Thursday, December 11, 2008

El Salvador - Swimming

San Salvador, El Salvador

The end of week one, I stepped out from my hotel in San Salvador to have dinner at the Mexican restaurant down the street. Miguel started talking to me when he heard that I was having trouble placing my dinner order. In no time at all I joined the table with his wife and son. Miguel had lived in Canada several years back and spoke English very well. He told me about life there and about his business in San Salvador. Conversation drifted here and there, and then he ask me what I was doing the next day. The family was going two hours west of the city to swimming pools on their last day before the coming holidays would make taking a day off impossible. Always have things to do, but decided to take a day off and take a day trip with them. Sunday morning they picked me up, then loaded up the car with three more kids. A family outing was unfolding.

Miguel took a wrong turn at one point and we detoured up a mountain. The lake in the pictures is actually the top of a volcano. There are lake houses, boats, the works. It's hard to image that this calm setting was once the site of nature's furry.

Soon we arrived at the "Eco Park", a series of river fed swimming pools. One of the pools had warm water from a volcanic source. The pools offered every kind of of swimming pool a kid would want. Wading pools, slides, a pool large enough for water volley ball or swimming contest. The hands down favorite was the jungle gym that sprayed water in all directions. On top was a large barrel that was constantly filling with water. When enough water was accumulated, it was tip over and drench any and everyone below.

You don't have to know Spanish well to play with kids. In the warm pool I showed kids how to squirt water by clasping two hands together. Years ago a friend taught me how to send strong column of water across the surface by cupping you hand just so and pumping arm hard into the water. The kids picked up the technique quickly and were giving each other face fulls of water in no time.
After riding for a few days and working for several days from my hotel room, swimming and hanging out with a family was a treat. The setting could be anywhere, but it had a distinctly Latin feel. We dozed on hammocks by the cabana that was rented for the day. Strolling musician offered to play their guitar for us while we lounged..the kids played catch. Two servers delivered lunch, roasted hen and broth soup with vegetables and egg yolks. Salad and the ever present tostadas rounded out the meal. I bought a couple of water melons on the road for dessert.

At the end of the day the water is diverted from the swimming pools back to a hydro electric generating station. The pools slowly drain until they are empty. This is a sure way to make sure everyone leaves when closing time comes.

We packed up the car and headed back to San Salvador. As we left the swimming pools and drove down the road the we passed a field that we could not see, only smell, the air filled with the smell of celentro. Amazing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Flowers of Pine Ridge District, Belize

Flowers seen in Belize and Guatemala, on tours and around our hotel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Belize and Guatemala Hotels - Shell-a-phone

Ingrid found a group of hotels, two in Belize and the third in Guatemala, all with the same owner and a great reputation. There are no phones in the rooms, only an intercom system to contact the front desk. The intercom is called a "Shell-a-phone." We got endless amusement re-purposing the teenager expression, "talk to the hand" as modified for the situation, we would say, "talk to the shell."

...maybe you had to be there to find it as funny as we did...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dangriga, Belize - Chaleanor Hotel

I arrived in Dangriga, Belize on the worst possible day of the year to try to find a room for the night. Garifuna Settlement Day celebrates when 6 boats left the island of St. Vincent and landed on the shores of Belize at Dangriga as the sun rose on November 19th. The party starts on the evening of November 18th and continues all night, until down when a reenactment of the boats arrival. Drum bands play all night and dancing breaks out on each street corner. The next day everyone is exhusted and heading to their hotel room to repair. I missed the party as I was in the capital on November 18th, but did get to watch the parade on the 19th.

After a late lunch of spiced chicken, Belkin beer and a traditional pantain based composite (it hard to describe the condensed mash...) I began a search for a place to spend the night. After passing on a dorm room at a back packer hostel I found myself in front of the Chalenor Hotel. A man appears on the second story balcony:
Chad: "You are looking for a room?"
Me: "Yes!"
Chad: "Sorry, we are all full up."
Me: "I have an idea. You have a flat roof and I have a tent."
Chad: "OK, you can stay on the roof. $8.00"

$8.00 Belize dollars is $4.00 USD. I would share the rooftop with two young Canadian guys that were sleeping in hammocks. Chad doesn't usually allow clients to stay on the roof, but during Garifuna Settlement Day the hotels are full, so he relaxes his rules.

With the assistance of Chad's grandsons I moved my bags up to the roof. Chad plans to make the roof a bar/lounge. For the next two day I would call it home, along with my roof mates.

Dangriga is a hard place to sleep until you get used to it. You think roosters start crowing at sunrise, when in fact they start in the middle of the night.
Over the next two days I discovered that Chad is one of the world's nicest guys. He and his wife own the hotel, which he claims he simply manages. Do expect to camp out at the Chalenor Hotel, Chad let me stay on the roof for a second night, because I was already set-up. The hotel offers free Wi-fi internet access, which I used it for much of the second day that I was in Dangriga, camping out in the lobby and catching up with email.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dead of the Dead Alter

November 1-8, 2008 - My personal alter

The Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico is a time to visit with the departed. Food and favorite items are arranged with flowers and candles for those that have passed on to enjoy. Water is placed on the alter to quench the thirst of the dead that have travel far to be with the living.It is a very different way of communing with the dead.

In memory of Tom Ackerman, a jump drive with software provided for his amusement. An egg was laid out for my mother-in-law, Ilse. The race car is for my father, who loved stock car and Indy racing. The nuts are from the Mexican version of Halloween. Young people sign and dance in return for simple treats like these nuts. My niece and I sang "Yankee Doodle" with strips of paper napkins hanging from my eye lids and from her upper lip to earn our treat.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Into the Yukan

Oaxaca, Mexico

I head out of Oxaca on Thursday afternoon, immediately after my 9th Spanish class, pretty much on schedule. I find my way out of town and onto the highway. The route to Belize can be done in different ways, such as through challanging mountian roads, but I'm interested to get there quickly and in one piece, to met with people in the Belize Ministry of Health and then join Ingrid down the coast a few days later. The plan, take the toll roads, the longer in miles, but shorter in time and easier on the motorcycle. To see the route in detail click here and you will be transported to Microsoft's mapping service, Maps Live. The mapping service has gotten better since I hit the road. Now multiple waypoints can be combined to create a more complicated route. Once the route is calculated, the waypoints can be downloaded to a GPS. Cool beans.

Cordoba, Mexico

After a ride though the mountain ranges and over the divide, into moist and lush eastern Mexico, I spend one night in Cordoba, Mexico. Dinner was found at resteruant just off the park in the center of town. A dance competition was under way in the park. Not much to say, found a hotel, slept, got upthe next day and hit the road. Breakfast at a road side, tacos and coffee, the breakfast of champions. Now it just miles, as many as I can cover in one sunny day. As I cross the state of Tabasco the weather is great, I got an early start, and everything is dandy. Music in my ears, no worries, then in the middle of no where, doing ~60 miles per hour in the left lane, out from the elephant grass filled medium strolls a dog. He causally walk out right in front of me. I hit the brakes, not an emergency stop, but enough speed was lost and the dog's attention was gained...a close call. For me and the dog.

The balance of the day rolled on, citys passed by, swamps and lakes appear and recide. Afternoon turned in evening and now I'm into the Yukan and no immediate place to stay. I push on into the evening to reach Escárcega. The land is low lying and the bugs come out in mass at night. I had to stop more than once to clean off my face shield.

Escárcega, Mexico

I hit town and found a cyber cafe. Checked in with Ingrid via Skype, grabbed email and head out to find lodging for my and the motorcycle. I simple enough hotel was secured and bite to eat is next. I like to go to places that are patronized with locals and busy. My second round of tacos, dinning with couples, families and a cowboy. This rocks. To end a perfect day I am looking for a beer, but first some background.

My motorcycle license plate spells "AMEGA", the gender specific Spanish for friend. Motorcycles are feminine. Quick history, the last person, Ed Cumberson, to cross the Darien Gap (the rain forest between Panama and Columbia) rode a BMW with the license plate, AMEGO. He wrote in the book that documented his achievement, and notes that the gender was incorrect, motorcycles are feminine. I thought of naming the bike MLC (for mid-life crises) and when the topic comes up in conversation I quick agree. The motorcyle is cheaper than a red convertible and less taxing on my marriage than a mistress...but I digress. AMEGA becomes her official name, license plate and everything. Across the street from the taco joint I find a bar called, "El Amego Peter Bar." That is too funny in my book, so I go in and have a quick cold one.

Its an amusing bar, filled with locals having a screaming good time. Popcorn is tossed and banter flows. On my way out of the bar I stop and talk briefly to the owner. No surprise, his name is Peter. I show him my motorcycle registration and he gets it, smiles all around.

The next day I stop back at the bar to take a picture of the sign. The owner is there openning up. This time I show him the license plate and in a moment he invites me into the bar, then disappears into the back. He emerges with blue cotten polo shirt, repleat with the bar name and logo. Two beers on me to celibrate the joys of being Peter. I took a picture of his ink as well, which matches the logo on the shirt. The "CA" stands for Central America, which is imposed over a soccer ball, or football as they call it here.

Another sunny day and I'm headed east towards northern Belize. My route will take me north of Guatemala, so I don't have to cross into and then out of a border. Each crossing takes time and sometimes there are fee. Hassles are always the case when crossing a frontier, best to avoided when possible.

Less than an hour out of Escárcega I am not feeling well. The traveler’s blues that has been bugged me, on and off, ever since I arrived in Oaxaca. Currently my digestive track is going through a slow twisting motion. There is no getting around or postponing this call or nature. Finding a turn off into the woods I pull over and answer the call. Evidence strongly suggests that this particular spot has proven convenient to others. For the balance of the afternoon I slowed down the pace. While I was feeling better, I was somewhat drained. I mention this because the subtle slow down would have a larger impact later that same day.

Now running low on gas I am looking forward to reaching Xupjil, Campeche, Mexico, the next point on the map. I ride around this sizable town and can’t find a gas station to save my life. How can a town this large not have a ready supply of petroleum? I determine to get food, chill out and get direction. The waitress at the restaurant had no patience for the likes of me and my struggling language skills. I comprised and order chicken tostadas, when I was really want chicken soup. I was close in my description, but she must have seen one too many tour buses roll in that week and wasn’t in the mood to work for yet another tourist that was mangling her native language. I got through it all, got directions to a gas station in the bicycle/hardware shop next door and hit the road. It turns out the PEMEX is 5 kilometers away, in the middle of nowhere. From the center of town it’s 10 kilometers, there and back. It seems to me that the remote location adds to the overall sales of gas, because each purchase requires a 10 kilometer trip to fill up.

At times I’m traveling by braille. A quick glance at the map and I assumed that Chetumal, Mexico is the most northern town in Belize. Turns out it is the southernmost Mexican town on the Belize border. I arrived on the outskirts around 5:00 PM, got my bearings, made a U-turn and headed south to toward Belize. Riding a motorcycle it is acceptable to cut to the head of the line, it’s just that way in Latin America and I am all for it. I find the typical chaos of a border town, like going to Las Vegas, except the streets are narrow, there are few signs and people milling about everywhere. Finding the booth to surrender my Mexican tourist card (it’s more like a form than a card) was no problem. I asked where to have my motorcycle import permit canceled and got vague instructions. I proceed and before I knew it I was in Belize. Alright I’m here, so I got my tourist visa, and the temporary import permit for the motorcycle. In Belize, an official goes out to the bike and checks the VIN number. If you time it just right, like I did, at 6:00 PM they take the Belize flag down and everyone with a uniform stops dead in their tracks and faces the flag pole. Nothing moves until the flag was down, folded and being carried away. The border officials take patriotism very seriously. I’m digging it.

International borders are unique. You legal status only makes sense to those that know the rules, and then there is some wiggle room. I failed to get my Mexican temporary motorcycle import permit canceled, so I turned back from Belize and return to Mexico. It will be a huge hassle down the road, mostly when passing through Mexico on the return leg if I don’t have my Mexican permit canceled. So I go back over the bridge and find out that the office to cancel a permit is the same office when you request a permit when arriving from Belize. The permit window is on the northbound side, which is an arrangement efficient for the Mexican officials, but the lack of signage is confusing to the uninitiated. Before finding the permit window I am advised that the office is closed, and it might not be open on Sunday. It gets even better, Monday is holiday in Mexico; I might have to wait until Tuesday to cancel my motorcycle permit and cross the frontier into Belize. It’s like hitting the trifecta at the race track, only in reverse. No getting around it, I will spend another night in Mexico.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Belize City

Belize City, Belize

I returned to the Mexico/Belize border on Sunday late morning. Having turned in my tourist card the night before, I no won't have the form to surrender, again. There was some discussion and finally the official that collects the tourist cards allows me to pass. I had gone into Belize the night before and cleared Belize customs and acquired a (free) motorcycle permit. Now all I have to do is wait for a couple from Belize to get their Mexican vehicle permits, which took about an hour...canceling my motorcycle permit took 2 minutes. I cross the border and buy insurance for the motorcycle. Before I leave Belize my paper work is check no less than three times in various parts of the country. Insurance is very serious stuff in Belize. Not have coverage can bring a fine of $1000 and jail time.

About an hour later I am navigating the streets of Belize. Naturally I find the worst section of town. I try to find the good part of town, but it is never clear to me. I think I was close, near the north part, but in the end Belize City is not the best example of the country. I stop at a seaside park, buy a "Shrimp Box" lunch of rice and shrimp, and start reading Lonely Planet for tips and to locate a hotel. There is a heavy Caribbean influence, with lots of Rastafarian wannabes. The scene on the street is fairly aggressive and tiring. I was eager to move on.

Driving around I never find the first hotel and finally settle on the Sea Guest House. Run by boys from Bangladesh, is a bit thread worn and over priced. In the photo it's hard to see, but the dog on the road is checking out a dead rat. Nice.

Later that night I go out to find a dinner. It's Sunday night and almost everything is closed. I cross the Swing Bridge and follow the sound of music to Mike's Place, a reggie karaoke and pool bar. I settle in at the bar, order a Belkin (the national beer) and enjoy "pumpkin pie" which is closer to a bread than what we know of as pie. They are playing snooker, the game with three balls, not the lind of pool more common in the US, with pockets and 8 balls. These guys are really good, so I skip the chance to embarrass myself.
“People here have one job, not three. They don’t have much money. They are all happy.”
(from a conversation at Mike's Place)
Next next morning I return to the Swing Bridge, to take a picture of Mike's Place and find breakfast. Sitting on the back deck over looking the Swing Bridge I notice a film crew capturing footage of the bridge. They are students from Montreal, Canada working on a documentary about Belize. We will cross paths no less than three times in Belize. At the restaurant where I'm getting breakfast, a waitress gave me advice, I should move my camera from the back to my front, because some locals are “spicy” and might take the camera. I was saddened to receive the caution, but loved the language. The locals are a bit tough here and the south city is poor. All told, I had no problems in Belize City.

I expected Belize City to be the capital of Belize, but find the government has mostly moved to Belmopan, an hour west. Time to pack up and go soon as I can clear the driveway which is now blocked by a car. Spent over 30 minutes looking for the owner and finally scrapped my luggage and two bumpers as I left. Oh well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Base Camp Oaxaca"

November 12
“Base Camp Oaxaca”

It's 5000 feet above sea level and like the better know base camp at the foot of Mount Everst, I am readying myself for the next leg of the trip south. There are at least three large cathedrals in Oaxaca, several museums and art galleries are town. My focus was on work for this leg, so sadly I didn't take in much in the way of culture, except language. I staged myself in Oaxaca for 2 weeks, primarily taking Spanish classes and setting up logistics for the next phase, to Belize.

Ingrid and I are meeting in Belize for a 10 day vacation; her work schedule influenced my itinerary and allowed me to lay over in Oaxaca for an extra week.

My niece Kelly has been living in Oaxaca and working at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. It was the natural place for me to take classes. The price was great, my fellow classmate fun and the teacher, Betty, was the best.

I took 9 days of classes, but I learned lots of vocabulary and how to conjugate a few verbs. I am understanding more Spanish, but piecing everything together into a semi-complicated sentence is still a challenge. Fortunately, I know how to order beer and for the locatio of hte bathroom. I need more down time to study and to transcribe my notes.

[Kelly and Abraham]

My niece, Kelly is dating an great guy named Abraham. He is an actor here in Oaxaca and is involved in the management of a non-profit theater company. As an actor is is very successful; recently he was in three plays at the same time. On October 31st we travel to the hill on the edge of town and had dinner with Abrahams family. We had hot chocolate made as they do in Oaxaca with water, and big chucks of dry, crumbly bread that you dip into the hot chocolate. We feasted on homemade tamales, and chicken with their own black mole sauce. It was amazing. Apparently mole sauce is made over the course of several days. It a true labor of love, and the love maked the food taste out of this world.

I don’t know enough to describe recent Oaxaca civil history, but observed “revolutionary” posters and several gatherings of Communist groups in the town center. Che is really big here. You see t-shits everywhere with his image and book stalls are loaded with books about his life.

[Let there be Salsa!]
There are a fair number of "punk fashion folks" here. Then there are salsa bars and a few edgy water holes as well. Kelly's favorite bar is also mine. I call it “Bar 1, 2, 3” or “Triple Bar” because it’s three bars that have doorways from one establishment to the other. On one end is a rock club with live bands. At the other end is a hipster/Goth bar. In the middle is best described as a college coffee house environment that serves drinks and various milk shake concoctions. The middle bar, La Fandango, supplies board games and features a large map of Mexico that I studied several times to plan the next leg of the trip.

One Friday night we went out to Café Central for live music, drinking and dancing. I was knocked out by a group called the Dolomites. It is basically Israeli singer/performer, based in Japan, that picked up a goovin Mexican band and is touring the Americas. The sound was modeled after Tom Waits. It was a total unexpected event. We partied late into the night dancing and hanging out, finally wobbling home in the small hours of the night.

Thursday, early afternoon, I left Oaxaca immediately after Spanish class. Here are photos of the landscape that I was too pressed for time to capture on my way into town. The mesas remind me of the Grand Cayon, only on a smaller scale. The Zona Cactus. At first there was one cactus, then more and more, until they were everywhere. This puppies are as tall as telephone poles!

Who would think there are snow capped peaks in Mexico? I started wondering if anyone have tried skiing or snow boarding these slopes.

Soon after I passed this mountain I climbed and then crossed over a ridge. The environment was completely different on the other side. Now I am above the clouds, where before there weren't any. There is lush vegetation everywhere. I am entering a completely different part of Mexico.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Day of the Dead photos

Click to view more photos of Oaxaca's Day of the Dead and other photos.

Day of the Dead Photos

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey Mexico

10/27/2008 - Day 08

US / Mexico border

In Laredo I picked up liability insurance, cashed traveler’s checks, and exchanged dollars for pesos. I got great advice at a Texas tourist info center on where to find liability insurance in Laredo and how to avoid traffic on my return leg.

1:15 PM
"Hey Buff, it's Peter, I'm in Texas about to cross the border into Mexico!."
"Out of sight man."
"Yeah, I'm going to get through the paper work, tourist card, and temporary import permit for the motorcycle on the other side and put as much distance as possible between me and border, as quickly as possible."
"What are you --Butch Cassidy?"
I crossed the bridge and immediately am in a different world, one where I am the visitor, the tourist, the alien. The visual overload confusing and traffic was congested. It reminded me of Puerto Rico and a few streets in the South Bronx’s.

Crossing the border I was waved through the declaration check point. The first 50 miles sound of the border is a "free trade zone" there you don't need paperwork for you vehicle. If you go further south there are check points where officials check for the sticker. I found the office got my tourist card and temporary permit sticker for AMIGA. Windows 1, 3, and 4.

Now back out in the parking lot where I left the motorcycle parked near security guard and start organizing my paperwork. Where is the temporary import stick? Returned to Window 4, where the clerks are smiling and waving the permit sticker I had forgotten at the window…

The Garmin Mexico map isn’t very detailed for the section of Mexico that I am traveling, but get the job done, mostly. The bike icon is offset from the road. Need to call Garmin to see if it a matter of calibrating the device or is that simply the way it works.

As I got into the edge of town I pull over for gas, but learned that they were out. A few miles down the road I passed a gas station on the other side of the road. I didn’t turn back…there has to be another gas station soon. Anyway, I’ve got a half a tank of gas. Between Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey Mexico, there is a long and lonely stretch of dessert. The road goes over two small mountains. On the second mountain the engine started losing power; I'm running out of gas. I pulled over and poured gas from a small aluminum bottle. Everything is honky dory again. Unfortunately the bottle doesn’t hold much gas.

Its dusk, the sun is setting and as the lights of Monterrey came into view I ran out of gas. Now it’s dark, I’m out of gas on the side of the road and it’s my first day in Mexico. Cars are flying by and no one is even slowing down. After a few minutes Miguel comes to my rescue. I ask to siphon gas, but Miguel says there is a special trap that “protects” the tank from siphoning. I try anyway, until it is obvious that I will kill myself before getting any gas from his car.

I strip the bag off of the bike and we scream to the first PEMEX. Pump gas into several bottles and started to head back to the bike. Yikes! The bottles are leaking! Gas is collecting in the plastic bag and has spilled into my helmet. We stop, get rid of the bag, tighten the bottle, and race back to the bike. AMIGA is still there, safe and sound. Miguel won’t take my offer to buy him dinner or any kind of money. I give him a VistA Tour business card and thank him profusely, offering to buy him a drink if he ever gets to NYC.

Worked my way through Monterey and found a business hotel for the night. I decide to treat myself, pay a bit more by have a low stress place to sleep for the night. Across the highway there is the Mexican version of a 7-11 Store, called OXXO. I buy a loaf of bread, Virginia ham, cheese and a beer. Internet service not working at the hotel...

Sunrise Monterrey

10/28/200 - Day 09

Made it to San Luis Potosi before nightfall. The last hour rode through the clouds, cold to the bone. Drove around the town center and asked a policeman for direction to the hotel – in Spanish! Now happy as a clam in my wonderfully overheated hotel room.

The next morning I returned to the city center and take a few pictures of the church. The stone work is amazing. No time to lose, but I will certainly stop and top off the gas tank and add air to my tires. The bike is surviving the bumps better with more air in them.

The goal is to get to the other side of Mexico City, to Puebla by late afternoon. Foolishly I took the highway that passes Mexico City and hit rush hour. The roads are not marked well and what I think should be major roads are closer to city streets. I got mixed up a few times, run into serious congestion several times and road construction… I saw the airport and other side streets that weren’t on my itinerary. Simply making a u-turn took 10-20 minutes in some instances.

As I first got to the edge of Mexico City I needed to find a bathroom, but planned to get to the other side and stop at a gas station. Traveling alone it is difficult to walk away from the fully loaded motorcycle, so I try to pick a gas station on the edge of town, without lots of people hanging around... Little did I know that would be 2.5 hours before I would find that bathroom. I finally climbed a mountain southeast of town and stopped at a strip of shops. I waived to the staff of a restaurant and found the “sanitary room” to great relief.

An hour later I’m navigating the streets of Puebla, looking for what is now my favorite hotel chain, CityExpress. I passed my first “love hotel”, but that is not what I wanted! I decide to try the Holiday Inn, but all they have is a room in the “smoking zone”, no thanks. I head back the center of town and finally hire a taxi to take me to the CityExpress hotel.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Puebla to Oaxaca Mexico

Enjoyed breakfast and the Internet service at CityExpress, then packed up for a 3.5 hour ride to Oaxaca. Leaving Puebla I looked for a bank, low on peso and gas... Santaner is the Mexican partner for Bank of America, so that is the preferred institution, no transaction fee. The edge of town passes and no Santaner bank was to be found.

I can see a fairly large town ahead on the GPS and made a detour. Aztec Bank won't change Amex Traveler's check, so I change all the dollars in my wallet. Getting back on the highway I fail to notice the difference between Route 150 and Routa 150d. The "d" indicates the toll road. The other is the local roads which take significantly longer to get anywhere. My goal is to get miles behind me and the tolls aren't exorbitant, but first you need to get on the road.

About 20 kilometers later, after crawling through traffic backed up to deliver flowers to a huge market and as mountains approach, it become clear that I have missed the turn to the toll road. Studying the GPS I resolve to turn around…back into the traffic. That is how a 3.5 hour trip turns into 6.5 hour trip.

Four shotgun toting traffic cops approached me as I was taking the photo of trucks lining up to enter the market.

"Who are you taking these pictures for?"
"Just for myself"
"Where are you from?"
"New Jersey, I'm riding to Oaxaca."
"I lived in Norristown, PA..."

The conversation turns into small talk and I excused myself to get back on the road. Why traffic cops need shotguns is beyond me, but I am sure the drivers all listen to cops directions!

Another 10 kilometers and I'm back on toll road. Now flying along to Oaxaca. The warm late afternoon light is raking across the fields as I pass workers harvesting flowers for the Day of the Dead, loading them high pick-up trucks and donkey draw carts. A few miles ahead I will have a new experience in Latin highway behavior.

I am riding on a two lane highway that has what know as "breakdown lanes" or shoulders on either side. Going up a gentle incline I notice a car passing a truck ahead of me. The truck has partially pull over onto the should, but the passing car is taking up the middle of the road and the distance is closing between your's truly and himself. Not one to stand on formality and with more than a touch survival instinct, I navigate to right side of my lane. "Crazy Mexican drivers" is the first thing that comes into my mind. Short after I see the same event, but in the direction I'm traveling. I soon realize that this is how people drive here. A slow vehicle will pull over a bit to let faster cars pass, and pass they will, even with oncoming traffic. It sounds hairy, but it works. Everyone understands the technique. Passing cars usually put their blinker to indicate their intention to pass. Blinkers have a lot of meaning down here. You have to pretty much guess what the driver is trying to tell you, pray and pass.

Sorry, but I didn't take photos of a few interesting thing that I which I had stopped and captured. One was seeing several groups of high school girls waiting for rides on the toll road. I was not clear to me if they were hitch hiking or simply waiting for their ride. I have never seen clusters of young girls hanging out on a toll road. It was very strange to me. Later, riding through the mountains I saw cactus, as tall as telephone poles. At first there were a few, then soon they were everywhere. I was looking for the perfect vista and didn't find one before I ran out of the zona cactus. I will be passing thought the same area on my way to Belize and will take cactus photos next time.

The tank bag had come partially open when riding through the mountains and I think the only think I lost was turn by turn instructions to the apartment. Before leaving Puebla I copied a Oaxaca street map image Kelly, my niece, had emailed to me to the GPS. When I got to Oaxaca I was able to view the map, zoom in and more it around, on the GPS. After a while I figured out where I was and had an idea of where to go. I got pretty close, then stopped at an Internet cafe and called Kelly. Her wonderful landlady drove the few blocks to pick me up.

I'm now staying in an apartment of a large compound on homes, in a spacious room with private bathroom, just around the corner from Kelly. I quickly settle into my new living quarters. Her boyfriend, Abraham arrives and we go out for dinner.

The next morning Kelly takes me for a walk up a long staircase to a hill that overlooks Oaxaca. We get there just a sunrise, in time to see the night fog before it burned off. After coffee and breakfast breads we head to largest market in Oaxaca. Kelly calls it the crazy market and swears that she always gets lost within the maze of stalls.
We pass a church where people have laid out flower alters on the ledges for their loved ones that have passed on. We would see dozens and dozens of alters, prepared to welcome and honor the dead that come to visit during this time of year. Food, water, candies, photos, candles, and other items are provided for the dead to enjoy. Read more about the Day of the Dead on Wikipedia.

In the market we see specially prepared bread that is baked for the Day of the Dead celebrations that has small faces embedded. Indeed the market is a crazy place, disorienting for a tourist. Low hanging ropes and other obstacles keep my six foot, three inch body vigilant. I really stick out, towering over locals. I'm tall, but now I feel like a giant.

In the market Kelly is buying things for the alter to be prepared in her apartment. I bought a toy race car for my father, who loved auto racing. A guy passes by with a bundle of sugar cane. Later I understood that the sugar cane is used to build an arc for the alter. Flowers are placed in attached to the sugar cane. In another market I took a picture of sugar confections.

We repaired to the Zopola, the central square, for a bite to eat and beers. The local snack is salted peanuts with lime juice -- delicious!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maplewood, New Jersey to Laredo, Texas

10/20/2008 - Day 01

[New Jersey] >…TX


Turns were a problem for me, a problem that had to be addressed. Going to work in the morning I faced the same turn curve on the highway. Helmet and gloves on, a few local streets, then up to highway speed, with cars all around me and here comes that damn turn. It was pretty much the same scenario on the trip home. I just had to make it through that first big bend in the road, at speed, and then I would be OK for the rest of my way home. The basics: throttle down, look, lean, and gently roll the throttle – never hit the brake in a turn unless you have to stop. After many months I got some what comfortable with turning, but it was the leaning part that I started thinking about. There are two ways that you can lean. A reluctant lean, body tilted, but head straighten, almost pulled back from the lean. It’s a subtle difference the second kind of lean, with head tilted into the turn, embracing the curve. I was doing the first kind of lean, nervous, almost flinching, as I executed the turn.

There are two ways that we interact with computers, we can lean back (to be entertained) or lean in (and actively participate.) I was determined philosophically to take the lean in approach to taking turns on a motorcycle. I wanted this to be my philosophic approach to
riding and to life. Lean in, embrace each moment.Today I am leaving for the trip and looking out the window this morning I can see there is frost on the cars. Still packing this morning, now making notes about what I would take care of on the road before entering Mexico. I said goodbye to Ingrid and she left for work, the hardest moment of the day.

11:25 AM, as I closed the garage door my cell phone rings:

“It's Buff, have you left yet?”
“It’s you, me and the ignition switch.”
“Do you have your passport andcredit cards?”
“All set, I’ll call you from Texas.”

11:30 AM, now on the highway, but today I’m not taking the road to work. I had been consulting at “Mondo Real Estate Corporation” for two and a half years. Challenging work, good people and the pay was hansom, but I needed to take this trip. So I gave my managers five weeks notice (timed at the end of a big project), wrapped up my work and said goodbye. Now I’m actually on the road, doing what I have been dreaming about for over three years. It was one of those special moments, no longer planning or day dreaming, I’m really on the road.

NJ >[Pennsylvania] >… TX

The only time I used my E-Z Pass to pay a $.75 toll. I will send the tag back to NJ with the first box of extra stuff that I can live without.

NJ >[Maryland >West Virginia] > … TX

Moving along, I love these states because you cross them fairly quickly. It makes you feel like you are burning up the road. You hardly notice that you are in Maryland and the next thing you know it’s gone.

Down the road I watched as a 3 foot florescent tube worked its way out of an open side door on a utility truck. The tube bounced several times before shattering in to thousands of piece of glass at my feet.

NJ >… [Virginia] >… TX

Fog, Twisties, Gravel and Deer

Getting a late start didn’t help the situation. Now it’s gotten dark now and cold mountains air is creeping into my bones. I abandon the goal of reaching Tennessee on the first night starting looking for hotel. Via cell phone, Ingrid finds a “last minute deal” rate at a hotel that is listed as 15 miles from Roanoke. She books the room via the internet and I head back down the highway, only to realize that I should not have gotten back on the interstate. Getting off at the next exit the GPS calculates the distance and direction. Now it is clear that the hotel is a distance to the east, off of the highway.

I passed an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it was too late at night to wander down this legendary highway. I rode over a small mountain, hit light fog with fogged my visor, navigated through dozens of extra tight twisties with bands of gravel on the sides of the road (this is not fun in the dark) and then I saw deer… Finally arriving at the hotel, tired and ready for bed.

10/21/2008 - Day 02

NJ >… [Tennessee] …TX

By early afternoon I got arrived in northeast Tennessee,
Greenville, later than expected and find the hospital around 2:00 PM.
In part my detour the night before added extra road time and I’m still
streamlining the steps to pack the bike up in the morning. It’s not as easy as
grabbing your suitcase and throwing it in the back seat. Everything must fit
fairly tightly in the various cases and bags. As I continue to unload stuff that
I don’t need the space will become easier to manage. I’ll start organizing
thing by daily use and only unpack what I need.

Dr. Kevin Toppenberg met me in the hospital parking lot, described where to find his practice and dashed back to attend to patients. All of Kevin’s staff are great people. Missy, his nurse, had brought in homemade biscuits and apple butter. The snack was an unexpected treat. Eddie, the software programmer adjusted the virtual software appliance I will be demonstrating in Latin America. In all it took a few hours and then I hit the road. Kevin offered dinner and a place to stay, but the schedule keeps me moving forward. Hopefully I can stop on the return trip and have relaxed visit.

NJ > … [North Carolina] > …TX

Just a short stretch of road and I was in North Carolina. On the interstate, near Asheville, I had one of those moments. A piece of silver venation tubing, about 4-5 feet long, appear from under the car ahead of me. It takes the brain a few milliseconds to recognize an obstacle and present choices. I am used to avoiding small things on the road. This one took up half of the lane – out of the middle! The time allowed to digest the information is fleeting. Quickly the choice becomes evasive swerve or run over it. I recognized the object…and ran over it without incident.

Within 2 hours of leaving Greenville I was south of Asheville, and on the local streets Hendersonville, home of Olympia Moto Sports. the web site I maintaining have been web master for the past 6 years.

I spent the next day with Kevin and Karilea Rhea, their nephew Alex, Eric, and Frank. Mostly I worked with Eric, showing him how to manage parts of the Olympia Moto Sports website. It’s a simple web site compared to the slick sites out there, but it gets the job done. It takes some skills to update and keep things running smoothly, tasks I was teaching Eric.

10/23/2008 - Day 04

NJ > … [Georgia > Alabama] …TX

An early departure from Kevin and Karilea’s, Rode to the
edge of town with Kevin, then peeled off as he went to work and I headed to Atlanta.

In Atlanta I found Dr. John Leo Zimmer’s place near the Emory University and had lunch nearby. I met his young charge, Diego, his 11 months old grandson. We caught up on VistA community stuff and I showed him Kevin and Eddie’s modification to the medical software. I wanted to see Tom Ackerman who lives in Atlanta, but only had time for one visit and choose John Leo because of his experience with virtual machines. Tom had generously offered me a place to stay, which wouldn’t work because I got to Atlanta at mid-day and the schedule keeps me pressing on. John Leo told me that Tom was now recovering from surgery. Sadly, I learned in a few days that Tom passed away following the procedure. He was a kindest and most gentle guy in the VistA community. Tom will be missed.

South of Atlanta as night approached the rain started. I stopped for a bite to eat and to locate a hotel. I booked my first hotel using and my iPhone. It was really cool. Found a “last minute deal”, just like the discounts airlines offer. Looking back the hotels are already blurring together… While sitting over a cup of hot chocolate I hear someone say, “Is that a K bike?” I join at very nice couple, Al and Katrina, and chatted over dinner. Turns out he rode a BMW R1100 years ago.

10/24-25/2008 - Day 05

Montgomery AL, in the morning I packed the bike near dawn in light rain. Put on “Dry as a Bone” duster my friend Yarama gave me. It does a good job of keep the rain off. Half way across Alabama the rain ended and I continued to wear this “mad max” cape on to dry it out. This isn’t much to report on the landscape south of Atlanta or most of the way through Alabama because you really can’t see anything from the highway. Tall trees line either side of the road, blocking any view of the passing landscape.

When I got to the gulf coast area, the tail end of Alabama and into Mississippi, the weather opened up and I knew I had finally gotten far enough south to be warm again. I finally reached warmer climates, or so I thought at the time.

Now going through Mississippi and into Louisiana I am crossing swamp lands. The highways turn into long stretches of low bridges that rise about the wetlands. There are countless pieces of heavy equipment rolling down the highway. I see the same construction equipment going east and going west. I suspect that they are simply trading equipment.

You see all kinds of weird stuff, WIDE LOAD, banners are everywhere. There was a strange thing being transported, it looked like it was a swimming pool sized box. As I passed the truck got a quick glance that tells me it would be bolted on top of a tower poll or perhaps on a ship. One day I may figure out what that thing was.

NJ > … [Louisiana] > TX

10/24-25/2008 - Day 05

No time to visit New Orleans this trip. We’ve been there every year for the past 4 years for Jazz Festival. I must press on to get to Oaxaca, Mexico by November 1. Got off the highway and passed the omni-present fast food chains. A few miles down the road I found what I was looking for, Desoto's Dock, Mandeville, Louisiana. Seafood gumbo and onion rings hit the spot.

By mid-afternoon I got to Arcadian Computer Systems (ACS) in Lafayette, LA and emonstrated the software modifications to Adrian and Casey. Adrian gave me a tour of the ACS facilities. Later we enjoyed takeout Cajun food on the porch with Adrian’s wife Danielle. Spent one night in Lafayette and got on the road in the morning.

10/25/2008 - Day 06

NJ > … > [Texas]

President: What is this thing?
Truman: It's an asteroid, sir.
President: How big are we talking?
Scientist: Sir, our best estimate is 97.6 billion…
Truman: It's the size of Texas, Mr. President.

(Armageddon 1998, Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) describing the size of a "planet killer" meteor in un-scientific terms.)

Adrian had pointed out to me that Texas is bigger than I was describing and needed more time to cross than I had realized. I know Texas is big, but failed to appreciate that Houston is 5-6 hours from the Mexico border.

Once I got into Texas I started to think back on my hitch hiking days, two trips across the US and Canada after high school. The on/off ramps on Texas highways brought back a flood of memories.

Two oil filters and two quarts of oil are packed in my luggage. Another two quarts of oil are needed for my next 3,000 mile oil change. Locating a BMW motorcycle dealer in Houston via iPhone and GPS, I placed a call and arranged to have oil left outside for pick-up after hours.

In Houston, I connected with David Whitten and headed to the graphic shop to pick-up a custom WorldVistA banner for the motorcyle. David has been invaluable coordinating
the fabrication. I figured out the design and called in the specification from the road. Now it’s time to pick it up and see how it turned out.

David drove me around Houston, picking up last minute supplies. I tease David that he is my personal chauffeur for the day. Later that day David added additional modules to the software package. Between Kevin, Eddie and David, there will be a number of new modules to demonstrate to potential adopters and educators in Central America. I met Sarah, David's marvelous girl. Later we met Dee and Lee Knopp for genuine Texas BBQ.

10/26/2008 - Day 07

Sunday morning, rode to South Houston and found Gulf Coast BMW. The oil right was right were Gary, the parts manager, said it would be. I got back to Houston in time to attend the end of Sunday worship at David’s church. Back at the house, changed the oil installed the replacement PIAA light, and added the WorldVistA banner to the motorcycle, all in David’s driveway. We went out to a drugstore and made 8x10 prints of Tom Ackerman, sadly, for his widow. Finally left David's around 5:30 PM and headed to San Antonio, because it was clear that Laredo and the border was too far. Yes, Texas is big and never you forget that boy, you hear.

Spent the night outside of San Antonio, TX and got a fairly early start on the road. This wasn't my first time traveling through Texas, as I have crossed it several times with family or hitch hiking. All the same it was neat seeing my first tumble weed blow across the road this morning . In the distance broken down wind mills look like abstract sculpture. As I approach Laredo, TX, I can see hills in the distance that I believe is Mexico.

[Nuevo Laredo to Oaxaca coming soon!]