Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 10:02:59 -0800
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 961019.rpt
Wednesday October 9
[Recollections from memory, 3 weeks later, since my original entry
evidently got wiped out in the memory failure fiasco.]
I waited until late in the morning to leave San Ignacio for Mountain Pine
Ridge to give the road more time to dry out. Most of the road consisted
of rough rocks firmly embedded in the road bed and such sections offered
great traction. There were some sections with a clay-type consistency,
and fortunately these were mostly dry, because they would be very slippery
when wet, as a few spots were. There was very little traffic on the road.
It climbed up through pine forests. Here and there small farms and houses
with thatched rooves were set off from the roadside. At the entry to the
Preserve proper, was a gate, and a guard came out of the nearby house to
open the gate and let me pass.
I stopped for a hour or so to explore the Rio On pools, falls, and rocks
and ate my packed lunch. while watching a hawk soar overhead. As I got on
the bike to continue on, a red fox trotted across the road in front of me.
A local guide who was at the pools with some tourists said the road to
Caracol, was narrower, not as well graded, and two-track in places, but
that it was not much worse than this road.
The small village of Douglas de Silva, formerly Antonio, was the park
headquarters, and in addition to the ranger station, there was a small
store, school, campground, and a dozen or so white-box wooden houses.
Since there was no camping at the ruins at Caracol, and it was late in the
afternoon anyways, I decided to camp here, and the ranger pointed me to
the campground, An open area adjoining the soccer field, with a
screened-in palapa with a picnic table inside, and two WWII quonset huts,
one of them locked, the other containing 4 bunks. Since noone else was
there I set up my cooking gear on the picnic table in the palapa, and
layed out my groung cloth, Thermarest, and Hostel Sleep Sack, an the
concrete floor at the other end.
At the small store I had stocked up on a can of corned beef hash, a hunk
of cheese, and 2 Cokes, and while I enjoyed this feast, I listened to the
Vice Presidential debate on the Voice of America on my short-wave radio,
the first time I had used it on this trip. No one came around to collect
so the night was apparently gratis. The stars were out in full force.
Magnificent! I only wish I knew more constellations.
Thursday October 10
In the morning, soon after 1st light, I left for Caracol, site of a vast
Mayan city, only "recently" discovered (1937), and only officially opened
to visitoras last year. Caracol rivals the more well-known and restored
Tikal in Guatemala for size and grandeur, however most buildings are as
yet unexcavated and those that are, are not fully restored. Stellae at
Caracol tell of military victories over Tikal. The road initially
continued to pass through pine forests, but eventually began to climb
higher and transitioned into heavy rain forest type vegetation. The road
became steeper in places and more of a 2-track, but was still easily
manageable. However a little rain would have made the going difficult.
I was the only visitor when I arrived at just after 8am. The caretaker
came out of his bungalow to sign me in a collect the nominal entrance fee.
Normally they require you to be accompanied initially by a guide, but the
other guide had gone out for supplies and hadn't yet been able to get a
ride back, and the guy who signed me in, who was also a guide, couldn't
leave the entrance area. So he sold me a small map and guide for a
dollar, and went over it with me, pointing out the general layout, must
see areas, and some things not mentioned specifically in the guide, such
as some excavated burial chambers at the back of one of the largest
pyramids which one could enter if one had a flashlight. Walking the path
into the ruins I came across a beautiful wild, Oscilated Turkey. I spent
3 hours wondering through the ruins, climbing pyramids, and poking into
burial chambers. The pyramid known as Canaa, or "sky house", is the
tallest man-made structure in Belize at 138 feet. From the top one had a
spectacular vista of the surrounding jungle and ruins, and while I was on
top a white winged hawk or eagle of some kind soared and circled high
overhead. The Mayans often made door lintils out of the wood of a tree
with incredibly hard, rot-resistant wood (the name escapes me know; it
starts with a Z). One large strucute, known as the Temple of the WOden
Lintils still had the original wooden linils in place over its doorways,
almost 2000 years later! Just as I was leaving Caracol, another van
pulled up with several people and a local guide from San Ignacio.
On the ride back, I stopped at the Rio Frio cave, near the Preserve
Headquarters where I had camped last night. The cave is open on both
ends, several hundred yards apart, and a river runs through it (couldn't
resist). Enough light enters from both ends that you don't need a
flashlight to explore it although with a flashlight I was able to scramble
across the river and rock-hop along some ledges on the far side. Inside
the cave at a large half-circle bend in the river was a large sand beach.
Further along on the road back to San Ignacio, was the turnoff to Hidden
Valley Falls, 9 miles off the main road. This road turned out to be far
harder than the road to Caracol, as it was heavily rutted and gullied from
rain runoff in many places. The falls themselves, which plunge almost 500
meters into a misty valley, were impressive, though it was mitigated
somewhat because one could only view them from a distant viewing platform,
and not hike close to them.
I continued back to San Ignacio, and continued on west a couple of miles
to Clarissa Falls, which had some small bungalows and cabanas. Rico, an
American I had met in Eva's in San Ignacio several days ago, had told me
about the place. He and his girlfriend Laura were still staying there and
we had dinner together in the small restaurant there. They are Americans
in Belize on business, buying a load of rosewood to import into the States
for use in making Marimba keys.
Stayed in a dormitary--style palapa, with 6 beds and a hammock, though I
was the only person staying there, for 15 Belize dollars.
Chena, a late-30s to mid-40s single mother of 2, owned and ran the place.
In addition to the dormitary I was staying in, there were four 4-bedroom
palapas with shared bath, and 2 4-bedroom palapas with private bath. She
also has a small restaurant, built atop an ancient Mayan mound. It was
all located on the family's working cattle ranch, which had both dairy and
Chena, had gone to the US to work, cleaning houses and cooking for 15
hours a day, for 2 years, in order to save enough money to build and open
her facility. During this time she had to leave her 2 young children in
Belize with relatives. She expressed regret over this, saying her now
20-year old son had turned out "bad", since she was not there during his
early teenage years. He was however, now reenrolled in highschool, to get
his diploma. Her teenage daughter helped her in the restaurant and with
Friday October 11 56833
Was undecided whether to spend another day in Belize, visiting the ruins
at xunantunich, a couple of miles upstream along the Macaw River, and
accessed by a hand operated vehicle ferry across the river, or to cross
the border into Guatemala, today, Friday, before the weekend. I
procrastinated till about 10:30, finally deciding to cross the border. I
ordered two sandwhiches to go, since once past the border towns of Benque
Viejo del Carmen in Belize, and Melchor de Mencos in Guatemala, there was
very little else until arriving in Santa Elena/Flores at Lake Peten Itza.
Then I went to pack the bike and get my riding gear on. By the time I was
ready to leave, it was pouring down rain.
I wasn't motivated enough to want to cross the bordeer and ride to Flores
in the rain, especially since all the guidebooks said the road could be
very bad when wet. I decided to hang around a while and see what the
weather was going to do. Well it pretty much rained the rest of the
morning and throughout the afternoon, and my motivation didn't improve, so
I ended up hanging out in the restaurant, reading and writing in my
That night during dinner with Rico, Laura, and Joe, an American ex-pat
living about a mile up the road, Chena's brother, who now ran the ranch
and had TV up at the main ranch house, called to say that CNN was
reporting a tropical depression 80 miles off Belize City, with 50 mph
winds and danger of developing into a hurricane. Miami TV was expressing
astonishment that the Belizean government had yet to issue warnings of any
kind. Well that explained today's rain, and made me nervous about the
next couple of days. If it developed into a hurrican and moved inland,
things could get nasty for several days, and the road conditions might
really deteriorate. I was really regretting not having left today,
despite the rain, since I probably would have stayed in front of the worst
After dinner, Rico knew of a bar, The Los Angelas Bar, in the nearby
border town of Benque, where a Marimba band often played/practiced, so
Rico, Laura, Joe and I piled into Rico's rental car, and drove the 4 miles
into town. It turned out Friday night was disco night, so the Marimba
band was not playing. Joe bought a round of beers, after which we left.
It was a useful trip as Rico pointed out a shortcut to the border which
avoided downtown Benque.
Saturday October 12 56901
Disaster struck this morning. A battery failure on my palmtop, wiped out
the 2MB of memory which serves as the main RAM-drive for the palmtop. All
files used by the builtin applications, such as the phonebook and the
appointment manager, were lost. All my snail-mail and email addresses,
and phone numbers were lost. Fortunately I have a hardcopy printout of
many of them. In addition my customized autoexec.bat and config.sys
files, several batch files, and several binary DOS 5.0 executables I had
installed, were lost as well. My think my files on the flash drive on the
PCMCIA card are all intact since that card has its own battery, however I
cannot access any of those files since I was running compression software
on that drive and the drivers and autoexec.bat files needed to access this
drive resided on the drive which was wiped out. All the custom software,
such as Nettamer (email and internet communications), G7Down (interface
software for my GPS), and ABC-LX (Nicad battery management program), were
essentially de-installed and are no longer available. Most of the
executable files for these applications reside on the flash drive, so
should still be there, but untill I restore the software needed to access
the compressed flash memory, will be unaccessable.
The problem is in reacquiring the necessary software, and regenerating the
autoexec.bat and config.sys files. I don't remember exactly what is
required, and it wasn't straight-forward, even when I did it at home.
Some I had to FTP from the internet. I backed some of these files up to
both my PC at home, and my account at Bayarea.net, but I don't remember
what was backed up where.
Then assuming I can figure out what I need and where to get it, I still
have the problem of how to get the files onto my palmtop. Until I can
access the compressed flash drive, I can't use the PCMCIA card to transfer
files to my palmtop. That's even assuming I could find another PC with a
PCMCIA drive to put them on in the first place. One possibility is using
the serial port and transfering files via serial line from a PC to the
palmtop. But that is not straightforward either.
I know what caused this disaster, but not why it happened the way it did.
Basically the backup battery was dead, but I didn't know it, and I removed
the main batteries to install a new set. With the backup battery dead,
there was then nothing to power the main RAM, and it got wiped out. The
builtin applications, and default configuration files for them (e.g. the
default phone book) are stored in ROM which does not require battery
power, so things basically got reset to their original configuration.
There is supposed to be a warning message when the backup battery is low,
but either there wasn't such a message or I didn't see it. This really
ruined my day.
In addition to no longer being able to send or receive email, I can't
download the track data from the GPS, which means I won't be able to save
any more track data once the internal track buffer on the GPS fills up.
That's generally one full day of riding. Fortunately all my existing trip
reports and GPS data is stored on the flash drive, so I should eventually
be able to recover it.
In the morning, though it was still drizzling on and off, the report was
that the storm had begun to dissipate, and was being downgraded, and
because it was so close to land, had very little chance od regaining
strength. That made ne feel better, and I decided that rain or not, I was
going to cross the border today. After breakfast, and another packed
sandwhich to go, I left, arriving at the border at 8:30am.
On the Belize side I was approached by several young boys offering to
exchange money. I picked one, and changed 100 US dollars at a rate of 5.8
Quetzales to the dollar, and also got rid of the last 30 of my Mexican
pesos. He then led me to the immigrations/customs offices and showed me
exactly which windows to go to to take care of my visa and motorcycle
papers. A half hour and I was checked out of Belizean customs paying a 8
Belizean dollar exit tax, and rode across the border to the Guatemalan
side. The first stop was the fumigation station, where I paid a 7.5Q fee
and got a fumigation form, but they said they didn't have to spray the
bike, and they waved me on to the gate by the Customs office where I
parked. There were more, and longer, forms than when entering Belize, and
each one cost something. 80Q for the permit for my motorcycle, and then I
had to turn in the fumigation form and pay a further 10Q. I have a
feeling the last 10Q was a small bribe which went into the official's
pocket since it was the one payment I didn't get a receipt for. But it
was the equivalent of less than 2 US dollars, so I just paid it without
asking. They then applied a large orange sticker to the bike's
windshield, and they lifted the vehicle gate, and I rode into Guatemala at
9:30am. It was drizzling.
I added 3 gallons of gas in the border town of Melchor de Mencos, and
headed west to Flores. Flores is a 100km west of the border, the first
65km being unpaved. In fact only a 70lm stretch of road from Flores to
the ruins at Tikal are paved, But getting to Flores itself it often an
adventure. Besides the route from Belize, there are basically only two
other roads from Flores leading to southern Guatemala and Guatemala City
in the western highlands. The best of these two roads is **** miles from
Flores to Guatemala City, the first 100 miles of which are unpaved.
It was raining, and the road was very rough, alternating between potholes
and washboard, and slippery. One had to constantly keep your eye on the
road to avoid the mud-filled potholes, and slippery areas. I had gone no
more than 7 miles when I looked down and saw that my handlebar-mounted
waterbottle was no longer there. The velco strap had been jarred loose
from the constant pounding of the potholes and washboard. I knew it had
happened in the last 3 miles since I had stopped 3 miles back to put the
raincover on my tankbag. So I turned around, and rode slowly back along
the road, in the rain, looking along side the road, while at the same time
trying to avoid the potholes and mudholes. The slow speed made
negotiating the mudholes worse as the front end slid around more. I go
3.5 miles and don't find the bottle. So I turn around again, retracing my
route for the 3rd time, beginning to resign myself to the idea of having
lost my waterbottle. A tenth of a mile from where I noticed it missing I
spotted it lying in some weeds at the side of the road!
The remainder of the 65km of unpaved road was more of the same, potholes,
washboard, mudholes, and flat mud-covered, slippery stretches. I averaged
35mph over most of it. There was one long uphill stretch, rocky and
slippery, and one stretch of about a mile, so covered in deep potholes
that I had to pick my way through at 10-15mph. But My speeds on the bike
were still faster than the infrequent bus and truck traffic I encountered.
There were only 2 small villages along the way, neither with, gas, or
organized lodging or food. At the village of El Cruce, I regained the
pavement. From El Cruce the paved road runs 35km north to the ruins at
Tikal, and 35km west to the twin icities of Santa Elana, on the shore of
Lake Peten Itza, and Flores, situated on a small island out in the lake
and reachable by a short causeway.
I needed to get more Quetzales, and my guidebook said there was a bank
with an ATM machine on the PLUS system in Flores, so I headed there,
getting a room, with private bath, at the Hotel La Canoa in Flores for
50Q. After a shower, both for myself and my riding suit (the mud here
dries into a fine powdery film, which getts all over everything, making a
real mess), I found a store which carried the type of backup battery I
needed for my palmtop, and bought 2, keeping one for a spare. I still
hadn't attempted to recover from the mornings disaster. But I found that
the bank didn't have, and never did, an ATM machine, but that there was a
branch of the Banco Industrial in Santa Elena, and supposedly all their
branches had 24-hour ATM machines. I decided I'd walk over in the morning
to check it out.
It showered off and on that afternoon and evening. Downpour woulf be a
better term, for when it rained, it came down in buckets, but such
downpours usually lasted only a half hour or so. Flores, situated on a
small circular island, has a couple of circular streets running around the
island, and cross-streets running radially out from the town square,
situated on the top of the small hill located at the center od the island.
All the streets were paved with cobblestones or paving stones, except the
causeway, and the outermost circular street, on which my hotel was
located. That street, true to form, was full of potholes, and mudholes,
moreso right after a downpour.
Approaching Flores from the causeway presented a beautiful sight, the
island surrounded by the waters of the lake, and the red-tile roofs of the
buildings sloping up from the lakeshore to the plaza on the hill. From
the plaza in the center there were a number of good views ocverlooking the
lake and the small canoes going between Flores, santa Elena, and several
other small villages on the far lakeshore. Such canoes were the only way
of reaching Flores before the causeway was built.
One side of the town plaza was devotred to playing fields for the town's
youth. A ball diamond, basketball court, and soccer field all shared the
same real estate, and at times all 3 games were in progress, the teams
mixing on the playing field, and often interfering one with the other, but
that was seemingly just a part of the game here in Flores. Home plate was
backed up against one corner of the plaza, and a high fence lined the
first and third base lines in an attempt to keep the ball from falling the
2 stories to the steeply-sloping streets below.
I tried placing a call back to the States, from a payphone outside one of
the larger hotels in Flores, but wasn't able to get through.
Sunday October 13
In the morning I walked back across the causeway to Santa Elena, a town of
dirt streets, which were either full of mudholes, or clouds of dust.
There were few sidewalks, so one has to watch for passing trucks to avoid
being splashed with mud.
I found a branch of Banco Industrial with an ATM machine on the Plus
System, and got 2000 Quetzales, , about 340 US dollars. Then I stopped at
a pharmacy to check about Malaria medication, which I was now out of.
Here to, as in Belize, they only had Chloroquine, so I bought 10 tablets,
about 2.5 months worth. They were the equivalent of 10 cents per tablet.
I returned to Flores and wandered about the streets of Flores a bit more,
before returning to my hotel, packing the bike, and riding back across the
causeway. My destination was the village of El Remate, at the eastern
shore of Lake Peten Itza, 35 miles from Flores, where the hospedeje La
Casa de Don David is located. I planned to stay 2 nights, going to the
ruins at Tikal tomorrow.
David, an ex-pat American from Florida, runs the place with Rosa, his
Guatemalan wife, and their young daughter. David, had actually built and
started the neighboring, and more well-known, El Gringo Perdido (The Lost
Gringo) in the early 70s. In the early 80s. went the civil war started,
tourism dropped way off, "going out like a light" as David said. He held
on for a couple of years, but the cash outflow was more than the income,
and finally in 1984 he sold the Gringo Perdido for $15K US dollars. When
the civil war wound down in the late 80s and early 90s, David and Rosa
started up their current place, La Casa de Don David. Currently it has 6
rooms and he is building 4 more.
There were couples from Israel, Holland, New Zealand, and Germany staying
at Don David's.
Monday October 14
I got up at 4am, in order to get to Tikal, and the top of Pyramid 4, by
"sunrise". I had Rosa make me 2 sandwiches the night before. The road
was paved the 18 miles to the park, but for the 3rd time this trip my PIAA
lights came in handy, as I encountered several horses standing in the
middle of the road. I say "sunrise" because the jungle is generally
shrouded in fog, and one cannot actually see the sun rise. What one sees
instead from the yop of Pyramid 4 is the fog slowly lifting and
disapating, and then surrounding temples slowly materializing out of the
mist. The pyramidal mound which forms the base of the pyramid, has not
been rrestored, and one has to scramble up a series of ladders, and over
tree roots and rocks to reach the stone temple at the top. The final
ascent to the top of the temple roofcomb, was via a vertical steel ladder
up the side of the temple.
I stayed at the top for several hours, watching the fog and mist come and
go, as the surrounding temples disappeared and reappeared. Toucans flew
among the treetops far below us, and several troops of spider monkeys
played in the treetops at our feet.
In the North Acropolis of the Central Plaza there were several huge, well
preserved masks on the fascade of one of the temples. I stayed at the
ruins from 5:30am till 3pm, wandering the jungle paths, exploring the
hidden rooms and courtyards of the numerous plazas, and climbing the
pyramids for great views of the surrounding ruins and jungle. There were
a few short showers during the course of the day, but for the most part it
was sunny, hot, and humid.
As I was putting my riding gear on to return to El Remate, I heard what
sounded like a motorcycle approaching, and shortly two bikes pulled up, a
Honda NX650, and a Kawasaki KLX 650. Shaul and Lior were Israelies who
had bought the bikes in San Francisco, and were touring through Central
America. Amazingly, they had left San Francisco 2 days after me, and from
Mexico City on, had followed roughly the same route as I had through the
Yucatan Penninsula, Belize, and into Guatemala. From Tikal they were also
going to be heading south through Guatemala, and then south through
Central America to Costa Rica. In Costa Rica they were going to be joined
by several other friends from Israel, and they planned to sell the bikes
and buy a jeep for therest of their trip through South America. I told
them where I was staying and they said they might stop by later that
After dark that night, David took us out to the back yard with flashlights
to catch Tarantulas. They have small circular tunnel-like burrows among
the rocks at the edge of the garden, and they hung out just outside their
burrows. One had to quickly block the hole to prevent them from
retreating inside. Then David would pick them up and show us their
formidable looking pinchers. Then he would set them down, hold his hand
or arm alongside them and they would climb up his arm. I declined the
opportunity to try it, but did manage to step in a ant nest in the dark
and get several ant bites on my feet. More annoying than anything else.
That evening and night it rained very heavily, not a good omen for
tomorrow's ride south to Poptun.
Tuesday October 15
The distance to Poptun was around 100 miles, 65 of which were dirt and
potentially very rough. Busses generally took 4 hours to cover the 65
miles. I left El Remate just after 11am. The fist 30 miles or so of the
dirt portion, the road was fairly straight, wide, and dry, though very
rough and potholed. I could average about 35-45mph, while safely avoiding
most large potholes. Even so, every so often I would come upon a stretch
filled with potholes where there were too many to navigate through and I
would just have to get up on the pegs and accelerate through to keep the
front wheel un weighted. Bam-bam-bam-bam, and I could just imagine
fasteners loosening up all over the bike.
Then the road climbed up into the mountains, and it became narrower,
steeper, wetter, and rougher. As on the previous stretch I passed
numerous heavy trucks slowly picking their way around the potholes. In
the mountains I met several oncoming busses and had to get way over to the
edge to let them pass. On one sharp corner there was an overturned Pepsi
truck and piles of broken Pepsi bottles littered the roadway. The road
climbed up and down several montain ranges, before regaining more level,
flat ground for the last couple of miles into Poptun. My destination,
Finca (Ranch) Ixobel was 3km south of town, so I stopped at Fonda (Cafe)
Ixobel on the southern edge of Poptun for lunch. Poptun has a couple of
gas stations, a handful of restaurants, and a hotel, located along a
handful of dirt streets along the main road. What took the busses 4 hours
to drive took me about 2.5 hours.
At the restaurant I noticed that the rough, washboard, potholed road had
taken its toll. The stud, which is actually part of the left, front Jesse
bag mount bracket, and also bolts the lower, left arm of the rear
subframe to the bike's main frame, had sheared off! This was actually not
the first time this had happened to me. It had also happened on my last
trip to Baja, and was something I had hoped to redesign and fix prior to
leaving on this trip, but had run out of time and not done anything about.
That stud takes a lot of stress because it supports a lot of the weight
of the rear subframe, saddlebags, and rider. However the design is a bad
one, because the stud is welded into the bracket, and if it should happen
to shear, you are screwed (pun not intended) since you can't simply
replace it with a standard bolt.
Now I was regretting not having found the time to improve the design. It
looked like I was going to have to find a local welder or machine shop to
help fix the problem. Hopefully the staff at Finca Ixobel could point me
to the right people.
Finca Ixobel, is like a traveler's oasis in the middle of the Guatemalan
jungle. It is located on a former ranch, and they still have horses,
cattle, and grow a lot of their own vegetables and fruit, though now days
it is solely supported by tourists or travelers. It was started by an
American couple in the Peace Corps, but has a tragic history. The husband
was tortured, murdered, and beheaded by a senior Guatemalan military
officer during the civil war years. No one was ever charged with the
crime. To the wife's credit, she continues to run the place with her
family, and the help of a staff of local Guatemalans and many volunteers
who work for room and board.
It has dormitory-style rooms, private rooms, "tree houses" on stilts, and
tree houses in trees, Large comunal, all-you-can-eat dinners, feasts is
more like it, are 30Q. Everything is on the help-yourself, honor system.
You write down in a small notebook what you consume,and then pay when you
The Dutch couple I met at Don David's were here, and later in the evening,
the Israeli bikers showed up.
Michelle, who showed me around Ixobel, said her husband Kevin could
probably help me with my bike problem. Michelle, Kevin, and their two
sons Nicholai, 6, and Toby, 4, were volunteers at the Finca and had been
here about 4 months. Kevin was a research chemist, who knew of SRI, and
had worked at several research institutes in the US and Switzerland. They
were going to be leaving Finca Ixobel shortly and continue their travels
to South America, and ultimately to some, as yet unknown, island in the
It was a very pleasant surprise to find that the workshop at the Finca had
a welding machine, and some old, but perfectly functional, milling
machine, lathe, and drill press. I removed the bracket from the bike,
after removing the left saddlebag and topcase and stashing them in my room
10 feet away.
I decided to fix it the "right" way by milling off the remainder of the
broken stud, then drill and tap a hole into what was left of the stud in
the bracket tubing. The next question was whether we could come up with
an 8mm tap; I had a spare 8mm Allen bolt which I could use. The ranch's
set of taps was unfortunately American Standard, and we thought we might
have to use one of them, or try to buy a metric tap in Poptun tomorrow,
since it was already after 5pm and the hardware store in town would be
But Kevin kept scrounging around and in a box of miscellaneous hardware
came up with an 8mm tap! So with Kevin's help we drilled and tapped the
bracket with an 8mm hole. It was almost 6pm, and the buffet dinner was at
6:30, and I had yet to take a shower, so I put off installing the bracket
Dinner was a feast. Green salad, homemade bread, Salsbury-type steak,
rice with vegetables, several other vegetable dishes, a fruit salad, and
for desert carrot cake, and banana cream pie. And you could go back for
seconds! If I stayed here long enough I'd gain back what weight I've lost
on this trip so far.
Wednesday October 16
A group had been organized for a hike to a river cave, so I decided to go
on that and intall the bracket later. For breakfast and lunch, you can
select from a large assortment of local, and American-type dishes, then
you write what you want in a small notebook in the kitchen, in Spanish,
and the cooks, local Guatemalan women, prepare it for you.
It was a 2 hour hike to the cave, through jungle, scrubby forest, and
cleared fields of corn. The trail was incredibly wet and muddy, and by
the time we arrived at the cave our legs were coated in mud from our
calves down. Our boots were caked in mud. We were accompanied by two
guides, one carrying a gun. One of the guides would remain with our gear
at the mouth of the cave. Evedintly, in the past there had been some
problems with gear being stolen while people were inside the cave.
One had to leave your daypacks and hiking boots at the mouth since a river
flowed through the cave, and one had to swim and wade through the cave,
using flashlights to illuminate foot and handholds along the way. At
places one had to swim across deep pools in the river to the far side of
the cave, and at other places one scrambled along rock ledges along the
river's edge. Where the river narrowed, the current became swifter and
tried to pull you away from the wall of the cave. Several times we had to
wade/swim across swift sections of the river. The whole time we were
using flashlights; without them it would have been pitch black. After a 1
hour hike/swim into the cave we arrived at a spot where the water cascaded
into a deep pool 15 feet below. We jumped off the adjacent cliff into the
pool below, surfacing and them swimming to an island in the middle of the
pool. We climbed back up the cliff via a knotted rope. On the way back
two of our 6 flashlights failed, making things more exciting for their
The 6-hour round trip worked up a great appetite for dinner that night,
and once I hit the sack it didn't take long to fall asleep.
Thursday October 17
After a lazy breakfast of Granola, fruit, and yogurt, I installed the
bracket on the bike, then removed the bash-plate, and used a screwdriveer
to clean the caked mud out from between the engine cooling fins on the
cylinders, sump, and header nuts. Then I went over all the bolts on the
bike, checking them for tightness. In the proccess of going over the
bike, I noticed the front brake pads seemed to be quite worn. Pulling
them out, I saw, much to my annoyance, that they were worn down to less
than 1/8" of the backing plate! This in only 7100 miles! And it
certainly wasn't because I was doing stoppies on the G/S! Kari Prager at
Cal BMW had told me of another guy riding a G/S with the Harrison calipers
through South America, who had to have a set of brake pads sent down to
hi, so I brought another pair with me, but at this rate, I'll need 2 more
sets as well! At least! It's another example of not switching to
something new just before a major trip.
The wear is evidently just from the wear of the fine, abrasive, dirt/dust
I've been riding through. The front pair of pads were worn thinner than
the rear pair, so I switched the pairs, hoping to get through the next 40
miles or so of dirt before I regain the pavement. Then I'll put the new
The shop also had a rivit gun, so I was able to also fix the seat latch,
which had been ripped off when I dropped the bike in the parking lot at
the hotel at Chiten Itza.
Mike was a retired elementary school teacher from Alaska, who was living
for the past year in Guatemala, predominantly the town of Todos Santos, in
the Western Highlands. He was traveling with Rigoberto, a young Indian
boy from Todos Santos, who he acting as a kind of big-brother for, having
volunteered to provide for his education through college. Rigoberto's
mother and father both lived and worked in Todos Santos, and Mike was
showing Rigoberto other areas of Guatemala, which he had never seen
before. Rigoberto himself spoke fairly good English, learning it by
talking with tourists at the Comedor Katy (restaurant) where his mother
worked and he helped out occasionally.
Mike himself, surprisingly, spoke hardly any Spanish, saying he tried
several times to learn, but just couldn't seem to master it. He was an
interesting character. He had lived in an isolated cabin in the Alaska
bush on several occasions, often for a year or more at a time, having
"retired" several times, only to return to teaching.
Mike told me of an "old man", Julio, 70-some years old, he knows, who runs
or works at the Hotel Model in Quetzaltenengo. He has a BMW motorcycle,
and last year rode it up to Alaska. I hope to look him up when I go
The first couple of days at Finca Ixobel, Israelis were in the vast
majority, there being at least 12 at one time. They were all couples
Friday October 18
I took the day off, reading, writing my journal, and walking about the
Finca. The Israeli bikers left this morning, heading for the Honduran
I played games with Nicholai Ely Tabor, who is 6 years old. [The previous
sentence was typed by Nicholai,Kevin and Michelle's oldest son, who showed
a keen interest in my computer]. We played Chutes and Ladders, Leap Frog,
and several other board games, which an older German couple had given to
Rigoberto that morning before they left the Finca. I was glad when
Nicholai, tired of playing games, and went looking for other amusements.
The German couple were traveling as a trio with another German woman, and
were travelling by van from Tierra del Fuego, north to Alaska. They had
already been on the road for over 2 years and guessed they would be on the
road for another 2 years. However, several times they had interrupted
their trip for several months at a time with flights back to Germany.
>From Alaska they hoped to find some way to ship their van across the
Bearing Straight to Russia, and continue across Russia to Europe.
Saturday October 19 57044
I packed the bike and paid my tab for the past 4 days. It came to 400Q,
or about 17 dollars per day, including all food, drinks, beer, room, the
cave trip, batteries, etc. And use of the machine shop to work on my bike.
A pretty good deal!
My map and the guidebooks indicated another 40 miles of dirt before the
pavement started again. It had rained fairly steadily from about 2am
until 7am, so I took my time preparing to leave, hoping to give the roads
some time to dry out in the morning sun. By the time I left at 11am, the
road was for the most part dry. The road continued to be full of potholes
and washboard surface. However the paved road had encroached a further
20 miles into the Peten, and after only 20 miles I encountered the
construction crews working on the new road. Construction continued for
about 10 miles but the conditions, even in the areas of heavy equipment
were quite good, certainly better than the construction zones I had
encountered in Alaska.
At one tight, curvey stretch in the constructuon area, a long line of
trucks were stopped and backed up around the serpentine curves. I slowly
made my way alongside, working my way to the front of the que, passing
several tourist-filled minivans in the process. As I approached the
front, trucks began coming the other direction, and I had to alternately
duck in between the trucks in my lane to give clearance for the oncoming
trucks. Even if they wanted to give me room, which I'm not sure they
would have, there was just enough room for two large trucks to pass side
by side. One such time the truck 2 in front of me would not start, and a
truck going in the opposite direction was recruited to back into it,
giving it a bump start. At times large trucks would pass me with only
inches to spare. But generally the truckers waved me on by when clear,
with a smile and a wave.
There are always animals alongside or on the edge of the road, but they
are used to heavy truck traffic and just ignore it, going about their
grazing. If, for every such animal, one slowed to a truely safe speed to
handle any contingency, one would get nowhere fast on these roads.
However one time a horse spooked at something, and bolted across my path.
I hit the brakes, the rear wheel sliding and the front on the verge of
locking. Fortunately,at the last minute the horse veered off and impact
was avoided! An oncoming man on a bicycle watched it unfold in front of
him, and waved and laughed as the horse scrambled off the road in front of
I had originally planned to only ride the 60-70 miles to Rio Dulce, and
spend 2 nights there, taking a boat trip on the Rio Dulce out to the town
of Livingston on the Carribean coast on the day in between. Livinston is
home to the Garifuna culture, and is more like Jamaica than a part of
Guatemala. The only way to Livinston is by boat. However when I arrived
in Rio Dulce, I wasn't in the mood for stopping already,and wnated to
continue riding, so I continued on south, coming to the intersection with
the east-west Atlantic Highway in about 30 miles. I turned right, heading
towards Guatemala City and the Western Highlands.
About 50 miles northeast of Guatemala City, I turned right onto highway
**, which clims steeply into pine forested mountains of the highlands. I
was headed to the Quetzal Preserve, hoping to catch a glimpse of
Guatemala's elusive national bird, which has iridescent red and
bluish-green plumage and an arc of tail feathers several feet long.
However the Quetzals are very difficult to see, being most active at dawn
The road was a very good 2-lane asphalt road, which twisted and turned as
it climbed up through scrubby forests, into thick pine forests and then
lush cloud forests. The temperature cooled noticably, and the last 10
miles or so clouds obscured the surrounding tsall peaks. The road and the
surrounding terrain and vegetation reminded me of areas in the Sierras in
California. A truely great motorcycling road, it passesd through several
small villages, and one frequently saw men and boys sitting along the
roadside, waiting for busses or other transportation, or just wathing the
traffic go by. Boys would hoot, whistle, and wave as I rode by. One
often saw cows grazing by the roadside, sometimes tended others not.
Some of the tended animals were on teathers to evedintly keep them from
wandering onto the road.
At the junction at El Cumbre I pulled to the side of the road to consult
my guidebook. The road to the left would take me to down Salama, while
straight ahead continued to climb, passing the Quetzal Preserve, and
continueing on to the city of Coban in the Alta Verapaz. While looking at
my guidebook I heard some motorcycles, and looked up to see 4 bikes
approaching, and they pulled over beside me and stopped: a Honda
Goldwing, a Yamaha FZ1100 (?) and two brandnew BMW R1100s. The Honda and
Yamaha were also very new. The BMW riders were decked out in the latest
BMW riding gear and were obviously well-to-do by Guatemalan standards.
They were all from Guatemala City and were returning there after a day
ride to Coban. I chatted with them in broken Spanish, and one spoke some
English so I could converse with him more easily. They confirmed there
was a BMW dealer in Guatemala City.
People here refer to the capital city simply as Guatemala, and it took me
a while to catch on to this. When asking where they were from, they reply
simply Guatemala, and then I would say, "Pero, que ciudad?", and they
would say Guatemala. In Belize it was the same way, Belize City was
referred to simply as Belize.
After snapping photos of each other we headed in our separate directions.
Just past the preserve was the small hillside establishment of Ranchitos
El Quetzal, which offered simply rooms for 29Q. It was 4:30 and the
preserve closed at 5pm, so took a shower and cleaned up. Leaving the
bathroom I ran into the only other guest at the Ranchito, George, a young
German, who was working in Guatemala City in a brewery, as part of his
University studies in Germnay. He was studying to become a brewmaster.
We agreed to meet in about 45 minutes at the simply comidor run by the
wife. Two beers and dinner of fried chicken, rice and beans (the only
choice) came to 27Q, less than 5 US dollars.
I was now in the highlands, and it got quite cols at night, quite
different from the past month in the hot and humid lowlands of the
Yucatan, Belize, and the Peten. Two heavy blankets on the bed were quite