or a whole night. Now I understand why they were sometimes surprised that we wanted the room for the whole nightJ

As we wanted to stay for the whole night again, the price went up. So Vasile and I decided that maybe it was not a good idea to stay there, since we found it a bit suspicious too, and we kept riding to find another hotel. But again, no more hotels on our way, and it was starting to get dark. And Honduras is not a place where I want to ride at night, considering that they have the highest homicide rate in Central and South America.

Eventually we saw a sign for a hotel by a lake, but the hotel was supposed to be 6 km from the main road. We decided to go there, and stay no matter how good or bad it was now. So we turned right onto a little road, and we kept riding, but we did not see any hotels. We were about to turn around, when we saw some people walking; we stopped and I asked them if there was any hotel in that area. Turned out we were 1 km away from it. Very happy, we kept riding and we got to Brisas Hotel, by the lake. Very nice location, big hotel, pool etc. A bit expensive for our budget, but as it was dark already, we had no choice. But it was worth it. It was very comfortable and quiet. For the first time I could sleep without my ear plugs.

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So well rested, the next day we hit the road again. We stopped in Tegucigalpa at a big mall, and while I used some internet at a MacDonalds, Vasile tried to find AAA lithium batteries, but in vain again. So now our only hope is that our friends are going to help us. Ehren, one of our good friends told us that he has a colleague who will be spending his New Year’s in Costa Rica, and he could bring us some batteries. So I guess at this time, this is our only solution. For now, our Spot is dead, so you cannot track us anymore.

Then we kept riding until we got to Danli, just a few km from the Nicaraguan border. Danli reminds me a lot of San Cristobal de las Casas. A little town, with narrow streets and old houses, very nice. We found a hotel, and then we went for dinner. We found this very nice restaurant, that seemed to be very expensive. We were the only people in the whole restaurant. Well, it was not as expensive as we thought. With less than $10 CAD we both ate a lot, and very good food! And there was still a lot of food left. While we were eating we kept thinking of two good friends of ours, Cristian and Matt, and how they would have done some damage if they were thereJ Food in Honduras is very tasty, and very inexpensive. So far it was the cheapest of all the countries we’ve been through. And it’s surprising, since the country seems more developed than other Central American countries we visited so far.

Honduras seems a country with a lot of potential. I am sure if the government invested more in security and tourism a lot of tourist would come here, and they would not regret it. We have seen very few tourists here, almost none. And it’s too bad. We have seen a lot of armed people around here (not soldiers or police). Regular guards are all carrying guns and there must be a reason why. Even at Walmart in Tegucicalpa, the guys at the entrance were armed.

Another thing we noticed (in Belize and Guatemala as well, but not in Mexico) were a lot of stores that were selling through rod iron fences. But despite this, we had a great experience here, and the people we interacted with seemed very nice and friendly.

Categories: Honduras | 4 Comments

Guatemala


As soon as we crossed to Guatemala, the first impression about their roads was not too great. Big potholes in the road everywhere, we had to slow down a lot and ride in zig-zag. But that was a short stretch, and then they got a lot better. But the traffic got worse. More impatient people honking everywhere, passing like crazy, sharing lanes. There is no such thing as personal space here. At some point we were riding through the mountains, admiring the beautiful landscape, when suddenly after a turn we see a herd of cows running toward us, on our lane. On the other lane there was a big commercial truck. So I guess both Vasile and I had the same thought: the truck driver might have more common sense if he sees us on his lane, and he might slow down, as the cows won’t for sure. As we changed lanes and we saw the truck approaching, we realized that so far drivers in Guatemala didn’t impress us with their common sense, so maybe it was not a good idea to count on the driver’s common sense. Then I see Vasile going onto the left hand side shoulder (thank God there was a shoulder!) and I am thinking we can stop there. But as I get onto the shoulder, I realize the shoulder is very inclined, which for a person short-legged like me who barely touches the ground means a real challenge to stop and put the feet down. So I start praying “Vasile please don’t stop, please don’t stop”. Since I was right behind him, if he stopped I would have been forced to stop as well, and chances are I would have dropped the bike in the deep ditch. But looks like Vasile and I were on the same page; as he got onto the shoulder him too realized it would have been hard for me to stop there, so he kept going, until we passed the truck and the kettle herd, and then we went back onto our lane. We were both like “What the hell was that?”

We stopped for the night in Rio Dulce, by the Lake Izabal. It was very hard to find a hotel with internet, so we had to settle for one without, but with poolJ The downside of it was that the neighbours were some very active people at night, so all night long they were hammering something, and killed our sleep. (I guess they feel active at night-time, since during the day it looks like everyone is in a continuous siesta all over Central America)

The next day we went to find another hotel, left my bike at the hotel and we went two up to find El Paraiso, a place with thermal water. We were asking locals for directions, but it looks like all have different definitions for distances and directions: one would say “it’s about 1 km from here”, another one would say “well, about 8-9 km from here” or “well, it’s not too far, just one km, about 10 min on the bike”. Are you kidding me? One km in 10 min on the bike? Anyway, if you want a piece of advice: don’t rely on directions from locals here. And as we kept traveling this just got more and more obvious.

As we were riding back and forth to find El Paraiso, we ended up in a place where there was a nice canyon. We negotiated a canoe ride with a young guy, and it was well worth it; the canyon was gorgeous.

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The Mayan Ritual

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The Mayan face (on the rock, to the left)

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After riding tons of km extra looking for El Paraiso, my neck got really sore, as on the back seat you feel all the shaking even worse, and we did quite a lot of gravel that day. We were ready to go back to the hotel, when we saw a washed out sign with El Paraiso. We found it! This was the most incredible thermal water place I’ve been to. The hot water was actually a waterfall, which was falling into a little cold water pool. It was unbelievable! We enjoyed it thoroughly. We could stand right underneath the hot waterfall and get a nice water massage. We did not have the camera with us to take pictures, but here is a link to a picture online, just to give you a taste of it.

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One thing we didn’t like here, when we got to the parking lot, a bunch of kids starting going through our stuff on the bike right away. We had a hard time making them to leave the bike and our stuff alone, and we were wondering if we should leave the bike there unattended. We were used to the Mexican kids, more shy and cute. But these guys were very gutsy.

We went back to town and we walked through all the “tiendas” to find AAA Litium and a sticker with the Guatemalan flag. Both inexistent in that town.

Next day we were hitting the Honduras border through Champas Corrientes. Details about the border crossing in the next post.

Categories: Guatemala | Leave a comment

San Ignacio and Belize overall


We came back from Caye Caulker Island, and went to pick up the bikes at the Harley Davidson dealership. The bikes were still there, just as we left them. The deal was that we would buy two T-shirts in exchange for the storage. So when we looked for T-shirts, they were all well over $50 CAD each!  But we had a deal, and they kept their promise, so we had to keep ours. It just turned out to be a pretty expensive storage for our bikes for 3 days. But it was well worth it, the Belizean Islands are beautiful!

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We drove toward the border with Guatemala, and we stopped for the night in San Ignacio, about 10 min from the border.

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We found a decent hotel right in the center, Mallorca, where two very friendly ladies (the owner and the receptionist/manager/etc) took care of us.

We went to see a local archeological site, Cahal Pech, at walking distance from our hotel. Just that it was steep uphill walking.  But it was worth it, we found it quite impressive.

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We went to eat and we tried some local food, very tasty, and a lot cheaper. We noticed that it is a trend for women to wear one hand’s nails very, very long. I have never seen such long nails in my life! (they were fake I guess).

The next day we woke up early, had some good breakfast and headed toward the Guatemala border. The border crossing was pretty straight forward: cancel temporary import permit for the bikes in Belize, exit stamp in the passport, and fumigate the bikes when entering Guatemala, stamp the passport, and get temporary import permit for the bikes (160 gqt each). No mandatory insurance for the vehicles here. We kind of got into the routine of it by now, and at this border everything went pretty smoothly.

Overall thoughts about Belize:

First off, we were very relieved that they were speaking English (mostly Vasile). It felt like a totally different world in the middle of Central America just for that.

We found the people very friendly and laid back, including cops. All they wanted when they stopped us at the check points was to chat with us. (kind of like “wassup dude, where are you going?”)

The roads were quite poor, not signalized at all. It was hard to know where it was one way road (people on the side of the road would make signs to us which way we should go), who has the right of way etc. They actually only have three paved highways in the whole country, even those ones, I would not really call them highways. No dividing lines on them, no shoulders and quite narrow. But considering it was a small country, it was not too big of an inconvenient to us.

As landscape, inland Belize it’s probably not the best destination for a vacation, but the Islands are a tropical paradise!!!

Categories: Belize | Leave a comment

Belize City and Caye Caulker Island


We crossed the border into Belize and we stopped in the first town, Corozal, just to get some Belizean currency at the bank and to eat something. We did not see any restaurants in our way, so we thought we would get out of town and stop at the first one we see. But we were surprised to realize that there were no more restaurants outside of town. We got spoiled in Mexico, where there  were restaurants or loncherias everywhere. In Belize we could not see anything, not even in the coming villages. I guess people don’t eat out here. We were lucky we had some crisp tortillas with us, so that was our lunch. Then we kept going, while it started to rain. Rain! We haven’t seen it in the past two months!

Belize looks quite different. The houses are bigger and seem to be more solid. But the vegetation is the same.

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A couple of hours later we got to Belize City. I have to admit we have been a bit disappointed. The city was not exactly what we were expecting.It could have been that we set too high expectations, since we heard incredible things about Belize before we got here, so I guess we set the standards high.

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We drove around to find a decent place to eat, but all the restaurants we’ve seen on the way were closed. We managed to find a reasonable hotel and a Chinese restaurant right next to it, so we checked in and went for dinner. Didn’t have Chinese food in a while!  And it was actually pretty good. In Belize there is a mix of Spanish, Caucasian, Black, indigenous (Mayan) and Asian people. Overall people seemed to be very friendly and laid back, Rasta style:) (especially on the islands).

Now the next challenge was to find a safe place for us to leave the bikes so we can go to the Islands. A local guy we met at the Chinese restaurant recommended us not to leave them anywhere else but maybe at a Motorcycle dealership. According to him that would have been the only safe place to leave them. He told us there was a Harley Davidson dealership in town, “Black Pearl”, so Vasile went and talked to them. They were incredibly nice and they promised to keep the bikes for us in the showroom until we get back from the islands.  And here are our dirty bikes in the nice Harley Davidson show room. Hey, I didn’t know they sell BMWs and KTMs:)

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We took the Water Taxi to Caye Caulker Island, a small limestone coral island about 45 min (30 km) away from Belize City in the Caribbean Sea. This Island is awesome! It is about 8 km long and only 1.5 wide. There are no paved roads, just some sandy rustic roads, no cars, just some carts used for transportation. And people are fabulous here: happy, smiley, laid back and friendly! I understand now why the motto of the island is “Go slow”. I could totally live here for a while.

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We checked in at a hotel, and then we went for a swim by “the split”. The locals say that this island has been split in two by Hurricane Hattie which devastated the island in 1961.

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The water is clear turquoise, perfect for swimming. I guess that’s why the Caribbean is so famous.

In the evening we walked around the island and we ended up in the Pizzeria Caulker. The owner, Greg, a Canadian who lives in Belize now, was making a great atmosphere there, so we stopped for a couple of drinks and we met some great people.

The next day we went on a snorkel tour. We had to go on a speed boat for about 25 min.The weather didn’t seem to be on our side,since it started pouring at some point and we were all worried that our snorkeling for the day wouldn’t be too good in the cold and big waves.

The first stop was by the reef barrier, which is the second largest in the world, after the Australian one. We’ve seen huge eels, over 2 m long with big teeth; marine turtles eating and swimming around us, beautiful spotted eagle rays, all kinds of colourful exotic fish and lots of corals.It was amazing to see all these fish so close to me, I could almost touch them!

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The next stop was on the Sharks and Rays avenue, so we had a chance to swim with the sharks! And in the meantime the sun has come out. The nurse sharks don’t seem to be too aggressive animals.When Vasile jumped from the boat in the water, the wave actually pushed him right into a shark. And he still has all limbs intact, I checked:)

Southern Stingray

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Note the shark in the background:)DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO

I even had the chance to hold a stingray in my arms. Incredible sensation, they are such beautiful animals!

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It was a great day and a great experience. It will be hard to leave the island.But we have to, since we cannot inconvenience the guys at Harley Davidson too much. They were so nice to us, but we don’t want to exaggerate now.

Categories: Belize | Leave a comment

Chetumal and Mexico overall


We got to Chetumal and we did a round tour to see the city. Beautiful city, very nice, clean and civilized, and it looks like even economically they are doing better than many other Mexican cities. We stopped in front of a hotel to see what the prices for a room were, and we almost decided to stay there, when a guy asked us if we had a pen. We lent him the pen, and chatting about what’s nice to see in the area, he recommended us to go to Laguna Milagros, at Gringo Dave’s, about 20 km from Chetumal. Turned out he was one of the owners of the place. He also gave us a lot of tips as to what to see in our way South. We told him we will think about it and make a decision. As soon as he left, a police guy on a motorcycle showed up. We were stopped in a bus station. We were like “Oh, no, not a fine! Darn!” I jump right up and I tell him “We were just about to leave; we just stopped to make a decision as to where to go now”. And he goes “To go for good? I hope not. I hope you liked it here and you’ll be back” (the whole conversation was in Spanish, of course). And then he goes “What are you looking for, hotel, restaurants, interest points? I can give you directions.” Now this was another cool policeman we met in our trip. He did not even mention a fine; he just told us that we should not be stopped there, in case the bus comes. He was all friendly and smiley. I don’t want to talk too early, but so far the police in Mexico was totally different from what we expected. I don’t know if we’ve just been lucky, or as Dave and Al, the owners of Gringo Dave told us, it’s because of the re-elections that just took place last Sunday, and they were playing safe, but we found them very nice and friendly so far.

Vasile and I decided to go and see what that lagoon was all about, thinking that if we didn’t like it, we could always come back to the hotel.

We got to Laguna Milagros, we found Gringo Dave’s place and guess what: it was more than we expected. A beautiful green place with lots of palm trees by the green water lagoon.

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The owners were very friendly. They came and greeted us and showed us the place where we could pitch our tent, where we could swim in the perfectly clear and still water, and they told us we can use the kayaks for free! They also gave us access to wi-fi, so we can do our research about the Belizean border. What more can one desire?

We went for a kayak tour on the lake right away. It was so nice and quiet!

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The next day they made a great breakfast for us: Mexican eggs, coffee, and orange juice. Then Vasile went to Chatumal to find batteries for our Spot unit and a new light bulb for his bike, as his died. Found bulb, no batteries. It’s almost impossible to find AAA lithium here, and that’s the only kind of batteries we can use in our Spot device without ruining it.

Al, one of the owners (the one who brought us here) is a physician and we had a long chat with him about energies and the inner powers that each human being has without knowing it. He showed us a little trick that has blown us away. He wrote several 3 digits numbers on three different columns on a piece of paper; then he asked Vasile to eliminate either of those columns; then he asked me to pick one of the remaining columns; then he asked Vasile to pick a number of the column I chose. Then he turned the piece of paper over, and he had the exact same number Vasile picked written on the back of the page, in advance. It was amazing, since we could have picked any number!!!

Apparently he heals a lot of people of all kinds of illnesses through energy.

The next day we had a great breakfast and we headed to the border. We were 10 minutes away, so we got there quite early. The first stop at the border, we presented the passports and the tourist cards that we were supposed to have cancelled now and we had an argument with the border officer there, since he was asking us to pay about $25 USD each as exit fees. We have read about how at this border many times they are asking for this fee, even though it is not a legit fee. When we told him that we know there is no exit fee required, he showed us a paper in Spanish where apparently is said that we have to pay that fee. But surprise, I read Spanish, and that paper was talking about the Tourist card that you have to buy when you enter the country if you plan to stay for more than 7 days.  When I told him that I read Spanish and I understand what that is, he said that yes, that is what we  have to pay for. But we paid for that when we entered the country, as everyone does, and we showed him the receipt. Now he was trying to save it, and he was saying that he did not know we have paid it, since we did not show him the receipt. But we showed him the tourist cards, and you cannot get the tourist card unless you pay for it! They do not give it to you before you give them the money, so clearly this was just an excuse. So we didn’t pay any exit fee. Then we went to the Banjercito office, that is very conveniently located right there, before the customs. We cancelled out temporary import permit for the bikes and then we exited Mexico. On the Belizean side we stopped to get insurance for the bikes, since it is mandatory here.  When we got there, a guy came, who we thought it was an official, and took our licence plates, and explained to us that after getting the insurance we have to go to have our bikes fumigated, which apparently is a requirement in order to cross the border. We have read about this online as well. So we bought insurance for a week (15 USD per bike, liability only). When we came out, the guy who took our licence plates was waiting for us and he was asking us for money, since he said he paid for the fumigation of our bikes already, and he was showing us the receipt of 5 USD. Turned out he was just a fixer. We read online that the fumigation was only 1.5USD, so we did not trust the guy, especially that we did not ask him to do anything for us, and he did not tell us he would do this for us. When we got to the fumigation place, they told us they are out of power, so they cannot fumigate the bikes, but that we do need the receipt in order to cross the border (funny, no?).They had on their desk the receipt that we turned down from that guy, so apparently they work together:) So now we had no option but to pay for it and keep going. Then we went to immigration and customs, which was  very easy and quite fast. The temporary import permit for the vehicles did not cost us anything here. And then we crossed the border!! The whole thing (exiting Mexico and entering Belize) took us about an hour. And it was nice to see, especially for Vasile, that on the Belize side they speak English.

So overall we had an incredible experience in Mexico, more than we expected. Most people were very nice and friendly, the police was not as bad as described to us by most people; so far nothing was stolen from us, but we have to admit we never left our bikes with luggage on them unattended, except in a couple of situations where we felt extremely safe. The traffic was alright-ish: better in some, crazier in other cities. The roads were pretty good overall, we cannot complain. There were very few roads that had lots of potholes or some highways that had sections of gravel in the middle of the highway with no warning signs. But most of the times the roads were good.

When you travel through Mexico that are a few common sense rules that you have to abide by: to be very aware all the time of everything around you, do not travel at night (ok, we did that a couple of times, when we didn’t have much of a choice), stay away from busy areas, do not show signs of affluence and mind your own business, and you’ll be safe. And believe me, Mexico it’s so worth visiting, there is so much to see and explore!

Categories: Mexico | Leave a comment

San Cristobal de las Casas y Palenque


We left Villahermosa the next day heading to San Cristobal de las Casas. The road was just as we were told: beautiful winding road, through jungle-like vegetation. It was humid, misty and very cold. By that I mean it got down to 12 C at some point, so we had to put the jackets on. Here we got to have a different definition of “cold” 🙂

The road goes winding pretty high up in Sierra Madre de Chiapas, to over 2000 m altitude, therefore the different temperatures and mist.

While stopped here to take some pics we saw a couple of military trucks that stopped and started to check out the area for marijuana grow ups. It looks like there are lots of them in the area:) And it seems like Canadian have a good reputation in this sense: every time we are offered marijuana and we turn it down, they are like “and you are from Canada???”. They can’t really belive that a Canadian can turn down something like that:)

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The only annoying thing on this road, just like in the rest of the whole mexico, were these:

These are speed bumps that you can find everywhere! I have to admit they are the only thing that’s really efficient in slowing down traffic, since everyone is ignoring the signs. We were in a construction zone, with a 20 km an hour limit, and everyone was doing 100 km. But these “vibradores” make cars slow down to 5 km an hour, since they cannot go over them faster. On the bikes we can go a lot faster, so that’s the time for us to overtake heavy traffic.

We stopped in Tapilula for the night, a beautiful little village, San Francisco number two – the streets were so steep in all directions.

We saw a “hair salon” so we decided to have a haircut:) I have to admit, for 5.5 CAD for the two of us, the lady did a great job.

The next day we left and on the road there was a block again. They were claiming that this was an “accion voluntaria” but they ended up asking us for money so they let us pass. As we saw everyone was holding bats in their hands, we figured it was not a good idea to argue with them, so we just gave them $2 worth in pesos and they let us go.

We got to San Cristobal de las Casas and we were very pleasantly surprised. It was a nice old town, with narrow streets, despite the crazy traffic at those hours. This town was built in 1528 and it was one of the first Spanish settlements on this continent. We checked in at a hotel, and then we went for a walk in town.

Church of Santa Lucia

View from the church of Guadalupe

Catedral de San Cristobal

People here are so different, you can tell there are a lot of native people leaving here (20% of the population here is native – the dominant native group is Tzotzil). In Mexico, besides Spanish, there are 62 native languages and more than 100 dialects. A lot of the people leaving here don’t even speak Spanish, they only speak their own language. I wanted to buy a fruit (something that looks like a cactus fruit) and the women was not speaking Spanish at all, but she was so nice. We understood each other just fine: apparently she asked 10 pesos for the whole pile, and I was offering her 5 pesos for just one fruit:) From here you can see how good I am at negotiating too:)

I also bought here a very tasty drink, for my Romanian friends, it something like “visinata” just made with blackberries. This one is made of corn, sugar cane and wheat, and flavoured with blackberry.

Up there it came in handy,since it was very cold, and the drink warmed us up. But I don’t think I will have any more of this until we get to Bolivia.

The next day we stopped for lunch at a loncheria on the side of the road, and we saw how they wash the grill where they make the pollo asado – grilled chicken🙂

The owner of the restaurant told us about the Waterfalls Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, so we decided to go and see them.

Agua Azul was the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen.

And then the Misol-Ha waterfall:

Another little 3 m waterfall in the cave, behind the Misol-Ha waterfall.

The next day we left everything at the hotel and we went two up to the archeological site, so we don’t have to worry about the bikes and the luggage. The site was impressive:

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We spent half a day visiting the ruins and the museum, and it was half a day well spent. It is amazing to see how a village that was flourishing around 700 AD was abandoned 150 years later. It looks like Palenque had a population of about 8000 people, which means a density of 4 people per square meter!

Around noon we left Palenque with half a tank of gas, planning to do about 100 km towards Chetumal. We were used to doing very twisty roads, so 100 km would have been reasonable, considering that we left after noon, after the site seeing. But the road turned out to be very straight, so without realising we were well over the 100 km. Soon the KTM’s light came on. We sopped at a gas station, but they did not have Premium gas (our bikes are quite fussy:) ) and the guy over there told us that 7 km further there was another gas station that had premium gas. Well, we’ve done way more than 20 km, and no gas station. At some point, Vasile’s bike died. Meanwhile my light came on too, so I didn’t have many km left either. So here we are, in the middle of nowhere, not knowing how far the next gas station was, trying to stop someone to give us some gas.

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There was this truck from Us that we passed at some point, and we figured they must have some extra gas, so we were thinking to wait for them and ask them. When they passed by, we waved and they stopped. But unfortunately they had no extra gas. So now we had no other option but to stop someone to get some gas, or for me to go on my bike, and try to find a gas station, risking to run out of gas too and get stuck somewhere else by myself. I must say it was right before dark, so this option did not look like the best option.

I guess we were not good-looking enough, since for a while no one stopped. We were about to go for plan B, when one more time Mexico proved us that it has some awesome people. A guy in a Volkswagen stopped, and was willing to give us gas from his car. Now we needed a hose. We had a very short one, but we could not doo much with it. So now we had to stop someone to borrow a hose. The guy was so nice and trying so hard to help us, he was waving at cars himself, until he stopped a big truck who gave us a hose.

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And here are the guys trying to syphon some gas out of the car into our jerycan.

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As this was not working too well (they barely made to take out a few drops of gas), our new friend offered to drive me to the closest gas station, apparently about 25 km away, and back. We went to the gas station and came back with a full jerycan of Premium gas. He didn’t want to accept any kind of compensation, not even for the gas that he spent to drive me there and back. Very nice guy!

In the meantime, it looks like 2 minutes after I left, the US guys in the truck came back with 2 l of gas. They did not have any extra gas when we stopped them, but without saying anything they drove to the gas station and came back with some gas. More and more awesome people we meet in this trip. They did not want to accept any compensation either.

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This helped us to get to the gas station and to fill up. We stopped for the night at a hotel in the next village, and then next day we made it to Chetumal.

Categories: Mexico | 3 Comments

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