Reflections for the month of December

December 31, 2010

1. My wife gives sound advice. 99% sound and 1% advice!
2. My wife and I were happy for ten years, then we met.
3. When we were married you used to say that you would die for me. Now that we are divorced I think it’s time you kept your promise.
4. My wife keeps saying that I never listen to her… or something like that.

Note: those first four pearls of wisdom are from the walls of a bar in Belize.

5. Every man dies. Not every man really lives.
6. The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the hole.
7. Alicia and Alex… loving you has been the most profound, intense and painful experience of my life.
8. I now fully understand what the term inveterate liar means.
9. Be truthful in what you do, what you say, and who you are.
10. Never betray your principles or force anyone else to betray theirs.
11. Happiness isn’t happiness without a violin playing goat 🙂


Surf’s Up!

December 31, 2010

I got up fairly early and decided that while I enjoyed hostels in my youth, I was now firmly spoiled and that was probably not going to change. I checked out early and had already secured more appropriate accommodations at a hotel a few blocks away. I figured it was New Year’s Eve so I could treat myself 🙂 However, I had booked the volcano surfing trip through the hostel so I waited patiently along with 20 or so other people for the truck to depart. Eventually we left, on Nicaraguan time that appears to mimic Bermuda time in that everyone is always running 30 minutes late. The hour long truck “ride” out to the Cerro Negro volcano was a bone-jarring, butt-crunching, less than enjoyable experience only to be bested (or maybe it should be worsted) by the nerve-numbing, back-cracking, stomach-churning ride back! Check it out.

The volcano itself is an interesting paradox. At 160 years old, it is the youngest volcano in Central America but it is also the oldest cinder cone volcano in the world. These types of volcanoes apparently have much shorter life span. See my blogroll for more info on the volcano. In case you are wondering what volcano surfing is… well it is basically sitting or standing on a specially designed board and speeding as fast as you can down the side of a volcano made entirely of small rocks and sand. How well you do is determined by the speed you attain near the bottom. Current speed record is over 170Kph. The speed record for the tour groups out of the Bigfoot Hostel is 84Kph for men and 80Kph for women. Pretty fast!

We got to the base of the volcano and were given a bag containing a bright orange jump suit (the hostel’s colors) and goggles and we had to carry that plus a specially designed surf board to the top during a hour long hike. That board and bag began to feel a little heavy by the time we finally got there but it was manageable. The wind was blowing steadily and a light rain fell which was actually good because it kept the day nice and cool. Here is the scenery as we trudged up.

Video coming soon.

As luck would have it, the sun came out just as we were getting ready to start surfing. Most of the women went first and then a couple decided to race each other. All good and well until the girl comes off her board at 55Kph and proceeds to Ninja roll down a bit of the volcano. Not good. Think hard, jagged, abrasive volcanic rocks and you will realize that falling off the board at any real speed means blood coming out of you. My turn came and I was a bit of a sissy given that spill the girl took. I got to the bottom safely, albeit slowly:) After checking out her injured leg, I was glad to not have tried some speed record nonsense. A few minutes later, the resident nutcase came hurtling down the volcano and he was really moving. Unfortunately, at that speed, one little bump and you are toast. That’s exactly what happened and the guy was thrown from his board and slide to a painful stop on his face! His goggles and board were stopped about 20 feet above him and he really got quite scraped on his arms and legs. His face, thank God, was fine.

As we boarded the truck for the return trip, the tour guides handed out the beer and the group had fun discussing the trip. More mojitos awaited us on our return and the group spent a little time chatting before breaking up. I realized that even though I was staying somewhere else, I was fortunate to meet some younger people who actually were a pleasure to talk to. Shout out to Dave (the daredevil), Vincent (the board breaker), Kendall (the North Carolina ninja) and Harrison (the one armed surfer). It was a pleasure to surf with you and sorry I missed you at New Year’s 🙂

New Year’s Eve was only five hours away so I headed out and was so glad to be able to get a long hot shower. The amount of volcanic dust, gravel and grime you get on you in one 7 minute trip down a volcano is amazing. Then I relaxed and watched a movie before trying to settle in for a little nap. I couldn’t sleep so I had some dinner before wondering back to the hostel to see if anyone was around for the celebrations. The place was pretty quiet so I returned to my room and was asleep before the New Year came in. I must have been tired because fireworks, loud music and screaming did not keep me awake for one second 🙂


No Hablo Espanol

December 30, 2010

I got awoken by the lovely blaring of music at 6:30am. This is something I will never understand about Latin culture. Anyway, I packed up and made my way out of town after a little sleep-in once the music people went to work. I was about half a mile from the end of the town when I stupidly passed a slow taxi by crossing the double yellow line. This wouldn’t have been so bad had I looked ten feet further up the road and seen the three traffic cops standing there. I wasn’t even halfway past the taxi when they excitedly ran out in the road and flagged me down. CRAP!!!! Here comes my first bribe, I thought. As I got off the bike and removed my headphones and helmet, I contemplated my strategy. Profess deep sorrow and ask where to pay my “fine” or act dumb. I chose to act dumb because passing that taxi was… Well, dumb!

The woman looked at my Bermuda license and immediately pulled out her ticket book. She was rambling on in Spanish and barking infraction, infraction although I pretended not to know what she was saying. I then told her I didn’t speak Spanish and then fought like hell to be completely baffled when she told me I had to go to the bank in town and pay my two dollar ticket. I feigned complete ignorance and spoke only in English. After about ten minutes of my bewildered looks she wandered over to her fellow officers and I noticed out of the corner of my eye (the good one) that she had put away her ticket book. A few more hand gestures got me to understand that they were letting me go. Many, many thank you’s flowed out of my mouth. By this time a crowd had gathered and turns out a guy who owns an apartment in Orlando was walking by. We chatted for a bit and pointed me on my way to Leon. WHEW!!!!! Who knew acting dumb works 🙂

Interestingly enough, at the very next town I was stopped by another traffic police checkpoint. The guy was on the radio and I swear he was talking to the guys who stopped me before. They proceeded to speak rapid Spanish at me and I kept up the dumb act just in case. In fact, they just wanted to meet me and shook my hand many times as I somehow conveyed that I was on my way to Costa Rica. An hour later, I was in Leon and somehow managed to find my way around the maze of one way streets until I found the Bigfoot Hostel. I decided to try the hostel scene to see if I was missing something by not co-habitating with other folk :). Turns out what I was missing was a uncomfortable bed, no hot water, no air conditioning, no privacy, no security and a whole lot of broke college kids who knew too little and talked too much! However… I liked the idea of sleeping in a bed next to half naked 20 year old college coeds so I told the manager to make sure it was only all girls in my room. Me and 7 girls… That works 🙂


Back on the bike

December 29, 2010

So my Xmas went well with the kids. I won’t bother you with the details other than to say it was a joy to see them, the ex… not so much.

I flew back to Honduras to face the rest of my journey alone but was fortunate to meet a lovely 25 year old English teacher named Jenna on the plane. She spoke about as much Spanish as I did so I was glad to see that if she can live in Honduras then I should at least be able to muddle through my trip. I am apprehensive about not speaking the language but I have been acclimatized to Central America already so everything is not totally new and that helps.

I returned to the hotel to find my bike safe and sound and I quickly set about changing out the windshield for the original one that I had brought back from US. Thanks Chris for shipping it to me. The swap out proved a little difficult because I added a cockpit plate and a head light protector as part of my original modifications. These serve their purpose nicely and also serve to make access to the windshield bolts extremely difficult. It took me at least five dropped nuts before I finally figured it out how to balance a nut on one finger and snake it past the bike frame, wires, etc. After that, I spent the evening talking, laughing and drinking and I suffered for it the next morning as I had to get up early and load up the bike. I saw Jenna off in a light drizzle, my first rain since Alaska! It didn’t last long… The rain that is 🙂

My plan was to make the Nicaragua border at Los Manos and try to reach Leon in one day. That plan turned out to be aggressive :). The drive was about 5 hours to the border and I arrived there to find a young boy named Antonio waiting to help me. Alex had met him during his border crossing weeks before and told him to keep and eye out for me. I was very concerned about the whole border crossing by myself thing but it turned out to be pretty painless with the occasional help of Antonio and another guy. I breezed though in a little over an hour and made my way towards Leon. If I kept going, I could have made it to Leon in the dark but given my last experience with that I made the decision to stop in a town about 2 hours north of Leon. I stayed at the Don Vito Hotel which was a very nice place considering it was 20 bucks for a room.

I had skipped lunch trying to get through the border quickly so I was starving. I wondered around the city streets in the dark until I found a little hole in the wall where I ordered a whole chicken leg, a plate of beans and rice and a beer for the grand total of four dollars and 31 cents! Move to Central America and you can retire being a half millionaire instead of a full one 🙂 I stayed up late watching episodes of Human Target because I had started watching them with my son over Xmas and I was really missing my kids so it took my mind off of things. Things… I hate having “things” on my mind 🙂


Xmas break

December 12, 2010

So we have been hanging out in San Pedro Sula, mostly taking it easy and basically waiting for my trip to Florida to see my babies. Alex has been chasing the hotel owner’s daughter around and attending the national soccer championship game. That was quite interesting and I’m glad I didn’t go with him. Being showered with beer in a huge crowd of drunk and unruly football supporters is not my idea of fun but he seemed to enjoy the once in a lifetime experience 🙂

I leave tomorrow and I am so excited to go to Disneyworld with my kids. It seems like forever since I have seen them even though it was just 6 weeks ago.

Alex has also stayed in the city to help get me a place to store my bike and my stuff for the two weeks I am away. Thanks Alex. Hopefully, it will all still be here when I get back to continue the journey by myself. Oh dear… that is going to be interesting 🙂

Merry Xmas everyone.


Copan and our first Darwin Award

December 9, 2010

We woke up at a reasonable time and started the half mile walk from our hostel to the ruins at Copan. See my blogroll for more info. Alex was hesitant to walk but I told him I needed the exercise. We walked for about 10 mins and then rounded a corner to a long straight away. The stretch had a couple of places where there were speed-bumps and Alex started moaning about the walk again. Along comes a semi-truck that slows down to go over the speed-bumps and Alex has the bright idea to run up behind it, climb on and hitch a ride to the entrance to the ruins. I struggled to get my camera out and just managed to catch a picture of him headed down the road.

I just shook my head and so did the policeman as we watched Alex head down the road and disappear around the corner. So now I am walking down the road and thinking that Alex must be getting off the truck at the next entrance because I am standing at the entrance to the ruins and he is nowhere to be found. Ah well, he will be back.

I went inside the park and got to admire the many fine ruins at the site. About 45 mins later, Alex calls down to me from atop one of the ruins. It turns out that Alex did NOT get off the truck because the truck kept speeding up and never slowed down. So here he is hanging on the back of a truck that is going 60 miles an hour in the wrong direction and he has no way of getting off. Now he is starting to panic and he attempts to get off by putting his feet down on the pavement. His feet get taken out from under him and now he is hanging on to the back of the truck with his toes dragging on the ground and him holding on for dear life! Think a combination of James Bond and Indiana Jones. Thank God he is in shape because he pulls himself up and back onto the truck. This happens a couple of times before the truck slows in a curve to about 30 miles an hour. Alex drop both feet down on a mixture of pavement and gravel and is literally skiing behind this truck. He gets his balance and then lets go. Somehow he manages to remain upright and not kill himself. Damage sustained was dirt, grease, badly bruised toes, worn shoes and a bleeding elbow. He managed to hitch a ride back in a pickup with the biggest injury sustained being the beating his ego took 🙂 Having to explain that story to the Kiwis must have made him feel like a right fool. He was very fortunate not to have been seriously hurt and while we joked and teased about it later it definitely shook him up. SOOOoooo… first Darwin Award goes to Alex. Way to go buddy 🙂

After finishing the ruins we headed had to get a taxi ride back in one of the Rickshaws. Check out the video below.

We left Copan and headed north and then turned south again to go to Santa Rosa de Copan. There was a cigar factory there that Alex had found and we decided to see how it was all done. We whizzed by trucks and cars and potholes galore on our way to the factory and Alex convinced the guy to give us a quick tour since it was late in the day. The tour was simply amazing. I had never really thought about how cigars are made but it was a fascinating look into a factory setting in Honduras and how 750 people make over 50,000 cigars a day! The smell of the place was worth the price of admission alone. Watching the ladies roll the cigars on the same machines that have been in use for 50 years was timeless. The skill and speed of the people who did the final wrapping of the cigar was outstanding. We got to watch the label ladies put a label on every cigar by hand. We got to go to the boxing area and watch the ladies carefully pack every different type of cigar possible. They make their own beautiful boxes there as well. The factory manufactures cigars under its own brand (such as El Rey del Mundo and Flor de Copan) as well as for private label clients and some big name cigar brands like H. Upmann and Romeo y Julieta. I cannot say enough about the tour… something every cigar lover should do. Only drawback was that they would not allow any pictures except this one.

We left the factory just before 4pm and we knew it was going to be a two or two and a half hour drive to San Pedro Sula. This meant we were racing against sundown. We flew down the roads at breakneck speed, passing trucks, cars, bikes, buses and potholes. Well… it seemed like breakneck speed but in reality the roads are so bad here we never got over 60mph but it felt much faster. Having ridden in the dark for 2 hours in Mexico, I foolishly believed that we would be ok. What I didn’t factor in was that the city we were headed to was the second largest in Honduras and also the industrial hub of the country. What did that mean? TRUCKS, TRUCKS, TRUCKS, DUST, DIRT, BUGS and more TRUCKS!!!! 20 mins of riding near the city and I could not even see out of my helmet. We had to stop and clean our shields just to continue.

Poor Alex had already had a nerve racking experience this morning and here we were riding at night on a horrible stretch of road in probably the worst traffic in all of Honduras. Roads here are a joke. Potholes everywhere, no shoulder to speak of just dirt and sand, usually no lines delineating the lanes or center of the road, and certainly no working street lights. In other words, real dangerous at night. At one point, I was leading along a straight away and there is a long line of traffic coming the other way. All of a sudden, this semi-truck pulls out into my lane with his lights glaring. He is closing fast at probably 50 miles an hour and I think, he’s got to see me… my friggin’ lights are on!!!! Well, he didn’t seem to care one bit and actually had the balls to start blaring his horn at me to get out of the road. I started to pull to the shoulder when something caught my eye. I flicked my high beams on and there was an idiot riding his bike on the sand shoulder in the pitch black. Now I had nowhere to go. It was either run of the road and hit the moron on the bike or crash head on with a speeding semi! I sucked in my gut in an effort to shrink my bike down and somehow squeezed between the truck and the bike. Alex was behind me and said the truck missed my back pannier by less than a foot! Interestingly enough, that was about the fourth time that had happened to me in Honduras but being forced onto the shoulder by an oncoming truck in the daylight is far different then what had just happened. Anyway, the stress level of riding at night was unbelievable and we tried to stop at two different hotels well before the city. However, the first one had no secure parking and the second one went a little like this when Alex went in to enquire about a room.

Alex: Hi, I am looking for a room.
Hotel clerk: Do you want two hours?
Alex: Ahhh… no, I want it for the whole night
Hotel clerk: Do you have company?
Alex: Ahhh… no.
Hotel clerk: Would you like some?

Turns out the guy was very gay and he was hitting on Alex who beat a hasty retreat and didn’t tell me about the story until later 🙂 So on we rode but this time we wised up and found a line of cars to tuck in behind. No more riding out in the open for us. We made it into the city and I spotted a sign for a hotel. We whipped onto a side street and came upon a nice boutique hotel. I cannot begin to tell you the relief we felt getting off those bikes alive.


Honduras

December 8, 2010

We left Popun with the intention of taking a leisurely drive towards Honduras. It turns out that we are either very skilled riders or very dumb. We breezed through the traffic, overtaking trucks and cars with ease but the roads were definitely starting to get more crowded. Many, many trucks hauling north and a lot of Dole trucks… guess they need to get their fruit to places fast. The roads themselves were in good shape and we unintentionally made it to the Honduran border within 4 hours. We passed another adventure rider on a BMW GS but he was wedged in between two trucks and was going so slow that I just rode beside him for a minute and then passed all the trucks in about 5 seconds. I guess he doesn’t understand the whole concept of driving in Central America! It would take me 2 years to get to Argentina with the way he was driving. Anyway, we arrived at the border and bumped into the Kiwis we met in Tikal. They had already started the crossing process so Alex and I had lunch before trying to catch them up 🙂 Alex used his speed Spanish and before long we caught them.

The border crossing process near Copan goes like this. Go to the Guatemalan import/export office with three copies of your Guatemalan bike import permit. They do some magic with them and your passport and before long your bike has been exported. No fee. Then you go 100 yards up the road and give your passport to the Guatemalan immigration office who stamps you out of the country. No fee. Then you need to deal with the black market currency exchange guys to get some local currency to pay your fees to get into Honduras. There is an ATM in Copan 5km up the road so you only need to change about $50 US at the border. Keep some Guatemalan Quetzals handy for the copies since the Honduran photocopiers are off limits. Then you move to the next window which is Honduran immigration. They stamp your passport (and you) into Honduras and you pay a small fee. Then you go two doors up to the Honduran import/export office. There you need a 3 copies each of your passport, bike registration, drivers license and bike title. Once you get your original Honduran bike import form, you then need to photocopy 5 copies of it and you need 3 copies of your passport stamp (that you just got from Honduran immigration). You have to run back and forth between countries to make copies and they cost 1 Quetzal a page. Once you return with your copies you pay about 662 Limpira to import your bike for up to 3 months. Off you go on your bike and don’t lose your original import permit or you will face a hefty fine to get a new one! Easy right? Just wait until have to cross the border into Nicaragua by myself with my non-existent Spanish… Alex has been spoiling me 🙂

We drove into Copan and bumped along its rough cobblestone streets. Our Kiwi friends, Chris and Allan, had told us where they were staying and given us rough directions but we couldn’t find them. Looking lost, we headed across the bridge and were on our way out of town when this Rickshaw driver rolls up next to us yelling Chris, Chris, Chris!!! Apparently, they had told the driver to keep a lookout for us and to bring us to them. So we whizzed back into town following this guy and were soon in a little courtyard of a small guest house. We gave the guy a tip and got unpacked before the four of us headed into town for dinner and a beer. Not a bad day of traveling but we didn’t do a lot of sight-seeing and I stupidly did not stop at the first two pineapple stands on the side of the road… they would be the last two I saw in Guatemala 🙂