Panama and the End of the Road

Just the place for a snack!

Feb. 9, 2007 Potrerillos, Panama

It sure has been great having a home base here at Denny’s house. It’s “just up the road from David,” but the key word is “up.” The elevation gain of about 2400 feet makes the temperatures here quite pleasant when it is just sweltering in David. And after the past week, we sure are enjoying that!

Denny’s place

We spent the first few days in Panama visiting Denny, and he showed us around some great motorcycling roads. Exploring the side of the volcano, we toured around through ranch and farm land, as well as extensive coffee plantations. We visited the little used border crossing of Rio Sereno and stopped in at the main border-crossing town, Paso Canoas, to pick up new tires for our bikes to put on before we leave Panama. Through it all, the roads were delightful. Some were in better shape than others, but they were all twisty with little traffic and great views.

Some of the great riding near Potrerillos

Views from our riding with Denny

Then we headed off for the End of the Road. The Pan-American Highway, or the Interamericana as it is known here, does not actually join South America with Central America. The region along the Panama-Colombia border is called the Darien, and this stretch of jungle has not been broached by road. The road ends at a town called Yaviza, and that’s where we were headed.

But first, we had to cross the Canal, so we spent some time exploring that. We visited the Amador Causeway at the Pacific entrance to the canal. It is being developed with lots of restaurants and shops, and we saw some impressively large yachts there (including one with a helicopter on deck). Then we headed to the Miraflores locks. These are two two-stage locks that raise (or lower) boats about 50 feet from the level of the Pacific. There is a visitor center there that shows the history and the statistics, as well as the future plans, of the canal.

Miraflores locks

From there, we headed to Gamboa, which was originally set up as a town site for the workers making the Gaillard Cut, where the Canal goes through the Continental Divide (which is only about 350 feet there). Now, there’s a fancy eco-resort there on the Rio Chagres. On the way back, we kept trying to explore small, old roads, but we were met with a series of locked gates. At one, we were looking around when two soldiers on a motorcycle joined us. So, we talked bikes for a while, and they told us of a road that actually would go through. Without their advice, we might not have followed it all the way. It clearly had been a road, but now it was grassy and overgrown, with a few ups and downs and a narrow plank bridge. It was neat travelling through the jungle there, and we did see an impressively large owl that watched us for a while before flying on. The watershed of the Canal is crucial to the operation of the Canal, so it is well preserved. Amazing to think we were only about 20 miles from downtown Panama City.

Exploring near the Panama Canal

We’ve done all we could to avoid large cities on this trip, but we had to pass through Panama City. It’s been a while since I’ve seen skyscrapers! We got on the Corredor Sur, which whisked us away from the city along the water. But when it ended near the international airport, we found ourselves in the mess of city outskirts for a while before finally breaking free to find a room in Chepo. 40 years ago, the road ended here, and many still consider this the start of the Darien.

Meeting a saddle maker in a small town in the Darien

Our drive to the end of the road was made much easier by the current effort to pave the road all the way to Yaviza. They are not done yet, but most of the road is either paved or being prepped for paving, so we didn’t see much of what was once a long, tortuous road. Along with the road have come first loggers then farmers and ranchers. There is no pristine jungle to be seen from the road. But the jungle past Yaviza apparently has more than its fair share of people trouble. It’s a large and remote area, and governments on both sides have difficulty maintaining law. This road was the only we’ve encountered with serious police checkpoints. There were about five checkpoints between Chepo and Yaviza, and we had to show papers and state our intentions at each. They recorded names, passport numbers, and motorcycle information. And they checked us off when we returned through heading back to “civilization.”

View across the river at Yaviza

Busy riverfront

Yaviza was an interesting place to visit. It doesn’t feel like the end of the road, probably because for the people that live there, it isn’t. It’s just that the roads past there are all rivers. We saw very few vehicles as we walked around town, but the riverbanks were lined with canoes. While Tom was taking pictures, I chatted with an elderly man who had lived in Yaviza all his life. I’m sure my beginning Spanish missed much of what he said, but it was clear he has seen tremendous change in his time. He viewed the paving of the road as a good thing but was sure the road through to Colombia would never be built. As Tom and I toured town, kids mobbed us, excited to have their pictures taken. It was clear that everyone in town knew we were there. Our lodging in town was simple – saggy bed, bathroom down the hall, blood smears on the wall (I assume from mashed mosquitoes!). Our innkeeper was disappointed we were only staying one night, but we weren’t prepared for any serious jungle exploration.

Sharing a fresh coconut

Tom’s new assistants

View of Yaviza

Heading out of Yaviza early in the morning

We left Yaviza shortly after dawn, hoping to beat some of the tropical heat. We got checked out of the region at each checkpoint and managed to get through Panama City relatively painlessly. For a wonderful respite from the heat, we spent the night in El Valle, a wide valley in the basin of an extinct volcano. It’s a refuge for city folks from the heat and humidity, but mid-week, it was quiet and cool. We explored taking an alternate route away from the valley, but the roads were rough and steep, and our tires are nearly shot.

View of El Valle

We spent a few days exploring the Azuero Peninsula, a quiet area of ranches, farms, and small towns. There’s a bit development starting along the beaches but barely. It doesn’t seem to be much of a tourist hangout. Maybe because of that, there are very few road signs. We have multiple maps, but none of them are right. After multiple wrong turns, we went with the strategy of ask lots of people for directions, often.

We stopped at an interesting place for lunch — more of a zoo than a restaurant

It may be true in Panama, more than any of the other countries we’ve visited, that there really is only one road. Any time we wanted to get from one part of the country to another, we’ve spent some time on the Interamericana. After a long, hot day on it yesterday, it was really wonderful to climb the hill out of David and finish the day with a cold beer, enjoying the breeze in Denny’s yard. Today, we put on our new tires, so I think we’re off tomorrow for more exploring. We’ve been to the end of the road, and we are now heading home but there’s lots more to see along the way.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Coast of Costa Rica

January 30, Potrerillos, Panama

We had such a great time relaxing on the beaches of Nicaragua that we continued the trend in Costa Rica, exploring the Pacific coast.

The Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, particularly the Nicoya peninsula, is known for its wonderful beaches. The region is in the midst of massive development and we saw that our first day. Lots of fancy developments are springing up. That, and the prices for lodging, quickly demonstrated that the economy of Costa Rica is very different than the countries immediately north.

Beach Bar in Junquillal

The beaches are spectacular. White sandy coves defined by rocky headlands. Cliffs plunging into the sea. Clear blue-green water. No wonder Costa Rica has been able to capitalize on its tourist potential.

Views of Tropical Paradise

However, there are some interesting wrinkles to this tourist wonderland. For example, the road along the coast of the Nicoya peninsula is not for casual drivers. Most of it is unpaved, so it has the usual collection of washboards, potholes, and dust. Drivers are crazy here. The low-key, Tica, “pura vida” attitude disappears when they get behind the wheel. Apparently, vehicle inspections are quite rigorous so most vehicles are in good shape, and the drivers put them to the test. The dirt roads are incredibly dusty because drivers fly so fast down the road.

A quiet stretch of road

As we headed further south down the peninsula, we made good use of our dual sport motorcycles, having fun getting through the many river crossings. On morning, we went through nine rivers in about 30 miles.

Eventually, we pulled in to the surf spot of Santa Theresa, near the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula and found a great place to stay for a while. I found a Spanish teacher, so we stayed a week. Days were rigorous – swim before breakfast, Spanish class for me, lunch, swim, read, nap, walk, swim, sunset, happy hour, dinner. Day after day!!! My Spanish teacher is a professional surfer (as is her seven-year-old daughter!), as well as a clothing designer, so I learned about that culture, too. Amazingly, after a week, we managed to drag ourselves away.

Adventure travel is tough work!!

A gecko at the “all you can eat buffet.”

Our hotel has some fierce guard dogs.

Why most people visit Santa Theresa

Happy Hour

Once we got off the Nicoya Peninsula and further south along the coast, we realized how dry Guanacaste was. The flora got much lusher, and we hit some rain. Full tropical downpour – just like some one was dumping a bucket of water on me. This added an interesting wrinkle to some of the bridges we were crossing. Already, in the dry, they were quite something. They are one lane, made of old railway rails laid across, with occasional rails missing and a few sheets of metal covering some of the holes. Add lots of traffic and the torrential downpour, and I really felt like I was adventure touring.

For most of Costa Rica, this is the tourism high season because it is the dry season. But for one region, it is the low season, because Pavones is all about surfing, and the big swells don’t come this time of year. Pavones is the home of the world’s longest left break. It’s also on a beautiful peninsula (that Costa Rica shares with Panama) with lush hills and long beaches. We made some friends there and did some relaxed exploring before crossing to Panama yesterday.

Now we are visiting our friend Denny, who is just moving here from Washington State. He has been scouting good motorcycle roads for us, and we are looking forward to exploring Panama. It’s here that the road ends and we will have to turn around.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Vacation in Nicaragua

January 14, Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua

We’ve been in Nicaragua one week, and much of it has been spent relaxing on one sort of beach or another. We basically skipped Honduras. I know, geographically, that’s impossible, but psychologically, it’s not. We crossed into Honduras, found a place to escape the heat for the night and crossed into Nicaragua the next morning. So, we transited about 100 miles of Honduras, true, but only to move on. If we thought we could do two border crossings in one day and stay sane, we would have. We will visit Honduras on our way north.

We found ourselves in Leon, Nicaragua’s intellectual center. We were working on finding a place to stay, but we kept missing – either too high-end for us or too low-end. While I was checking out a place, Tom came up with a better plan. Let’s head to the beach! It’s only about 20 km away, and if there’s nothing good there, we can always come back. It’s hot (and dry) here, so the beach sounded great to me. We found a little “hotelito” right on the beach – four rooms, a dorm, and a bar/restaurant. The food was good, the beer cold, the rooms cheap, and the waves were nice for swimming. It was a social place, so we traded notes with other travellers while we recharged our own batteries. After a few days of this, we were ready to head off again.

Our hotelito

The view from the hotelito restaurant

Another beautiful sunset

We explored Leon a bit. It seems to be a very understated city. There are no big signs for businesses, which makes finding places a little tricky. We got all of our erranding done while getting a feel for the place. We decided to keep moving south, leaving the highlands to be explored on our way north.

One of the lions of Leon

Off we headed to Lago de Nicaragua, also know as Lago Cocibolca, and Isla Ometepe, the largest freshwater island in the world. The island is made of two volcanoes, one of them a perfect cone, joined by an isthmus. This is said to be the island of peace because neither the Revolution nor the Civil War was waged here. I’m sure glad with have our motorcycles here. There’s a stretch of road about 25 km long that is paved with concrete blocks. The rest of the roads are some combination of sand and volcanic rocks. We have a map that shows a main road and a deteriorated road paralleling it. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn the road we were on must have been the deteriorated one (nope, it was the main road). Nicaragua is not known for great road quality, but this is extreme. Everyone we met who had taken a bus around the island was very jealous of our motorcycles. Along one stretch, we opted to ride down the beach instead of the road. The beach was nice and smooth!

Approaching Isla Omatepe

The other ferry. It matches the one we are one.

Much smoother than the road

The volcanoes dominate everything

The wind has been howling from the east the whole time we’ve been there. There’s quite the surf crashing onto the west side of the isthmus, where we stayed for two nights. No bugs, though. A big attraction is to climb either of the volcanoes, but after sitting on a motorcycle for a few months, I don’t think I’m in good enough shape to really enjoy it. Instead, we’ve done other exploring, on the bikes and on foot. There’s a wide range of plants and birds here, as well as howler monkeys.

Wind driven surf

On a little nature walk

The wind is howling through the grass here.

Keep tabs on your breakfast or the birds will get it!

Tom’s up-do after the ferry ride to the island

Time for a new ‘do

That should help Tom stay cool.

All advice was to avoid the ferries if possible on a Sunday, so we are staying another night, and will head off tomorrow. We are getting to a place where there really is only one road, or at least only one road crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.

Being here has put a different spin on Costa Rica, even though we haven’t gotten there yet. I look forward to hearing the Costa Rican side of the story. There seems to be quite a bit of tension between the two countries, similar in some ways to the US and Mexico. Many Nicas cross illegally into Costa Rica, work low-level or manual jobs, and don’t always get treated with respect.

I am really enjoying Nicaragua and look forward to seeing more on the way north. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will get to the Atlantic coastal lowlands; there’s just too much to see. Some of the statistics on Nicaragua are pretty grim – it’s the second poorest country in the hemisphere behind Haiti – but it’s beautiful and welcoming, and according to other statistics, safer than many of the countries we’ve travelled through already.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Jan 5, El Salvador

January 5, San Miguel, El Salvador

We left Antigua on New Year’s Eve. There was a big to-do happening in town that night, and most hotels were full. We decided to take our chances with finding a place on the coast.

Basically, from Antigua to the coast at Puerto San Jose, we just rolled downhill. The road is not that interesting, and it is steadily downhill, getting hotter and more humid for each foot of elevation lost. Puerto San Jose was a madhouse, but we worked our way to the end of town until it was clear that this was no place for us. So, we wiggled back through town and headed east along the coast. After the small ferry at Puerto Viejo, things calmed down. We pulled into to a hotel and decided to stay. It seemed quiet, there was a restaurant and pool, our room had a/c, and it was a short walk to the beach. At midnight, there were fireworks in every direction, but otherwise, it was peaceful.

Pacific beach

While everyone else was recovering from their hangovers, we headed to Monterrico, a small beach town just a bit further along the coast. Given all the volcanoes, it’s not surprising that these are all black sand beaches. We pulled in to a beachfront hotel, and called that home for two days. It was nice to relax, dip in the pool, walk on the beach, swim in the Pacific. Of course, given the black sand, a walk on the beach or swim in the ocean was preceded and followed by a mad sprint across the blazing sand. (No, I wasn’t willing to wear shoes!)

More tropical paradise

While in Monterrico, we had two opportunities to explore the surrounding mangrove swamps. One morning, we were up at 5 a.m. to go on a boat tour with two other people and our guide. He poled us through the mangroves through sunrise. It was wonderful – quiet, lots of birds, clear morning air, and not many bugs. Then, when we left town, we took a different ferry, which was a half hour ride through similar landscape.

Sunrise over the mangroves.

Loading the ferry

On the ferry

After welcoming the New Year by vegging on the beach, we headed for El Salvador. As the smallest of the Central American nations, El Salvador requires another adjustment of scale. After sweltering on the coastal plain and at the border, we headed in to the mountains, staying very near El Salvador’s highest town. But then we thought we ought to check out El Salvador’s reputation as a hot surf spot, so we rolled back to the coast. Now we are poised to cross to Honduras tomorrow.

Lago de Coatepeque. A nice place for lunch.

Another sunset in tropical paradise

The scale of El Salvador is kind of neat. We were climbing up a volcano, 3500 feet above sea level, when I looked behind us on a switchback. There was the Pacific Ocean, about ten miles away.

We travelled through some serious coffee country. Peeking into a coffee processing facility, we could see Starbucks signs in a few places. Saw the logo for Seattle’s Best Coffee in another place. This is where Seattle’s fuel comes from.

Coffee, coffee, everywhere

Before we left, several people told us, “There’s only one road.” Well, today, we spent nearly two hours on the “only road” – the Pan-American Highway. Thank goodness we are finding lots of other roads, because it wasn’t any fun. Lots of trucks and buses and impatient drivers on a two-lane road that still has cattle being driven along it.

Looks like Honduras tomorrow!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Happy New Year!

Dec. 30, Antigua, Guatemala

Before we left Seattle, I was told that Guatemalan people might not be as immediately friendly as, say, Mexican people. After a week here, I would have to sincerely disagree.

We crossed the border on Sunday, Christmas Eve. It was an easy crossing, perhaps because of the timing, and we headed on to Huehuetenango. In the first few miles after crossing a border, differences jump out. On the road, the first things I noticed where that there are a variety of gas stations – after two months of Pemex, Texaco and Esso stood out – and that the chicken buses are much more colourful here.

Huehue isn’t a stop of note, but it is convenient to the border. We were trying to find a functioning cash machine before finding lodging. I was trying yet another, when Tom met a man curious about our motorcycles and our trip. Turns out, he’s the manager of a hotel, so we’ve got a place to stay (that will accept our pesos, too). The fireworks at midnight lasted two hours. I can’t imagine how many firecrackers went off!! And in the morning, our new friend had sent us a Christmas cake. Since no restaurants were open Christmas morning, that was our breakfast with some coffee that Tom made on the campstove in the hotel courtyard.

Some of our first Guatemalan friends, at a roadside stop.

On Christmas Day, we rode to Quetzeltenango, also known as Xela. It was a wonderful twisty road, up over 9000 feet, with very little traffic on it. We scouted around town, looking for lodging. When I came out of one place, Tom was in conversation with two older ladies, astonished at our travels. They both gave us several big hugs. I’m starting to think that Guatemalans aren’t as reserved as I had been told.

Quetzeltenango street scene

We spent a few days in Xela, visiting with some friends from Vancouver Island. The recurring theme among travellers is “Where’s the money?” I’m 1 for 15 with ATMs in this country. I finally found out that it is a countrywide problem, due to some banking crisis. Tourists all over the country are trying to get their hands on quetzales. Locals are lined up outside banks. Throw in the holidays, and things get interesting. (I found a bank that would give me cash from my credit card. And yes, I had to look for that bank.)

The courtyard at our Quetzeltenango hotel

Taken on a day ride from Quetzeltenango

From the same day ride

I’m still having to adjust to the change of scale coming from Mexico. Instead of it taking us two days to ride to our next “site of interest,” here it’s only about 50 miles.

Views shortly after leaving Quetzeltenango

We headed to Lake Atitlan. This is a stunning volcanic crater, surrounded by volcanic peaks and small towns. We spent the first night in San Pedro La Laguna, a relaxed, cheap hippie hangout. Riding around the lake was fun; the views are spectacular and the road is mostly uncrowded, sometimes paved, sometimes not. The road is at lake level in places, but in others, it is several thousand feet above. We spent the night in Panajachel, at a quiet place right on the lake.

Descending to Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

The view from breakfast in San Pedro

Poinsettias in their natural environment

Having a beer in Panajachel

The mountains are impressively steep and constantly farmed. Coffee grows everywhere, and we’ve been able to see some of the coffee process: harvesting, hulling, drying. People are cutting firewood everywhere, as well, but it appears that they mostly limb the trees rather than felling the whole tree. And so there are a lot of “lollipop” trees, but the hills remain more stable.

Washing the newly hulled coffee beans

Coffee beans drying

Loading the truck. Tom counted 18 passengers.

The loaded truck going by

Today was an interesting ride to Antigua. We avoided the Pan-American Highway by taking smaller roads that wound through the countryside. First we were on pavement. Then through a town, the road was cobbled. Then it was paved with concrete bricks. It turned to dirt, but steep sections were paved with the concrete bricks. Then it was dirt again, but with no vehicle tracks. Heading up a steep hill. Hmmmm….. We don’t have very good GPS map detail for Central America, but what we do have suggested that we might meet a road soon. How soon? Hard to say. But sure enough, we crested the hill and there was the main road, also dirt, but an overloaded chicken bus was going by so we knew the road had to go somewhere.

And so, we are in Antigua tonight. Tom is noticing many changes from when he was last here fifteen years ago. I’m not sure how we will spend the rest of the holiday weekend, but we are starting to look ahead to El Salvador.

Happy New Year!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dec. 23, Palenque

Dec. 21, Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

I finished my week of Spanish classes in San Miguel de Allende. My instructors, Carlos and Betty, at the Centro Bilingue, were great. And we had a delightful, comfortable place to stay just down the street at Casa Carmen. With the breakfasts and lunches that were included there, all we needed for dinner was to wander around and find a drink and a snack.

More views of San Miguel

More views of San Miguel

A little bit of Tuscany outside of San Miguel

Tom checking out a new motorcycle

I think he likes it!

We left San Miguel, heading east for the Gulf coast. We’ve got several maps with us, none of which are completely accurate. But we never know where the inaccuracies will be until we try to follow the little lines. We ended up picking our way through the countryside on a two-track through farmed fields. Luckily, it was dry, or the thick bull dust we stirred up would have been slickery, gooey mud. We had hoped to find a place to stay in a smaller town, but all we could find was hotels where the first question they ask is “How many hours do you want?” So, we went on to Pachuca, arriving just after dark. Tom has a wonderful ability to find his way to the center of towns. We got to the main square and looked around. There was Hotel Emily! With parking. Good for us!

It was the following day that all the geography changed. We were still quite high, maybe 7000 feet. Then we fell out of the sky, dropping about 6000 feet in maybe 40 miles. It was a tight, twisty road with some long views into canyons. I was very happy to be heading down as the traffic going up was even worse, mostly because double semis were crawling up the hill. Crazy!

We pulled into to Papantla, the town nearest some ruins called El Tajin. We didn’t get to the ruins there, but we did see one of the big draws, which are the voladores. Four voladores and a musician climb to the top of a 30 meter pole which has a rotating platform on top. The voladores are roped up, and they spiral down to the ground head first. Since there’s absolutely no way I could even stand on top of a 30 m pole, I was duly impressed!

The voladores starting their climb

Preparing the ropes. There’re five men up on that platform

Midway through the spiralling down

Sunset in the lowlands

We finally got to the Gulf Coast and headed south through Veracruz. We took a side loop through the Tuxtla region of Veracruz state. The weather didn’t look promising, and then the downpours started! We ducked under an awning of a shop, hoping to wait it out. Other people had the same idea, and we were soon joined by a gaggle of secondary students. A few were brave enough to try their English, but eventually, we all got bored. The rain would let up for a few minutes then resume more fiercely. Tom and I finally decided to go on anyway. This is a region of volcanoes, and we climbed up into the clouds. But when we came down to the coast, the rain had stopped. We had fresh fish for lunch and continued on. As we wrapped back around the mountain, the rain resumed. Thankfully, it was warm. After weeks in the desert, the vegetation now seemed like jungle. It’s mostly ranch land, but very lush. And we did see a man walking down the road in the rain using a single leaf for an umbrella. Unfortunately, all of our cameras were packed away.

Hiding out from the rain

Life is better, drying out and sharing a big beer

We decided to trust our maps again, and we headed off on a “short cut” the next day. I was a little leery about taking a dirt road after two days of rain, but we figured it’s mostly volcanic soil, right? Only some of it is red clay. The rain held off for our little adventure, and we had a delightful ride through the hills. Up and down, around and about. It is mostly ranch land, with lush, green pastures and some sections of forest. Turns out, the roads we ended up taking weren’t on any of our maps.

Lot’s of water in the creeks. Looks impressive, no?

The same crossing.

After some highway miles, we headed back to the coast. We’re now on the bottom of the curve of Gulf coast before it heads up to the Yucatan. The sun had just set and we saw a potential place to camp. There was a small house near, and they gave us permission to camp nearby. There was a nice breeze on the beach, so we settled out there to avoid the mosquitoes. The stars were out all night (although the North Star is getting lower and lower). Through the night, there were some no-see-ums in the tent, chewing on us. But when it got light, we say the full horror. Swarms and swarms of them on the outside of the tent. This isn’t going to be fun! DEET doesn’t work at all with these guys, so we both inhaled buckets full as we broke camp in record time. Hmmm….. Maybe we should stick to higher ground until the dry season gets underway a bit more.

It looks like a reasonable beach campspot, ignoring the garbage

Trying to keep the bugs out of my ears while we break camp.

The road the next day was interesting. It was mostly paved, along this skinny barrier island. But there were places where it had been washed away and a track wound through private properties. People had erected makeshift toll booths, but most had a pass-through for motorbikes. Then we came across The Pirates, two boys who refused to negotiate. It was a stalemate until we paid up! $1 to get both bikes through. It would have been expensive if we’d had to pay at every toll spot.

The Pirates and their toll booth

The road along the barrier island

Now we’re arrived in Palenque, hoping to see the ruins tomorrow. From here, we will decide (perhaps with the mosquitoes’ help) if we head into northern Guatemala and Tikal, or we head southwest to San Cristobal then into the highlands of Guatemala.

It’s tropical now – hot and muggy. The fleece and other warm stuff is packed away once again. Hope the supply of DEET lasts!

UPDATE: We spent most of the day at the ruins. Very interesting. We even heard howler monkey, adding to the atmosphere. Now we are off to San Cristobal, then Guatemala.

The Temple of the Cross.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dec. 12, 2006, San Miguel de Allende

Dec. 12, 2006, San Miguel de Allende

Our adventures have changed shape since my last blog entry. We’ve had a bunch of riding and exploring adventures; now we are exploring the culture more.

The weather has been cold enough; we’ve opted to explore cheap hotels along the road. 200 pesos (a bit less than $19) will get us a clean, safe room, but it’s a lottery as to which amenities are available and which are missing. After experiencing beds with absolutely no support, we’ve gotten better about checking that. Then we found one with a TV and firm beds, but no hot water or toilet seat or room key. It’s always an adventure.

So far, I think the favorite city for both of us is Zacatecas. We spent just two days there and thoroughly enjoyed it. The city is high (about 7000 feet), so we enjoyed sunny and cool weather. It is a delightful city to explore on foot – cobblestone streets, interesting old buildings, friendly people, lots of parks. The city was built from wealth from nearby mines (silver and other), so some of the architecture is quite grand. I’ve come to appreciate cobblestone streets more and more. Although it means I have to watch my footing, it also means that vehicles keep their speeds down.

The view from our hotel balcony, Zacatecas

Cathedral, Zacatecas Lots of mining money on display here

One of many parks. Note the arches of aqueduct in the background.

Side view of the Cathedral

Zacatecas also has lots of good restaurants and cafes. We had two excellent dinners and found a café with great coffee and a nice atmosphere where we rested one afternoon and ate breakfast the next morning.

Still life, Acropolis Cafe

Sampling local wine, choosing my dinner

We did a tour of the mine right in town. It was kind of interesting, but my Spanish wasn’t really up to the task. Also, we shared our tour with a high school group. This wasn’t so bad, except at the end. We crammed into a small elevator with about ten students, started up, and then the power went out. There was emergency lighting, but needless to say, it was quite uncomfortable to be stuck for several minutes (five or ten minutes, only – long enough!). Once we got back in fresh air, we decided not to take the teleferico across the city. Enough adventure for one day!

The elevator, before the power went out.

From Zacatecas, we headed to Dolores Hidalgo, a town famed as the birthplace of one of the founders of Mexico’s independence from Spain. It is also a center of ceramics, so there were lots of interesting artisans’ work to see. All over, towns are gearing up with Christmas celebrations, with parades, concerts, and fireworks. I no longer assume that something has gone terribly wrong with my motorcycle every time I hear a firecracker.

Tom’s mascot, just arrived in Dolores Hidalgo

Some of the pottery in Dolores Hidalgo

Street scene, Dolores Hidalgo

Lots of this style of bicycle in Dolores Hidalgo

In Dolores Hidalgo, it took a few tries to find a hotel. The first few promised parking several blocks away, which we didn’t like. Then I went in another to ask if they had a room and parking available. Yes, a room, but no parking. Hmmm….. I looked around and saw a long hallway with a ramp into a back courtyard. Perhaps we could park the motorcycles there? Sure thing!

Motorcycle parking, Dolores Hidalgo

Motorcycle parking, Hidalgo del Parral

Motorcycle parking, Zacatecas

Now we are in San Miguel de Allende for a week. I am spending four hours each morning in Spanish lessons, while Tom is dealing with gigs and gigs of photos. San Miguel is a beautiful town, but it is also very different. There is a large gringo population here, so English is common. It’s also more upscale, with lots of art galleries and expensive restaurants. We are staying just down the street from my school. At first, it seemed expensive, but it includes breakfast and lunch, and lunch is really the full meal of the day. We are searching out small places for a drink and snack in the evening, as that is all we need.

The courtyard of our San Miguel B&B

San Miguel

San Miguel from above

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments