Route Map<br>(Click to enlarge)
Route Map
(Click to enlarge)
Belize and Guatemala 2000

Belize and Guatemala
Jan 29, 2000 to Feb 3, 2000 - Getting there, Matamotaras, Tampico, Veracruz and Villhermosa
By: George Bovard (george@dotGeorge.com)

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 I’m 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.

 Safe parking in the courtyard - Tampico
Safe parking in the courtyard - Tampico
(click to enlarge)

Jan 30 - Sunday: Its pretty chilly for Southern Texas but better than what we’ve 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 didn’t 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 can’t 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 you’re 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 weren’t 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 wasn’t 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 a picturesque old church. Outwardly it seemed a relic of the past<br>(click to enlarge)
Somewhere South of Tampico we
spotted this picturesque old church.
Outwardly it seemed a relic of the past.
(click to enlarge)

Jan 31 — Monday: Here’s 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.

Inside it was obviously
still in daily use.
(click to enlarge)
These first few days we were following hwy 180 which is closest to the coast. It’s fairly narrow and very heavily traveled. Busses and trucks were forced to go slow in many areas due to the poor road conditions or rolling hills. With the motorcycles we were able to pass easily and traffic always gave us room. We got to see lots of local color this way and it was very enjoyable, though not the fastest way to travel. At one point we just barely spotted the top of an old church steeple and we went to investigate. We found what appeared to be the remains of an old church, but as it turned out it was still in use. There were several candles lit, and a few people praying in one of the wings. A few boys gathered around to see the bikes and Jim bought them each a Soda. But they didn't drink them. They each took their bottle home and then came back. I guess they were saving them for later or maybe to share with the rest of the family? For lunch we stopped at a roadside café just as we were coming into Poza Rica. Some of the guys got roasted chicken fresh off the spit that looked really good.
 Curious kids were always drawn<br>to the Gringos on the Motocyclettas<br>(click to enlarge)
Curious kids were always drawn
to the Gringos on the Motocyclettas
(click to enlarge)
We pushed on to Veracruz where we had a lead on some cheap camping on the beach. We found it eventually, but it was really strange. It was a large RV park / city park right on the beach but it was nearly shut down. There was one end of the parking lot where maybe 20 campers were set up and a couple of tents. We found a grassy area at the end and set up camp. The water was shut off to the bathrooms, and there was no attendant to take our money. Across the road there was a large, fancy, open-air restaurant that specialized in seafood. It was great. Shrimp on a stick and a few Margaritas and I was ready for bed.

 Sidewalk Café in San Andreas Tuxtla
Sidewalk Café in San Andreas Tuxtla
(click for larger image)

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 they’re 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 wasn’t 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 can’t find them. I double back to the campground and they’re 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 we’ll 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.

Roberto was one hard working kid<br>(click to enlarge
Roberto was one hard working kid - Minatitlan
(click for larger image)
Mid afternoon we stop in Minatitlan for a Cervesa. Another nice town. These towns are not touristy at all, but the people are nice and suffer our lack of language well. A young kid named Roberto wants 5 pesos to shine my boots. That's only 50 cents, but this kid just works and works and works. I figure I owe him at least a couple of bucks. Jim gets his boots shined too. I never did find out why he wasn’t in school. His friends looked like they were in a school uniform. Kids are always interested in the bikes. So are the military cops. More curiosity than anything else, we’d often get stopped and questioned as to "How fast will they go?" or "How much does it cost?" We ride on for a few more hours and hit a Pemex for gas. There are a few tiendas (stores) adjacent so we do a little shopping while sipping a coke. We notice a "Veracruz style" restaurant, but its too early to eat.
 Deserted campground outside Villhermosa
Deserted campground outside Villhermosa
(click for larger image)
We press on but only a few miles down the road we see a "Camping" sign. It's even in English. This is too good to pass up because campgrounds have been quite scarce. A nice kid about 14 says we can camp there, but he can’t negotiate price. We have to wait for his father to come home so we head back to the Veracruz style restaurant for a large seafood feast and a fight with the telephone. Nice restaurant, complete with parrots walking around loose. Jefe (Jeff) had some trouble ordering. I think he got one of everything including some kind of fish with the head still on it, crème de champaņones soup , and $10 worth of garlic Shrimps, also with their heads still on. I bought a fresh pineapple for breakfast and we headed back to camp.
Lookout tower at campground
(click for larger image)
Frank has negotiated a rate of 20 pesos each ($2) and the kid takes us back into what was once a very nice, big RV park. But now its all but abandoned. There are lakes, a pool, a playground, large communal pavilions with dance floors in them, decent bathrooms, and long pull-through RV spots separated by rows of trees. There is a concrete lookout tower about 40 feet high and there are even some cabins, but we used our tents figuring the mosquito netting might be better. Everything is built "palapa style" with grass roofs. We wondered when the last campers had come through and what has caused the change in the tourism in this area. Frank thinks its the "danger" of the nearby Chiapas region and the civil unrest there. We have seen a lot of police in the area, sometimes by the pickup truck load. Every bank or civil building has an armed cop on the steps. And they had no interest in us whatsoever. Obviously we had the place to ourselves. Well, us and the mosquitoes. The most mosquitoes I’ve ever seen. And this is technically a malaria area. Most of us were taking chloraquine as a precaution, but they’re still annoying.

 Jim Holley and his BMW
Jim Holley and his BMW
(click for larger image)

Feb 2 - Wednesday: We broke camp and made coffee. Everyone had plenty of time to shower. It doesn’t take long to shower in cold water. By now we’re getting used to it though. I butchered last nights $1.50 pineapple for breakfast. This is pineapple country and I’m 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, they’re covered by the overhanging cane. They‘re 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 he’s 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 I’ve 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 don’t 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 they’re 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. I’m 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 you’d think it was her own car the way she went over it with us. Looks like it will work, so we’re off at 2:30 looking for bandages and a power cord for the GPS. We don’t 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 we’re on and the Northbound 261 to Campeche and Cancun. There are plenty of hotels that cater to travelers and there’s 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 didn’t 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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