Belize and Guatemala
Jan 29 - Saturday: Mark and I had headed out of Omaha Friday after work. We picked Steve up in Belton, MO and then headed down US 71 to I-44 and into Oklahoma. It was snowing like crazy most of the way. A passing truck trashed me with enough slush and gravel that I will need a new windshield. By Oklahoma it is hard packed and very slippery. While Im trying to get some sleep in back Steve gets pulled over for no taillights on the trailer. We get them to work long enough to get out of sight, but the wiring is shot. We get into Harlingen around 6PM. Frank and Dale left Omaha, picked up Jeff in York and arrived in Harlingen ahead of us. They have already staked out a motel. We unload the bikes and get everything ready for the next day. Jim is only about an hour behind us.
Jan 30 - Sunday: Its pretty chilly for Southern Texas but better than what weve left behind. Some of us haul the trucks and trailers over to the Airport's long term parking lot. Its fairly secure and $4 a day. Jim notices that one of my trailer bearings has left us. Good thing we didnt have too much weight on the trailer because it looks like its been gone for quite awhile. We make a brief attempt to fix it but we cant get the inner race over the threads. We decide to get a gear puller and fix it when we get back. Oh well. The ride down to Brownsville is brisk and the Border crossing into Matamoras was fairly uneventful. Getting in is easy but we have to hunt around for the office where they do the temporary vehicle importation. A friendly border cop directs us down what looks like the wrong way down a one way street to the parking lot behind the customs building. This is only necessary if youre going beyond the "Tourist Zone" which is the area within 20 Kms. of the border and all of Baja. I think we wound up paying some kid for filling out our paper work for us, but they made it look so official that we never questioned it at the time. There are stations there for customs agents to inspect vehicles. I think we stood around waiting for each other long enough that we drew their attention so they came over and poked around at stuff for a while. The whole ordeal took about an hour and a half for seven of us. Now it was time to find money. We have had good luck in the past just getting money from Instant Cash machines (ATMs) and we quickly find one. Some of us got money and some had trouble. Never did figure out why. Being Sunday the banks were all closed, but we got enough money to move on. We were all anxious to get away from the border as quickly as possible so we jumped on the hi-way to Tampico.
We rode for a couple hours til we found our first Pemex. The gas stations in Mexico are all state run and are all Pemex (Petrolium Mexico). This particular one was in the middle of nowhere and had a kind of truckstop-like quality to it. By now we were getting pretty hungry and there was a nice, modern-looking restaurant next door. Kind of fancy for Mexico, but plenty of people were eating there. It was good, a little pricey for Mexico, but cheap to us. It was a nice break, but our schedule was a little aggressive and we had a long way to go if we were going to make Tampico. We were unable to gather much camping information for this part of Mexico. In Baja campgrounds werent too hard to find, or you could just camp on the beach for that matter. Here it was different. It was getting late and raining pretty hard as we got close to Tampico. We had little choice but to plunge on into town. A town this size is kind of scary when it comes to parking the bikes overnight. Jim spotted a very nice, modern Hotel with a protected courtyard. It was a little expensive, but we were able to get two rooms in a nice safe corner for the bikes. We walked next door to an almost European looking place called "Los Cedros". Well it wasnt European. There was a map of Lebanon on the wall and Cedro is Spanish for Cedar. We never did figure out what was Lebanese about it. The food was still Mexican. Very good and affordable. We agreed to come back for breakfast.
Somewhere South of Tampico we
spotted this picturesque old church.
Outwardly it seemed a relic of the past.
(click to enlarge)
Jan 31 Monday: Heres where Dale and Frank made their first big mistake. Steve, Jim, Mark, and I took one room with two of us on the floor. Dale and Frank took Jeff. I guess they thought the stories about his snoring were exaggerations. Afterward we had to agree to trade off so no one would have to have two sleepless nights in a row. (See why I like to camp?) We had a relaxing start with folks moseying over to Los Cedros as they felt like it. We did a little banking and headed on down the road.
Feb 1 - Tuesday: I got up early and started wandering around looking for coffee. There is a large highway separating us from the rest of the city. I have to walk a ways to get around the barricades so I can run across. We have a list of internet cafés and one is supposed to be down this way. I walk about a mile and finally find it but they only keep afternoon hours. Still no coffee. I head back and into a residential area. Its very poverish and run down, but people are starting to move around and get to wherever theyre going. Finally I spot a small café where someone is at least getting ready to open. She lets me in and I order a coffee. Like most of Mexico I get instant and hot water. Oh well, its better than nothing. I wind my way back to the beach and now everyone is up. Now we can make our own coffee and instant cereal. As we get packed the attendants finally arrive and turn on the water. It wasnt broken, just turned off. So now we can take showers, cold of course. They also want money for camping. $5 a head, which is plenty for Mexico. Your always better off negotiating these things before you set up. Trying to get out of Veracruz we get split up. We look around and wait a while for Steve and Jeff, but cant find them. I double back to the campground and theyre not there, either. We finally decide they must have gotten out a different way and since we had discussed going 20 miles or so to the next Pemex well look for them there. Well, they were there. Apparently they had left a tennis shoe in the middle of road as a marker that they had gone that way. Somehow we missed that. Anyway, this must have been the nicest, newest Pemex in all of Mexico. Glass doors, new pop machines, new bathrooms all done in tile. It was much more like the convenience stores we have here in states. Very impressive. Of course it will be run down next time we go that way, maybe abandoned. Our highway passes just by the nice looking, semi-large town of San Andreas Tuxtla. We head right down town hoping to find an ATM. We do and we also find a great little sidewalk café for a late lunch. Crème de champaņones soup (mushrooms) was excellent, as were the camarones (shrimp) tacos. As we head on we finally have some fairly hot riding weather. It feels good to get rid of some of the layers of clothing we had been wearing.
Feb 2 - Wednesday: We broke camp and made coffee. Everyone had plenty of time to shower. It doesnt take long to shower in cold water. By now were getting used to it though. I butchered last nights $1.50 pineapple for breakfast. This is pineapple country and Im sure the locals are thrilled to get $1.50 for one. We have also been passing through banana orchards (or is that groves?) Earlier we were passing through vanilla country and sugar cane fields. Watch out for the cane trucks. If they have lights, theyre covered by the overhanging cane. Theyre big and dark, and they all hit the road for home just about the time the sun goes down.
We get a pretty good start and make it to Villahermosa by 10:00AM. Villahermosa is a large city and the road we came in on is busy. Its just starting to sprinkle and the road is "greasy". As I pull off on an exit ramp to merge with the access road a cabby flags me down yelling that "Mi Amigo" is down. Jefe and I look back to see a bike down on the ramp. We park and run back. Its Mark, but hes up hopping around. We get Mark and his bike out of the roadway. He is pretty shaken up and his knee is bleeding. We cut open his pant leg to find he has a hole the size of a ten peso piece in his knee. It looks deep. Frank hails a cab and they rush him off to a local clinic. We follow and its only about six blocks away. This is as nice as any clinic Ive seen in the states. We ferry the bikes over while they stitch Mark up. Then we notice there is an internet café right across the street. We all get caught up on e-mail and get some lunch. Mark is pretty messed up. He has made a friend, Carlos. Carlos is the radiologist and was educated at UC Berkely. He has been translating for Mark and the doctors and was a big help all the way around. They dont want Mark on a motorcycle for while, and they want to see him the next day. Carlos is also a motorcyclist and offers his services in any way. He will store the bike for us if needed and he drew me a great map to the Suzuki dealer where I can try to replace Marks mirror. Also, my bike has been making a little noise and I want to have it checked out.
Mark and I convince the guys to press on for Belize, but only by promising to follow in a rental car as soon as Mark is fit to travel. I go hotel shopping and find a nearby Hyatt, but its $160 a night and all booked up with a petroleum convention. I try the older part of town and there is an elegant old "Hotel Plaza Indepediencia" but it too is booked. A slightly less nice Hotel Choco will take us and its $40 a night. Its safe and clean and has locked storage for the bikes. I lock mine up and hail a cab to go get Mark. I stick him in the cab and ride his bike over to the hotel. He needs a nap so I head off to the bike shops. No one has a mirror, but the Suzuki shop can adjust my valves when theyre cold. I can leave it over night or they will store it and Mark's bike for the next six days if we opt to rent a car and head on to Belize. I hail a cab to ferry Mark's bike over for storage. Cabs are readily available and pretty inexpensive. This one was $1.20. Im starting to get to know my way around Villhermosa. Its not such a bad place to get stuck. That night we got the Filet Minon at the hotel for $5. It was delicious.
Feb 3 Thursday : I took Mark to the doctor after breakfast at the Choco. He is having some kidney or other internal problems and they want to do an ultrasound on him. I get a coffee at the pseudo-Chinese place across the street while waiting for the internet café to open. "Con Leche" got me a cup of thick, hot cream and a jar of instant coffee. Pretty wicked stuff. The IC is supposed to open at 10:00. They get there at 10:55... Ahhh Mexico! I get my telnet session and have 205 messages to delete. Mark hobbles in and does a quick e-mail. Then we walk to "Quickly" rental cars to see what Mark can fit his leg into. The smallest car at this branch is a Malibu for $80 a day. We get them to bring over a Sentra for $62. Karla brings it over for us and youd think it was her own car the way she went over it with us. Looks like it will work, so were off at 2:30 looking for bandages and a power cord for the GPS. We dont get out of Villahermosa til 4:00PM. The roads are now straight and fast with less traffic. We drive like hell til we got to Francisco Escarcega. This town is mostly a junction of two big Yucatan highways. The East West 186 were on and the Northbound 261 to Campeche and Cancun. There are plenty of hotels that cater to travelers and theres a large area of shops. Lots of people out walking around, too. The first motel we try is $22 a night, clean enough, and has a place to park the car. We waited forever for an OK meal of mixed fajitas at the motel restaurant while watching American movies with Spanish sub-titles. There may be lots of travelers here, but few tourists. I was surprised when they didnt know what a Margarita was. Man are we lost! I left the ceiling fan on a slow wop-wop-wop for that "Apocalypse Now" effect.
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