Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Honduras

Day: 141

Mileage: 84

Total Mileage: 7,072

Money Spent: $15


Thanks tree, for giving me a nice spot to sleep. My home for the night in Honduras.

I never get tired of these. The end of another day of riding.

The countryside in Honduras.

These are my biker gang buddies in Honduras, don´t mess with us! Victor, Eric and Santos.

The guys made sure I took this pic, they thought the statue was really cool. It is of a soldier from the civil war. It looked like one of the little green army men I played with as a kid.


It has been quite a whirlwind of a time the past few days.
I crossed the border into Honduras from El Salvador around mid day. It was an easy border crossing, just a little slow. I had to pay 3 bucks to get into Honduras, which was no big deal. While I was waiting for the paperwork to be completed, I sat and shot the breeze with the border guards and some of the vendors. They gave me some good tips on getting through to Nicaragua. It made me laugh though when one of the Salvadoran vendors pulled me aside and warned me about the crazy Hondurians. He said they had lots of guns and that they might try and rob me for my bike! I swear, every country I go to, they warn me about the crazy people in the next one, even in the USA that happened going from one state to another. But for a Salvadoran to warn me about guns in another country is like the pot calling the kettle black!

I crossed over into Honduras and set off down the Pan American highway, from one border to the other would only be about 80 some odd miles. I was not in Honduras long enough to get a real feel for the place, but my brief experience there was very positive apart from the Nicaraguan border crossing (I will get to that later). The people were generally very nice and wanted to ask me where I was going and wish me good luck on the trip. I was glad to be able to communicate as my Spanish has gotten so much better. I still have trouble expressing complex ideas, but I understand a lot. By the time I get through Argentina I think I will be close to a conversational level. The one thing that throws me though, are the differing accents, that takes some getting used to.

After a few miles of riding in Honduras, a couple of local kids that had seen me ride by rode up to me and made a big deal of passing me on their bikes. Not being the type of guy to let a challenge from kids a third my age go unanswered, I hit the gas and we raced for a good two or three miles. Although I have to admit it is pretty tough to race when you are laughing so hard. It was a ton of fun and we were alternating riding with no hands, no feet, swerving all over the road, etc. I swear, I felt like I was 12 years old again.

The guys wanted to show me the town statue so we pulled over and they insisted I take a picture of the statue as having one is pretty cool I guess, even if it was a tad underwhelming. I gave them a bottle of my water as it was so dang hot and they asked to see my map and for me to show them where I had ridden. They were very cool kids, especially the littlest guy, Santos. He was a real fire cracker. He always had to ride at the front of the pack (which was funny because he was too short to sit on his seat and pedal, he had to ride standing up the entire time). He would constantly show off too, by standing on the seat while riding, jumping off of dirt mounds, stuff like that. He always made sure everyone was watching first though! Every time a car would pass us and honk (we were all over the road) he would shake his fist at them and yell things at them a kid his age really shouldn´t be yelling. He was a show off for sure, and a little too wild for his own good...he reminded me of me when I was his age! Well, to be honest, that was me up until a few years ago!

We rode together for a few more miles until we got to the turn off for their house and we parted ways. I rode further into the country and I have to say, Central America is just such a beautiful place. I have moved on from the jungles of the north into the mountainous plains (sounds like an oxymoron I know, but that is the best way to describe it that I can think of) of the middle. Here, everything is just as green, but it lacks the overabundance of plant life that the north has. The mountains are still covered in trees but the flat areas are all fields of lush grass dotted with Oak and other types of big trees, some of them are gigantic too, like Banyan trees, with long arms that stretch out tens of meters away from the trunk. It makes for a gorgeous ride and reminds me in some ways of the Bay Area of Northern California after the rains have come. That night I rode out into a field and slept under a big tree. I got a great night´s sleep and it finally didn´t rain, which was nice. Rainy season is coming to an end which is good news for me.
Crossing the border the next day was a nightmare, but as that has more to do with Nicaragua than Honduras, I will save that for the next post. My overall impression of Honduras though was very positive, and I could easily see myself returning in the future.

There are two things I had forgotten to mention about my time in El Salvador too. One was the food, which is delicious and very cheap. The local dish to try though are the Pupusas. They are a thick corn tortilla stuffed with beans and cheese and are only about 30 cents. I would get 6 of those, two friend plantains (I have come to really love those plantains) and two Coca-Colas for $2.50. Not bad!

The other story is very telling of the state of El Salvador´s infrastructure. I was riding down the road when I noticed an ambulance pulled over and the EMT´s out on the road trying to flag people down. They waived at me and I stopped to see what was wrong. They were on their way to answer an emergency call and they had run out of gas, and they had no money to get more gas! Holy shnikeys, that is unbelievable. Someone could have been dying and they couldn´t even get to the emergency because they lacked money for gas to drive the ambulance! Wow, that just blew me away.

At any rate, I will post more in the coming Nicaragua post.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day: 140

Mileage: 190

Total Mileage: 6,988

Money SPent: 7-25: $27, 7-26: $11

Jesus and his nephew, extremely nice people.

The fantastic four: Manny, Fransisco, Oscar and Johnny! These were some cool kids.

Using the shoulder to dry crops. Not much fun for a cyclist!


I am about 30 kilometers from the border with Honduras and looking forward to making the transition. El Salvador is a place of strong contrasts to say the least. The individual people are very friendly and nice, but the overall feel of the place is offputting. I can't really put my finger on it but it is the sensation that there are sharks in the water, that you are not totally safe. It very well could be my imagination, or it could be the ridiculous multitude of heavily armed people I see. On top of that, all of the locals I talk to encourage me to leave as it is not safe here and that crime is a huge problem.


I have met a lot of incredible people here though, that have been very welcoming, but from those same people I have also learned some terrible history lessons about this country.


For one, the people here are much more European looking than in the other Latin American countries I have been too, and the reason is that the government has murdered, repressed and driven out the indigenous peoples for hundreds of years. It is terrible, but a fact of life there. Also, during the recent civil war, government soldiers formed death squads that roamed the villages thought to hold guerilla fighters and murdered entire towns, torturing men, and taking children to be sold into slavery or kept by the soldiers. These stories just curl your toes, and they happened in the last 20 or so years.


However, all of the people I have met have been very friendly. I had one man who owned a gas station I stopped at ask to have his photo taken with me and offered to let me come and stay at his beach ranch. I need to make it to Costa Rica in the next week and a half though, so I politely refused.


Another man I met at a restaurant I stopped to eat at, bought me some sweat bread and coffee when I told him what I was doing. He was very nice and asked me to come back to El Salvador one day to visit him again and he gave me his number in case I needed anything. One thing that he said that blew my mind however, was that Santa Ana, the last town I had been in with all of the gunshots, was a very tranquil and calm place! Wow, if he says that about Santa Ana, what is his town like? Are there shoot outs in the street on the way to work?


One group of people that I met provided for a pretty eye opening and saddening experience. While riding through the countryside, a group of 4 boys ranging from 14 to 8 came running out of the bushes after me. I pulled over to see what they wanted and as they came close to me I noticed they were pretty dirty looking. Only two of them had shoes, and the shoes they had were old dress shoes that were much too large for them. Neither of the boys had socks either. Only three of them had shirts, all too big for them. One of the kids didn't even have any pants, just a big shirt that went down to his knees. They all, were very much in need of a bath as well.
Essentially, they looked very much like street kids living out in the country, which I am 99% sure was the case.


They were really nice though and had a million questions for me about my bike and the trailer (kids love the trailer). When I told that my trailer held my stuff, they thought it was really cool, but when I mentioned it had food in it, they perked up like I had mentioned Christmas. The two little guys asked me if they could have some food, and so I gave them each an apple, the two older kids tried to act like they didn't want one, but they were staring at the little guys' apples with hungry eyes, so I tossed them each one as well. They all tore into those apples like it was there job, it was sad. So we all sat and talked for a while and then they found some berries that had fallen off of a tree into the gutter. They gobbled these up too and gave me some which was really nice of them. I honestly didn't want to eat them but I didn't want to hurt their feeling so I did. Eventually I had to go, so I said goodbye and started to ride off and the kids all ran behind me taking turns pushing the trailer. It was nice because I was going up a really steep hill! I felt like I was about 12 years old because we were all yelling ariba! and vamanos! and laughing our butts off the entire way up the hill. Those kids were strong!


It is just a really sad situation that these little kids have no one but each other to try and survive and that there is not much of an infrastructure to take care of them. I wish there was more I could have done, at least given them some more food but I was out. I wish them the best and hope things turn out well for them.


At any rate, I need to head for the border, I hope all is well back home.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rest day in Santa Ana, El Salvador

Ok, when I aid that El Salvador was a nice quiet place with friendly people, I was being a bit preemptive. Metapan, apparently, is not indicative of the rest of the country. I feel like I have stepped back into the old west! It feels like everyone here has a flipping gun! Guys literally walk around with a pistol on their hip, its crazy. In Mexico and a lot of Central American Countries I have seen armed guards outside of banks, etc. But in El Salvador, it seems like nearly every shop has an armed guard. The gas station had two! One guy had a machine gun, the other an automatic shotgun. Wow. I wouldn´t be surprised if a hot dog stand here had a machine gun nest next to it manned by grandpa with grandma on the look out for bandits.

Just seeing people walk around armed is a trip. I am in the second largest city in the country and it is pretty rough here. First of all, it is very run down, and the pollution is terrible. You can literally see the clouds of black smog hanging in the streets. Nearly every store has huge iron bars up as well. It feels like a prison in a lot of ways. However, the most unnerving thing is the constant gunshots you hear. Every few hours I here 4 or 5 gunshots around the city. A little surreal to say the least. I want some of the hard line pro gun activists in America to come here and see what a heavily armed populace results in. It feels like everyone here is under siege.

But, in all fairness, I must also add that this country seems to be very poor. The people live in very run down buildings and don´t seem to have much. I actually saw one thing that really angered me. As I was riding into Santa Ana, I passed an unplanned land fill. Litter is EVERYWHERE in most Latin American countries I have been to so far, with the road sides covered in trash, but here it is really bad. There were mountains of trash and what really got my blood boiling was the fact that there were families LIVING in the land fills. Literally, they had a shack built into the side of a trash mountain. Mom , Dad, kids, Grandparents, living in and among piles of stinking, rotting garbage.

I was angry at a government that would allow this, an economy so terrible that this would be necessary and mostly, at the people that would DO this. That may sound unfair, but I do not care how destitute you may be, there is no excuse for raising a family in filth. I saw babies crawling around in the pools of garbage water while Dad sat in his hammock, seeming to care not at all.

I know I should not judge, but I can not help it. No matter what, if I had a family, I would do whatever it took to get them out of such a situation. Period. It is one thing for an individual to make that choice for themselves, but to drag your family into it with you is unacceptable.

At any rate, I know things are tough for people here and that it is easy for me to make sweeping statements when I don´t have all of the facts, but it just really angered me to see that.

Lastly, on a very strangely positive note, I have to say the people are nice, despite being armed to the teeth. Even the drug dealers. This is a weird one. So I pulled into Santa Ana, and as I said, it is a pretty rough city, and I got lost as the streets are very confusing. They are numbered but there are two or three of each street. For example, three 1st streets, two 2nd streets and another two 1st avenues. It makes for a confusing ride. So I pull over to get my bearings and the locals see me looking at my map, and a few come over to help. The one guy that speaks English is telling me where to go when a junky walks up to him and he sells him a big bag of cocaine (I think that is what it was) without even stopping giving me directions. That was weird. If it were not for the fact that I was dog tired with huge saddle soars on my rear end, I would have left today. Tomorrow though, I am riding hard for the border. It should take me two days to get to Honduras.

So all my love to everyone, until next time!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Through the Guatemala Mountains to El Salvador.

Day: 136

Miles: 131

Total Miles: 6,798

Money Spent: 7-21: $15, 7-22: $22

It may not be the Rits, but hey, it only cost $3.50!

Guatemala is a stunningly beautiful country.



I just crossed the border into El Salvador, and again, had no trouble. I just rode right across (didn't pay the exit tax again) and on the El Salvador side I had a quick chat with the border guards, they looked in my bike bag to make sure I didn't`t have drugs and that was that.
Guatemala gets two big thumbs up from me in terms of fun and accessibility. I loved the people, the country is awe inspiring in its natural beauty, and the roads were generally good, far better than Belize. The only bad incident I had was at a restaurant where the lady tried to over charge me, saying I had to pay the other price. That really pissed me off, it was a small sum of money, but the feeling of being ripped off just galls me. So I told her I was paying the price on the menu, period. Other than that though, I had a great time.

Guatemala is such a great value too, I met some travelers that went on a three day river rafting trip for $30 total! That included food. That would be a blast, I would have done it but it was too far out of my way.

There are so many nice people around here, everyone is curious as to where you are form and where you are going and they all give you great advice on things to avoid, or where to eat.
El Salvador has proven to be a really nice place so far, the bigger towns are European style, while the villages are the same that I have seen all over Latin America, consisting of a hodge podge of wooden and cement block housing.

I met a really super nice German couple yesterday that were on year 5 of a 6 and a half year trip! Holy smokes, I thought I was on a big one! But they gave me some great advice and I wish them all the best in the rest of their travels. They also told me they had been drinking tap water the entire trip, through India, all of Latin America, etc. They had had no problems, so I am going to go for it as that would save me over $1000 a year. If I start puking and going number two like I was in Cancun, I will hate myself, but it is worth a try as the savings are really big in the long run. Plus, that means more food I can eat!

The riding has been just fantastic. Sunny days, green mountains, little villages all over, plus tons of rivers and streams. The area I rode through in Guatemala was just idealic, I can`t imagine a place much more beautiful. The mountains seriously kicked my butt the first few days though. I have been riding flat land for two months now, and the first day of tough climbing had me reduced to a quivering bowl of jelly fast. That night I was cramping pretty badly and every time I coughed or sneezed, I felt like my quads would burst! I am OK now though, and feel like my mountain legs are back. I love mountain riding, its tough, but the scenery is second to none and those winding downhills where you are just flying at 45 MPH with the wind in your ears, are so much fun. Also, sleeping up at elevation is SO SO SO much better. Last night, for the first time in two months, I actually had to wear my warm up pants, a sweater and covers! It was gloriously cool at night, no more laying on your bed with just shorts sweating buckets. Ah, it is just infinitely more comfortable, and only about 1 mosquito a night as opposed to 30. I am glad to be in the mountains.

Well, I need to hit it, I am trying to make it to Santa Ana today, and I have a good way to go. All my love to everyone back home!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rest days in Rio Dulce, Gutemala

Day: 132

Miles: 300

I am now in a town Called Rio Dulce in Guatemala. After spending two days in Livingston, I took a boat up river to the next town with highway access, as Livingston is only accessible by ship. It was another rough boat ride as we made the journey through pouring rain in a small, non enclosed water taxi. The boat's captain gave us some plastic sheet to wrap around ourselves, but it didn't do much. Everyone was soaked after the hour and a half journey.

Its a shame I couldn't get any pictures of the ride though, as it was absolutely stunning. The river runs through a large canyon that is filled with all kinds of beautiful plant life, animals and ruins. There are little fishing villages along the river too, where locals paddle out in canoes to catch fish and bring back to their little palapas. It was truly a sight to see, even in the pouring rain.

I met some really cool people to hang out with and the first night in Livingston things got a little out of hand. The hostel we were staying at (Casa de la Iguana, fantastic place) was full of travelers from all over the world. We all hung out that night and started playing drinking games and it turned into a pretty wild night. I somehow ended up doing a strip tease on the rafters of the bar wearing an English girl's bra (Dad, I know reading that made you proud of your son!), and I blame it all on peer pressure and the cheap, strong drinks! That was just a small sample of the kind of antics that were going on all evening. It made for a very memorable night, to say the least.

A group of us all went up to Rio Dulce together and have been here since as it has been absolutely pouring rain. At $2.50 a night for a bed in a hostel that is literally on the water, I don't mind hanging out for a while. I hope it clears up tomorrow though, so that I can hit the road.

We had a fairly international group too, with Belguim, Norway, Israel, England, Finland, Japan, Canada, Ireland, America and France all represented in our group. That is truly one of the best things about hostels; meeting so many cool people from all over the world.

Rio Dulce itself is a small town that is the safest place to leave boats in the Caribbean, so it is chock full of yachts and ex pats. It is very interesting little town, and I have been enjoying my time here. Guatemala has turned out to be a really awesome place and you could easily spend a few months here. It is cheap, there is tons to see and do and the people are nice. All of the travelers I have met that have been touring Central America have said Guatemala has been their favorite, and I can see why.

One very interesting bit of information, a French guy who has been hanging out with us just bought a house in Guatemala on a mountain overlooking a lake. It is a three bedroom home with a fenced in yard. He paid, get this, $3,000 for it!! I couldn't believe it, and he is now the owner of a nice home with a magnificent view in the Gutemalan highlands. Talk about a deal. If you ever needed to get away from the craziness of western life, you could come out here with 10 grand, buy a house and live WELL for a year or two. That is pretty crazy.


A local family coming home from the market.
Rush hour traffic in Livingston.
This raccoon liked me, unlike the last one!
Anna, Sarah and Michelle, some really great girls I met and have been hanging out with.
One of the hundreds of docks in Rio Dulce.
My Hostel (Hostel Backpackers)


Me, enjoying a cold beer with my new friends.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A wonderful time in Belize, and now in Guatemala.

(I forgot my notebook, so I do not have milage or budget figures in front of me, but I will update those as soon as I am able.)

I have been having an amazing time in Belize. This is just a flat out cool place. There are certainly some downsides such as poverty and some crime, but the upsides far outweigh the downs from my point of view.My last day in Orange Walk, my appetite came back in a big way. Previously I had been having trouble getting down more than two meals a day. But that day I felt my hunger come back and so I indulged a bit and in the course of one day went through: one plate of eggs, ham and beans with toast, a box of frosted flakes with milk, a plate of chicken with rice, beans and tortillas and 36 chicken tacos (they were so cheap!). So yeah, I am packing away the calories again.

After Orange Walk, I made my way towards the capitol, Belmopan. Everyone I have talked to has told me to skip Belize City and so I decided to go with that and see the rest of the country. On the way to Belmopan I rode with a local guy for about 10 miles. He was going to "chill out with his mom for a bit." He lived in Belize City (the Shitty as the locals call it) and his mom lived near Belmopan. He was a really cool guy named Earl (not the name I expected!) and he was pretty tough, riding 2 and a half hours each way bare foot on an ancient bike. He blew a flat on his rear tire half way but just kept going! That is not easy to do, and I know from experience.

One of the things I had noticed was that in Belize, there are cyclists everywhere. And not just the usual towns people going around doing their daily chores on bikes, but road bikers with name brand high quality racing bikes. It turns out the cycling is a huge sport in Belize, right behind soccer! Who knew? But I see them all over riding in team jerseys with support cars and everything. One team even had guys in rasta colored jerseys, and they all had dread locks flowing out from under their helmets. That was awesome!

I camped out that night in a pretty marshy area outside of Belmopan and my goodness, that was a shock. I hate the swamp as anyone who has read this knows, but Belize swamps are on another level. The bugs out here are prehistoric! I was being chased around by mosquitoes that were a half inch long! My worst nightmare! Despite wearing 100% DEET and covering up, one of them bit me through the shirt and it felt like I was getting a shot at the doctor's office. I saw the daemon bug and instead of swatting it like you do with a normal mosquito, I punched it! I was a little afraid it would block my punch and then beat me up, but it splattered in a big crunchy squish on my shirt. Yuck. These mosquitoes are horrendous and I had a nightmare that night that they got into my tent and my flashlight broke and I was swatting at them in the dark ineffectually and they infected me with some terrible tropical disease. Speaking of which, Belize is home to some pretty awful maladies, as well as being the country with the highest occurrence of Malaria in Central America. I started taking some Cholroquinine which is an anti malarial available here cheap, and I hope it is effective as Malaria would be a trip ender and possibly a life ender.

After Belmopan, I made my way towards Dangriga, a coastal town. I got a good tip from some locals to avoid the Manatee Highway which is mostly dirt and worse, home to bandits. Just two weeks ago some people were ambushed on the road and killed. So obviously, that was some really well appreciated advice, and I took the longer, but paved and safer Hummingbird Highway. It was a nice ride and I had the opportunity to stop on cool off in some beautiful jungle pools with waterfalls and the works. Just beautiful looking places. The only thing that stinks about the mountains here is that there are some bugs called Bat Las that live there and they are atrocious little beats. They are tiny, but they actually bight a chunk of you off and you will bleed afterwards, like a trickle of blood flows down your skin. DEET doesn't stop them and they destroyed my legs, I have little bites all over them and they itch for days.

These waterfalls are all over the place and make for a great and refrshing break in the jungle. Just have to look out for the Crocs they have out here!

Belize is great, but the roads pretty much suck, especially when riding in the mountains.

These are what the locals live in up in the mountains.

Lush countryside everywhere.

This was a cenote, a sink hole filled with water. They are all over the place in this part of the world and are just beautiful. They are aquamarine with waterfalls and so deep, you cant swim and touch the bottom, it kind of freaks you out a bit! But the water is cool and so nice to wash the sweat off of your body.


Not everyone in Belize is poor, there are some big ballers out here.

These kids were so cool, when I took the photo they just kind of looked at me funny, then I showed them their picture and they were just tickled pink. They started laughing and jumping up and down, it was really fun.

This is (from left to right) Fox Jr., Fox Sr., and Lion. Not pictured are Little Fox (the youngest kid) and Big Fox (and he was huge!). Really cool people.
I was making my way through the Maya Mountains towards Dangriga when I was waved down by a local guy who's bike had blown a flat. I pulled over to help him fix it and we got to talking and he invited me to his place for some food and water. We went and he served me some awesome stew that was made out of fish, plantains (they look like giant bananas), and some root that I can't remember the name of, all cooked in coconut milk served over rice with hot sauce. It was super good, and they had grown or caught all of the ingredients on their farm apart from the rice.
His name was Lion and he was a farmer and water delivery man. He was a super cool cat and I hung out with him and his neighbors, the Fox family. He and Fox Sr. were some hardcore fishermen and they told me some crazy stories about how they had caught massive fish. Two of the best stories were how Lion and his buddy hauled in a 450 lb Bull Shark by hand! They don't have fishing rods out here, they just use a reel with some high strength line. They pulled the Shark onto the beach with the help of two other guys and then dragged it up on shore by its tail! That was a pretty great story. Mr. Fox had to one up him though when he told me how he had caught a 200 lb grouper with a Hawaiian Sling (a piece of PVC pipe with a metal rod in it that is propelled through the water with a piece of rubber, like a sling shot. It is used like a spear gun while diving). He nailed the grouper in the head then speared it and dragged it up holding a rope he tied through its mouth (while it was still alive!) in his teeth!
Fox Jr. had a big cut on his chin and his leg and when I asked him about it they all laughed. Aparently Fox Jr. is the town wild man. He had attempted to jump a 10 foot drainage ditch on a a beach cruiser! That is insane! He made it the first time and when he tried to do it again, he ate it bad. It cracked me up because it reminded me of me when I was his age!
These guys were great story tellers and that is because that is what they do to entertain themselves. They live in wooden houses that don't even really stop the breeze, with no lights or running water, let alone TV. To pass their free time they tell stories and smoke a LOT of marijuana. They offered me a handful for what came out to $2.50, but I didn't think that would really help my bike riding skills so I politely refused. Here it is as normal for a lot of people as having a beer is for a lot of Americans back home. Parents smoke with their kids and don't think twice about it.
It is a really different life out here, they are very connected to the land. All of their stories were about nature and animals, weather events like hurricanes and floods, or growing crops, etc. Some of the stories they told me about the Jaguars were pretty amazing. They call them Tigers here, and the Jaguars will kill and drag 700 lb cattle up into the mountains. They are incredible animals and really big, just barely smaller than a lion. I hope I get to see one before I leave, but they tend to avoid humans.
They also told me about the muscle men of the jungle, or Ant Eaters. Apparently they are the strongest of the jungle animals and they can pull off flesh muscle and tendon from your limbs just by gripping you. One of the other little critters they described to me was an animal that was half raccoon and half mongoose. They travel in big packs of a 100 or more and apparently are very deadly. One of them can fight off 4 dogs at the same time. I can't remember the name though as these guys had thick accents and a lot of what they said was tough to understand, especially after they smoked a few joints.I spent the night at Lion's house and took off early for a place called Hopkins. It is a tiny fishing village on the coast that consists of one dirt road and a handful of houses. It is such a chilled out, mellow place. Everyone knows each other by name and they live really slow paced lives.
Lots of this in Belize, not too fun for long stretches. The dirt isnt so bad, but it is rainey season so its as much mud as dirt and there are big stones everywhere that make for a bone jaring ride.

I met two American Backpackers there from Kentucky, and we spent the day hanging out in hammocks on the beach drinking coconut milk from the palm trees all over the place. They had just gotten done backpacking Central America and gave me some really useful tips. They were flying home the next day, so it was great meeting you Ryan and Kyle, have a great trip.

Myself, Ryan and Kyle, all looking pretty scruffy!


This is how we spent the day, in hammocks on the beach just chilling out.

And drinking lots of cocnuts!

Some local Belizeans hanging out.

The bridge had been washed away in a recent flood, so you had to cross the river on this rickety plank bridge, even big rigs!


This is a Mayan village, I didn´t take any pictures of the Maya themselves so I feel like I didn´t violate their religous beliefs against having their picture taken.


There are a lot of Meninites in Belize from Germany. They are very similar to Amish people in America. Here is one of them rolling along in his buggy. Belize is just a funky place with so many different kinds of people, I love it!
These are two Canadian cycle tourists I met on the road. They were riding to Mexico from Panama, it was great to meet some fellow cyclists! They were really nice and we stopped and chatted for a good half hour.
I made my way to Punta Gorda from Hopkins and slept out in the Maya Mountains. I met a Maya man named Mr. Ack while getting some food and he was a really great guy. We chatted over lunch and he was very curious about my trip. He thought it was a pretty cool thing and offered to drive me up into the higher mountains where the Maya live in traditional villages and then to take me over the border into Guatemala. That would have been awesome, but I would have had to wait 4 days to do so, which was too long for me so I had to pass on the offer.
The Maya people here are so friendly. When you go through their villages, all the people smile and wave or come up to you and ask where you are going and where you are from. The little kids all run up and wave and some say hi, some say bye, and some just shout gringo, gringo! It always cracks me up. Their lives are so simple, and they seem so happy. However, I saw the downside to their life style too when I went into one of their homes to buy some water and I saw a little girl who had a horrible infection on her face. It was so bad that I couldn´t look at her. I knew that she was not going to see a hospital either and it was just sad. This poor kid would most likely be scarred for life because of a lack of medical care.
Speaking of which, I met a family in Punta Gorda waiting to go to Guatemala on the boat that had a child sick with Cancer. This poor kid couldn´t even walk he was so sick, and he would just randomly puke. He couldn´t even hold his head up when he did so. I felt so bad for him. The mom told me what it was like trying to get treatment for her child and it sounded like a living hell. Belize has no facilities to treat this type of cancer, and when they had given the little boy (3years old) a bone marrow test, they had taken the sample with no pain killers! The kid had some rough scars from it and they had messed it up and now he couldn´t walk. It was just a horrible story. They were taking him to Guatemala city for a blood transfusion hoping it would help. Things like that just break my heart and make me so thankful to live in a country where if your child were to get ill like that, you have at least have the potential of a cure. I am no doctor, but from what it looked like, that poor guy was doomed.

This is Livingston, Guatemala, a really cool little town.

I am in Guatemala now, and so far, I love it. I am staying in a hotel that is one block from the water in a really neat town called livingston, for 3 bucks a night! I have my own room too, not a dorm bed. The food is cheap as well, and the people I have met so far have all been super friendly and nice.
Getting here was a bit of an adventure though. I got to Punta Gorda at 9 am to catch the boat to Livingston, but the guy who was going to take me just deicded he didn´t want to go after all, so I hade to wait for the 2 pm boat. That guy showed up and then said he didn´t want to take me because of my bike. So then I had to wait for the 4 pm guy who was actually a straight shooter and got me and Artax to Guatemala, just not to Livingston! The ride was incredibly rough too and watching Artax bounce around in the front of the little boat was like watching your best buddy get held down and punched in the face repeatedly. Every time we went over a swell the boat would hit the water and the floor would flex under your feet, it was pretty scary actually.
So, I had to take another boat to Livingston, and watch Artax get beat up again, this time the rear rack snapped and is now held together with wire and duct tape. I didn´t arrive until 8 pm and as soon as I got off the boar a bunch of annoying stoned totes tried to ¨help¨me with my stuff (I HATE it when people touch my bike and trailer) and ¨guide¨me to a hotel, all for a few bucks of course. I kept telling them to beat it but they were persistant. I finally got them to take off after I told them flat out they wouldn´t get a dime from me. You get those types of guys all over the world and they are so annoying. I know they are trying to make a buck, but I am not obligated to pay them for services I don´t want.
Well, tomorrow I will head up the river on another boat (hopefully a nice calm ride!) and then head south towards El Salvador. All my love to everyone back home!

Friday, July 11, 2008

First Impression: Belize is awesome!



A road in Belize...no signs, no lane markings, and pretty rough. But, beautiful country side!

This is a traditional Belizean home, although they are becoming more rare in favor of the concrete block homes I saw everywhere in Mexico.





Sooooo happy to be clean! Laguna Bacalar in Mexico.

Getting down to the lake was a bit of an adventure.

This lake was a welcome sight, I needed a bath after sweating through three tough days of riding.



A typical little Poblado in Mexico.

I found a great place to camp on an abandoned farm, out in the jungle in Mexico.



Day: 124
Miles: 40
Total Mileage: 6,366
Money Spent: 6-10: $34

I have only been here in Belize for a day, but what a nice day it was. Crossing the border was a cinch, I went across at the small town of Sta. Elena instead of the much larger Chetumal. I stopped to buy a nice meal as I had about $10 in pesos left over and so had a huge plate of chicken fajitas and loaded up on water.

You are meant to pay a $15 to $30 exit tax when leaving Mexico, but I didn't have that much and didn't want to go to an ATM so, as I usually do when crossing military checkpoints, I just put my head down and road through it and as usual, no one said anything just staring at me as I passed. I rode over the Rio Mahacal, got my 1 month Visa and that was about all there was to getting into Belize, it was a breeze.

Belize is a wonderful mash up of about a dozen different cultures. It began as a part of the Mayan empire, sometimes being conquered by rival kingdoms, but essentially Mayan, then it was conquered by the Spanish and became a colony. It served as a hideout and base for pirates and then the British came in with Caribbean and African slaves and workers to use the land for logging and agriculture.

In time, the land became a British colony in all but name. As a result of being a de facto part of the commonwealth, Belize has seen immigration from India, ex pats from Australia, England, and Canada, as well as quite a few Americans. There are also a number of Chinese, and Japanese living in Belize. The Caribean and Africans brought over to work still remain as well as Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants and the Garifuna, who are a mix of Carribean, African and indigenous peoples who speak a dialect of English that is so strong, it is basically its own language. (think: Hey mon, take it easy)

So essentially you have a crazy mix of people from all over the world who have come to this tiny, beautiful, tropical country that runs to a Bob Marley soundtrack. They all live side by side and on a single street, you can see families from every ethnic group you can imagine, all living and working in the same communities.

The official language here is English, but it helps if you can speak some Spanish as well. I have to admit, it is nice to be able to speak English again and to have everything written in English.
Within minutes of being here, I met nothing but nice people. I thought Mexico was full of incredibly friendly people, but I honestly think Belize may take that title if the rest of the country is as welcoming as the north. Everywhere I went, people were smiling, everyone waves at you and each other, little kids come out of their house to say hello and run along side the bike. Families hang out in the fron yard, talking to the neighbors, wathing kids play and just passing the time nice and easy. People who drove by me would honk and wave or give me a thumbs up. One guy pulled over to ask me where I was going and where I had come from and his son had a million questions for me. He thought cycle touring was about the coolest thing he has ever heard of and decided he would ride his bike across Belize when he was old enough. The funny part was, it was a Latino dad and son who spoke English with a Rasta accent! Stuff like that is common here and makes me laugh because it is so cool.

Here are a few quick examples of the kind of people I have met here.

While riding down the road trying to figure out how to get to where I was going (there are petty much no roadsigns of any type here) two teenage guys rode up next to me and asked me where I was going. They showed me how to get there and we rode together for about 7 miles shooting the breeze. They rode everyday on single speed beach cruisers to their sisters town about 10 miles away. In the heat here and wearing flip flops, that is no joke! They were also nice enough to show me where a water pump was where you could pump some water out of a well and take a little mini shower to cool off.

I didn't find an ATM while riding and I was trying to make it to the first city (well, a city by Belizean standards) called Orange Walk that had a bank. I ran low on water on the way as it was very hot and I pulled over to a shop in a tiny little town to get some water. Belize uses their own currency and American dollars, and I had a few quarters sitting in the bottom of my bag so I dug them out but unfortunately, the stores don't take American coins. So, I thought I was out of luck, but one of the 5 or so guys that was hanging out at the store told me to come back, and he bought me a Strawberry Fanta since I looked thirsty. How nice was that? Who could honestly say that they would buy a total stranger a drink just because he looked thirsty? I stayed and shot the breeze with the guys for a while and they all thought I was crazy but wished me luck on my trip.

Down the road, I saw a Shell Station and figured they would have an ATM or take credit cards for sure, so I stopped in. Unfortunately, they did not have either, but the lady running the store just gave me a bottle of water! I couldn't believe it, the people are just so friendly.

I made it to Orange Walk and its a pretty small city really, no buildings over three stories and only a few streets. But it was full of the same mix of people that were so nice. As I sat there checking out my map looking for a Hotel I had read about, a little kid skid slides on his bike up to me and says: "Hey dude, whats happenin?"

It almost brought a tear to my eye to hear someone call me dude!

I told him I was looking for the Akihoto Hotel ($15 for a two person room with TV) and he said, "Yeah bro, its right over there."

I could have hugged the little guy, being called dude and bro in the same conversation brought me back to California, if only for a second!

So I checked in and decided to stay here for a rest day. I am developing saddle soars on my rear end and so I decided to let them heal up for a day. That, plus I found a taco shop here that sells three chicken tacos for fifty cents!! I am in heaven!

I will rest all day today and then head towards Belize City tomorrow, I may blow by it though, and stay along the coast somewhere. I have decided to stay in Belize as long as possible and will ride all the way through the country to the far south, and then take a ferry to Guatemala. I will miss a lot of Guatemala, but I am enjoying Belize so much that I feel it is a fair trade off. Also, from what I have read and heard, the southern part of Belize sees nearly no tourism, which means that it will probably be more enjoyable for me. I am finding myself enjoying the little villages and towns in the country just as much or more than the cities.

Until next time!