Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 10:12:32 -0800
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 961026.rpt
Sunday October 20
George and I met for breakfast at about 6:30. I was a bit early, so I
walked down the road to the preserve since the guidebooks said it opened
at 6am daily. However the gates were still locked. The sun had not yet
peeked over the surrounding mountain tops and it was very chilly.
Speedy service was certainly not a priority at the comidor, as she
evidently had to go squeeze the eggs out of the hens, just as she must
have had to catch the chicken to fix our dinner the night before. Things
happened on Guatemalan time aroung here.
The proprietor said they frequently saw quetzals in the tall trees on the
hillside surrounding the Ranchito's buildings and while waiting for our
breakfast we watched the treetops, but saw no quetzals. We did see
several toucans and other birds however. The proprieto said the quetzals
made a sort of cluck-cluck sound as they glided from treetop to treetop.
The preserve itself has 2 hiking trail loops, and George and I took the
long loop, about a 2 hour hike. From the road it climbed almost 350
meters to the top of a ridge at ovet 1980 meters in elevation. The trail
passsed over small streams, past small cascades and waterfalls, and
through lush cloud forest. Very beautiful. But no sight of the elusive
quetzals. Well the guidebooks had warned not to get our hopes up.
George said that two, relatively nearby sights I should see were the
caverns near Lanquin and the limestone natural bridge and pools at Semuc
Champuy. I had noted these sights in my guidebook, but in the process of
coming here on thr spur of the moment yesterday I had forgot they were
relatively close to where I now was. However I had gotten it in my mind
that I would be in Antigua tonight where I had a bunch of logistical
things to take care of including an oil change and valve adjustment on the
bike, replace the brake pads, laundry, and attempt to resurrect my palmtop
software. Going to Semuc Champuy would put that off at least two more
days, so while from a navigation point of view it would have made sense to
go to Semmuc Champuy, I decided to hit that spot sometime later.
I rode back down out of the highlands by the route I had come, and at the
Atlantic Highway, turned right towards Guatemala City. It was
mid-afternoon when I entered Guatemala City, and since it was Sunday,
traffic into the city was heavy, but not the nightmare I had been led to
believe it would be. Buses spewed huge black clouds of exhaust into the
air, usually in the passing lane meaning I had to pass through them. I
needed to turn northwest onto the Pan-American Highway somewhere in the
city but my maps did not make it clear exactly where that would be, and I
managed to miss the turnoff because the signs marking such intersections
are either rusted to the point of being unreadable, or the signs have long
since fallen down. Once on the Pan-Am highway it was not long till the
turnoff to Antigua, the former, colonial capital of Guatemala, until it
was destroyed by an earthquake in the 18th century. The highway to Antigua
was a divided 4-lane highway, and traffic traffic returning to Guatemala
City was heavy with weekend visitors returning from Antigua. The road
climbed some surrounding mountains, then dropped steeply through many
sharp turns to Antigua. There were at least 5 runaway truck ramps in the
last couple of miles.
The cheap hotels I was considering were sort of spread out in several
areas of the city. The first two I tried did not have interior parking
for the motorcycle. It was beginning to get dark, and it was a pain riding
around finding the hotels. While the street grid itself was logical, with
Calles (streets) running east-west and Avenidas (avenues) running
north-south, with numbers increasing from east to west, and from north to
south. House numbers increased in each direction from the central plaza,
differentiated by north or south for the avenues, and oriente and poniente
for the Calles. However on any given street or avenue, the house numbers.
simply increase with each building so one could not tell what block a
given number was on. One hotel with inadequate parking pointed me to a
hotel down the street that had an interior courtyard where I could park
the bike. It was more expensive than I wanted at 90Q (15 US dollars), but
I decided ro take it since it was getting dark. I could move to a cheaper
hotel in the morning.
For some reason I wasa suffering from one of my infrequent bouts of
mini-depression or funk, and I just lay on the bed for a long time, with a
long stream of thought fragments flying through my mind: Am I having
fun?; Maybe I should head home, and move to the Alaskan bush (talking with
Mike ahd got me thinking on that subject again, something I've long wanted
to do); No, I'll complete my South America trip and then move to the
Alaskan bush; Do I want to do engineering the rest of my life?; Do I want
kids?; In Alaska?; Would Noemi move to Alaska?; Welden, an old
girlfriend probably would have; But I wasn't in love with her; These
thoughts and more were flying through my mind, and it was over an hour
before I could motivate myself to get up, take a shower, and go out for
dinner. Noemi has learned when I get in such a funk, to let me alone and
let me work through it.
I'm not sure what causes them, or this one in particular. I think it's a
lot of little things acting in combination. Indecision as to where to
travel on a given day, bike problems, unmet expectations, fleeting
loneliness, things which remind me of the uncertain future regarding Noemi
and I, computer problems, rapidly wearing brakepads, and a host of other
Monday October 21 57461
In the morning after breakfast, I walked to several other cheap hotels and
found one, La Casa de Don Ismael, for a third the price (30Q), and an
interior courtyard for the bike. My room was larger, with more light than
the oyher room for 3 times the price. It was clear that this family was
nowhere near as well-off as the family who ran the Comfort Hotel, who had
a Volvo parked in their grass and tree-filled courtyard, and dressed in
very upscale, American-type clothing. By contrast, the young couple who
ran La Casa de Don Ismael appeared yo be Ladino, had a small baby girl
less than a year old, and had no apparent car. The courtyard was small,
concrete, decorated with a few plants, with a small souch and chair facing
a small black and white TV near the entrance. The lady was very friendly,
and I paid for my room, telling her I would return later that afternoon
with the bike.
I took a long, round-about route back to the other hotel, exploring a few
of the many streets of Antigua, making note of the laundarmats, a couple
of bookstores, the DHL office, and a couple of businesses advertising
Internet and WWW access. Boy the world is sure shrinking!
I wanted to wash the bike before I started the maintenance on it, since it
was very dirty with over 2 months of accumulated dirt. I stopped at the
INGUAT tourist information office to ask if there was a car-wash in
Antigua, and was told no. They probably don't get asked that a lot. I
returned to my hotel and asked the owner if he knew of a car-wash, and he
said yes, there was one on the way out of town, about 8 blocks after
crossing the bridge. It was called "Kilometro Cuarenta y Uno", and he
added, "It's reallu easy to find." Right away I knew I wouldn't find it.
This also illustrated another axiom of travel in Latin America: Ask the
same question enough times, and you are sure to get the answer you are
In my funked-out state last night, I had failed to cover the bike, for
only the second time since I had had my gloves pilfered in Mexico.
Someone had thoughtfully covered it for me, with an old shower curtain,
against the rain which didn't materialize. I packed the bike and set out
in search of the sure-to-be-nonexistant carwash. Just as I expected there
was nothing remotely resembling a car wash anywhere arounf where I had
been told it would be, certainly nothing named "Kilometro Cuarenta y Uno".
This illustrated two more axioms: The difficulty in finding a place is
inversely proportional to how easy you are told it will be to find. If
you are given the name of an establishment, you can be guaranteed that the
name is simply known to the locals, and there will in fact be no such sign
displayed out front.
I decided to continue back to the Pan-American Highway and look for a
carwash as I headed back towards Guatemala City. I stopped at the first
Shell station I came to, and asked one of the attendants if there was a
carwash nearby. We had some dialog about if I wanted an automatic or
manual one, and a large or small one (though the distinction here was lost
on me), and illustrated our conversions with pantomines of holding a spray
gun and making sounds like pressurized water. Who says I can't speak
Spanish? He said I could wash it right here, which surprised me since I
didn't see anything which resembled a car wash. He led me around tge side
to in front of a large lubrication bay. Then he got out a pressurized air
hose, two buckets of water, one with soap the other not, and a spray gun
similar to a paint sprayer. He filled the bottle of the spray gun with
soapy water, hooked up the air hose, and voila we had a carwash! I
unlatched the Jesse bags and swung them out away from the rear wheel, and
he began washing it down. I indicated that he didn't need to do it, that
I would do it, to which he replied, "Es mi trabajo," (It's my job). Duh,
Doug, get a clue. I asked him how much it would cost and he said 20Q, a
little more than 3 US dollars. Hell, I've pumped more quarters than that
into carwashes back home. So I just supervised, pointing out where not
to point the high pressure spray.
The big station boss came out to watch and chat while this was going on.
Then Andre, a tall, lanky Belgian walked up to look at the bike and talk.
He had seen the bike as he was walking by. During the next 45 minutes i
found out he was a Mechanical Engineer also, and for the past year was
running his own 1-man heat-treating business. He had recently bought a
beat '86 BMR R80 from the Guatemaln Police Department, and was in the
process of putting it back in running condition. He said maintenence was
not the strong suit of the Police Department. He had to run, but lived
nearby, and drew me a map, and invited me to come by at 5pm. I agreed and
we said bye.
When the washdown was completed, I rode north on the Pan-American Highway
for about 20 miles, to dry the bike and get any water that had got in the
carbs or other sensitive areas out, before turning around and riding back
to Antigua. I went to the Shell station, bought 2 liters of 20W50 oil,
and they let me use their service bay and drainpan to change my oil. Once
again a far cry from the the-hell-with-you attitude of most US service
I returned to my new hotel, but since it was already 3:30pm and I would be
leaving for Andre's in about an hour, I left the bike parked out front of
the hotel, and locked and covered it. The other benefit of this hotel was
that it was located on a dead-end side street with very little traffic.
Then I went and bought a hamburguesa since I hadn't eaten since breakfast
and didn't know whether I'd be eating at Andre's.
I got to Andre's about 5:30. He was out in his workshop by the gate, and
his 2 dogs greeted me with barks, but once they saw that Andre knew me
thay were very friendly. Later that night Andre said the dogs were needed
to keep prowlers off the property. He introduced me to his wife Beatrice,
and one year old son Boris, who were just heading back into the house.
Andre and Beatrice have lived in Central America for the last 6 years, the
first 2 in Nicaragua, and since then in Guatemala. He first came here as
a volunteer with a Belgian program similar to the Peace Corps. The big
difference is that whereas the vast majority of Peace Corps volunteers are
fresh out of college with little practical work experience, the Belgian
program uses only professionals who have practical work experience. I
think that makes a lot more sense.
Andre's shop had a milling machine and a lathe, and a several ovens and
baths for heat-treating metals. While he was a mechanical engineer, he
had no prior experience with heat treating, but recognized a need for such
a business in Guatemala (previously, most work such as this was sent to
Mexico or Panama), and had the necessary scientific and engineering
background to learn and apply the required techniques. He said most other
heat treatment in Guatemala was done in a very, add-hoc manner, resulitng
in poor quality work. Colgate and Proctor and Gamble were large clients
of his. While he had the machine tools, Andre's main interest was in
expanding the heat-treatment side of his operation. I was as impressed
with his starting a company such as this, as he was with all the work I
had done on my G/S. He offered me the use of his shop if I needed to do
anything on the bike. Fortunately, at the moment, I don't need to take
him up on his offer. Knock on wood.
On the way into the house, he showed me his BMW project bike. And what a
project it will be. Maintenance was not in the Guatemalan Police
Dsepartment's vocabulary. Nothing was holding the seat or tank on, and
the rest was in a similar state of disrepair. The motor, Andre said, was
in good condition.
Their house was a 1 floor flat, with nice hardwood floors and nice
furnishings and appliances. Not much different than a middle-class home
in the United States. Really not surprising given they were European, but
I had not been in many such houses since I crossed the Mexican border.
Andre showed me several photos of 2 Ural notorcycles he had bought while
living in Nicaragua, one with a sidecar. He had since shipped them back
to Belgium. Beatrice was French, from near Nice.
While Beatrice fed Boris, we snacked on chips and creckers and drank
apricot brandy whixh Andre had made. Later, after putting Boris to bed,
we had dinner, pork chops, sugar peas, and fried potatoes, and red wine.
For desert we had coffee and a pastry. A very nice meal. Beatrice
apologized for it, saying Andre told her too late to fix "something nice".
I told her to stop apologizing, that the dinner had been delicious.
After dinner, Andre asked if I could take a look at a piece of software he
had installed on his PC and was having trouble registering. I forget the
name of the package, but it was a bookkeeping/accounting package he wanted
to use for his business. He had bought it in Guatemala, but his English
was not good enough to answer all the questions asked when he called the
registration phone # in the US, and then they sent him a fax saying
something like that software package could not bw sold outside the US
because it contained encryption software. Good old Uncle Sam. Well he
had already bought it. So I called the number, and when they asked for an
address, gave my address and phone # in Sunnyvale, CA. That satisfied
everyone, and Andre got his customer # needed to use the software. Andre
said I could use his phone to get/send my email once I got recovered from
the fiasco. He didn't have a modem or Internet connection.
By this time it was after 10?0pm, and they offered me a place to sleep
there if I wanted. I thanked them and said I might take them up on their
offer, after my visit to Todos Santos, north of here, or on my way back
north in 9-10 months. It was quite cold out and there had been fog at the
summit between here and Antigua when I came at 5pm, so I put my Aerostitch
pants on, and removed the neoprene covers on my PIAA lights. Andre again
reiterated his offer of the use of his shop if I needed it, and said to
stop by whenever I wanted, and certainly before I headed south. He said
hopefully by the time I was passing through on my way north, his BMW would
Back at Casa de Don Ismael, I rang the buzzer to be let in (the door to
the street was kept locked 24 hours a day), waking Vitalino, who said nNo
problemo, and opened the doors so I could push my bike inside.
Tuesday October 22
Had breakfast on the 2nd floor balcony of a restaurant, with a beautiful
view south to Volcan Agua. To the southwest of Antigua are two more
volcanoes, Fuego and Acotenango. Spent the rest of the morning exploring
more of Antiguas streets and parks, and reading, before returning to the
hotel to begin working on the bike at noon.
I adjusted the valves. The heads didn't need retorquing, but the exhaust
valves were a bit on the tight side, though not excessively. Vitalino
watched me do much of the work and his wife would also come out to watch
at times. I would explain what I was doing and they would ask questions
which I would try to answer. Every so often someone else, frequently
riding a small cycle, would stop and watch and ask questions.
The next job was to install the new brake pads, which I had stored under
the starter cover, requiring me to remove the tank to get at them. People
laughed when they saw the bike without the tank. A lesson learned: it's
not a good idea to use duct tape on things subjected to heat. I had left
the new brake pads in their original shrinkwrap packaging, but then
wrapped duct tape around them to cushion the pads from vibration against
the engine. Well the duct tape was bubbled, and a gooey, sticky mess. The
plastic shrink-wrap had seemingly melted with the duct tape and the whole
mess was stuck to all sides of the brake pads. And the Harrison calipers
have 6 small individual pads. I spent the next hour cleaning the goo off
them with gasoline.
This drew much interest from those watching, and I showed them the old
pads with virtually no material left, and the new ones. Once the new ones
were installed, I showed them how the front brakes worked, and several
would spin the front wheel and then apply the brake.
A quick ride around town to verify everything was working as it should,
and I returned and parked the bike back in the courtyard, and took a
Then I gathered up all my dirty clothes and took them to the laundry. I
also took the pads out of my Aerostich and took it to be washed. Not so
much to remove the outside dirt and dried mud, of which there was plenty,
but to remove the stench of sweat which permeated the liner. Just putting
it on was enough to make my clean clothes smell. Now that I had left the
hot, sticky, humid lowlands of the Yucatan, Belize, and the Peten, I'd
have cooler weather for a while.
Wednesday October 23
The main goal for the day was to try to recover from my computer disaster.
A business, Connexion, just off the plaza, provides email, telnet, FTP,
and WWW services. Telnet, FTP, and WWW services cost 2Q (US$0.33) per
I hoped to recover a backup of the contents of the _DAT directory of my C
drive which has been wiped out, reverting to the default configuration
contained in ROM. This directory contains all the files used by the built
in applications, e.g., the phonebook, Quicken, and Appointment Manager, so
all my addresses, financial account transactions, and dates I had entered
had been lost. I new I had saved a backup copy of this directory just
before I started the trip, so I hoped to be able to restore most of my
phonebook entries. All the financial transactions I had entered during
the trip would be unrecoverable however.
The other part I needed to recover was the Stacker files needed to access
the compressed flash memory drive on my PC card. The problem was I didn't
remember exactly what files were required, or once I had them, how to
reference them in the autoexec.bat and config.sys files, since those 2
files had also been lost. Hopefully I had saved a backup copy of the
Stacker files and the autoexec.bat and config.sys files on my UNIX shell
account back in California. Then it would be a simple matter to FTP the
backups to the PC at Connexion, and then transfer them to my palmtop.
Telnetting to my bayarea.net account revealed that I only had a backup of
the _DAT directory as of Auguast 18, 4 days after starting my trip, but no
backups of the Stacker files, or the autoexec.bat or config.sys files.
Recovery was going to be a bit more difficult than I had hoped. I FTP'd
the backup file over to Connexion. It was in PKZIP format, and I had lost
that application as well, but Connexion had a copy on their PC I could
copy. I wanted to PKUNZIP them on the palmtop, but was surprised to find
that Connexion had no data communication software on their machines which
I could use to transfer the files via serial line to my palmtop. My
palmtop has a builtin Datacomm program which supports Kermit, XMODEM, and
other protocols. So I copied PKUNZIP and the backup file to a 3.5" floppy
I brought with me, hoping I could accomplish the transfer using Andre's
I still had to figure out what Stacker files I needed, and then figure out
how to get copies of them. I knew that both EXP, the manufacturer of the
PC card, and Stacker, the company which makes the compression software,
had Web sites, and had some pages specifically addressing using Stacker
software on the EXP fax/modem/flash memory card. I found these pages and
printed them out. Now at least I knew what files I needed to get:
stacker.com, sswap.com, and config.exe. I also got thw support phone
numbers for EXP and Stacker off their web pages. I knew I had those files
on my PC at home, as well as on the original distribution diskettes at
home. So my options were to either have Paul Thompson get ahold of the
files at my house and FTP them to my bayarea.net account, or have Stacker
FTP me the files. Once the needed files were on my bayarea.net account I
could FTP them to Connexion and then transfer them to my palmtop. That
was assuming I could accomplish the transfer at Andre's.
I decided to try calling Stacker Support first. That was a mistake,
thanks to the impersonal automated phone answering system. First off I
didn't know what version of software I had, then, for the version I
thought I had, they no longer offered free phone support. I hoped I could
eventually make my way through the system to speak with a real human, whom
I could plead my case to. I never did. The closest I got was getting to
the message, "All representatives are helping other customers right now.
Please stay on the line and the next available representative will be
right with you." I held a couple of minutes, while visions of an
escalating international phone bill went through my mind. I hung up,
resolving to see if Paul could help out.
I returned to Connexion, and composed a email message explaining the
situation, what files I needed, where they were most likely located, and
where to FTP them to, and sent it off to Paul and Noemi. Then I called it
quits for the day. My Internet bill for the day was 168Q (US$28). That
night I called Noemi. It had been just over 2 weeks since we had talked,
and at that time I had still been in Belize. I filled her in on the
happenings of the past 2 weeks and the latest computer fiasco, and told
her to check her email, for the message I had sent earlier in the day.
She said she had just got the bill for one of our earlier phone calls when
I was in Mexico, and it had come to over $80. She also informed me of her
misfortune with Bob Higdon's R80G/S she had been borrowing. At least she
wasn't hurt, but it sounded as if the bike sort of self-destructed on
impact. The recent phone bill provided the impetus to keep the call short
Thursday October 24
Rode up to an overlook north of town for a great view of Antigua and
Volcan Agua looming to the south. From there I rode back through the
cobblestone streets of Antigua, and south to the town of Santa Maria de
Jesus, on the slopes of Volcon Agua. There is a road which branches off
the main road and ascends partway up the side of the Volcano, but it
started pouring while I was in town, so I passed on trying the rough muddy
road, and after lunch with a British mother/daughter I met in town, rode
back to Antigua, via Ciudad Vieja.
That evening, just before Conex closed, I checked my fTP site, and Paul
had come through! The 3 required files were there. I downloaded them and
copied them to diskette. Now I just had to figure out a way to transfer
them to the palmtop.
I called Andre's place, and Beatrice answered. She said Andre wasn't
there but should be shortly, and that I should come on over. By the time
I got there Andre was home. Transferring the files was surprisingly easy,
running the terminal application on Andre's PC and the builtin DataComm
application on my palmtop. Both supported the Kermit protocal. However
the 3 Stacker files appeared to be corrupted somehow and would not run.
However the backup of the _DAT directory was successfully transferred and
unzipped, restoring the majority of my address/phone book entries.
Partial success! A step in the right direction!
The "work" was interrupted for a pizza they had ordered out for. I showed
them the pictures of my family and Noemi. To Noemi's picture, Beatrice
said, laughing, "And you don't want this beautiful woman to have your
children?" Two nights before we had somehow got on the subject of
relationships and kids, and Beatrice had said Andre hadn't wanted kids,
and she had to give him an ultimatum, kids or she would leave. They now
had Boris. They were not married, but had been together 6-7 years I
believe. I returned to Antigua about 10:30pm.
Unfortunately there were two large trucks parked in front of the entrance
to my hotel, and I could not get my bike in the door. So I parked it
between the trucks, locked it with both my Kryptonite locks, and put the
cover on. It was a very tight fit between the trucks, and with both locks
would take a very determined thief to make off with it.
Friday October 25
In the morning, the first thing I did was email Paul about the apparently
corrupted files. By the time I had breakfast and returned to the hotel,
the two trucks had left and I was able to move the bike back inside.
I planned to take an afternoon/evening tour to the active Volcan Pacaya.
In the end I didn't get to go because only 3 people had signed up and they
required more. Then my hassles really began. I payed my 90Q when I made
my reservation in the morning and got a receipt. At the appointed time of
1pm I showed up at the departurew point, got in the van and handed the
man my receipt when he requested it. That man did not get in the van. We
then drove around to a couple of other points in Antigua, evidently to try
to pick up other people. When they were unable to pick up any others,
they returned to our original point of departure and told us to get out,
that there were not enough people to go. Of course, now the guy who took
my receipt was nowhere to be found, so I had no money and no receipt. I
had paid my money at a store which was now closed for the extended lunch
hour. Fortunately one of the women who had been in the van stayed around
45 minutes until the store opened to explain the situation, but it was a
different gentleman than the one who had sold me the ticket, and even
though he found his copy of my receipt, he would not refund my money. The
lady then walked with me about 8 blocks to where the main organizer of
these tours worked, and explained the situation to him. He was very nice
and promptly refunded my money. I gave the lady 10Q for her troubles;
without her I would have been out 90Q.
In the evening when I checked my FTP site, Paul had come through again,
with the aid of Dave Jevens, and FTP'd a new set of files. They were a
lot bigger, so something was different.
After dinner, in the plaza, I ran into Tamara, one of the other two
persons on the afternoon's ill-fated volcano trip. We decided to find one
of the hot-spot bars in town. The one mentioned in the guide book was
dead, but the bartender there gave us directions to one "with a lot of
noise." When we arrived about 9:30 there was only a handfull of other
people there, but by the time we left at 12:30 it was packed with people
and we both had run into travelers we knew from previous locals. Someone
knew of another bar, run by a German married to a local Guatemalan woman,
and generally frequented only by locals, so we heades there. Since he
knew the German, we all got in without having to pay the 5Q cover charge.
We were the only gringos in the place. It had a dance floor and played a
combination of rock/pop tunes in both English and Spanish. We hung out
there till it closed at 2pm, after which I wandered back across town
through the dark, cobblestone streets to my hotel.
Saturday October 26
I slept in late, and left Antigua about noon, riding back to Andre's,
where I successfully transferred the files from diskette to my palmtop,
and installed them. I fully recovered access to the compressed flash
memory drive, including my journal and GPS data files, my email software,
and the software to interface with my GPS. The latter allowed me to
download the track from the GPS so I could once again save my track. I
hadn't been able to do so since Poptun.
They invited me to stay for a late lunch, and I didn't leave there for
Lake Atitlan until 3pm.
There was a lot of bus and truck traffic on the Pan American Highway, but
they were easily passed. Once again they were belching large quantities
if black, oily smoke. The highway twisted and turned, and rose and fell,
through the mountainous highlands. At Los Encuentros, I turned south off
the Pan Am Highway, towards Lake Atitlan, and Panajachel. The road
dropped gently through forests and cultivated farmland until the town of
Solola, at an elevation of 2113 meters, after which the road plummeted 540
meters in less than 5 miles through many switchbacks to Panajachel on the
north shore of Lake Atitlan. The lake surface is 5125 ft above sea level,
just shy of a mile up.
I arrived around about 5:30pm and found a room at Hospedaje Garcia for
31Q. It had a nice interior courtyard for parking the bike.