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Ushuaia: El Fin Del Mundo

At the entrance to the town.

At the entrance to the town.

After almost a year of traveling (11 days shy of one year exactly), we finally arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina. It was so amazing that it was hard for me to even put into words the feelings that I experienced. The couple weeks prior to arriving in Ushuaia, the days were long, the roads numbingly straight and the winds horrendous.

The much needed photo at the end of the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While in Ushuaia, we went on a boat tour of some of the surrounding islands. Milton took a fly fishing trip and I did a local tour around town on one of their double decker buses.

 

Photo on island H.

Photo on Island H.

"Last" Lighthouse in Argentina.

“Last” Lighthouse in Argentina.

Bus that took me on a fun little excursion around the city.

Bus that took me on a fun little excursion around the city.

View of the mountains from the bus tour.

View of the mountains from the bus tour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the past year I’ve had one broken foot, we’ve had three stolen motorcycles, one stolen passport, our riding partner leaving and returning to the states after only two months on the road, numerous falls as I mastered the art of riding off-road over amazing mountain passes with switch back after switch back, countless tears as I struggled through fears that I was being pushed to ride beyond my ability, and immense pride when I realized that, even through I may have fallen a few times, (okay maybe more than a few) I got back on my bike and continued to ride.

We’ve also had meltdowns at the side of a few roads, screaming in frustration into the wind a few times, and made some amazing friends along the way, and our faith in humanity is stronger now than ever before.

For the past month, our bikes seem to being telling us that it’s getting time to go home.   We’ve put a lot of miles on them, over 35,000 km in fact, we’ve ridden them hard, and they are starting to wear out.  My shock has blown, my clutch is wearing out and beginning to slip, and my battery is getting weaker and weaker to the point that now everytime I turn if off I wonder if it will start again.  Milton’s bike already had a radiator leak repaired, his carburetor repaired, his clutch replaced, electrical issues repaired, and now his shock is giving out also. We are debating whether it is even worth it to send our bikes back to the states.

Had electrical issues about 2 hours north of Ushuaia and about 35 km south of Rio Grande which left us dead in our tracks.

Had electrical issues about 2 hours north of Ushuaia and about 35 km south of Rio Grande which left us dead in our tracks.

Finally got the bike into town and into a shop.

Finally got the bike into town and into a shop.

Since leaving Ushuaia, we spent four days stuck in Rio Grande due to bike issues.  But, during this four day period the winds got up to 137km/hr so it was a good time to be stuck.  After finally leaving Rio Grande we headed out towards El Calafate. The winds blew so hard that it became dangerous and so we stopped and spent the night in Esperenza which I am pretty such exists solely to give travelers a play to stay when the wind blows too hard. The next day, while riding to El Calafate, discovered my shock leaking again which made for a fun bumpy ride in.

 

Once in El Calafate,  we stayed for two days and went on an amazing catamaran tour of the glaciers.

View from the front deck of the boat.

View from the front deck of the boat.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

Upsala Glacier

Upsala Glacier

Spegazzini Glacier

Spegazzini Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From El Calafate, we continued north on route 40, rode by some of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen.  We made it as far as Bajo Caracoles, before we decided to stop for the evening and spend the night.  The evidence of stickers on the gas pump at the station was proof that we were not the first bikes to roll through.  Of course, we just had to add our sticker too.

At the gas station/hotel in Bajo Caracoles.

At the gas station/hotel in Bajo Caracoles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we rolled out early but only made is as far as Paso Rio where we found a Argentinian rodeo with plenty of gauchos strutting around sharply dressed.  Since we’d already experienced a rodeo in Mexico and Guatemala (more like running from the bulls/cows in Guatemala ) we decided to stay the night and found a place to camp across the street.  They had sheep shearing contests, barrel racing and one by one I watched riders climb into the backs of horses that were blindfolded, tied to poles, and as the horse was untied, the blind fold removed and the horse tried its best to buck the rider off and the rider tried to hang on until the bell rung.  When the bell rung, if the rider made it that long, two other riders would appear right along side the rider and lift him to safety while the horse continued bucking.  The riding was amazing and the gauchos very handsome, if I do say so myself.  After the rodeo was over, the music started and in true Latin America style, the music went well into the night and early morning hours.

Rode in carrying his beer, think it's a requirement for all the riders.

Rode in carrying his beer, think it’s a requirement for all the riders.

This is just about what riding my bike looks like

This is just about what riding my bike looks like now.

And yes, he made it the whole 8 seconds.

And yes, he made it the whole 8 seconds.

Today, we sit in Esquel, Argentina and are headed up to cross the border into Chile by Mamuil Malal which is the closest border crossing to Pucon, Chile.  Our return flight home is booked for February 15, 2017. In the meantime, we are hoping that our bikes will last for a little longer without anything major giving out so we can spend a little time traveling around Chile.  For the remainder of our time,  we  are now trying to stick to pavement, not always easy down here but we’ve trying.

 

 

Connection and Purpose On The Road

At the widest part of the earth, the equator in Ecuador.

At the widest part of the earth, the equator in Ecuador.

So I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately.  From other travelers, I know this can be a normal part of the extended travel process.  Minus a short trip back to the states to take care of taxes and attend a family wedding, we’ve been gone since January 19, 2016.

That is over nine months of a life of continuous mobility with limited belongings which means I wear the same clothes over and over and over again.  Although somedays, lack of clothing choices feels like my biggest challenge, I realize it is not.

For me, one of the hardest things about this type of travel, is the feeling that I am not to connected to the community around me.  Although we have met some amazing people along the journey, the connections that get made are too brief. Before we know it, we’re packed up, and heading to the next destination.

At times, it helps to stay in one place a little while longer.  For example, this week, we decided to stay in Quito, Ecuador for an extra week.  This does more than just allow us to rest, it allows us to develop a small feeling of community, even just for a brief moment in time.

When we stay in one place for even a few days, we try to build our connections by visiting the same vendor every day for juice, eating at the same restaurant, donating to the same street performer or beggar, frequenting the same gym, or even sometimes it’s as simple as purchasing water at the same corner tienda.  By doing this, we know what to expect, or who to expect in our day to day dealings and they begin to expect us.  But, it’s more than just the feeling of being recognized, it’s the act of being acknowledged.

All of these simple ways have allowed us to build a tiny community while on the road.  This tiny community gives me a sense of belonging which leads to a feeling of responsibility to those around me and helps to give me a sense of purpose.

To me, a sense of purpose is crucial. Today, I am learning to find it in a much simpler ways than every before.  When I was working as a nurse, I knew what my purpose was. Today, my sense of purpose is on a much smaller level and it usually comes from much simpler things.

Here are some of the things that have helped me feel part of community and give me a sense of purpose while traveling.   Supporting the local street vendor by purchasing my juice and food from them rather than the local market or restaurant.  Donating my change to the elderly beggar on the street with hands so deformed she can’t even hold the cup.  Smiling and saying hola to the little girl who looks at me from behind her mother’s legs, not sure if she is frightened of me or just shy.  Telling the mother that her child is “muy bonita”.  Giving my leftover food to the local animals whenever possible.  Volunteering with a local organization that works with kids while in Guatemala.  And, even a few times along the trip, I was able to provide nursing care and education: once for a gentleman who needed wound care, education and supplies after a toe amputation, once for a family who needed education for their newborn baby who was born with Myelomeningocele, and once for a  gentleman who had a seizure in a busy market place who needed nursing care until medics arrived.

All of these things help to give me a sense of purpose today and although it’s not the same as when I was nursing full-time, if I don’t recognize and acknowledge those little ways that I feel and become part of the community I am in, I will just be another body passing through.

How do you build community and a sense of purpose in your own travels? Let me know, I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions.

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Until next time,

Katherine

On the Road Again!!

On August 24th, 2016 we flew back home to take care of our taxes, attend a family wedding, and drop Jackie Dawg off with a friend in Washington.  Apparently she is being spoiled rotten and enjoying every minute of it.  Our return home was much shorter than we anticipated and by September 21st we were back in Costa Rica, loaded down with gear such as replacement tires and some other much needed gear.  We returned to the same hostel, TripOn Open House, and stayed there for four days while we worked on the bikes.

We pulled out mid morning, Sunday September 25th, and after spending much of the day riding in the rain, we decided to stop in Palmar Norte which is about an hour north of the border.  This was the first time we didn’t have to worry about whether we could find a room with the dog, which was nice but also sad as there definitely is a hole in our world right now.  But we are warm and dry in our hotel room now and while I do a quick blog update, Milton is cooking dinner.

Tomorrow we will cross the border and head to Panama City where we will begin to take care of the  bike inspections and paperwork to make sure we make our October 3rd reservation with Wild Card Sailing (wildcardsailing.com) which will take on a  five day cruise through the San Blas Islands.  During that time we will be without internet access but we will be sure to take many photo so we can update when we arrive in Columbia.

We are both very excited about the next phase of our adventure in South America but sad that we left our friend Chris who was our traveling companion for about a month.  He has decided to hang out in San Jose for a while longer but I am hoping that we will meet up again somewhere down the road.  In the meantime, we will continue to head south with the hope of meeting up with some other travelers in December in Northern Argentina.

Until next time, Happy Days!!

Costa Rica

We’ve had an amazing time here in Costa Rica.

Our first night here was spent in the town of Canas in the province of Guanacaste.  Found a little gym  there so we could get our workout on before heading towards the coast.

Cono Gym in Canas, Costa Rica.

Cono Gym in Canas, Costa Rica.

From Canas, we spent a few nights around the Jaco area where we stayed just south in a little beach town called  Esterillos Oeste.

Sunset overlooking Jaco in Costa Rica

Sunset overlooking Jaco in Costa Rica

When we left Esterillos Oeste, we headed south to Pavones where we camped for a few nights right next to the beach. The majority of the days ride was on pavement but that last couple hours the pavement ended, my favorite!!!!

Had some bike issues heading into Pavones which delayed our arrival by a couple hours but we finally had some people from Washington stop and offer to help.  After about two hours we got the bike running and made it into Pavones where my bike got a flat tire.  Just the day for bike issues I guess.

A little unplanned motorcycle maintenance.

A little unplanned motorcycle maintenance.

Our lifesavers from Washington

Our lifesavers from Washington

Long hot day but finally to Pavones....and discovered I got a flat tire somewhere along the way.

Long hot day but finally to Pavones….and discovered I got a flat tire somewhere along the way.

Our helper, Jackiedawg, taking a break.

Our helper, Jackiedawg, taking a break.

From Pavones, we backtracked and then jumped on the PanAmerican Highway up into San Jose, where I had more bike issues and broke my communicator.  That days ride had us going over the highest pass in Costa Rica, Cerro de la Muerte, which has an elevation of over 11,000 feet.  It was beautiful with hairpin turns which we would come around and find people walking, riding mountain bikes, or riding horses along the sides of the road for the entire way.

In some areas, the fog was so thick, that visibility was severely limited.  Found out later that we just happened to be crossing the pass during the annual pilgrimage celebration of Virgen de Los Angeles where people come from all over the country, many on foot, to celebrate mass at Cartago.  Unfortunately we did not stop to take any photos so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it is one of the most beautiful lush passes I have ever gotten to ride on and it seemed to go on forever.

Spent one night in San Jose where we got to meet up with a local from the Costa Rica KLRos club who took us to his home to meet his family and his dad made the most delicious juice for us.

Jackie's benefactors.

Jackie’s benefactors.

The next morning, we met some wonderful locals who insisted on giving us a little money for food for Jackie.  We didn’t need the money but I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to allow people to give from their heart in the way that they choose.

In the afternoon, we headed out to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side to meet up with a fellow rider, Chris,  from Australia who’s been traveling for over a year now.

Since we left late in the afternoon and we hit rain, which slowed things going over the pass but the ride was so beautiful we didn’t mind to much. As it got later into the evening we decided to stop for the night and were so lucky to find a a wonderful little roadside hotel about 30 minutes outside of Limon where we got a super cheap, clean room with a great meal.

Cabinas Del Rio

Cabinas Del Rio

The next morning we set out early and within less than 10 minutes from leaving the hotel we were treated to seeing a sloth up close.  A local Tico cut down a branch and helped the sloth safely across the road.  Such an amazing creature.

Our little friend, the sloth.

Our little friend, the sloth.

 

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We arrived in Puerto Viejo in early afternoon and both fell in love with the area.  It had everything, beautiful warm waters, a relaxed laid back feel, good Caribbean food, and reggae music. What more could we possible need. We ended up staying for two weeks and our last week there, our friend Chris, was our next-door neighbor and we spent many nights laying on the hammock’s, drinking ice-tea, and relaxing.

After two weeks we all three headed back to San Jose where we now are all staying in the same bustling hostel here.  We took the same route back as we took over but this time we stopped for a few photos.

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Our friend Chris with the bikes (photo taken from the top of the tunnel)

Our friend Chris with the bikes (photo taken from the top of the tunnel)

We’ve had wonderful dinner’s with our friend Kenneth and his dad, Roger, and a couple other KLR riders who were traveling through.IMG_4090IMG_4097 IMG_4118

We’ve relaxed here at this wonderful hostel called TripOnOpenHouse, met people from all over the world, worked out at the local gym, been on rides to one of the local volcanos (no photos from the volcano cause the fog was too thick), gone to the eye doctor and the dentist for cleaning and Jackie and I have taken long walks around San Jose to see the sites.

Our Aussie friend Chris checking the GPS.

Our Aussie friend Chris checking the GPS.

Us with our friend Kenneth from the Costa Rica KLR club

Us with our friend Kenneth from the Costa Rica KLR club

Tons of bikes here at this restaurant on the way up to the volcano.

Tons of bikes here at this restaurant on the way up to the volcano.

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Tomorrow, we will be taking Jackiedawg back to the states and when we return for our bikes we will continue without her.  This was a difficult decision for us to make but she is 13 years old and the trip is getting harder on her and after a days ride, she is completely exhausted.

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It is also hard to find lodging that will take her sometimes so we’re going to take her to Washington to stay with a wonderful friend who will give her plenty of love and attention.  Our friend Chris keeps joking that when she gets home she’ll tell all her dog friends about these crazy humans that decided it’s would be a great idea to put her on the back of a bike and take her riding all over through Mexico and Central America for 7 long months.  If dogs could talk, she’d definitely have some stories to tell.

Until next time, as our Aussie friend, Chris, always says, “Happy Days”!!!!

El Salvador to Costa Rica

IMG_3186Seems like it’s been forever since I posted an update so here goes.  We are now in Costa Rica, arrived here on July 24th with the intent of meeting a friend who was flying down from the Seattle area to spend a few days with us. Unfortunately, he had to cancel at the last minute due to illness.  Since our last post where we had just arrived in El Salvador we have crossed two borders in one day (not recommended), had Milton accused of assaulting a loco local in Honduras (not true but she wanted money) after much explaining, with some yelling thrown in, the police let him go and we got out of there as fast as we could.  This experience did kind of taint our feelings about spending any time in Honduras so we rode nonstop that day until we reached the border with Nicaragua.

We spent the night at a little funky hotel in Somotillo, Nicaragua where we were so exhausted that we forget to ask all of the normal questions we normally ask when searching for suitable lodging.  The first is do you take dogs, do you have secure parking, is there wifi, and does the shower have hot water (something that we have now discovered is not needed anymore because the cold water feels great after a long day riding). So yes they took dogs, yes they had secure parking, no to wifi, and we completely forgot to ask about a shower so when I stepped into to take a shower I discovered that there was no shower, only a pipe sticking out of the wall with no shower head but below that was a large garbage can filled with water and a bowl to rinse with.  I made it work and the cold water felt great.

View of our room from the door.

View of our room from the door.

Notice the black garbage can, that's our shower.

Notice the black garbage can, that’s our shower.

Sweetest dog, wanted to take her with us.

Sweetest dog, wanted to take her with us.

Got a delicious meal from her.

Got a delicious meal from her.

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The next morning we pulled out early and headed south.  Nicaragua is beautiful and we rode along volcanos through beautiful green countryside, through the city of Leon where we had a delicious late breakfast and continued on until we arrived in Managua in the early afternoon.  In Managua we stopped to buy a chip for the phone so we would once again be connected as we had no service since leaving El Salvador.  After getting all set up with a phone that worked we decided to head to Granada for the night.  As we were riding we noticed that they were getting ready for a celebration, crowds were beginning to gather, bandstands were being erected and those that were already set up were blasting music, motorcycles with waving FLSN flags were riding around in larger and larger groups, traffic was often backed up and it kept going and going.  I expected it to stop any minute but it actually continued along the road for miles and miles, finally slowed just before we got to the outskirts of Granada.

Early evening, we arrived in Granada where we stayed for three days.  Granada is a  beautiful city and had a similar feel like Antigua, Guatemala except there were not quite as many vendors and  they weren’t dressed in the traditional clothing like the vendors in Antiqua. Here are some of the photos from our time in Granada.

Granada, Nicaragua

Granada, Nicaragua

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The morning that we pulled out of Granada it was pouring rain, which we discovered is typical for that area, and from there we decided to head south to San Juan Del Sur. It took us a few hours to reach San Juan but when we arrived there we immediately headed up to the Jesus statue to get an overview of the area.

Looking down over San Juan del Sur

Looking down over San Juan del Sur

Local woman walking her dogs with her bird.

Local woman walking her dogs with her bird.

Our friend Jeff with Jackie

Our friend Jeff with Jackie

We ended up staying in San Juan for about 10 days. We did yoga most mornings through Grateful Surf Yoga & Ayurveda and went on a day surf excursion with them also and had a blast,  rode on an overnight motorcycle trip with some locals back to Granada where we went swimming at Laguna de Apoyo, ate dinners with new friends, went dancing to local music, worked out at a local gym called the Fight Club, and explored nearby beaches such as Playa El Yankee which is a beautiful beach, and on our last day there I loaned my bike to a friend we met and we went riding, Jackie with him and me riding 2 up on Milton’s bike, all in all we had a blast and definitely an area that we’d return to for another visit.IMG_3322 IMG_3323 IMG_3346

 

IMG_3429When we left San Juan we retraced our path and headed to Isle de Ometepe which is in the middle of Lake Nicaragua and was created from two volcanoes. Had a ferry ride to get out there but was totally worth it.  During our two days spent on the island we went on an amazing hike to a waterfall, enjoyed beautiful sunsets from our cabin porch, and met some nice people traveling,

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We’ve spent the last few days here in Costa Rica at Esterillos Oeste which is just south of Playa Jaco.  Haven’t spent much time at the beach here but the view from our back deck is amazing.  We’ve enjoyed watching fireflies at night while we sit on the deck.  Tomorrow we will head out further south along the coast until we find the next place to stop. We are now further away from home than we’ve ever ridden.  Pretty freaking amazing if you ask me.

Sunset overlooking the Playa Jaco area.

Sunset overlooking the Playa Jaco area.

 

El Salvador

El Salvador…..

So yesterday, I woke up in Guatemala and I was feeling a little down and homesick for my family so I logged onto Facebook for the first time since we left Antigua. I had one message from my friend Paula, who lives in Paris, France, and she sent me the perfect video link that brought some inspiration back just when I needed it most.  Amazing how it can be just the smallest connection to someone that can bring that spark back into life. That and a phone call to my parents to find out all was well on the homefront.

El Salvador border crossing at La Hachadura

El Salvador border crossing at La Hachadura

Our border crossing into El Salvador was relatively smooth.  There were no lines to wait in.  We just had to had to wait about 15-20 minutes on the Guatemala side to cancel our vehicle import paperwork and another 5 minutes for our passports to be stamped. As soon as we pulled up there were helpers there offering to “help” us but we declined and they left us alone after that.

Jackie patiently waiting on the Guatemala side of the border.

Jackie patiently waiting on the Guatemala side of the border.

We entered no man’s land and after crossing a bridge, we were stopped at a checkpoint where it turned out they only wanted to look at our original import paperwork for the bikes that we were given when we first crossed into Guatemala,  made sure it was stamped on our departure from Guatemala, and we continued on.

Once though that, we parked in front of the Migration office and first took care of Jackie’s papers  getting reviewed and stamped.  There was a little language barrier that slowed the process down and we discovered that besides our vet health certificate and vaccination records that we brought from home, they wanted to see proof that she was properly cleared through Guatemala and then we were good to go.

The line for getting our passport stamped was a little longer as we got caught behind a small tour bus filled with people but luckily the line moved pretty quickly considering.  After the passports were stamped they gave us a little slip of paper to give at the police checkpoint

Getting through customs with the bikes was only delayed by our filing out the forms and not being able to read Spanish very well.  While we were getting some help from one of the officials,  someone came and took Jackie and walked her around outside for us.  They looked at our vin numbers on the bikes, then after a little longer wait, we signed papers and were off.

Waiting for our VIN numbers to be checked in the El Salvador.

Waiting for our VIN numbers to be checked in the El Salvador.

Kinda had a little helper, wasn't the best but he was cute.

Kinda had a little helper, wasn’t the best but he was cute.

At the police check point they took our slip of paper, asked where we were going, again looked at our original bike import paper that we were given in Guatemala and paid a entry fee of $25 USD per bike.  Turns out that there is something called the CA-4 here where there are 4 countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) that once you enter you have 90 days total in all the countries combined.  They reminded us of the 90 days and we were off.  We have 39 more days before we have to be out.

The first town on the other side of the border,  La Hachadura, was busy and not some place that we wanted to stop so we rode right on through.  Not long after, we started passing fruit stands and since it was 1 pm by this time we eventually found a stand selling watermelons so we stopped and ate one at the side of the road. Cost us $1 USD, yes they take US dollars here in El Salvador.

After eating and talking with some locals, we discovered that we weren’t too far from the beach area we were looking for, Playa El Tunco.  Past the fruit stand, we rode through pasture fields and fields of vegetable as we worked our way closer and closer to the coast.

Found a wonderful little roadside restaurant overlooking the ocean that we stopped at for lunch  and where Jackie was  “stolen” by the owners 5 year old daughter. Just as we were finishing up, a man rode up on a nice road touring bike, and we chatted for a while. Turned out he was from Columbia and had ridden his bike, solo, all the way up to Texas and was now on his way back.  Now that is an impressive journey.

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By this time it was probably 3:30 in the afternoon, so we continued on riding in some of the most amazing countryside as we rode through green lush mountain terrain, between cliffs with the tree roots exposed all the way down the cliff walls, through tunnel after tunnel into the mountains and the ocean off to our right.  As we rode, we both mentioned to each other that we were so glad we didn’t let fear stop us from coming to El Salvador.

About 45 minutes later we rode past a couple that looked like they spoke English so we stopped and found out that just a few minutes further down the road there was a hotel and a few hostels where we could get a room for the night.  Didn’t quite make it to Playa El Tunco but we did find an amazing beautiful beach, Playa El Zonte, with very few people so we decided to stop and stay for a couple days.

 

Hotel Esencia Nativa in Playa El Zonte, El Salvador

Hotel Esencia Nativa in Playa El Zonte, El Salvador

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Last night, we sat out on the beach and watched the lightning off to the left of us, saw fireflies flitting around, and watched the waves wash up on the beach. This beach itself has a large area covered with round black rocks that ranged in size from small rocks that would easily fit into the palm of my hand to fist sized rocks and larger and when the waves came up over the rocks, the sound as the water receded through the rocks was amazing.  It was exactly like the sound that a rain stick makes. Milton called it God’s rain stick, which I felt was very fitting.  Sitting out on the beach as it got darker and darker with only the lightening, the fireflies, and sound of the waves was very surreal.  Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would be sitting on a beach in El Salvador.

In fact, the further south we go, the more of a dream this becomes. Mexico, I could imagine; Guatemala I could imagine. For some reason, I had a hard time dreaming beyond those borders, and now, here we sit in El Salvador. Not sure if at some point, I thought that we’d “listen”  to those negative thoughts that tend to creep in at times, or if we’d “listen” to those who tend to live a fear based life. Whatever form the voice comes in, we continue to push it away, we haven’t given up and we haven’t returned home.  Our safety net, as we once knew it, is no longer there anymore anyways but we’ve found a much larger safety net out here on the road that includes locals, friends we’ve made along the way, other travelers that we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, friends back home, and the safety net between the two of us has only grown stronger as we travel. Also, thankfully we have quite a few cheerleaders in our lives who encourage us, whether it’s by a simple message on Facebook, or sharing some inspiring video; whoever and wherever you are, thank you for your encouragement and cheering us along the way.

Cuidad Melchior de Mencos to Antigua

We arrived in Guatemala on May 13th, 2016.  We crossed over the border by Cuidad Melchior de Mencos.  We had no problems with this border crossing and we had a lively group of boys very willing to help us through the process.  Before we left Mexico, after a frustrating couple of days searching for border crossing information, I came across this great little book called Central America Border Crossing Guide by rtw Paul,  it was well worth the small price for the download and, so far, I have found it to be pretty accurate. The whole crossing took maybe 30-45 minutes maximum, there was no wait at all for us, but the dog is what took us a little longer as they had to photocopy her vaccination papers and health certification.  Probably could save us a little time if we carried our own copies with us but so far, the time delay for them to make copies has been minimal.  After we completed everything, we gave the kids each a little money for their help and got on the road as the day was heating up early.

Our helpers for the crossing.

Our helpers for the crossing.

Not far on the other side, there was a toll crossing, but again, it was a nominal fee and we didn’t have to show any papers, just pay the fee, and we were on our way.  Not far from the crossing was the town Ciudad Melchior de Mencos, where we stopped for a  cold drink and some sliced mangos. While there we were surrounded by local children who were curious about us and the dog so we took the time to show them photos of the beaches, the redwoods, and even Paul Bunyon on a tourist brochure that we brought from home. IMG_1496After that, we were off and riding again.  Oh, one more exciting thing about this town was there was a ferry crossing to get there and for me, getting onto a ferry that looks like it could sink at any time is always exciting and a little nerve-wracking.

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Our first couple nights in Guatemala were spent in Flores, a cute little town on an Island.  It was a nice place to land for a couple days and had a decent gym directly on the other side of the bridge in the neighboring town of Santa Elena. The town of Santa Elena was a bustling, little city filled with dirty little markets places and a beautiful mall that was probably built to attract the tourists who came to Flores. Flores itself was an easily walkable island, and I could walk the entire island in about 20 minutes.  It had a mixture of both expensive and cheap hotels and hostels for the really budget minded and plenty of cafes, restaurants, and, every evening, the locals would set up food stands along the boardwalk. The nearest attraction to Flores was Tikal National Park so many people stayed in Flores and did day trips there. We decided to skip Tikal.

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After leaving Flores we headed back east for a short distance and then headed south towards Guatemala City.  We were doing our best to avoid the main highways so we were just trying to head south on secondary roads which always lead us to great adventure.  We rode through small working villages, came across roads washed out with little warning, rode past horses hauling all types of loads, people hauling all types of loads, and little roadside stands of people selling fruit in  areas you’d least expect it.  We always like to stop at those places because we meet the most interesting people and, even with the language barrier, there is always lots of laughter and everybody loves Jackie.

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Late in the morning we came to a T in the road. If we took a right, we’d be on the direct route southwest to Coban, the largest and closest city in the area.  If we took a left, we’d be on a secondary road which would take us southeast but would eventually loop back around to Coban.  Milton, of course, wanted to go left, but I wanted to go right because the secondary roads always, and I mean always, eventually turn into dirt roads down here south of the border.  Usually they turn into dirt sooner rather than later in fact.  So I won out, or I should say my fear won out,  and we took the road to the right.   Less that 10 minutes of riding, after having a little discussion regarding what each of us wanted to experience on this trip, I suggested we turn around and go the other way. Not long after that turnaround point we came to a small town where we stopped for a quick lunch before continuing on to, what else but, dirt.

Now, in the beginning, the dirt portions are usually sporadic so it always fools me. I have my moment of “Oh Shit” and then next thing I know the pavement is there again and I breathe easily.  For a little while, anyways.  This day was no different and we hit some dirt mixed with pavement but the scenery was so breathtakingly beautiful that I didn’t mind so much…..for awhile.

At first the pavement took us along a valley floor, where we got to wave to trucks filled with men, women, and children dressed in traditional Mayan clothing and I was having a great time. Then, we started to climb.  Still having a good time as we continued to wave to passing trucks, stopped to take some photos, passed a few small villages, and then, the dirt started.

Still on pavement, life is good.

Still on pavement, life is good.

My “Oh shit” moment had returned and along with the dirt, came the rocks and ruts, the one lane road with steep inclines and switch backs, people walking along carrying machetes, and then the trucks.  All of this I had to maneuver through, without stopping because stopping on a steep incline is a huge no-no. Besides if I stop I just have to start again so it’s best to just keep the wheels turning in a forward direction.

No pavement anymore, this is my exhausted don't push me anymore face.

No pavement anymore, this is my exhausted don’t push me anymore face.

Eventually we did find a flat place to stop for some water so we could cool off and I could rest for a few minutes.  At this time, I heard “Gringa, gringa” being yelled and some  cute little girls ran up to me.  At first they were shy and wouldn’t come too close but Jackie won their hearts and they came up to visit. IMG_1581 For the moment, this made the ride up the hill totally worth it.  This was my first real time back on dirt similar to what I had to ride on when I broke my foot, so the images in my head kept flashing back to that day.IMG_1645

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The village cemetery.

The village cemetery.

Our campsite for the night.

Our campsite for the night.

I am not quite sure what time we started to climb but when we started it was early afternoon and by late afternoon we realized that there was no way we were going to make it out of the mountains by nightfall so we started looking for a place to set up camp for the night.  Eventually we came to a little church on a hill right on the crest of the mountain, and after exploring it, we turned around to find someone to ask if we could camp there for the night.  We found a group of young men sitting on a hillside and eventually we got them to understand that we wanted to camp there for the night.  The indicated that it would be okay, so we turned around to set up our camp.

Not long after parking and letting the dog off the bike, we had some young boys who came and sat on the hill watching us intently.  Soon there we others who came also until we eventually had a crowd of about 15 people standing around, some just watching, some attempting to talk to us.  As we pulled out our camping mats and started pumping them up, the boys really became interested so we let the youngest try and after he tired out, we let an older boy try until the mat was completed pumped up.

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After the tent was set up, Milton made dinner while I got out the computer to show them pictures and they all gathered around and I shared photos of home and Mexico with them.  It was an amazing evening. We had parents there with their young children who wanted photos with me and the bike. One older gentleman even came back to show us some Mayan artifacts that he had since he was young.  By this time it was dark and we were operating by flashlight so after admiring the artifacts we said adios and went to bed.  Not long after we got all settled into the sleeping bags time, we heard some people walk up to the campsite.   Once they realized that we were in our tent but were still awake they said adios, left and we never had any other visitors for the rest of the night.

Road into Lanquin

Road into Lanquin

IMG_1648When we awoke, we broke camp and headed out to try to beat the heat.  Not long after, we came to small town where we got breakfast before continuing on until we reached the turn off for Lanquin which was more dirt roads but we decided we’d spend one night there and visit the caves.  Did not take any photos of the cave but the hike through the cave was extremely treacherous and, to be honest, I am so surprised I did not injure myself on the rocks slippery with water and bat shit. Our guide climbed it all  wearing only crocs (probably in honor of my friend Vanessa). The cave was unlit and we only had our flashlights for light which sometimes I had to carry in my mouth so I could use two hands to scramble up or down rocks.  Definitely beautiful but on the return, our guide took us on a “shortcut” which was completely unsafe and never would have flown in the US but, in Guatemala, anything goes.

Lanquin marketplace

Lanquin marketplace

Lanquin Marketplace

Lanquin Marketplace

Hazy smokey sunrise

Hazy smokey sunrise

After a smoke filled night with no air conditioning, we headed back out the same dirt road we came in on, eventually hit pavement which led us into Coban.  From there we worked our way south, until we cut east, heading towards Puerto Barrios, in the eastern corner of Guatemala by the Gulf of Honduras.  The ride there was filled with lines of trucks and as we got closer to Puerto Barrios,  the line backed up until we were doing whatever we could to get around them which meant we sometimes rode in the other lane, sometimes rode on the shoulder, whatever would keep us moving cause when we stopped it was nothing but hot sweltering heat and exhaust to breathe.

We ended, getting separated there for awhile, and then after we found each other, we stopped to eat lunch, and after,  since there was nothing there to interest us and we weren’t ready to leave Guatemala, we just turned around and headed west on the same road we came over on.  We rode until exhausted, then found a safe place to rent a room for the night, then the next day woke up, hit the gym, and headed in the direction of Guatemala City.  The road over the mountain to get to Guatemala City was under construction so traffic was horrible and backed up for miles but again we wove in, out, and around until we worked our way to the front of the line.  By the time we got through Guatemala City, after getting lost for a while, we ended up in a mall in Mixta, Guatemala where we stopped to get some coffee and internet service so we could look for a AirBnB. While we were there, the rains and lightening started.  It was dark when we finally left the mall, we were tired and exhausted, and the road had lots of twists and turns.  In the dark and rain, I was not having much fun and I don’t imagine that Milton was having any better of a time  Luckily, as we were coming down the hill towards Antigua, after being told no a couple of times because of Jackie, we found a hotel that let us stay. Just as the guard at the front gate was telling us that dogs weren’t allowed and we were getting ready to turn around, the owner came up, walking his dog, and let us stay.  Thank God for dog lovers.

The next morning we woke up, rode the final few miles into Antigua where we ended up staying for 6 weeks. I did four weeks of Spanish school there, Milton did two weeks. Found a great gym to work out at. We made some great friends, saw amazing ruins, spent some time at a little school in one of the neighboring towns.  In our last week in Antigua,  we knew it was time to move on as we were getting bored. We felt like we were ready for more beach time so the next destination was the coast, after a quick tour around Lake Atitlan, of course.

Random  photos from our time in the Antigua area:

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Our Couples Massage Experience in Antigua.

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Yesterday I treated Milton to a couples massage at Healing Hands Therapy Spa which is located on the corner of 1st Calle and 3rd Avenue in Antigua, Guatemala.  I had originally wanted to do it on Father’s Day but  the couples massage package comes with a pedicure at the end of the massage, and since Sunday is appointment only day, they didn’t have two people available to perform the pedicures so we had to wait until Monday.

While we arrived right on time, we had to wait for just a few moments in their beautiful little courtyard, didn’t mind the wait at all as it was relaxing just to sit there.

The little courtyard where we waited briefly.

The little courtyard where we waited briefly.

Down the hall, wonder what door is ours?

Down the hall, wonder what door is ours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When they took us into our room, the massage tables were covered with rose petals with more rose petals strewn about on the floor. The room was dimly lit with candles burning and it felt like it should be nighttime rather than the afternoon.IMG_2515  Before we got undressed, both therapists had us sit in a chair while they washed out feet, then they both stepped out while we  got undressed and climbed onto the massage tables.  Our tables were so close we could’ve probably stretched our hands out and touched each other.  Within a few minutes, the massage therapists came back into the room, instructed us to both lay on our backs and they got to work.  The massage itself felt good but I had a hard time completely relaxing due to all the moaning that was coming from the other table.  This was Milton’s very first massage ever and I guess he was really enjoying it.  The entire massage lasted for 90 minutes and she spent a lot of time on my back which felt great since my muscles were tight from my recent time spent at the gym.  Every major muscle group was worked and it all felt wonderful.  One moment she would be on one side and in the next moment she would have moved to the other side of my body.  It was done so quietly and with her hands never once leaving my body that I was amazed how she did it without me hearing or feeling her move to the other side.

He definitely looks relaxed.

He definitely looks relaxed.

Think she's working extra hard on those mucho grande feet.

Think she’s working extra hard on those mucho grande feet.

Wonderful foot massage.

Wonderful foot massage.

After the massage, we got dressed and moved to another room where they gave us both a pedicure, another first for Milton.  Couldn’t talk him into getting any color on his nails, but he definitely enjoyed the pampering.  This was definitely a treat for us and not something that we normally do but it was well worth the splurge for us. This just might even become a habit.

Another wonderful day in Antigua.

Another wonderful day in Antigua.

 

Antigua Guatemala

IMG_1991Thought I’d just give a brief update of where we are now.  I recently started a blog post of our travels up to our current location here in Guatemala but it is not finished yet.  I will have it finished soon, I promise.  Currently, we are in Antigua, Guatemala and have been here for a total of three weeks now.  We have a tiny little apartment about four blocks off of the main plaza which we have rented until the end of June.  Our main reason for remaining here is so I can learn some basic Spanish.  Milton has been the main communicator since our journey began and I want to be able to understand, read, and communicate with others.  I have just completed three full weeks of Spanish at Maximo Nivel and, some days, I think I have made very little progress and then on other days, things seem to be clicking in my head and making some sense.  When we leave here, I will have had a total of six full weeks of Spanish so hopefully, I will have some basics down by then.

Our days in Antigua, besides school, consist of going to workout at the Antigua Gym and studying.  Just shy of two months into our journey, we realized that we had to start taking care of our physical selves more so now we try to find a gym in whatever town we are spending the night in and get a day pass, week pass, or month pass if needed.  I definitely feel stronger and can notice some physical changes. Milton has had more significant changes from his workouts, but he often is working out twice a day while I, with my Spanish, can only get one per day in.

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Antigua is a beautiful city with amazing ruins right in town and it is easily walkable so our bikes often remain parked and we walk everywhere.  The local market here is thriving and the fresh fruits and vegetable are delicious.  IMG_1853

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It also has some wonderful little restaurants that serve fresh delicious salads where we have become regulars.  It does not have as much street food as there was in Mexico, which I miss, but it is probably way healthier for both of us.  One of my favorite meals here is from a little cafe called Samsura Cafe, located at 6 Calle, 7 Agenda #33, and is their Quinoa/Avocado Salad.  IMG_1977

It’s a great meal after a workout at the gym, which is right across the street from the restaurant.  They also make some amazing tofu tacos which are so delicious.  Another little cafe that we have come to like is the Rainbow Cafe located at 7 Avenida Sur #8.  The food is not quite as good but they have great music on Tuesday nights from this local musician, Gustavo,  who plays the guitar and I absolutely love his voice.  On Tuesdays at 5:30 they also have local NGO (non-governmental organization) groups give presentations which is how we got hooked up with the children in San Andrés Itzapa.  I uploaded some more pictures to our Motodawgs Facebook page with an article with a  great description of their organization for those interested in finding out more.IMG_2207IMG_2237

We have made some friends here locally and have even began to get hooked in with community groups and  participate with some local events/fundraisers for local spay and neuter organizations and local kids.  Being stationary for a period of time allows us the freedom to do that and I love feeling like I am being a contribution to this community rather than just a sightseeing tourist.

Sometimes, I am just completely amazed that we are here and, at other times, a tiny bit of fear creeps in, just for a moment, and I wonder what possessed us to sell our house, quit our jobs, and just go.  I don’t know the answer to that question, I just know that something out there was calling and we just had to answer.IMG_1329

Our time in Belize

IMG_0716We arrived in Belize on a  Sunday (Mother’s day) and left just  5 days later.  Belize is an amazingly beautiful county but it had a rather depressing feel to it.  It’s rather hard to pinpoint exactly why and maybe it’s just got a slower pace to it that gives it that feel.  It’s definitely has got an island feel to it, like everyone is on  “island time” and there is just no reason to rush for anything.  Many of the buildings and houses were patched together with corrugated sheet metal, which gave a look of poverty to the area but there were some newer buildings and beautiful homes mixed in too.  It had lots of little hole in the wall bars but not as many hole in the wall restaurants as there were in Mexico, not sure if more people are drinking there than eating or what.  As for the food, we were surprised that we had a hard time finding a good meal there but music was awesome and reggae music was played in many places which we both absolutely loved.  We did finally find our first good meal in Santa Elena, at a little roadside restaurant, where, of course, they played reggae.   I had the stewed chicken with rice and beans and fried plantains and it was so good we went back the next day again.

Our first good meal in Belize came from this little roadside restaurant.

Our first good meal in Belize came from this little roadside restaurant.

For our last two days there, we stayed in San Ignacio, which is just east of the western border with Guatemala. Again, there were lots more bars than restaurants, but we found a wonderful three story gym, Hillview Train Station,  where we worked out at that I want to give a shout out to for all the great things that they are offering the community.  After we were finished working out we talked with them for awhile and they were very proud of all the hard work they put into the gym and that they are offering something to everyone no matter physical condition, size, or age.  They are doing a great job at making a community place for everyone.

Hillview Train Station, awesome gym with one of the owners (on the far right) and some of the members.

Hillview Train Station, awesome gym with one of the owners (on the far right) and some of the members.

Eco-tourism is big in that area and people raved about the caves tours offered but we didn’t go on it because Milton ended up getting sick.  On our last night there we met an American couple who lived in the DC area,  but one of them was a nurse originally from Maple Valley where her family still lives. I am amazed at what a small world it is sometimes. We had a wonderful time sharing stories with them and it was nice to talk nursing shop for a while.

We were able to donate my special boot that I got after I broke my foot to one of the hospitals in Belize before we left.  Milton had been strapping in on his bike everyday that we’d travel and he’d say overtime he took it back out to the bike that we needed to get rid of it.  As we traveled further down into Mexico, the people kept getting shorter and shorter and I am pretty sure that there aren’t too many 5’4″ people who had a size 11 foot so I didn’t want to donate it where it wouldn’t ever be needed but as we crossed into Belize I started seeing tall people again so I figured that would be the best place.   In Orange Walk, as we were walking past a Farmacia, we noticed that there was also an orthopedic doctor’s office in the same building so I stopped and asked the doctor where would be the best place to donate it and he told me that since Belizeans didn’t pay for medical care at the public hospitals, one of the local hospitals would be able to use it.

Ingenious use of a plastic lawn chair.

Ingenious use of a plastic lawn chair.

Had to try it out, it was actually pretty comfortable.

Had to try it out, it was actually pretty comfortable.

I figured we’d pass a hospital somewhere in one of the towns we passed through but it wasn’t until San Ignacio that I finally saw a sign.  When we were at the gym I asked the owner and she said that the local hospital there could use it, she said it was so run down it even had holes in the floors there.  So on our last day there we went there and spoke to one of the ER doctors and he was very glad to have the boot.  Here’s hoping I don’t break any more bones but it felt good to give it to someplace that could use it.

Hospital in San Ignacio, Belize.

Hospital in San Ignacio, Belize.

We never got any farther south than the outskirts of Belize City but on the day we left, after we had already crossed over in Guatemala, w we ran into someone who lives in Southern Belize who said he loved living there.  Might just have to go back someday and give it another go.

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