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01 New York
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03 Maine to Midland
04 Midland to Sturgis
05 Indians'n Cowboys
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08 SF to San Diego
09 Baja to Canyons
10 Baja California
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Chapter 12 Southern Mexico to Antigua, Guatemala

Start: October 13, Salvatierra, Mexico , Stop: November 5, Antigua, Guatemala,
3148 km, Total Distance: 27169 km [Map]

We continued south in a pace that looked more and more like a caterpilar's slowly crawl. Mexico's varying nature and charming towns passed by as we got closer to the border of Guatemala, a border crossing we looked forward to with anticipation and expectations.

Holiday from the holiday

Marked day

A lunch on a not too busy marked day in a little village outside Cuautla.

Of course nothing goes as "planned" when we travel. It never has and it never will. But not all interferences are of a bad sort, as the week following our Guanajuato stay proved. When we left Salvatierra, we headed southeast towards Cuautla, a city of a few hundred thousand inhabitants, an hour's drive south of Mexico City. Before we came to Guernevaca, we rode through a hilly and lush subtropical landscape that could take the breath away from anyone. Even the road's terrible condition and the hundreds of topes, Mexico's world class version of speed dumps, didn't reduce the impressions.

But we were late and had a mission in Cuautla. Our Mexican/English neighbors in Spain had sent us the address and phone number of relatives with whom we could spend a night or two. We felt it a little awkward to contact them and had postponed it for a long time. So, accordingly, we called them when we were a couple of hours' drive away. A pleasant and joyful voice greeted Bente and said we were more than welcome. We were relieved and pushed on. The road's condition and the crammed traffic between Guernevaca and Cuautla delayed us into the dark hours, and when we called them again to arrange for a place to meet, it was late in the night.

Cristina and Jaime were all smiles, and during the introductions it dawned on me that I had met them before, a year and a half earlier in Spain, when I was in Nerja for a day to pick up Rocinante and visited our former neighbors for dinner. The ice was broken in no time and we followed them to their house. Or shall I say mansion, as it was simply enormous. Completely locked behind high walls, we entered a patio surrounded by all the different sections of the house; a gymnasium, a billiard room, a swimming pool, a huge kitchen and likewise dining room, a spacious office and an outdoor bar. The servant had left for the day, they said, but came in every morning. Bente and I exchanged looks, as we started to realize we would be in for a treat. Rocinante was left in the entrance with the key in the ignition. It had never been safer. The first night they took us to a late dinner and we exchanged information about ourselves.

Jaime was a reknown and respected political radio commentator and advisor for governors and presidents. Together with Cristina he owned and managed two radio stations in Morelos State, a satellite distribution company, owned land and buildings and who knows what else. They were obviously doing well, and with Jaime's more than fifty years of experience in radio and almost the same in politics, he was the best possible source of information about Mexico. When I asked about Vicente Fox, the newly elected president who would take office in a few months, he shrugged and said it was to early to tell whether the change was good or not, because of Fox's and his staff's lack of political experience. But the next couple of years would be very interesting, since the change in powers was the first real change in decades, ending the PRI party's monopoly on the government.

Warm dog

This is how hot and humid it was in Acapulco. Kristina y Jaime's German Shepard cools off in front of the gale force fan.

When we said good night and laid down in the king size bed with a king size television to fall to sleep to, we felt welcome enough to prolong our stay a day or two. It would simply be rude to leave the next day, and we definitely felt like getting to know this side of Mexico better, learn more about two very interesting people, and finally, to enjoy the total luxury that surrounded us. Furthermore, I wanted to do my own service on Rocinante this time, and I couldn't have picked a better place to do it.

Home made service

Not that Rocinante was in desperate need of service, but for the sake of feeling good, we had decided to increase the service frequency to every five thousand kilometers. It meant changing the oil, cleaning the air filter, checking all the other fluids, break pads, battery and many other bits and pieces. There was a couple of small things that made the bike imperfect. The tank ventilation was poor, resulting in vacuum created in the tank on low gas. This, of course, would stop the gravity fed fuel from entering the carburetors and eventuallly kill the engine. For a long time we had this problem coming and going, and with the help of our Tiger mailing list buddies, we were pointed in the general direction and found the problem. It could be traced all the way back to our stop in North Dakota, where I had believed we had gotten bad gas. The simple solution was to open the filler cap on every stop to let air enter the tank. Another small problem was that I had lost the air filter vent hose, and would have to find a new one. Finally, the last and most annoying problem was the new rear tyre. It was mounted wrong or lousy made, either way it wobbled around forty kilometers per hour and needed to be fixed. One probable solution was obvious a couple of days later when we looked at the tube.


The catch of the day was a tiny little specimen of life in the ocean, not much after an hours work bringing in the net on the beach outside Acapulco.[Large Image]

But first it was time to relax and get to know our hosts. The more we talked the more we liked them. They seemed totally open minded and genuinely interested in Mexico's future, for all layers of the people. To us, who had somewhat expected a rich, upper class couple to care for their own level only, it was a pleasant surprise. Being Saturday, we went together to a typical village in the vicinity of Cuautla to visit the weekly marked. This was after Flor, one of the servants - the other was on fraternity leave, as was the body guard - had served us a delicious breakfast and collected our dirty clothes to clean them. As the lousy marked goers we are, we bought nothing. Not that it wasn't nice all the handicrafts, but we never have room for anything. But the village was pretty and had a wonderful backdrop of steep, lush mountains. Later in the evening we learned how to play Gin Rummy while I smoked a cigar, and time passed slowly and sleepily into the night.

On Monday I started the service on Rocinante. Yes, I say started, since it took me two days to finish it. I would not make much money as a mechanic with the speed I was working, but we are trying, and sometimes succeeding, to reduce the importance of time. So the major part of the the two days I spent in a bar stool next to the bike, coke in hand, while I was considering the next step or looking back at the last with childish pride. I cleaned the air filter, our newly bought K/N rewashable, most out of curiosity. The stupid construction of the filter box made it necessary to take off the carburetors to get the box out from the frame. This, of course, took a long time and demanded many brakes and swallows of coke accompanied by a cigarette. I also changed the oil and checked all the other bits and pieces the service book told me to check. It was really easy and would be a procedure from now on.

When Frank, Kristinas mechanic friend, looked at Rocinantes rear tyre from within, a possible solution for the wobbling dawned on me. The tube was way to big for the tyre. It was folded in several places and would puncture in the near future if we didn't replace it. Frank, who bent backwards to help me since I was presented as a friend of an important person in Cuautla, drove for hours around Mexico City to find me a new tube, without luck. So we left Cuautla with the same tyre and the same wobble.

Acapulco and Montezuma

We followed Jaime and Cristina to Acapulco, where they were building a house on the beach even bigger than the one we left in Cuautla. On the way we stopped in Taxco, Mexico's famous silver town, where Bente bought two nice bracelets which we later sent home. We chose to take the secondary road down, since the autopista from Mexico City to Acapulco is the most expensive toll road in a country where toll roads generally are horribly expensive. 400 Pesos, about 45 Dollars, they charged for 400 km. But when the sun was about to set with hundred kilometers to go, we gave in and paid the blood money to get to Acapulco in reasonable time. Cristie, Cristina's daughter who lived in Acapulco, was ready to meet us and guide us to Jaime and Cristinas little apartment, or quinta, where we would wait for their arrival later in the night.

Cristie was a energetic party girl in her early thirties, living with her beautiful twelve year old daughter Melanie - a girl who we guessed would break many a man's heart in the years to come - and a maid. With an almost new Ford Mustang, a maid to look after her daughter on weekends, and a spirit that could keep her going through the night, she was a woman who never stopped smiling and laughing. Life was meant to be lived, and she did it fully.

The second day in Acapulco, Montezuma - that old bitter Aztec emperor - came to spill his revenge on me. Montezuma's Revenge, what an excellent name for the stomach problems most travelers experience at least once in Mexico. I didn't get sick or feel nauseated, I just emptied my interior completely during 24 hours. Nothing would stick, so Jaime and Cristina bought all the best food possible for the situation, in addition to feeding me a medicine they had against diarrhea. It seemed to work, because the next day I was fine again. Or fine is not the right word, I was too fine, nothing would come out for days. And then I started to feel the nausea, which would come in waves.

Either way the Revenge was a small one and nothing to worry about. We went into town and ate a great dinner together the five of us, got balloons shaped into hearts and who knows what tied around our heads, had to refuse the line dance the restaurant employees wanted us to join, and simply laughed and enjoyed our selves in this totally tourist-crazy money trap. The town is wonderful from one aspect, terrible from another. People come in hordes here because of the sun, the beaches and the nightclubs. And they do the right thing, because that's what they want and that's what they get, and they get their money's worth. It doesn't matter that for us the place was opposite everything we searched for while travelling, because with the warm and friendly companions we had, the stay will always be remembered as a fantastic one.

Into the clouds

On our way up from the coast of Acapulco, we drove into the clouds, and we had to prepare for something by now very unusual, rain. It never happened, though.

Another different version of Mexico

The day we left Acapulco, Mexico changed it's face again, as it had done so many times. Mexico's nature is the worlds third most varied, behind Brasil and Colombia, and now we headed into subtropical mountain jungle. We had entered Oaxaca state and the scenery was breathtaking as we climbed up towards the clouds. Indians were everywhere, sometimes looking at us with incredulous eyes, sometimes ignoring us all together.

At a gas stop, where we once again got gas from barrels, three children looked at us with astonished faces and asked Bente; "Que son?" - What are you? She didn't understand the question and asked them to explain what they meant, something they couldn't. Luckily the mother came and they repeated the questions. Her answer was interesting; "They are just like us, only from another part of the world". The kids shut up but kept staring at us, the clothes and the helmets. They didn't seem to accept their mother's simple explanation.

We didn't make it to Oaxaca in one day, as we had hoped, but came in early the next day and found a hostel close to the town center. With a hundred or so backpackers and rooms with paper thin walls, it was a noisy place. We survived though, cause of the kitchen facilities and the closeness to the town square. The second day I found a good Yamaha dealer and they promised to help me in the search for the correct size tube and a new front tyre. Then came Andreas, a German who was on his way to the US on a Yamaha TT600 with 45 liter gas tank. He had crossed Africa and spent three years in South America before this trip. This time he would go the the States to try to find work and maybe continue to Alaska.

We spent the night together and also the next day, when we returned to the shop and improved the mounting of my rear tyre. I found the tube I needed and bought a street tyre for the front as well. Now I was dressed for the muddy roads in the Andes as a continental truck driver on the way to North Cape in the winter on worn summer tyres an no snow chains. But it just had to suffice for a while. Andreas and the whole work shop participated in the process of replacing my chain as well. We had carried four kilos or thereabouts of a new X-ring chain since San Diego, and now I wanted to get rid of the extra weight. We could still have squeezed more life out of the old one, but I figured that with the high quality X-rings and the Scottoiler, I might make the chain last the rest of the trip. The old one lasted 27000 km, so I had reason to hope.

Monte Albán

Monte Alban is located on a hilltop outside Oaxaca City. It was a huge religious and administrational center for the Zapotecas. Today it's nicely restored and simply incredible.[Large Image]


It wasn't really long ago that we had a Night To Remember, but we ended up with a new one anyhow. One night we went out to find a cheap dinner and ended up with a luxury meal on a terrace overlooking the main plaza, drinking cognac and smoking cigar. After dinner, which set us back 55 Dollars - a price to laugh at in Norway but our budget had changed, we found the bar Otra Cosa. If you ever enter this bar in the future, look to the left on the white wall in the entrance. Among all the writing you might catch the following:
Dag Jenssen

This is why; in the opening two motorcycles were parked , one Kawasaki KLR 650 and one Honda CB750 from 1978. The CB was dressed like a real ratbike, with paint thrown randomly over it, a seat that was ready for the bin, and every spot once blank covered in all kinds of strange colors and tones. The owner, Yan from Mexico City, who had a long beard and an appearance that went well with the bike, almost knocked me to my knees when expressing his pure joy and happiness over the fact that I was the first person in the world to recognize his beloved bike as a true Moto Roto - a Ratbike. We hung around his bike for a while and of all things possible, he pointed at the brake reservoir on the handle bar and asked me for the Norwegian word. I laughed and told him he had probably picked the worst word in our dictionary - "bremsevæskebeholder", but gave it a try. His futile attempts to pronounce it made me laugh more. We were friends for eternity, and naturally he was quick to suggest he came with us for the rest of the trip to Tierra del Fuego. Luckily he was only mildly disappointed when I told him we would leave in a matter of days. After a number of high fives and other popular greeting methods, many of which ended in Yan taking two or more steps forward to keep upright because I missed his hand or he missed mine, he wobbled into the night on his bike. All that was missing from the picture of a happy motorcyclist was a fly between his teeth.

Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua, just south of Oaxaca City, a place where water has deposited minerals and created stylish formations.

The bar was definitely a "Otra cosa", and the clientele too. Apart from Yan, there was this mystical Zapotecan Indian who called himself Oscar - a name he definitely wasn't born with, and who discussed Indian rights with such knowledge and intensity that later, when we said good-bye and he just smiled and said that no, he had no street or e-mail address, he was living incognito, I got a very strong feeling he was part of some underground Indian movement. We had talked for hours and had formed some sort of friendship. But all he would give us was a strange homepage on the net, a homepage address that later turned out to be nothing. Of course, it was late in the night when he gave me the address, so I could have gotten the wrong letters here and there. The rest of the clientele and bartender was a mix of Europeans and Mexicans, all funny people and all clicking together in a group with us. It was a fun night.

Towards Chiapas

From Oaxaca to Tuxtla, the capitol of Chiapas State, there's almost seven hundred kilometer of paved, but heavy trafficked road. We had decided to go for it in one day, even with a little detour to get the last tube, the spare they had not been able to get me in Oaxaca, but which their sister dealer down on the coast had in stock. After a few hours where we made good time, we were stopped by the police. Since we had already been stopped three times by the military in routine controls, we expected this to be of the same sort. But this time it was a car race coming north, the Carrera Pan Americana, going along the Pan American Highway from San Cristobal in Chiapas to Nuevo Laredo on the US border. It was all old cars that participated, and the race delayed us one hour.

It was a nice brake with more than eighty cars, ranging from old Volvos and Mercedes to huge American classics, passing in very different speed. When the last car had gone we were quick to get going to beat the pack of cars that had gathered. It was a stupid move, a move that could have been fatal. Behind the race coming north was an equal or even more numerous group of cars that had waited just as inpatient as us for the road to open again. They had probably been racing for many kilometers already, being used to not meeting other vehicles and therefore taking risks. We came around a blind curve and towards us came a truck and a pickup, side by side on a narrow two lane road with no shoulder. In the last split second I threw the bike over to the right and balanced on the white line. Bente screamed and both of us waited for at least the left aluminum pannier to hit the pickup. Out of shear luck we missed it by millimeters and got through. Within the next two minutes we met four more pairs of cars coming towards us, but now we were prepared and drove on the white line with Bente's fist in the air and my thumb on the horn. It took some time to get the heartbeat down to normal, but finally the traffic calmed down and we felt safe again.


On our way south from Oaxaca, we stopped in a little village in the middle of nowhere. Across the road from our cafe was four laughing women who, when I approached them to buy a couple of the tortillas they where making, demanded I took a photograph of them together. If I did, I could have the tortillas for free, a trade we couldn't say no to.

We made it to Tuxtla after six military controls and ten hours. Because San Cristóbal was the real goal for us, we only spent one night in this very modern, surprisingly modern actually, and very pleasant city. Anyway we left the next morning and after a short ride we stopped on the main plaza of San Cristóbal. At a café, a bearded man with German accent asked us where we were from and where we were going. Each time I answered he said "me too" and smiled a little wider.

Gerald was not German, he was Austrian and on his way from New York to Ushuaia on a BMW R1100GS, a trip meant to last one year that had started on May the 18th, a week before us. We laughed at the coincidences and invited him to the table. He had been all the way up to Labrador in sometimes snowy conditions and had a lead of four thousand kilometers on us.

Later we would joke about me having to take early morning rides to catch up with him. We would stick together for the next week, at least, and what was more natural when meeting other people in the same errand than to find a pub and tell stories into the night. So we did, and woke up the next day with a heavy head and bad nerves. San Cristóbal was a travelers center in a very nice region of Mexico. Chiapas was most known in Norway from the uprising among the Indians and the following military controlled massacres some six years earlier. Luckily this sad situation had never had anything to do, or had any impact on, travelers, and probably never would. It was a struggle between Indians on one side that wanted to improve their own living conditions and the Mexican State on the other.


We have learned a new trick, something you can only do with a digital camera (or maybe a polaroid). Instead of asking the kids if I can take their picture, I now ask if they want to see a picture of themselves. It works every time, and in this case, where we shot a few pictures of Guatemalan kids at a road café, we created a positive spectacle which brought the whole eight member family over to look at the shots.

After a couple of days in San Cristóbal we headed south with Gerald. We had decided to skip Palenque, one of the larger Maya ruins a days ride west of us, and rather go straight to Guatemala. It was in some ways too early to leave Mexico, but we had to try to catch some of the lost time. So, with all our fears about the first Central American border crossing we left early, prepared to spend hours on the border. But we had worried for nothing. The crossing went like a breeze, and after one hour we were in Guatemala. To get there we had to surrender our tourist card and vehicle permit on the Mexican side, then fumigate the bike and get a tourist card and vehicle permit for Guatemala.

A hundred meter into Guatemala the landscape changed again, this time into the most typical Guatemalan landscape I had seen ever - in pictures that is. Suddenly the nature seemed to loom over us, draw closer to the road with steep, lush mountains and narrow valleys. Everywhere along the road Indians walked in their colorful traditional clothing. With the easy crossing and the new scenery, our moods were sky high.

The travelling feeling comes and goes, and it had never felt better than this. We drove to Quetzaltenango that night and continued to Antigua the next day. On this stretch we climbed to 3700 meters, the highest point on the Central American section of the Pan American Highway. The views to the left and right seemed to go on for ever. Ahead of us, behind us, and often passing us, were buses. Colorful, old fashion buses followed by huge clouds of black smoke. As a joke, we said the most certain way to kill yourself on a motorcycle in Guatemala was not to drive off a cliff or into the front of a meeting truck, it was to follow closely a typical bus for two hours. We swallowed the smoke and passed the buses when we could. Unfortunately they are the main means of transportation for most Guatemaltecos, hence they are absolutely everywhere. In Quetzaltenango the exit road was like one large gas chamber, a very trying ordeal early in the morning.

Then we arrived in Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala, destroyed by an earthquake in the 17th century, hence loosing the status as capital to Guatemala City. Today it's a traveler center, a place people from all around the world meet to study Spanish and enjoy a truly amazing city. More than fifty schools and hundreds of teachers offer their service. Everyone offers one to one tutoring for 50-80 US$ a week. The town is full of trendy and traditionally mixed cafes and restaurants, and the atmosphere is vibrant. We have been here three days now, and will stay another week where 20 hours of one to one studying should boost our Spanish to another level.

Gerald left today, Saturday November 4th, for Tikal and will return in a few days. Lars and Tini, a German couple riding a Africa Twin, are staying another night. We met them on a day trip to Lago Atitlan, a beautiful lake in the mountains north of here, and laughed a lot when it proved that they too were on the same trip as Gerald and us. The only difference was that they started in Seattle on May 15th and headed far up into Alaska before turning south. When I saw the bike, loaded in much the same manner as ours, only with more of everything, I felt good about Rocinante's load.

Now, let us enjoy Antigua, learn more Spanish - or struggle with the terrible use of SUBJUNTIVOS, relax and drink beer in the many nice restaurant patios, talk bullshit with other travellers or Spanish with our hosts, read books and eat homemade food. The road can wait a few more days.

Lago Atitlan
Lago Atitlán, seen from the old Pan American Highway, was a beautiful place. We went there on a daytrip from Antigua together with Gerald, and we thouroughly enjoyed the scenery and the twisty mountain roads - this time without any luggage.

Fountain Antigua
The fountain in the Parque Central in Antigua.

Maya woman
A Maya woman in Parque Central, Antigua. How they manage to balance the loads on their head is difficult to understand, but I'm sure it's a good way to learn how to straighten your back. She was one of the many vendors in the street, but in this town they were a lot less agressive than we had seen elsewhere. Furthermore, they sell nice clothes and blankets.

Geralds GS
Gerald Hofegger's BMW R1100GS rests on our first stop in Guatemala. The Indian kids in the background never stopped cheering and waving.

Andreas Höln
Andreas Höln and his Yamaha TT600 with 45 liters gas tank. That was enough to go more than 1000 km on one tank. Good to have in Africa, but in Latin America he rarely filled it up.

Pushing a bus
Travelling across borders can sometimes be a hardship to endure, like these gringos experienced when they had to pushstart the bus on the Mexican side of the La Mesilla border to Guatemala.

PS: One day an email dumped into our mailbox. It was from a Mexican who disagreed in our description of the difficulties Mexicans had getting a passport(ref 09 Baja and Grand Canyon). According to him the real reason why poor Mexicans never could enter the States, was that they needed to show proof of sufficient funds at the American consulate to be granted a visa. This of course, is a problem for any poor person. dj

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