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  Central America

Saltillo, Coahuila State, Mexico; 21st December 2006.

   We left San Antonio after a couple of very pleasant days chilling and had a relatively uninteresting ride to the border at Del Rio. The closer we got to the border, across flat scrubland, the scruffier things appeared to get. At Del Rio we found a motel where we stocked up with local currency and had an early night. My early night was a waste of time though as I lay wide awake worrying about the next morning’s crossing…will they let us in, will they understand the ‘gringo’ no speak the Spanish? Or will we get hit by the cross fire from the drug gangs turf war?

Anyway, after our last McDonalds breakfast, we made for the border, which was not very well signposted but easily found as there's only the one! The first barrier across the road wasn’t the crossing but a $2.50 toll to cross a bridge over no-man’s-land.

We made our way over to the Mexican side at Ciudad Acuna, and an area which looked like the town square with police hanging around not doing too much and several scruffy office buildings. All the while I was acutely aware of people watching us as I pulled up to some chilling and menacing cops and asked for directions to the USA customs office. One important task we have to do was to hand in our tourist card from the US to them so we're booked out of their country. The cop points us back over the bridge! So we ride around the rear of the Mexican offices to another toll booth to cross back into the USA - $2.50 please. “But I'll be back in a minute” is said, it didn’t work so over the bridge we head and eventually to the US immigration office. Les is called up first and asked how long she wants to stay in the USA, “no, we're trying to get out” she replies. Well eventually we hand in our tourist cards and return to the US toll barrier - another $2.50 please, “but we've already paid” I said, “well you have to pay again to cross the bridge” says the girl, smirking!  Not a good start at all coupled with the fact that I was already feeling nervous anyhow.

We arrive back to the cops in the town square and ask where the Mexican immigration office is situated. The totally chilled cops, who as far as I know, haven’t shot anyone yet, tell me to park next to their rabid, barking police dog. I just manage to get off the bike without being bitten! Les tells the cops that at least “the bike will be safe” and they smile.

At the Mexican immigration office we needed our Mexican tourist card, a 'Forma Migratoria para turista', with no one else in the office, we go straight to the front. The girl behind the counter asks for my passport and driving licence. As I was explaining why we want to come into Mexico, and how we're doing it, I formed the distinct impression that it was is all too much for the young girl, so a middle aged man intervened. After another brief explanation, in a nervous stutter which I'd developed, the man tells me he had a Harley but wanted a BMW as they're so smooth - I just knew we were going to be okay here! He gave me the form to fill out so I start with my old address. I was so nervous, this is worse than the dentist, I thought.  What I'm I doing? Relax, I tell myself. I get away with crossing out my error and the man doesn’t seem bothered. He asked me how long I want to be in Mexico, I said 90days, and he gives us 180 - what a result. He then keeps our documents and we're sent to an office next door where we pay $23 each and get the form stamped. Back to the immigration office where we signed this form and got our copy plus our documents back.

We then go to the, 'Office De Importacion Temporal De Vehiculos', where we find a short queue. Before I get to the desk, an official checks my papers, Passport, Driving licence, Registration document and our new Immigration documents. He wants copies of all of them, which I'd already done, except the new one. I shrug my shoulders; he kindly disappeared with the form and comes back with it copied for me. I noticed everyone else after me being sent somewhere else to do their own copying, what a nice man. Another young official types the details from my documents into a computer, takes my credit card, charges me 323 pesos - about $32 Us, gives us 180 days for the bike and gives me a document, a section of which is to stick on the screen. Apparently now, as they have my credit card details, if we don’t check out within 180 days they'll charge me tax on the bike by assuming I've sold it and done a bunk – I must remember that.

After all that rigmarole, we're in, we are in Mexico and it’s not too bad after all. I’ve got the Import sticker on my screen, the only thing missing is the bike insurance. I was told that I would see signs at the side of the road showing offices which sell insurance, but no. I'd also been told to be very careful to get the right insurance, as they don't accept American the type, so we ride around town looking for an office. There's everything here, dentists, opticians and plastic surgeons in a busy but scruffy town. No luck finding an insurance office so we return to the border and ask in one of the official buildings. I leave the bike with Les and walk to the dentist in town who also sells insurance but as luck would have it, they can't cover a motorcycle. We ride out of town thinking, maybe I should have bought some in the US after all but I’ll try and get some later. After having had insurance on my vehicles all my life, I feel quite vulnerable riding through this busy town but what else was I to do? I’m not going over that poxy bridge again!

We left Acuna in the state of Coahuila on Route 29 to Zaragoza, then on to Allendethen, then the 57 to Nueraroska. The area was generally scrub country covered with small, flat bushes and cacti, it was reminiscent of a typical desert scene resplendent with goats and horses. As we pass through a few small grubby towns we see old boys riding their horses, there is obvious poverty but everyone looks busy doing something. As we pass groups of people, they stop and stare, we wave and they all wave back which was nice but generally we feel as if we have stepped back in time.

We eventually arrive into Monclova and stop at the first motel we see. As luck would have it, it was a Best Western Hotel, popular in the US but expensive, but what the heck - we need to stop.

I couldn’t believe how nervous I'd been earlier as Les reminded me. Now I know how all the people I had dealt with in the past, when I was a cop, must have felt in the face of authority, she had a point. Still not a bad first day and we learnt so much; It'll be easier next time.

We find an ATM and get some more Pesos’ quite easily, then head to a restaurant next to the motel and muddle our way through the menu. Straight away, I wish I'd done more Spanish before we left - its going to be hard.

After all the scary stories I'd heard about border crossings, this one turned out to be fine, all the people we met were helpful and patient.

The following morning, the helpful receptionist at the motel phones around a few brokers in town looking for insurance for me, but with no success, it appears no one will touch a bike. She tells me that not many people have insurance anyway, and not to worry, but having lived in the USA, she knows how I'd feel.

Leaving Monclova we decide to check out Saltillo, close to Monterrey. It looks smaller and gets a good write-up in the Lonely Planet guide. We ride through a few mountains, where we can only just see through the mist, the rest is just desert.

We're in kilometres an hour here, but as in the US, know one seems to take much notice, the majority of the cars and truck's look like they've been rolled at some time or other. The roads aren’t too bad, although marked with the odd pot hole. In the towns they have some of the biggest speed humps ever which, successfully slows everyone down briefly, they then sprint to the next one! They've also got what looks like canon balls sunk into the road in rows, another tactic to slow the people down, not good on a bike though!

Following Route 53 and 57, we ride into Saltillo; it was madness, wacky races at its best with traffic bumper to bumper. We were looking for one of the hotels listed in the Lonely Planet guide, it was in the city centre but the one-way system beats me and we escape to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Suitably refreshed, we try again and this time I've torn out the city centre map from the guide book.

We eventually find the Hotel Urdihola, which has a garage next door so at least the bike will be reasonably safe. This turned out to be a fantastic hotel, the receptionist knew a little English, which helped. It had a massive marble staircase which leaves the reception hall to first floor. Walking through the lower doors led us into a garden courtyard with an arched walkway around to all the ground floor rooms. All along the way there were stained glass windows and frescoes on the walls.

Our room had two comfortable beds, a ceiling fan and an en suite, what more did we need? All this and only 376 pesos a night - about £20 of our English pounds - a bargain I thought.

We've decided to stay here until 26th Dec, giving us time to accustom to the language and the lifestyle, all very challenging but great fun.       Merry Christmas, Nick.

From Les

Saltillo, Coahuila District, Mexico; 21st December 2006.

   Well we made it across the border from Del Rio to Ciudad Acuna. It wasn’t without a little frustration though as covered in Nick's report, but it had to be a steep learning curve as we step into the unknown. The vehicle importation seemed to be almost too easy. The import cost us $33 and lasts for 6 months. The whole process took about one and half hours but we still needed to get insurance and had been advised that it can be purchased at the border.....wrong! We rode through the main street looking for an insurance office; I have never seen so many signs in my life, but hone for insurance. The ride through the town was full of colour, smells, buildings and people, it was amazing! As I stood with the bike I was approached by a stream of old men trying to sell me sweets, cake, nuts and other things I didn't recognise. "No Gracias" is about all I could manage but I think they got the message.

As I said, the town of Cuidad Acuna was amazing and straight away we both thought that the sights, smells and sounds reminded us of the Canary Isles and southern Spain twenty years ago. There wasn't an inch of space; it was filled with something colourful and bright or a tiny stall selling something. Large signs advertise Mamogrammes, Dentists and Opticians etc which are all housed in brightly painted tumble-down buildings along the main street. I was so busy looking at everything I didn't even think to take a photo and now really wish I had, (Eddie will tick me off).

It was a relief to get on the road to Saltillo, which was clearly signed. We are back to kilometres now, not miles, so it will take a while to be familiar with distances and timing. We have been warned about the potholes, animals and bumps and very quickly encountered them all! Once clear of the town we were on a long straight road with rough scrub either side which was punctuated by the occasional horse tethered close to the road. Within minutes we saw our first bareback horseman, goatherds and shepherds - it was almost dreamlike.

Acting on good advice, we planned to clear the border by 100 miles before stopping so we decided to stop at Monclova, 209miles south of Del Rio. By the time we arrived we were both really tired so booked into the first motel we could find. We had a wander around town, had dinner and went to bed early with our heads spinning, wondering what are we are doing?

The towns and cities so far have been very industrial and create a grey haze which seems to hang everywhere so as we continue the next day, the scenery is pretty limited, the earth is very rocky and dusty so very little can survive in this area. We saw a few horse and goats close to derelict breezeblock houses. The doors and windows had been removed leaving a bare shell but I expect the rest had been recycled. As we pass the occasional local inhabitant, they stare and smile but if I wave to them they wave back with huge smiles - I felt a bit like the Queen.

After about 40 miles of the same flat, straight stuff, I can see what looks like a silhouette of hills! Great excitement, it’s a whole range of hills, some with flat tops, some which are pointed like volcano tops. Then just as suddenly as the appeared, they disappear into the grey murk again. The land seemed different on this side of the hills and there is evidence of the beginnings of canyons, although there hasn't been any water here for ages. Amazingly the horses all look well bred and healthy despite the lack of waterholes.

The outskirts of Saltillo is busy with small, shed-type shops and garages alongside the huge industrial sites and road works. I'm beginning to wonder if we have made a mistake by coming here, it’s so busy and we really don't like cities and big towns, after all - we are country folks! We find ourselves smack bang in the centre of the city where the Christmas shopping is in full swing. Every junction and Bank is covered by Policemen. There is lots of whistle blowing and car hooting and I have never seen so many VW Beetles and un-roadworthy vehicles in my life. Nearly every female of child bearing age is carrying a blanket hiding a baby and is often followed by a string of other children. Being stuck in the traffic gave us a chance to have a look around until we eventually found the Hotel we wanted. It took us a while to get to it as there is a series of one-way systems which take you out in big circles - so close and yet so far!

The Hotel Urdihola on Victoria Street is in the middle of the city, a stone's throw from anywhere of importance; we will stay here until Boxing Day as we get accustomed to the language and currency. The hotel is really splendid with huge marble hallways and staircase, a courtyard and no seats on the loos! It cost about £20 Pounds a night, hurrah! and is our home for now. European Spanish and Mexican Spanish are quite different at times, that being the case, much of what we have learned isn't helping or maybe it’s just me being thick?

On the upside...I don't feel vertically challenged anymore, people look at us - often staring. I don't know if it’s because Nick is 6ft and has a beard now or because were obviously not local. There are few people over 5' 5”, perhaps that’s why a lot of the men wear big hats to make them look taller?

The city centre is small and compact. Unlike the American shopping malls, here the shops are mainly individual but generally selling shoes, boots, jeans, belts, toys and maternity wear. The young crowd are all pretty stylish but shell suits and crimpoline for the more mature seems to be in vogue. For men, the fashion is jeans, boots, shirt and hat, (cowboy style). In the evenings the locals promenade with their families and we sat and watched in the main square outside the Cathedral de Santiago. We plan to visit the many places of interest but will continue to people-watch. We are going to spend our first week here soaking up the culture and chilling for Christmas.

And No, I didn't have any pre-conceived ideas of what Mexico would be like!

Happy Christmas one and all ……. Lesley

Durango, Mexico; 2nd January 2007

   We stayed in Saltillo for six days and had a cold, damp and slightly miserable Christmas here. The hotel was cold and outside was even colder, still we had planned to stay put for a few days and get our heads around the language and culture. At the moment the language barrier is our biggest hurdle, having said that, everyone is friendly and curious about us even though they haven’t seen many other westerners. Everywhere we go, local folks stare at us, it’s all a bit unsettling but we’re getting used to it; I just smile and they smile back with a little greeting of the day.

Saltillo is a nice old town which is amply supplied with many fine churches. Its narrow streets were heaving with people rushing about doing their last-minute Christmas shopping. We must have walked for miles through markets and alleys. We just chilled as we sat in the local parks and watched the world go by. On a more sinister note, the footpaths were like minefields with pieces of metal sticking out or massive holes causing us to diligently observe where we put our feet instead of absorbing the local scene. Because of the obvious dangers involved in walking through town, most mums carry their children in their arms. Couple this with the fact that VW Beetles have very heavy steering; most women must have very strong arms. So if you see a Mexican woman with children and driving a Beetle, don’t mess with her!

Duly armed with our phrase books, we now find ourselves plucking up the courage to enter local cafes for a meal on a more regular basis. Our confidence is building all the time and somehow we always manage to get what we desire.

Les bought another mobile phone here in Mexico and soon worked out the Spanish instructions, (clever girl); I struggle with the English instructions! The sound of our boys’ voices was a tonic indeed.

We found a great restaurant called, 'Rincon Mexicano', which featured in the 'Lonely Planet' guide. Jorgo, the owner, spoke excellent English so we got a guided tour through the menu and enjoyed some excellent food.

The Hotel Urdihola is a beautiful building, as you can see from the photos in our gallery, but it’s clearly not geared up for cold weather! The two receptionists, Eddy and Adrian, were more than helpful and again spoke a little English, but more importantly, helped us with our Spanish.

We had a private tour of the Cathedral Saltillo with Salvador; another friendly chap. We even managed to take some great pictures of the town from the belfry.

Getting cash hasn’t been a problem since we've been in Mexico, there are abundant ATMs, with most having English instructions.

The only other big bikes I’ve see here so far are the two police Harleys and a Honda CBR600, other than that they're all 100 - 125cc size.

There are a lot of beggars here in Mexico. They range from old ladies wrapped in blankets, to old men sat on street corners with a hand or a tin held out. Then there are the younger men playing piano accordion with his young son handing the cowboy hat around. Some of them look so pathetic and desperate; I've given out more small change to these people than ever before.

The bike was safe in a garage next door to the hotel, and in fact from our room I could hear anything going on. There was an attendant on duty during the day and it was locked at night.

We left Saltillo after six days and picked up the HW40 across desert country, brush, cactus and salt lakes, but always surrounded by mountains. In the middle of nowhere we stopped for a leg stretch and were suddenly joined by a mum and daughters on a pony and cart. The little girl came over to us, the two strange white people on the iron horse, and gave us a sweet! In return I gave her one of our breakfast bars; she was all smiles, it was truly a beautiful moment from beautiful people.

We rode on to Torreon and into the State of Durango. This turned out to be another manic town, but we did manage to find a motel.

The following morning saw us with all our layers on and ready for another freezing day. We followed HW49 keeping on the free roads which pass through all the small villages, they are far more interesting than the toll roads which miss all this. We even rode through our first military checkpoint unchallenged. All the petrol stations here seem to have attendants who fill the bike for me, for a couple of Peso's.

Later on we stopped at a roadside hut for a coffee. Half expecting something decent, it consisted of a cup of hot water and you help yourself to the instant coffee powder on the table!

We turned west on HW45 and eventually into Hidalgo De Parral, a smaller town and, with the invaluable Lonely Planet guide, found our hotel. The Hotel 'Fuentes' was great, it even had some heat in the room, and, with the bike safely locked in the compound at the back, all was once again well with the Pooles’.

We walked around the town centre while being stared at once again, but it was all in a friendly fashion. I went into a shop and muddled my way through some of my Spanish to the lady assistant. The conversation ended up with the lady running through a few items in Spanish and giving me an impromptu free lesson!

Les and I sat in yet another local park and watched these industrious people working. I even gleaned some knowledge and insight from watching a humble shoeshine man. Did you know it takes 5 stages to get your shoes shined? And also, did you know how the lad with a window cleaning squeegee operates at the traffic lights? He has it timed to perfection; when on red, he'd clean a car window and, most of the time, even get paid before the lights changed.

In all the towns we’ve stayed in so far I'd noticed shops selling cowboy boots but one particular shop we went into held the record. It sold snake, crocodile or cow, you name it and I'm sure they'd have it. I even took a picture of the hundreds of colour choices, (Ed says, kinky Nick again!).

The following morning we awoke to a power cut but still managed to find something for breakfast. The wind was howling, dust, rubbish and cowboy hats were sailing by in the wind. After a ride around town looking for the road out, we eventually found the 24 west, which then turned into the 23 further on. The wind was very strong and was blowing us all over the place. We found ourselves briefly heading north with dark grey clouds gathering and it was once again freezing. We stopped in a little obscure town for some lunch and found some English speaking people who were very interested in our adventure. With the wind blowing branches off trees outside, I think I overheard the word, “loco”, Spanish for mad - perhaps they were right?

The higher we climbed into the 'Sierra Madre Occidental' mountain range, the colder it got, and then it snowed!! The quick and twisty mountain roads at the start had now turned into a snow-covered and a slow tiptoe. We came across a recently rolled car with the emergency services already in attendance. We entered the State of Chihuahua and eventually pulled into Guachochi, a small mountain-top town at 7800ft where we found a hotel room. Our room had a gas heater on the wall. Alas, the heater was not at the bottom of the wall where common sense would dictate, but half way up so all the heat was on the ceiling! The Los Cumbres Hotel even had a courtyard where we had considered the bike would be reasonably safe under our window.

In the morning we awoke to find about one foot of snow had fallen, the bike was now covered, see the picture! At the restaurant next door there were lots of gloomy people gathered, we were trapped and all roads out of town were closed due to the snow! We were hoping to get to Creel for the New Year but this didn’t look too promising, we've now covered 26000 miles on our adventure and we're grounded. We spent the day walking around the small town, which consisted of two or three roads, a few shops and a bank. We paddled across the wet roads and streets in the melting snow; shock and horror, my Carhart boots, which I had bought in Alaska, were now leaking! 

Up here in the mountains, the indigenous people are the Tarahumara. The women wear full colourful dresses and are wrapped in blankets hiding from the cold wind, which made me think I wasn’t too badly off considering some of the men only had flip-flops!

We had to spend another night here as no one was moving, snow had stopped play in Mexico, and here we were, only a few miles north from the tropic of cancer!

When I finished work after 18 years on a bike, I swore I wouldn’t do another winter on a bike, how wrong was I? After checking my trusty Garmin satnav - a retirement present from work, (thanks guys), it showed we were at 7900ft which, no doubt, explains the cold.

Using my best Spanish, I checked the roads situation with the young receptionist the following morning. She made a phone call and found out that the road to Creel was still bad but the road back to Parral was passable with caution. We had hoped to spend the New Year in Creel, which, according to the 'Lonely Planet' guide, was a nice place to hang out. I had wanted to see the Copper Canyon here but unfortunately that wasn’t to be so we left Guachoch, and retraced our steps.

The scenery was the stuff of fairytale, a blanket of snow was now over the complete mountain range and soft snow was laying heavily on the trees, all twinkling in the sunshine.

The roads weren’t too bad; occasionally there would be sections where I'd ride in the wheel marks which had been left by other traffic between the slushy grooves, other sections were dry and clear. Then there would be sections of hard compressed snow and ice across the road, the longest section about 50yds long. In the shady sections of road there was always the danger of ice, so progress was slow, the first 20miles took just over the hour.

The old BM did well though, heavily laden on the snow, we jogged along in second gear just over walking pace, and with only a couple of slight slides, we did fine.

We dropped down to Balleza where we had stopped on the way up only to find that the high winds we were riding in had left a trail of damage to trees and buildings. We were now OK though, we'd got through the worst and, for the most part, the roads were dry but it was still freezing cold.

Later on we were then stopped at an army checkpoint and searched by what looked like a 16-year old soldier, or am I just getting old? He wanted to look in the panniers. All the time he was being covered by another boy holding an old rifle and, after seeing that the ‘old grey-bearded foreigners’ underwear and no hidden stash of drugs or weapons, he let us go with a smile.

A bit further down the road we saw the driver of an oncoming truck franticly waving at us; just around the next corner we saw the reason why. A car had spun on some thick sheet-ice which was across the complete width of the road and about 50yds long. We offered what assistance we could and gave the people a push out of the ditch with the aid of the gathered crowd, the occupants of the car spoke English and thanked us for our help. Then it was my turn to cross the ice bridge! With a concerned man walking beside me, I slowly made my way across with both feet down I'm afraid to say! But I made it. With the sound of cheering and clapping in our ears we rode off towards Parral.

On the outskirts of the town we stopped for some tacos at a roadside stall run by a group of lads who were keen to practice their English, and who were all fascinated by our adventure. After our feed we rode into town and found a cheep motel with a room heater, it was still freezing cold so we had an early night.

About 4am I was awoken by some commotion outside. Looking out through a crack in the curtains I saw my bike on its side. I got dressed in a matter of seconds and was soon outside where I found the night watchman. As best as I could understand him, he explained that someone had run into the bike, knocking it of the center stand but that they hadn’t stopped! Only slight damage done thank goodness, The ‘Touratech’ cylinder head protector had broken and there were now a few scratches on the crash bar, still not bad for 26,000mls, I say!

We left Parrel and headed towards Durango and yet another State, that of Durango. We rode on through beautiful mountain scenery, it was still freezing cold but we were now without the worry of snow. I was now riding along at 80mph when, in my mirror I see in the distance, a car catching us up quickly. I was by now slowing down to the speed limit; it was early Sunday morning after all and there wasn’t any traffic to talk of. A black and white Dodge Charger police car floated past but didn’t stop us. He must have seen the foreign plates and thought stopping us would be far to complicated to deal with, I know, I've done it myself! Then we came close to getting knocked off the bike when a big, pony sized, dog ran out in front of us, it only missed it by a couple of feet!

We followed HW45 into the pretty city of Durango with its wide roads and lovely old buildings. We found the Hotel Posada Santa Elena in the town center and booked in; the bike was now undercover and locked to a pole.  We'd only been in town 5-minutes when another beggar approached us, here we go again!

We spent a quite New Year's Eve with a bottle of brandy and some TV.

We walked miles around this pretty town. There are loads of, ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants to eat at, all very friendly and helpful and most importantly, so cheap!

The police are always present; much like it was in Saltillo. There would be a patrol car or a bike go by quite regularly. One of the bike cops had what looked like a sawn off shot gun in a holster over his back! At road junctions there was the continuous sound of whistling as the traffic wardens 'talk' to the traffic!

With the help of Abmando, one of our receptionists, I found an old man in one of the backstreets who, for £1, welded the cylinder head protector back together again. We liked this town so much that we stayed for four nights.

We're now heading west to the coast and Mazatlan where hopefully it'll be warmer at sea level, and it’s back to school for our Spanish lessons.

26,000mls, the first damage of the trip, and we're still talking!


From Les

Durango, Mexico; 2nd January 2007.

   Well, Christmas and New Year have passed with very mixed emotions. Saltillo was busy with families out for their last minute shopping. The shops stayed open till mid evening and it was a very cold and wet day so not very inspiring. We climbed the tower of the cathedral to look over the town and then sat inside briefly. I didn't quite know what was going on as people were coming and going while a service was in progress. We decided we should get a few provisions in case the shops were closed for a couple of days so we visited a local bakery. There were racks of yummy looking breads and cakes on offer. A silver tray was thrust at me with a matching set of tongs. The procedure is as follows ...

1st. select a tray full of goodies and pile them high using the tongs.

2nd. take your tray to the cash counter and watch the goodies being thrust into a paper bag.

3rd. Pay a very few pennies and try not to think of the calories!

A woman’s intuition came to the rescue once again, it was a good job we visited the bakery when we did as only a few shops opened on Christmas evening and no eateries except KFC. The locals apparently attend church at some time during Christmas Eve and then they have a big family get-together to feast and party. On Christmas morning, gifts are exchanged and then by the afternoon they are ready to shop again; there is no Boxing Day here!

I think Nick and I both hit our lowest point on Christmas Eve. We sat in bed in our cold room, wearing wholly hats and lots of clothes watching "Home alone 1 + 2", how sad is that? We ate our cakes for comfort and I had a bit of a snivel, gave myself a mental smack and by the next morning was as good as new except for the puffy eyes! It was just great to speak to Daniel, Ian and some of the family.

On 26th we headed to Torreon after saying our farewells to, the always helpful, Eddy and Adrian at the hotel. It was still very cold but the sun was bright and it was good to be back on the road again. We stopped off in the middle of nowhere and watched a cart being pulled across the road by a couple of donkeys. A woman and two girls climbed off and came to the bus stop where we had parked. They were all smiles and one of the girls gave us a sweet each; we have met many such nice people here already.

Coffee here is interesting; very few places make a decent cup. Usually you are passed a poly cup of hot water and have to help yourself to the instant granules from the pot on the table; Tom would not like it! Our goal was to get to the Barraca Del Cobre or Copper Canyon so we planned to head North from Hidalgo del Parral. Parral was a nice town and we spent a few hours wandering around and sitting in parks watching the shoe-shine men busy at work. Boots! Every town seems to have a large selection of boot and shoe shops, also there are a lot of opticians but no one seems to wear glasses!

The next morning saw us heading north as the wind was blowing a gale. No one seemed to notice that signs, roof panels and Christmas decorations were being blown through the streets; we loaded up and headed out to the hills. The scenery was lovely straight away and the potholes seem to be a bit bigger than we have encountered before. We were waved through an army road block and continued to Balleza where we had lunch. The wind was still strong and there were very dark clouds in the direction we are heading. We decided to risk it and put on the waterproof trousers just in case! It got much cooler as we climbed and then it rained a little. The road is lovely and twisty and the mountains were getting bigger by the time we saw the snow! We know there is a small town called Gauchochi not far away so we decide to head for there and stay the night. It snowed about one foot overnight causing a power cut and the road was also blocked both ways so we had an enforced stop for a couple of days in yet another cold hotel. I strongly advise that if you are ever offered "menudo" to warm you up, do not have it; it is tripe and sweet corn soupy stew – I say no more!

We decided reluctantly to cancel the visit to the canyon on this occasion and to head back South to Parral and possibly some warmth. As we cautiously left the town on slippery, partly defrosted roads I could see footprints in the snow. They belong to some of the local Tarahumara people, who incidentally, are the fastest long distance runners in the world. The women wear colourful skirts and blouses and sandals made from old tyres, they looked frozen and only had a thin shawl as extra cover. Some of them had small children strapped to their backs. They sell their pottery, woven blankets and jewellery to locals and tourists. What a hard life, but they all seem happy and wave to us as we pass by.

Nick did a superb job on the slippery roads and we stayed upright all the way down. At one point we did stop to help a family whose vehicle had ended up sideways, we were lucky though, we didn't have any problems. Even getting through the army road check was easy after I showed the contents of Nick’s pannier; the soldier was too cold to be interested. We arrived at Parral in good shape and booked into a cheapish hotel. The car park was very slippery and busy with a lot of comings and going. At 4am we found ourselves in the car park lifting the bike and checking it for damage after someone had knocked it over! Nick kept so calm; I don't know how he does it.

We are now in Durango where we spent a quiet New Years Eve in our room watching TV, no Jules Holland though! The Town is very nice and we have walked for miles looking at the buildings and I do believe it feels just a few degrees warmer. We plan to head for the West coast as at 6000ft the air still has a distinct chill.

Happy New Year to you all, Lesley. X

Mazatlan, Mexico; 12th January 2007.

   How good it feels to be warm at last! Since we crossed over into Mexico, three weeks ago we have been pretty cold, but when we dropped off the mountains and into the centre of the country, and south of the tropic of cancer towards the Pacific Ocean, things have warmed up somewhat.

We have now been in Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa for nine days now but the ride from Durango will go down in my memory as one of the most scenic and exciting rides we’ve done to date.

We left Durango on Thursday 4th Jan after seeing in the New Year, and after getting some laundry done during a ‘chilled’ out period in our hectic schedule, we were so cold in our hotel room with no heater.

With all our layers on we left Durango and climbed up into the mountains that seemed to surround the city. We encountered a great selection of hairpin bends, and looking back down into the valley, we could see Durango disappearing into the mist and gloom. Still, it was a lovely day, sun and blue sky but still very cold. We followed HW 40 west; I knew we were in for a treat when I saw my favourite road sign, ‘Curva Peligrosa’, which means, Dangerous Curve! And how true was that? One after the other for nearly 184 miles until we got to something you’d call a straight!

I had to take care on a few shaded corners as there were patches of ice, but in the sun-dried sections - it was no problemo.

We rode through a few grubby little settlements; the smiling people appeared to be waving at the gringos on their iron horse. It was on the approach to the small towns where I saw the sign I least liked, ‘Topes’ or ‘Vibradores’, which meant speed bumps. Not just gentle bumps, but what appeared to be small mountains in the road which could take out your bike’s sump if you failed to see it and hit it at speed. Some times they were not sign-posted so if you miss seeing it you can rest assured you are going flying into the air, usually followed by a thump in the back from Les!

The views from the ‘top of the world’ were fantastic, it was the Grand Canyon, all over again, and the photos don’t do it justice.

We stopped in one small village for coffee and were surrounded by small girls wanting to sell us things. We ended up having fun as we all sat around together with them teaching me Spanish and me teaching them some English; we were best friends after I brought out the sweets.

As we dropped down the mountain the temperature rose rapidly so we had to stop and remove the jacket liners, fleeces and a couple of T shirts. “Heat at Last”, I said as we crossed over the Tropic of Cancer and briefly caught a glimpse of the sign, but we didn’t stop. Mind you, a friend we met along the way emailed a picture of it and it is posted on our ‘Comments’ page. Oh, and by the way, we are in another state, Sinaloa. Following the queue of traffic, we slowly made our way into Mazatlan and found the Central Hotel which was listed in the Lonely Planet guide. We booked in, but with no secure parking, would only stay one night. That evening after dinner we sat in one of the many squares in town and had a well-deserved cold beer.

We found another hotel on the front over looking the Pacific Ocean, which also featured in the Lonely Planet guide, so we moved in the next day. It turned out to be more expensive but worth it as we now had the bike safe in the hotel courtyard, (see the photo). While we were here we met up with our friend James, who we’d first met at the ‘Horizons Unlimited’ rally in British Columbia several months ago. Since we left Halifax, Nova Scotia, we had been following James around Canada, but a month behind!

While we were here we signed up with a Spanish Language school in town; it was nearly five hours a day for five days at £130 pounds each, not cheap, but needed. An American Lady called Dixie signed us in, she was a bit like a headmistress of schools from the past and I trembled in my shoes! While at the school we learnt of another hotel nearby, it was cheaper and with secure parking. So the following day we moved into our third hotel in as many days. The Belmar Hotel was built in the early 1900’s and at its prime in the 1920´s. It was now very tired and in need of renovation before it falls down; having said that, it did have very friendly staff, clean and comfortable en-suite rooms and a balcony overlooking the sea, and all for £15 pounds a night for a double so we weren’t complaining.

James joined us as on the Monday as we all went back to school. I found the course hard work as our teacher, who was a great young fellow, tried to get the verbs into my thick head. I was rather hoping it might have been more conversational Spanish, but it turned out to be a more formal sentence structure and verbs, all too much for yours truly who, by day three, had had enough and called it a day. I’d never been any good in the classroom so, having a bit of a phobia; I decided I wasn’t going to carry on doing something which was stressing me out. Sadly, Les gave me a hard time over my decision, and although she wasn’t enjoying it either, she decided to carry on. So for the first time in months, I found myself on my own for a few hours a day, it was bliss!

Mazatlan is a favourite coastal resort for Americans and Canadians. For the first time since our arrival in Mexico we’ve had English-speaking people to talk too. This was a lovely old town, in particular, the old town district. Not surprisingly, there was Spanish-styled architecture, green squares to sit in and watch the world go by. A magnificent cathedral, lots of restaurants and cafes to suit everyone’s taste and pocket. I can understand why they come south to this place with its friendly people and cheap accommodation at £15 pounds a night; a meal for £3 pounds and a bottle of Corona beer for 50 pence - who’d blame them?

It was definitely more touristy though, which was nice for a change, but I’m looking forward to getting back with the local people who we’d been with since coming into Mexico. Now that we are slowly getting more comfortable with the language, life is getting somewhat easier.

We’ll stay here another couple of days then move further south on Monday, perhaps looking for a surf school; it’s about time the old man showed his son Daniel, what he can do!

I’ve also found some insurance for the bike, liability only at £100 pounds for the year and that’s the best we could do, still, I feel happier now.

Now where’s my beach towel, the sea beckons.

From Les

Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. 13th January 2007

   It’s amazing to think that we have been in Mexico almost a month already and we have never been without water, food or shelter!

Durango was a really nice place to be, despite the arctic conditions in the hotel. The squares were full of local people enjoying the festive season and their evening promenades. We discovered a ‘hole in the wall’ taco cafe, just off the square, which served delicious tacos without the frills, 5 for 25pesos - about £1 pound! The locals ate there so we thought we would be pretty safe.

The ride from Durango to Mazatlan was amazing. It started off cold so we wore all our layers and dodged the icy patches on the road. By the end of the day were blistering hot and couldn’t remove anything else! The scenery was awesome, Nick was in his element. Over 180 miles of twists and turns, hills and falls, blind corners and even more blind corners with sheer drops! I had to remind him a couple of times that he was not alone and we have a few more miles to do before 2009! We turned one corner and I exclaimed, “Holy cow”, it was just so incredible. We had to turn back and take photos, which didn’t really do the scene justice but it’s now indelibly etched in my mind.

Some of the villages we passed through were like temporary logging settlements hanging precariously from the side of the hills. Every house had strings of washing hanging from fences and makeshift lines. The nearer we got to Mazatlan, the houses became far tidier, more colourful and in better repair, perhaps it’s because they don’t suffer from such extremes of weather conditions?

The locals are all friendly, contrary to anything we had been told by those over the border in the US. Nick had fun with a group of children in a village. They probably hadn’t had a close encounter with this type of species before and were fascinated by his beard and his pigeon Spanish.

When we arrived in Mazatlan, we checked emails and discovered that a fellow Horizons Unlimited traveller was also in the area. James soon met up with us and set up base in our hotel, the bikes standing side-by-side in the foyer. It’s great to have time to exchange stories and talk about places we have all been to, and he speaks Canadian!

We all booked into a Spanish class and soon discovered how it wasn’t for us...all verbs and no conversation. Nick managed 3 days but, as I had paid for it, I was going to get my monies worth from the classes which lasted from 08.30 - 1.30pm and lots of homework! Uzziell, our tutor, was very kind and patient and the group was made up with many characters. The staff at the hotel took great interest in my struggle to come to grips with Mexican Spanish and seemed to be waiting for me, ready to assist and sometimes confuse me even more. I think I may have learned more from them than the class, I was now very envious of Nick with all his free time. He knows far more Spanish than I do and has time for the beach and to wander around the town while I have been studying. James and I persevered, and I suppose in a way, I feel as though I have achieved something along the way, but it was very painful!

It’s behind me now.....the worst, most stressful time of the whole journey so far! Now I shall enjoy the next couple of days before we continue our journey into the unknown. I shall miss James and our ocean- sunset view from the balcony but I am sure there will be many more places like this; it’s just out there, waiting for us.

Bye for now, Lesley. X


Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; 20th January 2006

   I felt much happier after dropping out of school in Mazitlan. I was now hanging around on street corners just like the other school ‘drop outs’ do, sitting on the beach, watching the waves and pelicans patrolling the coast and learning a few more useful phrases from my Spanish book. I surely don’t need to learn the verbs like the teacher said, do I? It was the same when I tried to learn Bass Guitar and everyone told me to learn the scales. I learnt a few scales and still couldn’t play the thing! We will see!  I feel more confident with the lingo as the days pass, listening to the people around us and recognising a few more words each time.

Anyway, I packed the kids off to school for their last time, returned to our room and did a bit of house work, you know how it is? It was then I discovered a small problem. I had over enthusiastically sprayed the room with James's mosquito killer, which had an unfortunate reaction with our crash helmet visors - they're now opaque; it’s like looking through them on a foggy day! And has Mexico got a Caburg dealer? Unlikely! More worryingly though was how do I explain to Les when she gets back from school?

In the meantime, I had a good walk around the Hotel Belmar which was built in the early 1900's and in its prime at 1920. It was the posh hotel in Mazatlan, even John Wayne and Gregory Peck stayed here. But now it was slowly crumbling away and if something wasn’t done soon, it would most probably fall down within the next five years!

There are lots of American and Canadian tourists in town at present, they seem to be escaping the northern hemisphere winter, and who'd blame them when you can score a room in a hotel for £15 pounds a night, a meal for £3 and a bottle of beer for 50 pence; you couldn’t even pay for the heating for that amount!

I met another really nice guy at the hotel, Steve from Iowa, a surfing biker escaping the winter. We joined him on the beach where I borrowed his board. I started to gradually beat myself up with it and swallowed a coupled of mouthfuls of Pacific Ocean, “Is there nothing in life easy?” I asked myself; perhaps I have to learn some verbs or scales to do this as well?

That evening we all went out to diner in one of the nice squares in Mazatlan. All the local families seem to chill out while watching the entertainers, clowns, musicians and the fire-juggling drummers. Les looked over and said, “Forget it Nick, no, you can't try that”!

The following day, James, Les and I caught the bus over to the posh end of town and the El Cid Marina, where we met Kathy. She was a fellow student, who'd also, bussed in from town with Andrew. Andrew, another Spanish language school student was on his yacht having sailed down from San Francisco; Andrew's stopping here while learning a bit of Spanish before moving further south in his beautiful boat, see the picture, perhaps I'll try that next?

I'm certainly glad we stayed in the old part of Mazatlan as the newer end was really touristy and tacky with its hotel tower blocks, roadside shops and eateries; it looked like Los Americanos in the Canary Isles.

We were due to leave on Monday but Les had a stomach bug so we stayed another day. I didn’t mind too much as it did give us time to bid James a fond farewell; he was now taking the fantastic road to Durango which we had travelled on the way here.

That night, Steve took us out to dinner to a local restaurant, which tucked away in the back streets. What a find, it had fantastic Mexican food, we only wished we’d found it sooner.

The following day, and with Les well again, we headed south to San Blas, it was so nice to be on the bike again. We followed HW 15 with the mountains on our left and mangrove swamps and lakes on our right. The weather was good; we had a hot sunny day and rode through at least three road checks. We were also held up with what appeared to be officers from the Dept of Agriculture who were spraying Lorries down to kill bugs and the military looking for banditos. The police were also there, looking for anything missed by the other two! No problems for us though as we sailed through. Turning off the main road, we picked up a small road meandering through the jungle and dropped down to San Blas, which is a small fishing village. We eventually found the Bucaneero Hotel, which is listed in Lonely Planet guide. It was a tired, grubby place but cheap - and cheap is good. I was even allowed to bring the bike in through reception and park it outside our room, seems normal practice down here!

We walked down to the beach and found out just why it was so quite, the sand flies and mosquitoes were vicious. After another beautiful sunset, and a few extra mozzie bites, we headed back to the hotel where Les was startled by a cockroach the size of a mouse. I was startled even more by a mouse the size of the cockroach - both of which were now in our room! I did mention it was cheap!

We have now been in Mexico for one month and were in yet another state - Nayarit, and were just short of 27000mls overall, how time flies when you're having fun.

The town of San Blas, with a population of 9000, is small and fishing seems to be the main occupation. While we sat in the town square watching the locals promenade, I observed that there were so many youngsters, what of their futures? We spent a couple of days here so had at least a full day exploring the little town with its cobbled and dirt streets. Once again, we found very happy, friendly people and, thankfully, only a handful of tourist's.

On Friday 19th Jan, we left San Blas and followed the coast south towards Puerto Vallarta. This turned out to be a fantastic back road which took us through jungle, banana plantations and past beautiful quite beaches, which were no doubt plagued with things that bite! We had another hot sunny day in paradise and it’s great to be back on the road again. We eventually leave this great road and join the main coast road which is HW 200; we're destined to spend some time on this road with its big lorries and lines of traffic stuck behind them as they struggle up big hills. The sporting Mexican drivers grind to a halt, well the majority of them do, there's still one or two who go for kamikaze overtakes on blind right hand bends. When it’s safe, we make careful progress, passing the agitated queue only to catch up with another queue.

We eventually roll into Puerto Vallarta, population 151,000, and yet another state, Jalisco, and another time zone - we loose an hour. Missing the turn we wanted, we found ourselves smack bang in the middle of cobbled streets, heaving with traffic, tooting of horns and it’s baking hot, we seemed lost in hell! Riding straight through town to the south, we pull in and consult the map. We were only here a few minutes when a taxi driver pulls up asking if we're ok and points us in the right direction, this just sums up the Mexicans we have met so far, all helpful and friendly.

Using our invaluable Lonely Planet guide, we found the Hotel Hortencia. After talking to Martin at the reception, we were given a really nice room with en-suite and a balcony overlooking the cobbled street below, all this and no mice or cockroaches! The hotel owner arrived and the bike was ‘bunny-hopped’ up the kerb and into his office, “should be safe there”? I thought.

Puerto Vallarta is nice town, the old town area being better than the new but still heaving with American and Canadian tourists as a cruise ship visits daily. The seafront was full of candy floss and ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats, not pretty. The rest of the old town was great with its cobbled streets and old buildings with balconies; we also found great fish dinners and super cheap beer. I’m thinking it'll be OK here for a couple of days and then we'll head south on Monday, did I mention this town’s the Gay capital of Mexico - so full of beautiful people. I've even had a hair cut; yes there's still a little to cut!  After much searching, I still can't find new trainers; they're all too small so I think I'll have to put a patch on the hole on my toe!

Adios from Mexico, Nick.

From Les

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; 20th January 2007.

   Old Mazatlan was a very nice place to be. We had the best of both worlds with the beach on our doorstep and the town displaying a series of wonderful bronze statues, the local squares with bars and restaurants just around the corner. The squares were very busy with locals in the evenings, live music on every corner, and drummers with flaming sticks juggling and a constant stream of children trying to sell flowers. It was a great relief in San Blas to see the children doing what they should be doing in the evenings...playing, climbing trees and riding bikes, football, laughing and full of fun, it really shows the difference tourism makes on the communities, and not always for the best.

San Blas is famous for its biting insects that are particularly bad at dusk. A stroll along the wonderful, almost empty, quiet beach can become a painful experience and you soon discover the places you missed when applying your insect repellent! Our hosts provided a couple of planks of wood so that Nick could ride into the foyer and park the bike in the garden. They also provided the cockroach, (now deceased) and the tiny mouse that scared Nick so badly that he jumped onto the bed thinking it was a spider!

Many of the buildings seem to be tumbling down and the roads are either dirt or cobblestones, it was strange to see the smart Navy sailors all dressed in white and riding bicycles through the dirty streets. San Blas is probably the first place we have been to in Mexico where the bicycle is a main mode of transport. They are quite inventive when it comes to the number of people they can get on a cycle here, the most I saw was 7 including 2 small toddlers. The norm was about 2 passengers, also towing huge trays or carts. Mopeds are also popular and are often driven by 8-yr olds with younger siblings as passengers, health and safety? Never heard of it, a baseball hat worn backwards will do!

We continued on the coast road towards Puerto Vallarta through busy agricultural areas. Teams of men were working in the fields alongside mules pulling implements. The village roadsides are lined with stalls selling the produce including citrus fruits and bananas. Each stall appears identical so how do we choose which one to stop at? As we climb into the hills we found ourselves in the rain forest, but thankfully today it’s not raining. We join the main road again and straight into queues as some old trucks struggle to get up the hills. The traffic builds and then we get to the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta and begin to wonder if this is really where we want to stop for the night.

The North part of Puerto Vallarta has the high risers, condominiums, marina and airport, both of which are busy with tourists mainly from Nth America and Canada. We were aiming for the south Old Town which is quieter but the road signs disappeared and the next moment we were bumping our way along the cobbled streets in the main shopping tourist trap! Thank goodness it wasn’t raining!

We found a place to stay with a balcony overlooking the busy taco stall and the bike has been safely bounced up kerbs into the front side office where people can walk by and admire it, especially as it is so clean now!

We have spent much time walking around the old town and have found it far better than expected. Once you get away from the commercial areas it has a friendly vibe to it and the locals are all very industrious. The fish is wonderfully fresh and the fruits in the market are plentiful. We tend to eat out for breakfast where the choice is vast, from Fresh fruit to tacos, eggs, meats and fish. We often don't need lunch and will have a Mexican dish for dinner. None of these meals leave you heavy and full in the stomach but sometimes you can't feel your tongue as the salsas are sooo hot!

On Monday we are going to move on and cover some more miles. We seem to have slowed down a lot and need to make a bit more progress as we have many countries to go to and lots of borders to cross. Mexico is wonderful. I suggest you all learn Spanish and get yourselves out here before it gets properly discovered!!

PS, each evening, about 5pm, the taco stall is opened up on the street opposite our hotel. Two men, in whiter-than-white aprons, work continuously until after 11pm, chopping meat and vegetables and serving a constant stream of customers with simple, but delicious, tacos. On the counter are large bowls of green salsa that you can your own risk! A really tasty meal for 2 for under £4, see the photo.

Best wishes, Lesley. X


Toluca, Mexico; 27th January 2006.

    I think we stayed too long in Puerto Vallarta! It was all too touristy, and relatively expensive, with thousands of American and Canadian tourists prowling the prom looking for that little something to take home on the big cruise ship; perhaps a donkey wearing a sombrero and smoking a Cuban cigar sir?

The old part of town was much better and still had the ‘hole in the wall’ cafe for my taco fix, but it was time to move on.

The receptionists at our hotel were very helpful. Martin tracked down bike shops for me and Juan; he even translated a letter into Spanish for me. With the owner also letting me park my bike in his office, I really couldn’t have wished for better help.

I had been feeling a bit low recently and couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why. We'd been on the road for seven months now and had been feeling fine; suddenly I started missing home and my boys. Why now though? I thought that any feelings like this would have emerged earlier in the trip; I reckoned it was high time to page the oracle – our number one son, Daniel, who’s been travelling for years at a time since finishing school. From someone so young, well-meaning advice was forthcoming and it made perfect sense. His observations were that I, “had been punching the clock for 30 years and it’s going to take time to adjust to travelling with no deadlines, and it will happen within different time parameters”. Some people feel it early on in a trip and some, like me, later on. Perhaps I've just been drifting too much and needed something like a book or constructive study to focus on within the trip, like Spanish?

It all makes perfect sense now and I'm taking Daniel’s advice onboard. I also believe we slowed down too much, I need to keep moving but still manage to see all the beautiful things that this world has to show me, even more crucially though, we need to keep moving. We need to get back to some mile-crunching and rack up some more countries; I know our webmaster, Eddie, is keen to get some more colourful flags on our front page!

Lesley however, has been my rock; supportive as always and recognises when I'm having a ‘Marvin’ day! Remember Marvin the depressed robot in the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy? Fortunately we both don't have a low at the same time.

Anyway, we left Puerto Vallarta and headed south along the coast on HW 200. This turned out to be a great winding road, sometimes on the cliff-top hugging the coastline and sometimes drifting inland through the jungle and rain forest. We saw big mountains in the distance shrouded in cloud, as if warning us of the impending rain. It was a mild day though with only a T-shirt under my jacket and not bothering with waterproof leggings as the 'Hood' jeans dry out quickly after the showers. At one point I saw what looked like a crab crossing the road but it turned out to be a massive tarantula spider as big as my hand crossing from one banana plantation to another. In Canada we were swerving around Bear's in the road, now it was a spider!

We pulled into Barra De Navidad, another coastal town. It was much smaller and more personal than the last and, with not so many tourists; we both wished we'd stayed here for a few days instead of Vallarta. We found a great little hotel and instead of cockroaches and mice in our room, we had our very own little Gecko - sweet.

It was up and away the next day as it was hot and sunny. We headed south again along the relentlessly bendy HW200, I never thought I'd say this, but I would have loved a break on a nice straight road for a change. Yesterday, in the rain, it was tight bend after bend for hours and at very slow speed avoiding potholes and glazed surfaces. It had all become a bit of a grind and today it was more of the same! We eventually found a great camp site on the beach at Titzupan and met three groups of Canadian ‘fifth wheel’ travellers, (articulated campervan). We were joined by Pete the Viking and his dog on a Yamaha cruiser, Pete had a crash helmet with horns. Uma had a cage on the back and looked very happy having come down from San Diego and had ridden pillion since she was a puppy.

The only problem with this idyllic spot was the red ants which bit your feet, fortunately none got in the tent. After a great meal of red snapper, a few beers and great conversation with fellow travellers, we had a good nights sleep; well sort of, it was intermittent as we were awakened by the unusual sounds from the jungle and thoughts of, “was whatever made that noise, big enough to eat us”?

The following morning came all too soon and, without breakfast; we said our farewells and headed south once more. Today it was more spectacular as we followed the bendy coastline of Hw200, which eventually eased up a bit giving me more time to look around. It started raining again, but at least it was warm rain as we meandered through the banana plantations and the small villages with local kids playing in the puddles. We passed through several military checkpoints with enough soldiers to start a small war and all armed to the teeth. I felt reassured by their presence but at the same time, slightly worried, if there are that many soldiers, then how many bad guys are there out there?

On the ‘road kill’ front; we saw our first snake, and several dogs, which isn’t surprising as there are so many stray dogs, some even think they can keep up with a BMW R1150 GS!

We rolled down a small dirt road and into the beach village of Troncones only to see several surfers battling against the ocean. We found a nice cheap hotel with a grubby room but no bugs! Once again we ate dinner whilst we watched another spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

The next day we decided it was time to move inland and head towards Mexico City. So for a change, we jumped onto the new Autopista, toll road HW 15 and cruised for a change through the massive mountains and volcanoes; some gently steaming, and long may they remain that way! Every now and again we stopped at a toll booth and paid about 200 pesos a day to use the road, that was nearly the price for a room at a hotel and several meals, but it did make for quick, relaxing riding and we thought it was worth the expense.

We stopped at a roadside stall and ate some tasty pork stew and rice before heading off to Morelia. On the approach to the city we were entertained by fire jugglers standing on step ladders while waiting for the lights to change, giving them enough time to walk down the line of traffic collecting money, a great idea. Eventually after a couple of laps of the busy city we found a nice hotel, the only problem was that the bike had to stay on the road outside, but as it was a quite road so I wasn’t too worried. The hotel owner had wanted me to bring it into the hallway at 11pm, but I needed to get some sleep so the bed won! But my sleep didn’t come until after a walk around the pretty city center and some food, but I'm ashamed to say, it was Burger King!

Next day we jumped onto the Autopista again and headed towards Mexico City. It was easy riding with the sun on our backs and we were feeling good riding through the spectacular scenery of volcanoes and mountains. We stopped for fuel and a snack and got chatting to some guys on the way back to California after having visited family here in Mexico.

As we climbed higher the temperature dropped by 3deg for every 1000 ft, so by the time we reached the city of Toluca at 8674ft, according to my trusty Garmin etrex, it was decidedly chilly. We found the Hotel Tollocan on the edge of town which had an attached restaurant and very friendly staff. We decided to stay a couple of nights here to see what the snow on the nearby mountain does, will it build or thaw?

Tomorrow, the 28th Jan, we plan to ride into Mexico City. Hopefully we can circumnavigate this manic city and get to the Teotihuacan Pyramids of the sun and the moon, then head east towards the Gulf coast and then south.

The bike is running fine although looking very grubby after a few days of damp and muddy roads.  The tent is up and drying in the underground hotel car park so all’s well once again with the Pooles.

From Les

Toluca, near Mexico City; 27th January 2007

   We were glad to leave the tourist trap of Puerto Vallarta and head back into the hills. The roads were very twisty again with warning signs and bumpy surfaces; the severity of the bends were often very apparent, judging by the number of small crosses and shrines at the side of the road. The mountains looked stunning with halos of cloud near their summits contrasting with their green slopes.

Every open space seemed to be used for farming of some sort. Fruit and vegetables seem to flourish in these areas and the locals are busy in gangs in the fields. Small pick-up trucks are filled to brimming with lovely fresh produce and coconuts; thankfully there are no weighbridges for them to worry about.

Animals are a bit of a hazard on the roads as horses, cows, donkeys, goats, cockerels and pigs roam freely. Dogs are unpredictable and you never quite know when or if they are going to give chase. Some are so undernourished they don’t look as though they could chase but it’s surprising what hunger can do for them and we must have looked very tasty to some.

We stopped off in a laid back town of Barra de Navidad for the night and felt so much happier. The following night we camped by the sea near a huge stony beach in the company of 3 Canadian couples in RV's and another Viking biker and his dog from New York. We hadn't camped for ages and it was nice to get back under canvas but... it rained from 6am onwards so we now have the tent drying out in a hotel basement in Toluca.

The Mexican people have been so kind and friendly to us and have forgiven our lack of language and laugh with us at our mistakes. Our night at Troncones, a surf village was particularly memorable as the family-run hotel looked tired and was up for sale. It was run by a family of 4 generations; from Great Gran to toddlers. Only one spoke any English but the Grandmother and I communicated with smiles and gestures and I told her what we were doing and where we had been. In the morning she came up to me and gave me a hug, shook my hand and slipped me a note, "Del Moto" she said. I later checked and she had given me $50 note, one I am sure she could not afford to give. That sums up a lot of the people we have met here in Mexico on our travels so far.

We have used a few toll roads for the first time in Mexico to get us from the west coast to Toluca, just outside Mexico City. They are not quite like the roads back home and the service areas near every toll booth are run by the locals. Small settlements of shacks provide plastic tables and chairs and the poly cups of hot water for your instant coffee. Some of the stalls have fires for the cooking pots and everyone has a cool-box full of Coke or Sprite. Fuel stops are rare and often you will see a pickup truck with a handwritten sign, "Gasoline" and a few plastic containers with a hosepipe at the side of the road. Some of the industrious children will swamp you with buckets and cloths wanting to wash your screen but not knowing where to start. Nick’s bag of sweets is diminishing rapidly! Sadly, we saw many young boys working on the road maintenance, shovelling tar and stones.

We have now been away from home for 7months and I think that the strain is beginning to show a little; we don't seem quite as motivated as before and we have both been missing the boys a lot. Some of it could be because Daniel and Donna are returning to the UK after a year in Australia and 4 months in NZ and we won’t be there for the reunion. Fortunately we are both feeling the same. But we have some pyramids to see on Monday and have already seen steaming volcanoes and more snow on the Mountains now that we are almost 9000ft above sea level. There is so much to see and so little time......

Bye for now, Lesley. X


Oaxaca, Mexico; 2nd February 2007

   Our stay in Toluca at 8674 feet made me think how amazing this country really is. Geographically, you don't have to travel too far to find variations in temperature. Here we are in winter and you can be swimming in the sea in the morning and climb a mountain a few miles away and be in the snow, and yet we're in the tropics!

From our bedroom window we can see a magnificent volcano capped with snow, yet outside it is comfortable enough to stroll around wearing only a jumper. We walked around the back roads of Toluca and found a hive of activity. Grocery stores and cafe's next to mechanics, tyre fitters, electricians and welders all working from ‘hole in the wall’ workshops, they momentarily stop work and smile as the gringos stroll by.

We had our last dinner at the hotel restaurant served by our, very busy, waiter who must have had too many 'E' numbers as a child as he just doesn’t stop fussing over everyone, as was our friendly laughing cook who wanted to know what we were doing, I think she understood.

One interesting thing is that both Les and I are having nose bleeds; I can only presume it has something to do with the altitude as the same thing happened when we stayed with Tom and Julia in Colorado at 10,200ft.

On Sunday 28th Jan, we left Toluca on a bright and dry morning heading towards Mexico City, not far away, the plan being to find the ring road and avoid the manic center. Things started well as we entered the suburbs, a glitzy, mirror windowed, office block area. We found the peripherique ring-road, but then, as things do, we lost it and found ourselves in the center of town!

It wasn’t bad; I suppose being a Sunday helped? Still, lots of traffic and some 'manic' driving, but hey, I can do manic! Cobbled roads with cobbles the size of paving slabs and roundabouts with Give-Way lines on the roundabout made for some interesting handling from the bike, thank goodness it wasn’t raining!

There were some nice long straight roads with avenues of trees which made a beautiful contrast.

Les was ‘on form’ and spotted the ring road sign and the Teotihuacán Pyramid sign, now we were heading in the right direction but then we lost the signs again. Using my compass wedged in the tank bag, and asking the odd taxi driver and gas station attendant for directions, we slowly worked our way through the city and onto the road we wanted.

This is certainly a VW Beetle lover’s heaven as there are hundreds of them. Some are privately owned but tatty, some beaten up and some custom jobs, not to mention the green and white taxis.

Using highways 85 and 132, and the Pyramid signs, we eventually rolled into the town of Teotihuacán, pronounced, Teh-oh-tee-wah-kan where we found the Hotel Posada. With the bike safely locked up in the garden, we went for a walk around town.

Teo, for short, was another small grubby town, but a hive of activity just like all the other Mexican towns we'd been to, everyone seemed so busy. We found another 'hole in the wall' Taco cafe and got stuck into some more of Mexico’s finest cuisine. We decided to have a couple of nights here and spend a day exploring the Teotihuacán pyramids.

Next day we had breakfast in the bustling market. I had ground up maize which had a sweet taste, was a pink colour, boiled in a big vat in its own leaf, it was very tasty. We then jumped in a taxi and headed the short ride to the ancient site.

The pyramid of the sun was completed in AD 150, and the rest of the city by AD 600, then they all disappeared by AD 800, why? I'll tell you why. Every time they built something they used human sacrifices to celebrate its completion, the completion of the 'Sun' pyramid cost over 200 lives and with all the other construction going on, they ran out of people! That’s my theory; the official line is that rival factions and war was the demise of a once superpower of the era.

Anyway, it was an amazing sight, these giant pyramids, with the ‘Sun’ being the third tallest in the world. We walked up the 248 steps to the top and were early enough to beat the tourist rush and had the place to ourselves. In the absence of a virgin, Les had to do, damn; I left the knife back in the room, but wow, what a view - see our pictures. On the top of the ‘Pyramid to the Moon’ we bumped into another Norfolk man from Downham Market … What a small world.

After lunch at a roadside stall we caught another taxi back into town.

Overnight it had rained and we started with damp roads but it was still nice and mild. With road signs few and far between we once again had to make a few about-turns until we got on the road to Puebla. We had in fact planned to stop earlier but missed another turn and pushed onto Orzaba.  After initially following HWs 132 and 85, we got onto a toll road - the 150D. The scenery was spectacular as we rode between volcanoes sandwiched between mountains and eventually into the center of Orzaba, and, without the help of the Lonely Planet guide this time, we found a hotel at the right price.

At the end of this day’s ride we had covered 28000mls on our adventure.

Wandering around town, we found the ‘Iron Palace’, a steel building designed by Alexander Eiffel, of Eiffel tower, Paris, fame. Apparently, Orizaba´s Mayor liked it so much that he shipped it over in 1892 and had it rebuilt in the town center.

On Wed 31st Jan, we left town. Keeping on the back roads, which were, by and large, unmarked but with speed bumps and potholes big enough to get lost in, but as we climbed up out of the valley on HW 150 the views were fantastic and worth the effort. We could see Mexico’s highest peek, Star Mountain at 5611mtrs as we zigzagged up over the mountain range.

We came across some interesting road markings on this climb. Riding on the right - as we do here, you’re directed to the left hand side of the road on right-hand bends as you ascend, and once around the bend, the road markings send you back to the right side again. I can only presume this was to give the ascending Lorries enough room to swing around the tight switchbacks? Fortunately we didn’t meet anything coming down to find out if it worked!

We followed the road to Tehuacan, riding through the town centre and on towards Zinactepec, this is where we went a bit wrong. I followed directions to Oaxaca hoping to remain on the back road but ended up on the toll road, (autopista), still it wasn’t too bad as it was a quicker road but still with spectacular scenery through Mexico’s mountains and over bridges spanning canyons, it was all beautiful.

We eventually rolled into Oaxaca, pronounced, wah -hacker, and Les expertly, navigated our way to a nice hotel downtown. On the way through town we got several ‘thumbs ups’ and waves from people, which was always a good sign.

The ´Posada Margarito Hotel’ was difficult to spot as it was up an alley, but Les got us there. Riding through the courtyard with people sipping coffee, it must have been a surprise for them to see this massive motorcycle thump past. With the bike safe in the hotel courtyard, we settled into our room then went for a walk around town. Once again there were lots of police and soldiers present with crowd barriers at the ready on road junctions, but all very peaceful and quite. This was a beautiful little town, very arty and musical with a lot of young people due to the university in town. There were squares in the town centre with big trees to shelter from the sun, sip coffee and watch the world go by; we liked it so much we decided to spend a couple of days here and explore. We’ll leave here on Saturday 3rd and head to the Pacific Coast, it’s hot up here, but I wonder what it’s going to be like at sea level?

Until next time, Adios, Nick.

From Les

Oaxaca, Mexico; 2nd February 2007

   The resident cook, and incredibly busy head waiter, at the Toluca Hotel restaurant made us very welcome and introduced us to fried, flat and round cactus leaves which were very tasty, rather like fresh pea pods. They watched us carefully for any reaction and were very pleased when we told them they were wonderful. The next morning, unaffected by the cactus leaves, we awoke to a bright sunny day; just right for a ride through Mexico City! As we left Toluca in our freshly laundered clothes, we could clearly see the extinct volcano Nevado de Toluca towering above the town at 4069mts, now with even with more snow on its peak, and we did smell so much better!

Mexico City is huge! The volume of traffic is so vast that digits on your registration plate dictates which day your vehicle can enter the city. We fortunately chose to risk it on a Sunday when the roads were relatively quiet. The entry into the city took us by surprise as we had been through miles and miles of suburbia and suddenly confronted with huge glass high rise buildings. Somehow we managed to find the ring road and it took us along peaceful tree-lined avenues which were such a contrast. It didn’t last long as we lost the road signs and ended up smack-bang in the centre! I have a theory about the traffic congestion in Mexico city, the signing, as it is, just sucks you into the middle and 50% of the people don’t want to be there! If they put up decent signs everyone would be happy and not confused. What time we did spend in the traffic made my throat sore and eyes run caused by the pollution, which was bad. It may have something to do with all the VW Beetle Taxis?

We only wanted to skirt around Mexico City to get to the Teotihuacán Pyramids just to the NE; which was well worth the effort. After breakfast at the local market, we caught a taxi to the Pyramid Del Sol y Del Luna (Sun and Moon). We were there early, before the coach loads of tourists arrived and almost had the Sol Pyramid, the third largest in the world, to ourselves. The 248 steep steps rendered us breathless in more ways than one! The altitude and lack of fitness made us gasp for air, but the stunning views of the whole Teotihuacán City were breath taking. I actually found the slightly smaller Luna Pyramid more impressive as it stood at the head of the Avenue of Death leading to a temple surrounded by 15 pyramid bases. The site is still regarded as important by New-Age devotees who gather for the Vernal Equinox. The constant stream of hawkers trying to sell a lot of tacky gifts became a bit tedious, after a few hours of ¨No Gracias¨ I am sure I said it in my sleep! As I stood at the top of De la Luna I heard a familiar accent... a Norfolk, Downham Market gent on tour! He suggested that when we get home we will be in great demand by the Women’s Institute!

The next day we stopped off at Orizaba having narrowly missed being sucked into Mexico City again, we enjoyed a stroll round the town. The centre has a huge building of iron designed by the famous Mr Eiffel, of the Paris tower fame, it was originally built in Belgium and then dismantled and shipped to Oriziba where it was painstakingly reconstructed in 1892, and it was very impressive.

Oaxaca is one of those places that you hear so much about but it’s all mainly conflicting views. We had to investigate so we established ourselves in a Posada, not far from the centre of the old town where everything is at walking distance. The posada is hidden in a courtyard surrounded by coffee shops and art galleries where the artists sit outside painting under brollies. We had a chat with one, Hector Pablo, who paints jolly round faced people and animals that small children would like; he had a website at -

The centre of Town is solid brick/stone built and has many pedestrian streets, huge Churches, and lovely cool tree-lined squares where you can sit and watch the world go by and every one seems so busy. We wandered around the enclosed market which is fascinating and so colourful. The plentiful produce consisted of huge slabs of meat, silvery fish and yellow-skinned chickens, colourful cloth, fruit ‘n' veg and not forgetting the huge range of brushes and mops. This is a nation of people who sweep! All ages and sexes sweep! We have ridden through small villages with dust roads and there are people sweeping! Sometimes if you are in a cafe they will sweep around you and if you are really lucky you may get ¨mopped¨ as well; they also like to mop floors. It is a bit of a contradiction really as generally the countryside is full of rubbish discarded on the roadside with colourful plastic bags often hanging from trees and bushes.

We liked Oaxaca, it is vibrant, full of museums, art galleries and places to sit and watch in the shade. There is a presence of security patrols, Police and Army on nearly every street corner but it feels quite casual and relaxed. After an enjoyable couple of days and a good night’s sleep we are raring to go again! Our sons have now been reunited in UK so all is well with our world. Hope yours is treating you well? Adios, Lesley. X

San Agustinillio, Oaxaca State, Mexico; 8th February 2007

   We found Oaxaca a beautifully vibrant city, it was arty, musical and young, no doubt as a direct result of the university, but after all this very welcome culture, it was time for us to move on.

Oaxaca appeared on the Foreign Office web site as one of those places to be careful of, or avoid completely. But once you get used to seeing the police on street corners, in the parks, soldiers on the outskirts waiting for some action; in away it was very reassuring to see them, and they all smile! We wandered around the city center and sat in the shade under big trees in the beautiful parks and just watched the world go by without a hint of any problems until…

On the morning of departure, the hotel manager informed us that we have to be out of town by 10am as the roads will be closed for a demonstration, so we left. As we passed the airport, we saw gathering crowds and loudspeakers barking out in a complaining fashion - these people weren’t happy. They appeared to be mostly farmers, who, as we found out later, were complaining, amongst other things, about the rise in price of the taco! I can imagine that by the time the procession reached the city center, the crowed would have been swelled with students from the university and ‘rent a mob’ would be created. This brought back my own dire memories of the Miners’ dispute in the UK back in the 80's. I could also imagine the police rubbing their hands in glee just thinking of the overtime, and ‘rent a mob’ thinking of the scrap! We later heard that there was indeed a bit of a scrap, which no doubt fizzled out soon after with the city settling back down to it’s vibrant, arty, musical and beautiful self.

We left Oaxaca City on HW 175 heading south, and then passed through Ocotlan d Morelos on some superb roads which wound around gullies through stunning desert scenery.

After Miahuatlan, the road started to climb up into the mountains with the temperature changing gradually from sizzling hot to mild, it was very nice. The desert scenery changed from cacti to pine trees the higher we got. When it appeared that we had reached the top of the world, we rode into a village called, San Jose Del Pacifico. The village consisted of a few little houses with tin roofs, the odd shop, dogs and chickens wandering around the streets and the Hotel Cabnas 'Puesta del sol'. All in all, it was a very short day’s riding as we came to a halt after just 93miles.

As we sat on our deck we looked out across the mountains which were shrouded in mist, the humming birds darted from flower to flower in the still quite - I thought I'd died and gone to heaven; check out their website to see for yourselves at

The road up to this perfect idyll was just made for motorcyclists – it had bends for miles which resulted in smiles for miles!

The following day we still used HW 175 heading west to the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t object too much as it was more of the same spectacular mountain scenery and roads, 90 miles of bends in total; I have since added this section of road to my favourites list on our trip so far.

We slowly dropped down from pine trees to banana and coconut palms as the temperature rose once again. Stopping on our descent, we bought bananas from a roadside stall and sat in the shade feasting on fruit and the view.

We rode through San Pero Pochutla and picked up the road to Puerto Angel, which, according to the 'Lonely Planet' guide, would be a good place to stay; but our plan soon changed. An oncoming car flashed its headlights and gave the international signal to slow down. At the next bend we saw a motorcycle in the middle of the road with a destroyed front wheel, and a few yard to the side we saw what he'd hit - another motorcycle. It was here that we met Tom, from Canada, and Alfred from Germany. Tom had been hit by a little Mexican bike which was being ridden by a local boy and which was loaded with the day’s catch; thankfully there were no injuries, but a bit of damage. They then had to wait for the Federal police to arrive and sort out the situation. Unlucky Tom, who was so cool calm and collected but thank goodness the little Mexican still lives. After gleaning information of a good place to stay, we left them with the promise we'd meet up later.

As a result of this unfortunate meeting, we found the village of San Agustinillio and the Hotel Malex, which was owned by Ignacio and Rosaelba, who just couldn’t do enough to look after us during our stay; the hotel was beautifully positioned on the beach. From our room we looked out to sea and within seconds were swimming in it. Its cool, ‘bath water’ temperature was great as it was a hot day, so hot that we had to run across the sand while it burnt the soles of our feet; it brought back memories of the film ‘10’ with Dudley Moore as I chased Les – my very own bouncing Bo Derick, which, as Eddie has since found out, was filmed just up the coast at Manzanillo.

We later met up with Tom and Albert that evening after they'd sorted out things with the police. After chatting for a while, we found them to be two well-travelled bikers and we spent some time exchanging stories over the next few days. Tom was sorting out parts for his bike and Albert sorting out a remedy for his cold!

We've spent four days here, dining in the cheap but good restaurants, swinging in the hammock and splashing in the breakers – it was perfect.

So how are things at home? Not too cold I hope? I can hear the replies from here!

Tomorrow, the 9th Feb, we are moving on, ever closer to Guatemala, our next country.

From Les

San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico; 9th February 2007

   Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are on a deserted beach, swinging in a hammock in the warm breeze with only the sound of the sea and a little bit of ‘Jack Johnson’ strumming in the background? You just can’t beat it! Trust me I was there… today and yesterday… all day!

We left Oaxaca on Saturday morning having had a very enjoyable evening in the square watching parades, dancing and fireworks. Our host told us that we had to be out before 10am because the roads would be closed for a demonstration. We didn’t feel like hanging around to watch so had a quick breakfast and had one of the earliest starts we have had in ages. What a treat we had! Initially the countryside was gentle, twisty and rolling as we passed by fields of orange /brown soil and lots of small villages.

From Miachuatlan, we began to really climb into the mountains, the road zigzagging so we rose rapidly. The countryside became much greener and we could look down into the valleys following the snaking roads we had just climbed. Unexpectedly around a bend we saw a lovely settlement of log cabins (cabana) and hotel on the hillside commanding a fantastic view, we just had to stop there if the price was right - and it was! We had a small cabana with a clear view of the valley and yet another memorable sunset, you can put up with the noisy neighbours or at least you become more forgiving! I have also noticed that the people of this area, in particular the women, have become much smaller, about 5 foot, and have long swinging pigtails and billowing skirts. I think our quest to get Nick new trainers is less likely to be accomplished the further south we travel; we will just have to glue them up or get him some open toe-ed sandals!

The following day I experienced a strange type of motion sickness similar to that when riding a bus. The road went up, down, left, right, it was just like a rollercoaster ride and Nick was in his element! I tried to enjoy the passing scenery but when it almost appears to be upside down my stomach starts to churn again! I was so glad when we stopped at one of the many small, roadside fruit stalls selling green, red, yellow and black bananas. I couldn’t quite stomach them at the time which was fortunate for the 2 motorcyclists we met some time later. Tom from Canada had just had a slight altercation with a fish delivery boy (similar to Pizza boys in UK) and was waiting with Albert from Germany, his companion, until the local Officials arrived. It was a baking hot day and they had been waiting for a good couple of hours with no water or food. The Bananas went to a good cause along with some water and we were repaid with excellent advice about places to stay along the nearby coast at San Agustinillo. Since we have been here we have met up again with Tom and Albert and a lovely couple, Roger 82, and Dotty 78 who are retired missionaries who used to run safaris in Africa to various missions. They seem impressed by what we are doing but they put us to shame.

So......the last couple of days have been spent in a hammock in the shade, reading and chilling with the occasional sprint across burning sand to beautiful, clear, cooling water. The freezing cold snow and damp hotel rooms we encountered during the festive season are now long forgotten......I think we have arrived and I’m sure we will return!
Tomorrow the quest for ¨Grande ¨footwear and a new adventure will commence ............ Lesley. X


San Cristobal, Mexico; 15th February 2007

   We're now only about 100mls from the Guatemalan boarder, which we intend to cross on Monday 19th after two months and 5000mls in Mexico; that is now 29,000mls in total for the trip. Wow! Doesn’t time fly? Eddie, get another flag ready for the front page!

Our stay at the Hotel Malex in San Agustinillio on the Pacific coast was fantastic. With such friendly and helpful hosts and owners in Rosaelba and Ignacio, and the other great people we met here, I didn’t want to leave and would have easily bought a place and settled down! Leaving was quite an emotional moment; we had a group of our new friends to see us off, the beautiful Rosaelba and her husband Ignacio (Damn)! Tom and Albert, our fellow world tour motorcyclists were also there. Tom was sorting out his bike after his little altercation with a local fish delivery bike! Roger with his lovely wife Dotty were also there to see us off. They were in awe of our adventure, but if the truth were known it was the other way around. Roger was a retired preacher and, with his wife, had worked around the world as missionaries and have seen more of the world than us while doing so. They had done so much good work and, now in their 70's, were still travelling. Roger put a hand on Les and my shoulders and said a prayer. Now, I'm not at all religious, but from this man it seamed to mean something and felt good to have Roger’s blessing as we rode off, waving as we left … in then wrong direction!

We followed HW 200 east along the coast road on another hot and sticky day. We caught occasional glimpses of the sea and eventually stopped at Salina Cruz; a busy naval port where we found the Hotel Guasti in the town center.

I rode the bike through the hotel reception and into the courtyard where I parked outside our room, a procedure which has become the norm here; but then I had a small panic attack as I found another nail in the back tyre, fortunately it hadn’t gone through so we were okay. We then went out to find some food and to explore. We were up early the next morning and headed out of town on HW 180 to 200 east to Tepanatenec, then the 190 North to Tuxtla.

As we climbed higher into the mountains things it started to cool down once again. We zigzagged our way higher up which gave us fantastic views of the valley below and the ocean in the distance. After bypassing the little town of Tuxtla we stopped at Chiapa de Corzo; a small town on the banks of the Rio Grijalan where we found the Hotel Los Angeles in its centre. With such an abundance of riverboat rides and tourist trappings, I quickly formed the impression that this little town had a thriving tourist industry. Having said that, I'm sure we had landed during a quiet period as most of the boats were moored up and we appeared to be the only foreigners in town.

On Sunday, we left Chiapa De Corzo en route to Palenque. Once again we began climbing up into the mountains through pine forests and low clouds. We rode through villages bustling with Sunday markets and followed the HW195 towards Villahermosa, not far from the Gulf coast. Suddenly, a big bike flew past us at speed which then was followed by another nine; they appeared to be out on their Sunday club run. Later on we stopped with them at a roadside stall and had a brief chat with one who spoke a little English. Big sports bikes do exist over here and what fantastic roads to play on! The A47 scratches club need to try these roads for a challenging ride, eh Chris!

We carried on to Villahermosa through miles of banana plantations; we even passed a three-foot python dead in the road! We headed on up the 186 to Playas De Catazaja, passing through marshy waterlogged country then south on the 199 to Palenque. It was a big day as we covered 271mls through the mountains, even with the Airhawk cover, the saddle was uncomfortable! After a couple of enquiries, we found the Hotel Pasada Shalon, once again it was in the town center and we planned a couple of nights stay so we could explore the Maya ruins the next day.

We walked around the ancient ruins which were built in 100BC. The civilisation flourished during the 630 to 740 AD then, as a lot of these ancient empires, they just disappeared. In the middle of the jungle they remained undiscovered until 1746 and new discoveries are being made, even today. The setting appeared to be straight out of an Indiana Jones movie!

Totally cultured out, we headed off the next day on the road towards San Cristobal. Leaving town, we started climbing straight away, ‘Curva Pelegrosa’, and smiles for miles - well 144miles of them which made for the most bends I've done in a day and by the end, I’d had enough!

HW 199 and 186 took us into a bizarre scene of pine trees and bananas growing together, there was a strange bombardment of the senses as we rode from rain forest jungle to the smell of pine. We stopped in a small town in the mountains for tacos after having been stopped by some masked teenagers! It was like a scene from, 'Point Break', Swayze and Reeves, The Ex Presidents, and a cult surfer movie. I presumed they were collecting for rag week and not trainee banditos!

We dropped down into San Cristobal having climbed 2080 meters in 144mls and found the Posada Mexico Hostel, the first Hostel International we’d seen in ages.

It was nice and cool up here so we thought we'd stop here till Saturday then ride through to Comitan. We will stay there Sat and Sun, hitting the Guatemalan boarder first thing Monday morning, or, as we're about 40 miles away, hopefully before the boarder closes for lunch!!

Looking forward to getting into a few Central American countries.

Huehuetenango, Guatemala; 20th February 2007

From Les

San Cristobal, Chaipas, Mexico; 15th February 2007

   We departed San Agustinillo with mixed feelings. Part of us wanted to get back on the road but the other part wanted to stay for a few more days, or even weeks. Anyhow, we bid fond farewells to some great people we had known for only a few short days. Our hosts at the Malex Hotel, Rosie and Ignacio had looked after us really well, even lending the hammock and sun brolly and generally making us feel very welcome. Our fellow bikers, Tom and Albert and Roger and Dotty (the Missionaries) were all there to see us off and, after a quick ‘blessing’ for us, the bike and the mechanic, who will fix it, we headed off for the nearest cash point!

Somewhere along the coast road to Salina Cruz we lost another hour due to time changes but we got it back again the next day!

Oaxaca State is under drought conditions at the moment and the countryside is very parched and dry. Strangely though, Chiapas State next door is the wettest area in Mexico, producing the greenest fields and most beautiful rainforests, our goal was to visit the Maya ruins in Palenque. To get there, we wound our way through Juchitan´s marshy wetlands, Tenanatepec´s bountiful fruit trees and vegetable patches and the twisty, bendy mountain roads to Chiapa de Corza.

This part of the trip has been almost like a fashion parade as the Chiapas area has the highest population of indigenous people of many different nations. The first thing I noticed was women’s clothing. In the Juchitan area they wore blouses with plain but wonderfully colourful in turquoise, cerise and purple with flowing skirts down to the ground. They also had embroidered yokes on white, round-neck, sleeveless blouses and plain blue or black skirts. In another area the women wore purple and white stripped tunic type blouses with plain black ankle length skirts. The combinations are very definite, you do not see them mixed and matched; in one day we passed through 3 obvious areas of dress code.

Facial features change almost from village to village from round rosy faces to narrow faces with oriental looking eyes. Their hair is long, being either in plaits or one long pigtail hanging almost to the waist.

Never again will I complain about housework, cooking and cleaning etc, the women in the mountains are incredible. The washing is always hanging out to dry and I have often seen them in river beds scrubbing clothes on the rocks. It seems as though their workload and skills are endless. All the many daily tasks are carried out with toddlers or small children strapped to their backs with shawls, their tasks seem endless from washing, cooking, collecting firewood and watching over the cattle. One day we saw three huge bundles of wood being carried by three of the tiniest old women. They walked up the side of a mountain with a man following carrying a small bag, (typical)! All we could see of the women at first was their ankles and feet as the loads were so large; the women looked about 80-yrs old!

The Maya Ruins at Palenque are in a rainforest which was wonderfully cool as we wandered around these magnificent buildings. Many of the buildings have only recently been discovered so it makes you wonder what other treasures are hidden deep in the jungle? The Maya palace was built at a similar time to the pyramids but there are vast differences but both spectacular all the same.

I loved the fresh green colours of the mountainside in this area. At times, Banana plants are growing along side pine forests and there are so many different flowers and shrubs, some of which I recognised, many I didn’t.

The road from Palenque to San Cristobal was a revelation in many ways. It began with the mountain rainforest and an endless stream of men and boys carrying machetes. Then there were happy, smiling, waving children as we passed through the villages. There were coffee beans spread out on plastic sheets on any available piece of flat ground and the people appeared to getting even smaller!

San Cristobal is a tourist trap and the locals come to sell their brightly coloured blankets, embroidered blouses, jewellery, sweets and balloons etc. And all the time the women carry around the children with some of the older girls carry their siblings; strangely, (or not, as the case may be) I have never seen twins! The skirts worn here are now like thick scratchy blankets tied around their waists and, in many cases, no shoes, however, many have mobile phones!

We now plan to cross the border on Monday after two months in this fascinating country and having experienced so much.

Until the next time, Lesley X


Hi folks, we are now safe and well in Guatamala.

The crossing from Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Mexico, to La Mesilla, Guatamala was on Sunday morning and only took us 1 Hr 12mins. That time included a bit of a runaround as I went to the wrong offices and had a short ride to and fro, and thank goodness this time it didn’t cost us anything! There were also no queues and all the officials were very helpful. We've now got a 90 day visa on the passport but only 40 for the temporary import of the bike, but this should be plenty.

The ride to Huehuetenango was awesome as we rode through steep rocky canyons with fantastic views. The road surface was ‘race track’ smooth; I was expecting a pot-holed dirt track.

It looks like we're have to have a couple of nights here as Les has gone down with a stomach bug of some sort so she’s confined to the room… and the loo, poor thing. Hopefully we'll move on tomorrow, Tues the 20th towards a big lake not far from us which is surrounded by volcanoes.

I picked up a local newspaper and saw some worrying statistics; the country's had 800 murders this year and had 5885 last year! I thought Memphis had a problem! There are loads of police and soldiers armed to the teeth, and frequent road checks as well! Anyway, I'm sure they're not interested in a couple of old farts on a bike?

The bike’s safe again, parked in the hallway opposite reception, I just love these people



Panajachel, Guatamala; 21st February 2007.

   We’ve just spent three pleasant days in San Cristobal, Mexico. At the hostel where we stayed we met Ernie and Margaret from Australia. They were a retired couple on a walkabout in the Americas; we didn’t know it then but our paths were to cross again.

We left San Cristobal and were travelling high up in the pine forests and mountains. We saw many of the indigenous people walking around their villages while wearing their traditional brightly coloured clothes. Many women were doing the washing in the roadside streams, while, just upstream, some horses were standing in the water as they drank. After a short ride along the Pan American Highway 190, we stopped for the night at Comitan, which only put us an hour and a half from the Guatemalan border. The original plan was to stay here and cross on Monday, but we couldn’t wait so Sunday was going to be the big day! We found a nice little hotel in Comitan - the Pension Delfin, which was smack bang in the town centre; we then spent the afternoon getting documents and cash ready for the crossing.

I decided this would be a good opportunity to attend to the bike’s needs so I topped the engine oil up and fitted a lockable oil filler cap. I had been carrying this around since leaving home, just in case any young fingers would fancy posting something in the hole! Tyres are ok at present, although the rear is going to need changing a couple of countries further on!

On Sunday morning, the 18th of Feb, and, after a restless night, we headed for the boarder. Once again it was a great ride along the Pan American Highway 190. We dropped down out of the mountains on some fast sweeping bends which led us onto warmer flatlands before climbing up towards Guatemala where some awesomely huge and rocky mountains awaited us.

We arrived at the Mexican side of the border at the little town of Cuauhtémoc. After passing a big building on the offside of the road, which looked more like a bus shelter, we rode a further four kilometres to the actual gate into Guatemala at the town of La Mesilla. Here we were told to go back to the ‘bus shelter’, which are the exit offices - on the wrong side of the road!  Here we had to sort out the bike’s exit from Mexico then return to an immigration office opposite the gate and get our passports stamped.

So back down the road we went, through the mountains of rubbish spread all over the road and the shanty-town stalls situated in no-mans-land and on towards the temporary import and immigration offices with a sign, Aduna Mexico on the outside. Thankfully there were no queues and the friendly official just wanted my vehicle registration, passport and the temporary import certificate which I received on the way in two months ago. I had the bike examined, the sticker taken off and the import cancellation certificate issued. Now it was back to the Guatemala gate only be be sent back again as the Immigration office was the wrong one, Ho Hum!  On our return, the friendly official was all smiles as we head into the office next door; I bet he’s seen it all before? Here we got our passports stamped and we have now officially left the country. So back across no-mans-land again to the gate where the bike gets fumigated and I get a certificate for it which cost 12.50 Quetzals - about 86p! We go to the Guatemalan Immigration office, which was conveniently next door. We pass a few people hanging around outside and go straight in to find no queue, thank goodness. We both fill in a form which was quite easy; I even got my address right this time! We then had our passports stamped with a 90day visa, all this and no money passed hands – happy days. Next door we visit the Temporary Vehicle Import office where the friendly official wants passport, registration documents and the Mexican exit certificate. From the information on these he produces a couple of documents for me to sign. He then sends me next door to the bank to pay 40 Quetzals - under £3 and gives me another sticker for the bike and we’re done, we have 40 days in the country with the bike. The crossing wasn’t as bad as I had thought it was going to be, we had it all done in 1hour 12mins, and that’s with the ride across no-mans-land five times!

We finally ride under the Guatemalan border gate, which was being held up by a man holding the end of a rope; we derived great joy as we rode into yet another country.

I had half expected a potholed road on this side of the border but instead found a ‘race track’ quality surface, which made the ride through the magnificent rocky canyons all the more enjoyable. The Pan American HW on this side is called the CA1 which ran through several villages with no Topes! We saw lots of colourful indigenous women, and sadly, some drunken men. We rode on through some awesome mountain scenery and passed several police and soldiers on road checks, with a wave and a smile we rode on only to come across a cycle time trial, the competitors being on up to date lightweight frames and dressed in Lycra. We eventually stopped on the outskirts of Huehuetenango and watched a Sunday league soccer game while we ate fruit and cake. After a short ride into this town we found our hotel for the night, the Hotel Mary. With the bike safely parked in the hallway opposite reception, (I love these people), we went out for a walk around the town square where we met Ernie and Margaret again and went to dinner together. We had planned to leave the following day but Les had succumbed to the dreaded Delhi belly, or what ever the Guatemalan equivalent is! To give Les time to recover, we spent another day in town with poor Les stuck in the room!

Generally there is not much change in standards from Mexico. The driving is a bit more aggressive as we got ‘cut up’ a few times but as long as you return the aggressiveness and don’t pussy-foot around, all’s well! The chicken busses, (the local cheapies), tend to overtake around bends so a slight adjustment in bend positioning is sometimes required!

We left Huehuetenango on Tuesday the 20th and rode through to Panajachel, in doing so; we passed through some beautiful mountain scenery and some long sections of new road construction. There were no problems encountered at the roadwork, we just went to the front of the queue and they always wave you through leaving the cars and Lorries behind. While we stopped at a roadside stall for a drink, we were joined by a whole family who, after sharing my crisps, cooked us some tortillas. Performing a poor impression of Michael Palin, I get out my inflatable globe, blow it up and showed them where we’d come from; this really was a precious moment on the whole trip.

We head onwards and drop down into the town of Panajachel on the banks of Lake Atitlan, which is 12miles by about 5 and set in a superb setting being surrounded by volcanoes. Here we find the Hospedaje Jere, our hotel for 100Q, or just under £7 pounds per night! Panajachel is a lovely little one-street town with lots of stalls but a bit touristy. Having said that, we liked it so much that we stayed for a second day and take a boat trip across the lake.

Les is feeling much better now so and all’s well with the world once again.

Love to you all, Nick.

From Les

San Pedro De La Laguna, Guatamala; 22nd February 2007

   We have now been officially homeless for 8 months...doesn’t time fly?
We had decided to cross into Guatemala on Monday but once again remained flexible and crossed on Sunday the 18th after 2 months in Mexico. The paperwork took just over the hour but I suspect we interrupted a few officials’ siestas. The Border area was a total health hazard, the Mexicans are not great at disposing of rubbish but this was like walking through a rubbish tip and the flocks of vultures nearby obviously had the same idea. I was very glad to get out of the area and on the road again.
One of our last memories of Mexico was of an old man taking 3 small piglets for a walk along the road. They were safely secured with string and he had control with a small stick, looked he was training them young!
Within a few miles we were following a valley and climbing steadily. The houses seem so much more substantial than many of those in Mexico, they also have more space between them and, wherever there is space, vegetables and crops are being grown. Further on, the mountainsides were patterned with the various crops being grown in tiered fields. The farmers occasionally use oxen but generally, because of the steepness of the hillside, they cultivate by hand using basic tools. Young and old alike gather wood, some of the more inventive make small carts to pull their heavy loads, others carry bundles on their heads or on their backs, it’s too steep for any motorised help.
We have just had our first glimpse of the 'infamous' chicken buses! These colourful and sturdy machines constantly trundle along all the roads in Guatemala, all fully loaded, inside and out! They career around blind bends, usually overtaking at the same time. They are scary to watch and even scarier to see as they head towards you around a bend on 2 wheels!
I thought I was doing so well on the trip so far but the stomach began to churn and I was confined to a small hotel room in Huehuetenango while Nick wandered around the town. You can’t keep us girls down for long and the next day we were off again to Panajechal beside Lake Atitlan. En-route we stopped off at a small stall to wash some of the dust and dirt from our mouths after passing by some dusty road works. We were greeted by a wonderful family, Mum and Dad with daughters, sons and grandchildren. All but the 2 younger men were in their traditional dress, even Dad had his woven colourful trousers and skirt - yes skirt! and a USA Motocross T-shirt. The women all wore heavy skirts and decorated tops and they had the biggest smiles, (and pinkest gums) I have ever seen. We ended up taking each others photos and showing our limited family albums, they loved the photos of our boys. These were the kind of people I would love to go to a gig with as they barely came up to my shoulder....Our friend Tom says it’s becoming a bit like Gulliver’s travels!

Panajechal was lovely and relaxing. The lake with its 3 volcanoes is really beautiful though quite hazy at times. We decided to have a couple of nights here and took a 30-minute boat ride to Santiago on the other side of the lake. The second you got out of the boat you were aware that this was another tourist hot spot. ‘Tuk tuk’ type transport waits to whisk you along the steep cobbled streets but we declined gracefully and just wandered around taking in all the colours of the endless market stalls. We had the first decent cup of coffee in ages, and some really delicious cake. I think the Mexicans and Guatemalans have a very sweet tooth. Apart from the endless supply of Coca Cola and Pepsi they also consume a vast amount of sweets. It’s not unusual to see grown men with a lolly, and they just pour sugar into their coffee, perhaps not a bad idea sometimes?

We decided that we would take the road around the lake to San Pedro de la Laguna where Nick fancied climbing a volcano! The road was lovely and windy through the coffee plantations and mountains with many glimpses of the Lake, and then we ran out of tarmac! As usual, Nick was doing very well along the really rough track. We knew it went somewhere as we had been passed by a Coca Cola truck, but then on a steep uphill slope, we hit very deep sand! Fortunately for us though, it was almost like landing on a feather bed. The adrenalin rush got the bike and us upright in no time but I did choose to walk the rest of the sand dunes. We arrived at the friendliest and cheapest hotel yet! Four English pounds for a room with en-suite! The ladies fussed over us and took our, by now, caked in dust, clothes to be washed; we will hold our breaths to see if we get them back in the morning…

Having a great time here in Guatemala, Lesley.


Copan Ruinas, Honduras; 1st March 2007

   We had a great couple of days on the banks of Lake Atitlan, staying in the Hotel Jere in Panajachel. We found it a very touristy, one street, town with loads of stalls selling the local indigenous peoples’ colourful clothes; and of course, plenty of restaurants and bars. People from Europe, Canada and USA have found this place, which is high in the mountains, to be hot enough to get a tan but still comfortable enough to have some cool and pleasant evenings.

We enjoyed a 40-minute boat ride across the lake which was 12 miles by 5. From its center we could see how we were surrounded by mountains and several volcanoes. On the other side we stopped for an hour and had a walk around Santiago Atitlan, another small lake-side town, we then returned to Panajachel.

The following day we packed and rode out of town by following the road around the lake in a clockwise direction. We had the intention of getting to a small town called San Pedro, about three quarters the way around.

The ride was spectacular as we hung onto the side of the mountain looking down at the lake sparkling in the sunshine, hundreds of metres below us. Around most of the bends was colourful graffiti from different political parties, DIA, FRG, and UNE seamed the most popular, this all brought back memories of Northern Ireland during the troubles. We rode through coffee plantations and saw piles of coffee beans waiting to be collected at the side of the road. Pickers, working by hand, could be seen in the fields toiling in the midday sun. Arriving in Santiago, the town which we had visited the day before, I followed, what appeared to be the main road which suddenly ran out and became dirt. After stopping and checking the map, I could see this road must be the right one so we carried on; it's great to be back on the dirt roads again. This dirt road got worse; it was now a deep sandy track with hidden boulders which only made things difficult for us, the only reassuring thing was the Coka’Cola lorry on the same track!  The track started climbing steeply … and that’s when it happened. I was powering up a steep sandy climb after Les had asked, “Shall I get off?” The front wheel disappeared into the deep sand and I lost control as we went sideways across the single track path and fell off. We must only have been at walking speed at that moment so I held on but fell on my left shoulder, which has had a bit of punishment in the past! When I looked back for Les she had somehow cleared the bike and was on her back in the sand a few feet away. I crawled out from under the machine and checked Les was ok, we then had to pick the bike up. Off came the panniers and top box, and with super human strength, we somehow picked it up. We were very lucky to have only a few scratches so I rode a few more yards to the top of the climb; we then we walked the boxes up. After brushing down some of the sand and dust and having a drink we got going again. The next dodgy climb we came too, Les got off! It was so much easier solo as I stood up on the pegs, no probs.

We got into San Pedro and found the Hotel Villasol, the cheapest yet at only £4.50 per night for a comfortable room with en-suite! The staff were so horrified with our grubbiness that they wanted to wash our clothes straight away, they were even more horrified when we told them the route we'd come around the lake. Apparently this was serious bandit country, we were lucky to be alive as there were lots of ‘throat-cutting’ signs! This was confirmed by another local resident, it seems highway robbery is alive and well in Guatemala! Other than the fall from the bike, it was good fun and, apart from the workers in the fields picking coffee, I didn’t see any bandits - or were they?

We stayed in San Pedro for a couple of nights; it was a small town with narrow cobbled streets and a network of dirt paths with some very steep hills. There were loads of Spanish language schools, cafes and restaurants. This was a very popular town with the backpacking fraternity; apparently a lot of them stay permanently.

Next to our hotel was a great little cafe serving home-made food, and even more special, you could get a massage at the same time! It was owned by an Italian cyclist who looked the spitting image of the late, great Marco Pantani, or was it really him?

We left San Pedro by climbing over the mountains surrounding the lake and got back onto the CA1 – the Pan American Highway towards Guatemala City. It was on this road that we came up behind a familiar sight, a small Nissan car with an Australian flag in the rear window - it was Ernie and Margaret again!

We all eventually found our way to the town of Antigua and the Hotel Cristal, which was owned by Senor Perez and his family. Antigua was levelled by an earthquake in 1773 and eventually rebuilt so impressively that UNESCO awarded it ‘World Heritage site’ status. This was another beautiful town with cobbled streets and a cool town square and the shade of big trees to escape the hot sun. Looking around it was obvious that things were still geologically active as the volcano, which was not to far away, was smoking! We stayed here a couple of days and absorbed the atmosphere. Unfortunately Ernie and Margaret got the dreaded stomach bug and were confined to barracks.

We left Antigua on Tue 27th Feb and headed towards Guatemala City. On the climb out of town we came up behind a courier van when suddenly there was a gun shot and a cloud of smoke from the offside window from the van; the bough of a tree fell to the ground - they'd shot the tree! We rode past quickly, looking straight ahead, (I saw nothing senor).

Just outside Guatemala City we ran into several miles worth of road-works and then, unintentionally, ran straight into the city centre. Somehow we'd lost the ring road; we were not having much luck by-passing major cities on this tour, Mexico City first and now here! Still it wasn’t all bad, my back-seat navigator was on form and we soon found our way back on the roads we needed, the CA9 heading north east. The temperature rose dramatically the further east we headed, not helped by the fact that we were coming off the mountains. At Rio Hondo we turned right onto the CA10 and into Chiquimula where we found a hotel in the town centre. It was so hot here that my body thermostat went up the creek; I had to take refuge in any air-conditioned shops we could find. I swear - you could have cooked eggs on the footpath! We had a restless nights sleep in our grubby hotel room with only a floor fan to cool us down.

The following morning we were up bright and early as we headed to the Honduran border. As we were riding up to the border gate in the small town of El Florido, a money changer approached us, and with his help, I found all the offices we needed, and sensibly, they were all in no-mans-land, between the two barriers.

First we had to book ourselves out of Guatemala. Our passports were swiped, then it was over to the Guatemalan Vehicle Export Office virtually next door, hand in my bike import certificate and had it cancelled.

Then to the Honduras immigration office, all offices being nicely sign posted. Passports were checked and returned and we were then told we had a total of 90 days for Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua and we will get our exit stamp when we go into Costa Rica. This was contrary to what we were told at the Guatemalan border on the way in - the clock is ticking!

We then went to the Honduras Vehicle Import Office and watched the official typing our bike details onto forms with an antique typewriter! I then had to go down the road and get copies of the forms he had just typed as they don’t have a photocopy machine! A few dollars changed hands from a supply we'd got earlier and that was it; all done in 45mins including me getting the copies done! No queue's - no problem.

One small problem though was that there was no bike insurance office at the border. I'd just ridden across Guatemala with no insurance and now it looked like Honduras was going to be the same, no one seemed worried about it although I asked!

Passing the 'Bienvenida a Honduras' sign, I couldn’t resist a shout of joy as we climbed up into another set of mountains, passing a school with children in the playground who all stopped to wave as we rode by – life is great.

We rode into the town of Copan Ruinas and found the Hotel Jenney which was close to the Maya Copan ruins we hoped to visit the next day. We rose early to avoid the heat and walked the one kilometre to the site. Now these are some really old bricks! People are believed to have lived here 1200 BC and survived to 1200 AD when they just disappeared; I have another theory. They liked their ball games, the only downside here was whoever lost was sacrificed; it appears you can only play so much ball! Or it could be because of deforestation for more agricultural land which then caused soil erosion and loss of crops, so they moved out? We walked around temples and pyramids, taking in the moment until it was just too hot so we walked back to our cool room and a fan to siesta under.

From Les

Copan Ruinas, Honduras; 1st March 2007

   Our clothes were returned to us the next morning, one T-shirt gaining a tie-dye pattern back and front; we decided to stay another day in San Pedro by Atitlan Lake, Guatemala.

We spent hours wandering around the narrow dusty alleyways, often getting lost; we even ended up in peoples’ gardens. In one narrow back street we found two small coffee-bean processing plants. The strong aroma was almost like a brewery with a hint of strong coffee which somehow led us to them, but with the wind in the wrong direction, it smelt more like chicken fertiliser....ugh! We also had the first curry in ages and watched a pirate DVD copy of ¨Borratt¨, which kept breaking down at regular intervals. On several occasions we were told by the locals how bad and dangerous the road that we had just travelled was. Apparently it’s bandit country and there are often hold ups. All we saw were men waving machetes at us and smiling broadly....or was it a smile? Fortunately we hadn’t planned to return that way across the sand dunes again! I am beginning to feel the bruises coming out!

We had heard that Antigua is a nice place to visit but as we approached it didn’t look too inspiring. On the road there we had met up with Margaret and Ernie an Aussie couple in their prime...60-70, who had driven from Alaska and had been on the road since May. We had previously met up with them in San Cristabel and Huehuetenango, and it sounds as though they had covered some of the hot spots we have been to.

We were led to a hotel by a man on a bicycle, who after giving me directions, waited to make sure we got there in one piece. By the time I had my purse out he had disappeared. Nick did the usual, “balancing on a couple of planks trick” to get the bike into the foyer which was very tight squeeze so at least we knew it was going to be safe.

Antigua is overshadowed by three volcanoes, only one; Volcan Fuego is still smoking and gives off an eerie pink glow in the evenings! A bit scary being soooo close to nature!

On Saturday night in the main Plaza we were treated to a free concert and firework display. The full orchestra played Jazz, Blues, classical and Motown! And the accompanying fireworks were excellent. On Sunday a religious parade was held which started at 11.00am and finishing at 5.30pm in the main plaza again. Males of all ages were dressed in long purple silk robes and a lead group were dressed as centurions. It was a hot day and a long parade for those carrying a huge wooden platform with lots of statues on top. The platform was so large that there were 20 men on each side and 4 at each end. A band played and large smoking vats of incense were being swung about the streets, it made a change from the choking vehicle fumes.

Generally, Antigua was a very interesting place if you are really into ruins. The last big earthquake was in 1773 and many of the churches and buildings have not been restored, so around nearly every corner there is another “pile of rocks”. The streets are cobble stones and wide. I was surprised to see that very few people were wearing the traditional costumes. Even the older women opted for more modern dress but did add the frilly apron which seems the favourite in this area. Mopeds and small bikes rule! Often up to four people on one bike with no helmets or jackets. As it gets hotter I am beginning to wonder who has the right idea, about appropriate dress for the least we are only two-up!

On the way to Chiquimula, and trying to avoid Guatemala City - and failing, we experienced three new “firsts” in one day.

1. Following a parcel van out of Antigua, a shot was fired and a branch fell of a tree beside me, seems like the guard in the truck took a pot shot at the tree and scored. As we passed them, the driver and guard were sitting bolt upright, face forward looking like two naughty school boys.

2. Three armed guards looked after the bike in a Mc Donald’s car park in Guatemala City while we indulged in a decent cup of coffee!

3. In Chiquimula, (a stopover place before the border) a band suddenly started to play below our hotel window. It was a funeral procession, the coffin being carried high and people following with the band having a little dance, a bit James Bondish as in Live and Let Die. All this was in our last day in Guatemala. It’s strange how you become accustomed to things very quickly; the security guards outside banks, chemist’s shops and on most street corners; the tourist police and the constant stream of army trucks and police trucks that seem to patrol the towns. Most roads have some kind of road-check station and it makes you wonder if the country is very safe now, or is it very dangerous because of the large numbers of officials? We were happy in Guatemala, the people were all very friendly and helpful and it felt safe to wander around alone, no one hassled you.

The heat is definitely on now, we were spoilt in mountains. Antigua was hot in the day but at dusk you needed your fleece. Now that we have arrived in Honduras we are cooking! The loss of altitude at Chiquimula and Copan makes it incredibly warm day and night; thank goodness for ceiling fans! Today we made an early start and walked the mile or so to the Copan Maya ruins, (or as Nick calls it, “another pile of rocks”). This Maya site is famous for its sculptures and hieroglyphics and was established earlier than Palenquie, around 1200BC. Entry was quite expensive and an American woman ahead of us in the queue complained bitterly and loudly saying, ¨I don’t know why it’s so expensive as it was us Americans who built this place"...What can I say? I managed to keep my sarcastic reply on the tip of my tongue....just! I much preferred the Palenquie ruins amidst the rainforest.

So here we are in Honduras after a very fast, painless, border crossing. Another flag for the pannier and another currency to learn.... but it’s still all good! The adventure continues!!

Regards to you all; Lesley X

Granada, Nicaragua; 10th March 2007.

   After a few educational days at Copan Ruines, Honduras, we left on the CA11, riding through green fields with cattle grazing. Then we headed through the hills in comfortable temperatures even though it was sunny and warm; we could so easily have been in the Lake District or in Derbyshire! The road surface was a surprise being mostly smooth tarmac with only the odd pot hole.

Turning south onto the CA4 at La Entrada and the CA11, we remained in the mountains as we rode through to a town called Gracias, where we found a small hotel called Finca Bravari. It was in fact a coffee growing plantation and from our room we looked across the coffee bean bushes.

Gracias was another small town with mostly cobbled streets, and where there weren’t cobbles, there was dirt. Nearby was one of Honduras's best national parks; it was in fact a mountain with a cloud forest. Apparently, tourists get lost up there and never seen again, I wisely decided to give that a miss!

We left there and headed towards the town of Las Esperansa. We had a reasonably good start for a few miles then it was dirt and rocks, dust and more dirt for about 40 miles. The reassuring thing was that big Lorries were also using this road. On several occasions I even thought I'd taken the wrong road but the views across the pine covered mountains was fantastic and well worth the effort.

We stopped at a dusty roadside stall for a drink where a little old lady who was stocking up with groceries gave us a packet of biscuits. She was so kind, but then maybe she thinks I am starting to look too skinny?

Just outside Las Esperansa we got stopped by the police at a road check. The policeman spoke so quickly and I didn’t really have a clue what he wanted so I gave him my registration documents for the bike. He looked it over but hadn’t really got a clue what it was so he let us go!

La Esperanza was, to put it bluntly, a dump. The highlight was a brilliant cup of coffee in a small cafe owned by the local coffee grower, Nicolas. He brought a sack of beans over for us to smell and they were beautiful. It's been surprisingly difficult to get a decent cup of coffee, considering it’s growing everywhere. Instant coffee! What are these people thinking?

I was pleased to leave in the morning, and following the CA22 north east and CA 5, head on towards the Honduran capital city of Tegucigalpa. While stopping for gas and a drink we had a man with a pump action shotgun guarding us and the bike which seemed the norm now!

We had good roads all the way through mountains flanked by pine trees, banana trees and vultures feasting on the remains of a dog which looked so very strange, not something you would see in Norfolk. Following sweeping bends we entered the city and headed for the center, and with our trusty Lonely Planet guide, we found a hotel right in the middle of town. I rode the bike through a pedestrian precinct and through the hallway of the hotel; the bike was now in pride of place beside the reception and in the way of the elevator but know one bothered! I just love these people.

The quest for trainers for me has been completed; they do have size 13 people here! We chatted with some other residents by practicing our poor Spanish on them and their much better English on us. Today we covered the magical 30,000 mile marker.

The following morning I pushed the bike along the footpath and past a couple of policemen who didn’t seem too bothered that we were in fact in a pedestrian area. Unfortunately the third cop on the road wasn’t so friendly and in a loud voice asked me to stop. As he looked over the bike I presumed he wanted to see the frame number. After a frustrating few minutes where I thought I was about to be locked up, the penny finally dropped; all he wanted to know was the size of the engine. I told him the best I could that it was 1150cc, then he explained that he had a Honda CB200 and that he just loved my bike, we then quickly departed.

We left Tegucigalpa for the small town of Danli, which was close to the Nicaraguan border. We had a change in the weather which brought us a bit of rain, but to tell the truth, it made for a nice change. We followed the CA6 west through more mountains and bends with plenty of damp surfaces to focus the attention. In Danli town center we found the Hotel San Juan and, after checking in, we went out for something to eat. As we were eating we were joined by a local girl who wanted to practice her English, we didn’t mind and it was no problem but I’m afraid it didn’t help our Spanish!

After a short ride from Danli the next day in the rain, we climbed up to the border town of Los Manos and the crossing into Nicaragua; our usual routine swung into action. At the border we were approached by money changers but I just told them the best I could that I would see them later.

Then a lad ran over and started showing us which offices to go to, some other small boys wanted to guard the bike. We were taken to the Honduras immigration to exit ourselves and, in the same office, exit the bike, they just took one of the forms I'd been given on the way in and gave me another back.

Meanwhile, and slightly unusually, Les went off with our helper with both passports and booked us into Nicaragua, tourist cards were then issued without me being there! I got the bike checked in with the Vehicle immigration and received a temporary import form. Unknowingly, I also got some insurance for the bike at only $12 for a month. I looked upon this as a result after having ridden through the last couple of countries without any - I can now sleep soundly at night! The whole procedure took only 45 minutes with no queues and no fuss, it was easy. I then changed our remaining currency, Lempiras for Cordobas, meanwhile it rained!

We followed a beautifully smooth road to Somoto where we joined the Pan American highway south to Esteli where we found a bed for the night. We now had another country under our belt and not much had really changed except the temperature which had risen as we dropped down off the mountains.

The road from Esteli to Leon was interesting. It started on good tarmac but once we left the Pan American it became a mixture of potholes, broken tarmac and dirt; my slalom technique would have impressed a downhill skier as I avoided some wheel-shattering holes! It also got so hot here that it must have been around 100degs.

We then came across some local highway robbers who were all about 5 or 6 years of age! Demanding money, they tried to stop us with a piece of rope stretched across the road, they were certainly starting young here ---This happened three times!

As we approached Leon, we could see a line of volcanoes, apparently there are 8 in a row; a nice place to live if you're a gambler! The road just got worse, bridges were missing and traffic had to divert into the fields to bypass. Riding over loose gravel we eventually reached Leon where we had a frustrating time finding a bed until we found Judith Pineda and ‘Rooms to Let’. Here we met the lovely Senora Judith who let us stay in her son’s room in her house. That evening she told us about, pre, and, post, revolution Nicaragua; seems she'd been through some hard and frightening times. She told us to be in by 10pm as the city isn’t safe!

It was still very hot, apparently the temperature doesn’t vary much between 30 and 32 deg c all year!

Next day we left Leon and rode via the Nicaraguan capital of Managua and on to Granada. At another police road check they looked at a few official papers that I gave them, I got the impression they had no idea what they were and they eventually let us go.

It was another hot day’s ride across flat uninteresting countryside. We rode on into Granada on the banks of Lake Nicaragua which is a massive fresh water lake with sharks! Anyone for a swim? No, you wouldn’t want to, if the sharks didn’t get you then the pollution would, raw sewage from the city goes straight into the lake. Other than that, we liked Granada; even though it is a touristy city it felt comfortable and relaxed. We found a bed at the Cafe Ruiz, close to the town center. We then wandered around town, through the bustling market and found shade in the park to sit with everyone else; did I mention it’s HOT?

Tomorrow, Sun 11th, we're leaving for the coast and then midweek, another country beckons --- Costa Rica. Nick.

From Les

Granada, Nicaragua. 10th March 2007

   It may seem to you guys back home that we have rushed through Honduras and Nicaragua; the fact is that neither country is particularly large and, to a certain degree, we are restricted to the areas we cover. Many "over-Landers" stay on the Pan-American Highway and just head south to Costa Rica from Guatemala, I have to admit - it was tempting! We tried to devise a bit of a tour but some of the roads are not really roads at all and some areas are quite dangerous.

From Copan Ruinas we headed for Gracias in the centre of the coffee growing region. The previous evening at the hotel I had witnessed an exchange of handguns which were tucked in the belt and concealed by a T-shirt which made me a little nervous. There is a definite change of atmosphere now we are in Honduras. We really enjoyed Guatemala; the people were so friendly and kind and seemed to be able to laugh at anything. The country was also so much cleaner than Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua. Here there seems to be an undercurrent of unrest which has made me feel quite uncomfortable at times.

We have been through yet more diverse scenery from pine clad mountains, lush green paddy fields, volcanic fertile agricultural areas and some of the dodgiest road surfaces yet. The temperature is rising fast and even the locals are complaining as they dive from shady tree to shady tree in search of a cool spot. Everywhere seems to be dusty and dirty but I imagine that after the rainy season it will all be lush green again.

Because of the heat, we are now up and on the road much earlier and tend to find somewhere to stay around 1pm so we can be out of the hot sun. Later we have a chance to walk around the village or town to see if we think it would be worth staying another day. A wander around Tegucigalpa, (Honduras capital city) ended the quest for Nick’s trainers! Brilliant white trainers and a perfect fit for £2.69p – what a bargain! Generally the local people are becoming larger again and no longer wear the traditional costumes. The larger cities have fast food outlets with fizzy drinks appearing to be the favourite refreshment!

We only spent 6 days in Honduras and then experienced our first very wet day for the border crossing into Nicaragua. Fortunately, with the assistance of one of the many helpers, we got the paperwork sorted in about 45 minutes; it seems that the American Dollar is used a lot and from now on it is quoted for all prices.

Within a mile, the countryside was greener and some of the large trees were full of bright orange flowers. As we passed villages we saw adobe mud houses and lots of rubbish, plastic bags and bottles. There did seem to be quite a bit of construction going on with many roadside kilns to bake the clay bricks and roof tiles made by hand and drying in the sun. It's also the first time I have been aware of outside loos, several yards from each house; some are in better shape than the houses! It also looks as though there has been a water-well building project as, in some villages; nearly every home has a circular well with winching handle.

As soon as we left the Pan American highway, the road to Leon became rutted and very potholed. We were on a fertile plateau where there were bands of lush green fields of rice, sugarcane and corn. The animals looked so much healthier as they have the free range of road and fields and seemed to have very little road sense. In 1989, Hurricane Mitch devastated this area; one village was completely destroyed by mud slides which killed over 1000 people. Although Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, the roads and about 10 bridges are being gradually repaired. Passing through 50miles of roadwork’s was a hot and dusty journey and we were glad when we arrived in Leon; but only briefly! The roads are all one-way and flanked by many busy churches, so busy that I couldn’t find the main road, which then puts navigational skill to the test. With a sense of humour failure all round, we eventually met Judith Pineda who kindly offered us her son’s bedroom for the night and secure parking for the bike. Judith often referred to life before the Revolution which reminded us of the unrest in the country and how much people had suffered; she was so kind to invite us into her home.

Once again we are both very tired. The constant heat day and night does get to us so we decided to stay in Granada by the lake in Nicaragua for three nights to relax, wander about town, do some laundry and have a few hours apart, as eight months, 24/7 is pretty intense! Surprisingly we haven't met too many travellers lately as most are on organised tours or at language schools so we haven't much chance to mingle with other like-minded people. The city has the usual park central, which becomes busy in the evenings, but I don’t feel happy about walking about on my own too much. I spent some of my time on the internet in air-conditioned comfort and then returned to the room with a huge fan and let Nick have his turn on the net in the air-conditioning. We will then meet for dinner and all will be well with the world once again.

We have been told that Costa Rica is stunningly beautiful and, unfortunately, much Americanised; we will check it out and go off the tourist route where possible.

Till the next time..... Lesley X

P.S. Nick and I never confer when compiling our reports so the first time I read Nick’s report is when Eddie puts it on the site! I hope we don't disagree too much?


Tamarindo, Costa Rica; 18th March 2007

   We departed Granada, in Nicaragua on Sun 11th March on a road that, according to my map, didn’t exist. But with help from the locals, we found it. It looked like a stretch of tarmac that had been bombed at some time. This saved us retracing our path to the capital, Managua, and put us on the Pan American heading south. We only travelled a short distance to Rivas where we turned off towards the Pacific and the town of San Juan Del Sur; it was time for some beach fun!

We found the hostel, the Casa Oro a short walk from the beach. We made our way down towards the water to find that most of Nicaragua was already on the beach and playing football. Taking a stroll appeared dangerous so we headed to the bar and, from a safe distance, watched these budding Beckhams in action. When the footballers had gone home we found ourselves in a different beach-side bar; sipping pina-coladas and watching the palm trees gently bending in the fresh breeze as the sun twinkled off a shimmering sea. We listened to some old tunes on a jukebox when Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water’ came on … life doesn’t get much better than this!

The following morning we walked to the beach for breakfast only to see a massive ocean-going cruise ship with four masts in the bay, its wealthy customers were in the process of being ferried ashore. We had seen it before and it appeared to be following us down the coast. It was then only a short ride brought us to the border town of, Penas Blancas; our crossing point into Costa Rica.

At the first gate we were approached by a helper, Walter offered us his help and when I asked how much he charged he told us that it was up to us - can't be fairer than that; the usual money changers were also in abundance. Walter was a great help guiding us to the various offices to book out of Nicaragua and, with the help of the money changer, we got rid of our remaining cordobas into colones, which would tide us over until we find a cash machine. The cash transactions at the border were all carried out in US dollars, this currency works everywhere so having a little in our wallet is always a help. Without Walter’s help we could have managed but it would have taken twice as long and he only got a few dollars, which he was grateful for. The border crossing procedure was basically the same as previous crossings. We would book ourselves out with the departing countries immigration office and then the bike, which was always in a different office, so far.

We then rode a few hundred yards to the Costa Rica Immigration office, which was a different story - there was a long queue! After asking a few questions, we booked ourselves in with their passport control, bought some bike insurance and then booked the bike in. This was done in two different offices some hundred yards apart and, in between, we had the fumigation where the bike is sprayed to kill bugs. As she dripped away we were issued with the important certificate, without which you don't go any further – it only costs a few dollars. Total cost for this border crossing was $33 US; just over £15 English pounds. All in all it’s just a case of finding the correct offices in the correct sequence, and anyway, most people were usually very helpful. The whole procedure set a record at only two hours & forty five minutes; not bad seeing it’s a busy road!

Now we're into Cost Rica, and it’s hot, damn hot.

First impressions as we rode down the Pan American Highway were brilliant. The road was ‘billiard table’ smooth, as this main road has been in all the Central American countries, but this time we were surrounded by forest with large trees forming tunnels over the road in places. There were still the shacks at the side of the road, although simple accommodation they at least looked as if they were better constructed and were tidy. Any horses we saw looked healthy; no longer could you see the ribs of these hard worked beasts, it was immediately visible that this country was wealthier than the previous three.

We followed HW 1 to Liberia with volcanoes on either side of us, something we have grown accustomed to while we ride over this fragile area of the planet! Eventually we turned onto Route 21 towards the pacific and the beach resort town of Player Coco. On the way we passed fields of sugar cane being harvested and the inevitable passing Lorries dropping bits of cane on the road. It made a change from sugar beet back home which can do far more damage to a motorcyclist!

In Playa Coco we found a small hotel not far from the beach and had a pleasant stay. In the morning we caught another of the big ocean-going sailing liner in the bay that had been following us down the coast.

Getting our heads around another country’s currency is always challenging. It is not just challenging converting to £ pounds; the US dollars are used here for accommodation amongst other things. We’ve now we've got 1000 colones to the £ pound, so we have a fistful of notes that are not really worth a great deal!

The next day we ride to Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast which is a beach resort accessed only by dirt roads. They also appear to be the only class of roads in this town; the constant dust is a major problem as the traffic passes by. It's a busy little town with lots of restaurants and small hotels to suit all pockets. It’s sad to say that the Americans appear to have discovered the place as the US accent can be heard nearly everywhere; in this tropical paradise with big beaches and palm trees who can really blame them? The only problem is that things are a little more expensive than we are used to. Anyway, enough of that gripe. It’s here that we find the Hostel 'La Botella de Leche', it’s still very hot down here and, seeing that our double room has got air-conditioning, we booked in for a week, it was time to relax on the beach and catch a few rays.

Our weeks stay in the hostel, whose name translates to 'Bottle of milk' has been great - just what we needed - time to relax. Our days went something like this. Wake about 7.30am and jog down the lane for 20mins, back for breakfast, cereal and coffee. Then a 5min dander down to the beach, find some shade under a palm tree, swim and swim and after another swim lie in the sun then shade again, did I mention it’s hot, get the idea? Then it’s back to our room for lunch and a siesta. Then stroll down town for dinner and a beer then bed. Does it get any better than that? The only problems are the mosquitoes; I think I've been bitten every day, even if you put the repellent on and cover up, they'll get you somewhere!!!

Mariana, the owner of the hostel is an Argentinean lady, and with the help of her son, she keeps things ship-shape. She has been very interested in our adventure and has given us an itinerary for Argentina with some useful contacts if we need help.

Anyway, time to move on further down the coast, then inland to the mountains for some cool volcanic action. Did I mention it’s hot here? te he.   Nick.


San Jose, Costa Rica; 3rd April 2007.

   After travelling over a dirt road for 50 miles yesterday, and this morning, we checked over the bike only to find that the rear axle was dumping oil big time! We nursed it over 170 miles to the capital, San Jose where we found a BMW shop. Seems the rear wheel bearing has gone, blowing the oil seal, and only 46000 miles in total on the clock! - I thought these bikes were bomb-proof?

Unfortunately Costa Rica is on holiday so we can't get the work done until next week. The local BMW dealer here in San Jose has been very helpful but the delay is beyond their control.

While they have the bike we'll have another rear tyre fitted, an oil filter change and a new air filter, which must be full of dirt after all the dust we've ridden through; can't wait for the bill!

We're stuck in the capital of Costa Rica, which like any other capital city, is busy and grubby. Why couldn’t there have been a dealer near the beach?

Oh well, time to get to know a bottle of the local rum, I find it helps with my Spanish!!

 P.S. We are staying with Mariana who owns two ‘Bottle of Milk’ hostels and she’s taking care of us.

Will update you all soon;   Nick

From Les

Tamarindo, Costa Rica; 19th March 2007

   Crossing into Costa Rica from Nicaragua was almost as surprising as the Texas/Mexico border; it was almost as if someone had drawn a dividing line across the country, with both sides very different.

Within minutes of clearing the border, which only took 2¾ hours, we were on the Pan-American highway and were now on tree lined smooth roads with lush green grazing pastures. There was now fit and healthy looking livestock, a stark contrast with those in Honduras and Nicaragua. We passed fields of sugarcane and cotton being harvested, large herds of cows and horses and many beautiful shady trees. The mountains, shrouded with clouds are on our left as we headed for the Pacific coast. It is immediately obvious that Costa Rica is a much wealthier country in more ways than one. Roadside homes look far more substantial and quite westernised. Although Costa Rica has huge debts, it provides schooling and a health care service for all, not just the rich. We have arrived back into the comfort zone for a while so have made the most of it to recharge batteries by spending a week at the "The Bottle of Milk" hostel in Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast.

It has been surprising and a bit disappointing that we haven’t met too many other travellers on our trip so far. Maybe it’s because we tend to keep off the main routes. As we are together 24/7 it’s nice to be able to talk with others and exchange experiences from time to time. Our time spent with James, Tom and Albert, Ernie and Marge was like a blast of fresh air in a way. Fortunately we have met a constant stream of travellers attending language schools or passing through while we have stayed at the hostel, and all have a tale to tell.

The night before we left Nicaragua we met Jorges who works for "Nuestros Pequeros Hermanos ", a charity which has many orphanages throughout Central America. We also met John and Natasha, (Italian/Irish) from Dublin, and that’s as close to home as we get.

We have started yet another fitness campaign! Nick goes for a 20min run/walk along the dust track first thing in the morning and I have booked a weeks membership at the gym opposite and spend an hour raising the heart levels each day. We have also spent quite a bit of time on the beach, hiding in the shade and sprinting across the burning sand into the warm sea.

The "time out" has been great for us both as we were getting tired and suffering from the dreaded ‘information overload’ again. Tamarindo is quite a busy touristy beach town with dusty dirt roads and lots of surf-shops and fast-food places; it has been an easy but an expensive place to stay. Everyone speaks English so it has taken a bit of stress out of life for a week....But now we are really looking forward to seeing the rest of Costa Rica, particularly the rainforests, mountains and the Caribbean Coast with its chilled reggae scene ...Gortex and insect repellent at the ready!!

Until next time … Lesley X

San Jose, Costa Rica; 5th April 2007.

   We had a great week on the beach in Tamarindo, staying at one of the best hostels to date, the "La Botella de Leche". We left on Tue 20th March and for the first 13 miles we hit dirt roads until we found the blacktop.

It was another hot and dusty day as we headed for Santa Cruz, bouncing along on another dried-up river bed. Then all of a sudden I had to swerve around a massive Iguana, just missing its tail. I obviously surprised it, and for something that moves so slowly most of the time, it’s got a good turn of speed! We've swerved around bears, moose, giant spiders, snakes, tortoise and now lizards!

A bit further down the track we stop for a more urgent reason, Les got stung by something up her sleeve. Obviously in a lot of pain, we got her jacket off and removing the sting which was still stuck in her arm. I put some antihistamine cream on, and she didn’t cry; she's such a brave girl.

From Santa Cruz we followed HW 21 southeast to Nicoya and then south to Samara, another beach town. Here we found the ‘Hotel La Ancla’ and our comfortable room which was a good one minute from the beach, and it’s still hot.

Nicoya is a much smaller and quieter place than Tamarindo and has a bigger wave. As a result, it attracts lots of surfers which was great entertainment for us, and by the way, I still haven’t had a go! We stayed another night here before leaving and heading for the hills and some cooling down.

Back on the HW 21 we retrace to Santa Cruz, Liberia and back on the Pan American for a short ride to Canas and then a back road towards Tilaran where we started to climb. As we gained height the countryside changed dramatically from hot and dusty with bananas and coconuts to lush green fields, pine trees and Friesian cattle, it was surreal - we could almost have been in Wales, and it also cooled down somewhat which was bliss.

From Tilaran we picked up another dried-up riverbed track and continued to climb up to the clouds through coffee plantations. This was the main road to Santa Elena and the Monteverde cloud forest!

We found the 'Sleepers hostel’ in Santa Elena which was recommended by Adam, whom we met at the 'Bottle of milk' hostel in Tamarindo. We had a big comfortable room with a mountain view and a great breakfast all for £5 pounds a night, how can they afford to do this? Once again we were spoilt, this time by Ronnie the owner and his brother Mauricio.

At 4350 ft things were much cooler in the refreshing mountain air.

We spent a couple of days here and visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve a couple of miles away and taking the bus over the dried up river bed. We were now climbing even higher and I wished I was on the bike! At the reserve we followed the well laid out path which was our route through the jungle, all the while looking out for the unusual animals to be seen in this tropical environment. Would you believe it - we saw nothing; the animals were obviously having a day off!

Sun 25th March was an important day for us, we've been out of the UK for 9 months, and how time flies when you're having fun.

We left Santa Elena and retraced the track, which in effect was the main road, to Tilaran. We dropped down to Lake Arenal and followed the road around this beautiful lake which is famed for windsurfing in Costa Rica. We rode on to La Fortuna, a town which seemed to have been built for tourists visiting Volcano Arenal - one of Costa Rica’s more active ones. How disappointing though, there was nothing while we were there, not even a spark! Through the low cloud we could only see the lower section of the classical conical shape of this monster through the rain - but at least its warm rain.

I was pleased to leave this tourist trap and head towards another volcano, 'Poas'. We rode on through lush green cattle country planted with bananas and sugar cane. We climbed into the mountains once again and through Quesada, Naranjo and traversing the terraced; mountainside fields which are the vegetable bowl of Costa Rica. Workers tending the crops momentarily take a break and wave to the strangers on the iron horse.

Today we hit the 31000 mile mark for the adventure and all’s well so far!

We found the Poas volcano and climbed up the twisty road to the 7322-foot summit only to find we'd chosen the wrong time of day to visit, there were low clouds and no crater to be seen today. But you could hear some bubbling and popping and smell the sulphur fumes; hopefully it'll stay asleep until we get down again!

Throwing caution to the wind, we rent a cabin only a mile down the volcano with a fantastic view to the valley thousands of feet below. We detect the occasional whiff of sulphur from the volcano, although at one stage I thought it was Les! I slept in the presence of one of nature’s most dangerous creations, no, not Les, the volcano!

Dropping down off the volcano it was our plan to cut across to the main road to the Caribbean coast and spend a few days there before the country takes one of their national holidays as everyone goes to the beach. While they crowded the beaches it was our plan to return to the mountainous centre until they all returned to work.

I was hoping to avoid going through San Jose, the busy capital, but once again found ourselves funnelled into the city center, whether you wanted to or not!

The local motorcycle cops use Suzuki 600 Bandits with a small screen to dart in and out of the traffic which makes sense.

We eventually find our way onto HW 32 to the coast. It was a fantastic road, like a wide and well surfaced racetrack with fast sweeping bends through rain forest and going for miles. It was described as what Costa Rica would have looked like before deforestation.

We stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch and have a change of plan; we remain flexible at all times (which is our motto). We turn around and ride this great road once again! We'll go to the Caribbean another time, lets check out another volcano!

We find the spectacular road up to Voulcano Irazu, Costa Rica’s tallest at 3432m - 11325 ft. We were hoping to find somewhere to stay on the way up but surprised to find everywhere closed. Finding the summit covered in cloud, we decide to come back the next day, only earlier. Stopping the night in Cartago, we then climb up to Volcano Irazu again. Wow, what a road, incredible views around every bend. This time we get into the park and can see the volcano crater clearly, it looked like a small green lake and no bubbles!

We dropped down from the volcano and picked up the Pan American south, HW2 across the Talamanca Mountains, locally known as the mountains of death! Climbing up through rain forest at 3500mts, we encountered steep gradients with heavy Lorries crawling up which only encouraged overtakes in the 50 yards you've got between the bends. Perhaps that’s why it got its name? It was loads of fun though and the descent was equally exciting.

At San Isidro we turned south on HW 34 to the Pacific Coast, stopping at a small village called Uvita. We were not exactly on the beach but it was only a short ride away. We found the Hotel Toucan, a great chilled out and mellow hostel emphasised by the ‘yin yang’ symbol on the sign at the entrance, the American owners made everyone feel at home. With a small restaurant on site we didn’t have to go far for nourishment, and most importantly, beer! While walking out to the back to the garden I'm surprised to see another British number plate. There next to a tent in the garden is a BMW F650 with aluminium panniers and it looked like a serious piece of kit. As I'm looking around, a voice calls out, "It looks better when it’s clean". We meet Bob and Angie who were also on a world tour having just spent three and a half years in South America. They’re heading north and what’s more surprising is that Bob is from Cambridge, only 50 miles from where we used to live – it’s a small world!

Bob is also running a website, check out from this site he runs a business making mapping updates for GPS navigation systems. Orders can be made online from his site, go on, buy a map and help Bob and Angie ride around the world! He's also picked up a beautiful souvenir from Peru - his girlfriend Angie!

During our stay here we were joined by another couple of motorcycle adventurers passing through, a Japanese lad on a 200 Suzuki who has ridden up from Columbia, having taken the bike over from a friend who had to go home. Later on we met Tim, another Brit on his BMW R1150GS. Tim's riding the ‘end to end’ of the Americas then flying home and back to work - how unlucky! Tim is a sculptor and I'm sure he'd welcome an order from his website at

We had a great time here, riding to the beach in shorts and T-shirts. Oh by the way, have I mentioned it’s still hot here? We had a ride down 27 miles of dried up river bed which in effect is another main road to the town of Manual Antonio. Here we had lunch at the restaurant, El Avion, the feature of which is a 1954 Fairchild C123 aeroplane supplied by the USA to the Nicaragua Contras in the 80's but not used.

The ride back was again incredibly bumpy and I was thinking to myself how amazing it was that these bikes hold together over this terrain; unfortunately I was to be proven wrong! The following morning I checked the bike over only to find a puddle of oil under the rear wheel, the oil seal in the rear hub was leaking badly, I could also feel a bit of play in the wheel bearings! I picked up some oil from a nearby garage and refilled the hub only to find a constant drip; we now have a total loss oil system in our rear hub!

We had a very cautious ride to San Jose where we found the nearest BMW dealership. The wheel and Les's back were covered in oil making for interesting right hand bends! Fortunately Bob and Angie were also heading that way and followed us just in case; it was leaking so bad that we had to stop every hour to refill the hub.

Addresses in San Jose are hard to find as most of the streets have no names, even the BMW dealer here gives GPS co-ordinates to find the shop. So once again my Garmin Etrex sat nav, a retirement gift from my friends at work, came in useful, guiding us straight to the shop - thanks guys. It was only then that we discovered the next problem; Costa Rica is on holiday for Easter. Fortunately Christian, the mechanic, was just passing and agreed to fix it tomorrow on overtime – what a top bloke.

We then get a taxi to our hostel, 'La Botella De Leche', the sister hostel to the one we stayed at Tamarindo. Here we're met like old friends by Mariana and her son and made to feel at home while we wait for the bike to get fixed. Bob and Angie joined us as he's also having some work done on his bike, but he will have to wait till after the holidays.

The following day we got a taxi to the BMW shop and get some bad news. When Christian took the rear hub to pieces he found, as I suspected, that it also needs new bearings and they haven’t got any in stock and they won't be here until next week - after the holidays. I take a look at the damage and can see the metal cage that the ball bearings run in, it has disintegrated in places. This then pushed the seal out causing the oil to leak, I just hope it hasn’t damaged he bearing surfaces otherwise it could be plane tickets home, after all, it’s a BMW dealership and as you walk through the front door I feel like I should be getting patted down for credit cards before being let in! I'm slightly worried now that Norval, the very helpful Manager, tells me they have another bike needing bearings as well; I thought these bikes were bomb proof?

So here we are having an enforced break in San Jose, described in Lonely Planet guide as, “For most travellers, going to San Jose is the necessary evil before heading to more virtuous rural landscapes”. Let’s see if we can prove them wrong.

Donations for the broken bike fund to the usual address please. Nick.

From Les

San Jose, Costa Rica; 4th April 2007

   A lazy week in Tamarindo by the sea was really relaxing. Marianna, our host, was great and on the strength of that, we booked to stay at her "Bottella de Leche" hostel in San Jose for the Easter weekend. Most Costa Ricans take their Easter holiday at the beach so we have been warned that there will be no room!

We travelled the 62miles to Samara, another beach village, where we spent a day watching the surfers from the shade of mango trees. En route, I experienced an attack from something with a very large, painful sting! I think I learned some new dance steps as I tried to remove my hot sticky jacket in double time! Boy did it smart!

It was time to get to the cool of the mountains and cloud forest of Santa Ellena and Monteverde, we were not disappointed, the scenery was spectacular. We passed through green pastures and grazing lands and began to climb on a boulder road to the misty cloud forest. It’s so much nicer on the bike because you can feel the change in temperature and are exposed to all the smells and sounds of your surroundings.

We caught the local bus to the Monteverde cloud forest and followed the paths through thick vegetation, tangled vines and the almost deafening birdsong and insect buzz. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the monkeys or exotic birds, I think the other, louder tourists must have scared them off. While at "Sleepers" hostel, we met Bart, a double of our Bart at home, quite spooky!! We shared a few meals and then headed to La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. Bart travelled by Jeep-boat-Jeep and we retraced the dirt road to Tilaran and then the beautiful road around Laguna de Arenal through the rainforest. The volcano cap was covered with cloud so we were not tempted to part with any cash to see the top....leave that to the "Tourists"!

It seems that most of Costa Rica has rich fertile soil and every spare space is used for growing fruit and veg or grazing for the Friesian cows. We passed through banana plantations, fields of coffee bean shrubs covered in white blossom, citrus trees......the list goes on but the fragrances linger.

As there is no shortage of food, it appears with the locals that the ‘fuller figure’ is the mode here. Denim is the favourite fabric in the form of jeans, shorts or skirts, some of which are so short they should not be allowed, (I sound like an old prude). Everyone wears T-shirts, string straps but still full of colour. No traditional dress here, it’s much westernised.

Anyway, back to Volcanoes! Volcano Poas, which is still active, was next on our list. The ride up was once again a treat, beautiful scenery, green and lush. There were lots of farmers and labourers in the fields wearing wellies and large white hats to protect them from the elements. The air was filled with the smell of onions! We arrived at the Volcano to hear it gurgle and splutter but couldn’t see it because of dense cloud. A steep winding track through dense forest took us to a nearby crater lake which was very still and tranquil. We descended a few miles and found a cabin for the night. As we looked out into the valley we could see the lights twinkling in the valley, it was all very romantic until ... the sulphur smells like rotten eggs. It reminds you that you are very vulnerable by choice! A pack of coyotes howled nearby making the place feel even scarier.

Volcano Irazu is Costa Rica’s largest, highest at 11,325ft, active Volcano and to see it at its best you have to be there before 10am. So next day we were there at 8:30am, the first visitors of the day. Already it was getting hot on the exposed volcanic ash, but we did get a wonderful view of the green water like brake fluid in the crater with cloud in the background, (see pictures). The volcano looked quite peaceful, thank goodness; I didn’t want to be quite so close. Just in case!!

The Pan-American Highway was a great surprise to me. I had imagined it to be smooth and cutting straight through the plains but our ride via San Jose was great. We were heading for the Pacific Coast again and had to ride over 2 mountain ranges on single carriageway roads through rainforests that seemed endless. We found Toucan hostel in Uvita and decided to stay a few days and discovered in the rear garden another bike with GB plates! We met up with Bob, of, and girlfriend Ang, from Peru. They have been on the road for 3½ yrs in South America and on their way to Alaska. The next day another Brit arrived on a GS like ours, Tim is heading south also. It was just like a club house!

We had a couple of days beachside, in the rainforest and then on Sunday we rode the serious boulder road to Manuel Antonio as Nick had heard that there was an old plane converted into a restaurant that we might like to look at. We did lots of miles, crossing bridges of old railway rails and what felt like bouncing from boulder to boulder. On the return trip Nick decided that the best way would be standing on the pegs, and fast! Maybe it was a good thing that his backside obscured my view! But we made it back safe.

The next morning as we were about to load up, Nick discovered that the back wheel was sitting in a pool of oil. He nursed us all back 150+miles across mountainous rainforest roads to San Jose. Bob and Ang followed at a safe distance acting as sweepers ... just in case. The BMW guys were great...but.. Easter week and the Tico´s are on holiday!

A quick call to Marrianna at, "Bottella de Leche" hostel secured our home for the next week or so and I was so glad to see her again. The big hug was most reassuring. It’s a home from home here and we have everything that we need and Marianna, Fernando, Mike and Reina look after us well.

Today we took a stroll around the main park and found the National football stadium with a game about to start. We had nothing better to do so we bought tickets and saw 22mins of play before the rain ...yes, rain stopped play! The pitch was totally waterlogged by the heavy thunderstorm, apparently the first of the season. It was really interesting to see the 9 police horses and several officers with shields standing by in case of trouble. I have never seen such a peaceful match; everyone was having a good time. Maybe it’s the ticket price which keeps everyone happy ... £3 pound for a grandstand undercover seat!

We will bide our time here while waiting for the bike to be fixed and hoping that no other problems come to light. It’s frustrating as we were recharged and ready to go but at least we are close to the Bike shop.

Till next time and hopefully the continuing adventure.

Regards, Lesley X

San Jose, Costa Rica; 10th April 2007

   We have our bike back, Hurrah. The rear wheel bearings have been replaced after the delay caused by Costa Rica being on holiday!

The BMW dealer here in San Jose was brilliant. Norval, the shop owner and his mechanic, Christian dropped everything in order to get us back on the road as soon as possible; I would certainly recommend this dealership to any travellers who pass through Costa Rica. The only hold up was that the bearing we needed was stuck in customs and couldn’t be released until after the Bank Holiday weekend.

While they had the bike I asked them to fit a new tyre on the back - a Metezler Tourance. The Michelin Anakee lasted just over 7000 miles and could have gone further, but being unsure as to where we'd get the next one, I though we might as well get it replaced here. We also had the oil and filter changed and the air filter cleaned.

We are now £300 pounds lighter, but considering that this also includes the tyre, I feel the bill is not too bad.

We've had a great time here at the 'Bottle of Milk' hostel in San Jose. It is owned and run by Mariana and it’s going to be a real strain to leave her and her top team of Mike, Fernando and Reina, it has become our comfortable home over the last eight days. With a supermarket within yards and a great Mexican restaurant only 5 minutes away, getting food and drink was never a problem.

One evening, Mike and his wife, Yadira, took us out to dinner at a restaurant in the mountains overlooking the city. While we ate we watched the twinkling lights of San Jose thousands of feet below, it was truly magical.

Les and I have walked miles around the city and to and from the BMW dealer, a round trip of six miles. From the hostel to the town centre is only 15 minutes and there is also a great park only 5 minutes from the hostel where the city’s football stadium is. One afternoon we watched a couple of the top teams battle it out until rain stopped play; we had to go back the next day to see the replay.

As far as the city of San Jose is concerned, the Lonely Planet handbook was correct and in my opinion, not a place to rush too. It was just another grubby city with more than its fair share of beggars and homeless on the streets.

If you have to visit, then our hostel, the ' La Botella de Leche' and the BMW dealer here are brilliant and come highly recommended. You can then spend the rest of your time playing in the park!

We're carrying on with our exploration of Costa Rica tomorrow, the 11th, giving the bike a good shakedown before we head into Panama. Our only concern is that the rainy season is not far away; better get your wellies out Les!       Hasta Luego.  Nick.


Cahuita, Costa Rica; 22nd April 2007

   We departed San Jose and retraced our route over the ‘Mountain of Death’ just love the sound of it. Thankfully though, on our third ride up and over we saw no accidents and no one died.

While riding over the top it rained, obviously why it’s called a rain forest, we had to don waterproofs for part the journey down the other side. It was then onward through several road works and into the town of San Isidro where, after an enjoyable 106-mile ride, we stayed the night.

Our plan was to resume our exploration of this south eastern corner of Costa Rica, which we were doing before the bike’s rear wheel bearing let go. So after a night in San Isidro we carried on down the Pan America Highway a short distance towards Panama, the border being only a few miles away - but we weren’t ready to cross just yet.

The road was great, sweeping bends through hills covered with pineapple plantations and sugar cane Lorries driving like they were on a life-saving mission and shedding the odd cane for me to trip over!

We turned off the Pan American and headed towards the port of Golfito, when suddenly we were stopped in a police speed check. The vintage handheld radar-toting cops were very pleasant. “Honestly officer, I couldn’t have been speeding, it won’t go that fast”. Thankfully there was no mention of speeding, they just checked my documents. I gave them a Norfolk Constabulary patch, we shook hands and carried on - no doubt they had bigger fish to fry?

Some time later we found a great hotel, courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide. It was right on the estuary with a balcony where we sat and watched the local ferrymen working.

Our neighbours at the hotel were Paul and Geoff, a couple of Americans from San Francisco. Geoff had travelled around Panama, so some useful information was gleaned as the ‘old traveller’s tails’ got to work.

We had been in Costa Rica for one month now and we were loving every minute of it. For me it is possibly my favourite country to date, up there with Canada and Alaska. After riding through Mexico and the other Central American countries, we felt very safe here; we were back in that ‘old comfort zone’. The country had every thing, cool mountains and hot beaches, friendly locals. There was something for every one, except city lovers perhaps?

The Costa Ricans, (Tico´s for short), have a well-used saying, “Pura Vida” which means ‘pure life’, and it is certainly here in abundance.

From Golfito we rode a combination of small ‘B’roads and a lot of dirt tracks, we even had a river crossing over a small cable-drawn ferry. Passing a dead crocodile we headed down to the small beach village of Pavones. But this was not just any beach village; for surfers, this one has the world’s second longest left hand break in the world, the longest being in Chile. When we get there we will measure it and compare!

On a good day here in Pavones, and when the waves are working, the surfers can ride the wave for up to three minutes – do you hear that Daniel?

We eventually got ourselves settled into one of the many ‘surfer dude’ hostels and just sat on a wall conveniently next to a bar and watched the surf action. “Not pumping today? Should have been here Wednesday?” was a frequent question!

Here we were, the closest we have been to the equator to date, in the 8-degrees North latitude, having been up at the Arctic Circle at 66 deg. With home, on the south coast UK being 52 degs north, this gives you some idea, oh, and have I mentioned recently it’s hot?

Les and I sat on this wall, watching surf action and supping a beer or two while we chatted like a couple of old friends. All topics were up for discussion, the past, the present and our future plans were all covered. So too were our dreams and aspirations, then we noticed that several hours had passed and no one was surfing any more so we headed back to our room. It was here that we discovered exactly what surfers do in their down time; they play chess and dominoes, with a beer or two of course!

We booked another night here and spent the next day exploring the coastline on foot. We observed some really expensive dwellings hidden in the jungle. The beaches were also excellent, being covered in dark sand and virtually empty.

We left Pavones and retraced our route over the dirt roads, which were sometimes very loose in places. No problems this time, thanks to our new rear tyre and bearings, I looked upon this as a good test for the repair and so far - no oil leaks!

We caught the ferry and it was back onto the Pan American for a short ride, all the while heading towards Panama. We turned off at a little town called Neily and on towards San Vito where we climbed back into the mountains, it was now cooling down as we gained altitude. There were some fantastic views looking back down towards the coastline in the distance. I took the wrong turn at Vito and we ended up on more bumpy dirt roads which weren’t on my map. Retracing back to San Vito, I filled up with gas and got the directions we needed. At the same time we were filling up, a couple of small trail bikes, which were two up, were re-fuelling also. They were a couple of lads with their girlfriends on the back who smiled as they rode off in the same direction as we would be taking. We eventually caught them up and enjoyed a sporting ride over this beautiful mountain road across ridges. The kids were looking back at us and waving and it appeared they were trying to loose the ‘Reaper’ so we overtook. As we did so, Les took their photo which brought laughter all round’ oh did I mention they weren’t wearing crash helmets!!

This spectacular road brought us back onto the Pan American once again where we had to re-ride a short section back to the Pacific coast. We turned North West at Palmar Sur and rode back to Uvita and the Toucan Hotel, the hotel we were staying at when the bearing let go a couple of weeks ago. By the end of the ride we had completed 32,000 miles on our adventure so far - another milestone for

It was nice to see there was no change at the Toucan Hotel, it was still really comfortable and with a relaxed atmosphere so we spent a full day visiting a nearby waterfall, swimming in the cool plunge pool and some more beach time. We met some other travellers at the Toucan; they were all very friendly people and we laughed as we exchanged our stories and adventures.

Today is Tue the 17th of April 2007. Les and I have been homeless for 10 months and I have to say that this nomadic / gypsy lifestyle suits us both.

We left Uvita and took our fourth ride over the ‘Mountain of Death’. The Reaper, keeping his sickle well covered, dropped down to Cartago and followed the road to Paraiso and Lake Presadi Cachi. We were now amidst beautiful mountain scenery of lush green fields, cattle grazing and fresh vegetables growing everywhere. There were also neat and tidy villages with some very expensive looking houses dotted about.

We were hoping to find a campsite on the lakeside but there weren’t any so we had to push on to the town of Turrialba, where, on the outskirts, we found the hotel Valle Verde. It was a very run-down mountain hotel, which in its prime, would have been quite classy, standing as it did in the middle of a coffee plantation.

The following morning we carried on over even more spectacular mountain roads and dropped down onto Route 32 at Siquirres. Here things changed somewhat as we joined a busy road running to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica’s main cargo port, and it showed with container lorries - one after another. When we got closer to the port there were container parks everywhere.

Hitting the Caribbean coast, we followed Route 36 southeast to Cahuita and our first view of the Caribbean Sea. Wow, white sandy beaches and tall thin palm trees leaning towards the blue sea in scenes reminiscent of picture postcards.

In Cahuita, and along this coast of Costa Rica, people of black African heritage have settled in the 19th century as immigrant workers. In this one main, dirt street village, the bars pumped out reggae music - Bob Marley will live for ever!

We’ve been here for four days now, soaking up the music, rays and the chilled-out atmosphere. We’ve changed hotels three times until we settled at the Cabinas Palmer for £9 pounds a night. It’s a comfortable hostel with hammocks in the courtyard and our bike close by doubling up as a washing line!

We’ve been snorkelling on the nearby coral reef and walking through the National Park’s jungle looking at monkeys, sloth’s, birds and butterflies.

Only one problem though, the mosquitoes are relentless and ruthless, no worries - we’ve had our pills, we’ll be all right, won’t we?

Tomorrow, Mon 22nd April 07, Panama, and another border crossing. Get another flag ready for the front page Eddie.  Nick.

From Les

Cahuita, Costa Rica; 21st April 2007

   Which came first - the chicken or the egg? Or at the moment, in our case, the suntan lotion or insect repellent? Both are essential but which do you apply first?

We are now at Cahuita on the Caribbean coast, about 1½hrs from the Panama border and we are blessed with picture-postcard scenery. Cahuita village is a series of basic, single storey, wooden bungalows or cabañas which follow the two main interconnecting dusty and dirt roads. We are surrounded by rain forest on one side and beautiful palm-lined sandy beaches on the other. Most of the residents are descendants of black workers who built the railway and worked on banana plantations in the 19th century. The vibe is chilled and mellow with a strong Rasta and Bob Marley influence; as a result, every corner you turn you can hear reggae music and a strong drum beat - we love it! Did I mention chilled and relaxed? "Pura Vida" - pure life!

The National Park entrance leads you to the palm-lined beach and the lukewarm gentle water. Just behind the palms, about 20yds from the sea, you find yourself on a track in the Jungle. On our first evening here we were on the beach when an awful shout, almost a growl echoed in the trees. It was a group of howler monkeys leaping from tree to tree above our heads. Later we had close encounters with white faced monkeys throwing fruit at us from above. There are so many species of bird and mammal close to man but in their natural’s a magical place!

We snorkelled today for 3hrs on the coral reef which is only 15mins in a small boat from the town. It was wonderful even though a lot of the coral was destroyed in an earthquake in 1991. The fish were so vibrant, the coral varied and colourful, and many of the urchins looked dangerous. At times the coral was only 6inches from the surface so I had to be very careful with my oversized flippers. I wish someone had come up with a means to snorkel on your back! By the time we returned to land the backs of our legs were burning and red, thank goodness we kept T-shirts on; I think we will be suffering tonight!

During our enforced stay in San Jose, Mike from the hostel and his wife took us out for a meal and showed us San Jose at it’s best. We were in the surrounding hills at night and from a distance and the illuminated city looked almost pretty.

The bike’s repaired bearings and new rear tyre are making for a lovely smooth ride now. At least in future I will know when something is wrong at the back end ... if it happens again that is! We decided to continue where we left off, exploring the south west area and again were not disappointed. The beaches, Pavones with the ‘longest left break’, and the mountains were as stunning as before. It was well worth traversing the ‘Mountain of Death’ for the 3rd and 4th time - successfully, thank goodness! It climbs for an hour or so, high in the rainforests and then falls for an hour or so to the sea and all the way it twists and turns ‘Curva Pelligrosa!

On Monday we plan to cross at the quiet border crossing, over the rickety bridge and into Panama. Costa Rica is definitely top on my ‘favourite place so far’ list. It is a country which is so diverse and beautiful. It also seems to a safe place, apart from some areas in the city but mainly the ‘Tico,s’ have been nothing but warm, kind and welcoming. It’s a great place but I am sure there will be many more on the way.

So much to see and do and not enough time!

Till the next time ... Lesley

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