A.T.T.C.C.

A.T.T.C.C. is A Tale of Two Colonial Cities. Colombia has two well known towns that are colonial to the bone, both well preserved since their founding and now a days keeping up appearances for tourists. The older of the two is Villa de Leyva founded in 1572 and the baby brother is Barichara founded in 1705. Both are promoted by Lonely Planet and as they are within driving distance (and on our way to Bogota) we decided to do a back to back comparison.

Barichara

The Cathedral of Barichara dates back to 1705 and seems to dwarf the tiny puebla on the hillside. Photo: Alex Washburn

The Cathedral of Barichara dates back to 1705 and seems to dwarf the tiny puebla on the hillside. Photo: Alex Washburn

Barichara is located in the hills above San Gil, sitting atop a plateau that overlooks a dry valley below with a river running through. The landscape between San Gil and Barichara is pastoral bliss and once your in the town, it reminds one of the hills in Tuscany (our what I imagine they are like). The streets are cobblestone, but they have been cemented together, and though most likely slick when wet, it makes driving around on a motorcycle pleasant.
There is the sense that this isn’t just a tourist trap, but a real town nestled in the Colombian countryside. There are not an overwhelming amount of restaurants or knickknack shops, though there are more than enough cafes for some reason (this also is the case in Villa de Leyva). However, you see tons of locals on the streets, or sitting on stoups at night enjoying the country living.

In Barichara you are always either walking up or down a hill. It creates lovely views from every street! Photo: Alex Washburn

In Barichara you are always either walking up or down a hill. It creates lovely views from every street! Photo: Alex Washburn


Barichara is built on a hill and as you climb your way to the top the views of the surrounding valley only intensify, no matter which street you look down. The citizens and local government has done a great job of keeping up the facades of the houses and there is a cohesive feeling between the buildings that you would expect from a great colonial town.
There are three churches in town, the largest being Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, which is located in the main square of town. A couple of look out points on the west side gives great views of the valley, and the whole town can be traversed in under an hour at a lazy pace leaving plenty of time to sip a lemonada at one of the many mentioned cafes.
Sleepy, quite, and what you would want in a little getaway, though the lack of restaurants may leave you a little hungry at dinner time.

Villa de Leyva

The Plaza Mayor in Valle De Leyva is one of the biggest plazas in the America's. It's a huge open cobblestone square with a small fountain in the middle of it with a handful of eateries on its edges. Photo: Alex Washburn

The Plaza Mayor in Valle De Leyva is one of the biggest plazas in the Americas. It’s a huge open cobblestone square with a small fountain in the middle and a handful of eateries on its edges. Photo: Alex Washburn

On a dusty road off of Highway-62, between San Gil and Bogota, in a high valley lies Villa de Leyva. The valley, unlike the aird environment of Barichara, is lush and the ride reminded Alex of the hills in Switzerland. The whole town revolves around the Plaza Mayor, which is one of the largest in the Americas and does feel impressive when you stand in the middle.
White washed walls prevail throughout the town, and like Barichara, the architecture is consistent throughout. Villa de Leyva does have a feeling of being more developed, many cafes and trinket shops along with jewelry stores and clothing shops line the inner streets and near the outskirts there are shops where locals would do their shopping.

Villa De Leyva is full of people walking their dogs (some on leashes some not). It further adds to the quiet no-hurry atmosphere. Photo: Alex Washburn

Villa De Leyva is full of people walking their dogs (some on leashes some not). It further adds to the quiet no-hurry atmosphere. Photo: Alex Washburn

The streets are cobblestone too, however laid in the traditional style, which makes driving a motorcycle on them…interesting. Upon entering town, Alex and I ended up going down a one way, the wrong way, and were told by cops to turned around. This is easier said than done on cobblestone, and an elderly gentleman came running up and helped pull us both backwards so we could turn around.
The town is about twice as big as Barichara, but there aren’t any more restaurants as one might expect. As in most smaller towns, stores tend to close early, and that might leave you without many options for dinner if you don’t plan ahead.
Lush, cobbley, and far from the bright lights of Bogota, it is a great escape from the larger cities, though the high altitude may have you reaching for a jacket instead of the sunscreen.

Both towns have hits and misses, Alex prefers Villa de Layva and I was more partial to Barichara. The best advice would be to hit up one or the other that fits best into your itinerary and then know that you got most of the experience of the other.

Viva La Stahlratte!

A frenchman jumps off the bow of the Stahlratte into the Caribbean Sea. Photo: Alex Washburn

A frenchman jumps off the bow of the Stahlratte into the Caribbean Sea. Photo: Alex Washburn

Panama City seems like a hundred years ago and the adventures we’ve had over the past few days started off so quietly as we met some fellow motorcycle riders and prepared to sail from Panama to Colombia.

January 2nd Nathaniel and I sat in the front office of Panama House Hostel waiting for the proprietor to scan some documents for us as someone motioned outside telling us another motorcyclist had arrived. Jesse swaggered off his Suzuki 650 and immediately lit a cigarette already wearing sunglasses – we’d spend the next week with each other so we exchanged polite greetings and started feeling each other out. He had a very strange accent (Ottowa Valley Twang) but he seemed like the sort of person you could easily spend a few days on a boat with.

Riding the last leg of our journey to meet the Stahlratte. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Riding the last leg of our journey to meet the Stahlratte. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Later in the morning (it was still quite early) Nathaniel, Jesse and I were relaxing in the back patio when a friendly Canadian voice called out “Oh these look like some motorcycle riders here!” and in strolled Ken. At just over 50 years old with grey hair, a serious tan and standing over 6’4” in his motorcycle boots he was not the most likely person we expected to join our party. His wife was out front and at barely 5 feet tall they make quite the pair riding two up on his 1200GS BMW motorcycle.

Eventually Taylor (of Seattle Washington) would arrive on his 650GS and our interesting mix of motorcycle riders was almost complete; Jesse informed us that “Nico” would meet us the next morning. The rest of the night was spent on pre-trip chores like doing laundry and charging camera batteries before we all headed to bed early preparing ourselves to ride out at 6am the next morning.

Somehow we were all out of bed packing before 5:30 am and as I rolled my bike to the front of the hostel I saw a thin guy with dreads sitting in front next to a Honda cruiser. It was Nico, a Chilean who is now in the process of riding his bike to Chile from Delaware before he goes back to work in Bakersfield California (don’t ask).

After squaring away some leisurely last minute details we started the bikes up and headed out of Panama City with Ken at the front (he had the best GPS) and me at the back (I prefer to ride slowly). Our trip to meet the Stahlratte was mostly uneventful, we got turned around a few times and wasted perhaps 10 minutes going down a gravel road (we called it the goat trail) before we turned around, and finally arrived to a national park entrance within two hours of leaving the hostel that was the last leg of the journey to the docks.

Taylor's 650GS BMW was the first bike that was loaded onto the Stahlratte. Photo: Alex Washburn

Taylor’s 650GS BMW was the first bike that was loaded onto the Stahlratte. Photo: Alex Washburn

At the park entrance we paid our entry fees and then rode another twenty minutes to the beach where we could load the bikes (and ourselves) onto the ship that would take us to Colombia. The ride through that park — I don’t even know the name — of was intense.

The road was mostly well paved but full of blind hair pin turns, steep hills, and washouts. It was a gorgeous ride, but I was so stressed out about you know- not dying that I couldn’t enjoy it very much.

We arrived to a cement dock, rolled up onto it one by one and parked. All of us: Ken, Diana, Nico, Taylor, Jesse, Nathaniel and I were grinning ear to ear standing out on that dock as the 105 year old Stahlratte floated just out of reach in the warm blue salty water.

Nathaniel uses the Stahlratte's rope swing to jump into the ocean. Photo: Alex Washburn

Nathaniel uses the Stahlratte’s rope swing to jump into the ocean. Photo: Alex Washburn

Captain Ludwig (wearing pants for the only time during our three day trip) told us to take the Panniers off our bikes as an army of locals began tying ropes to our motorcycles so that they could be hoisted onto the ship. The Stahlratte approached and we all held our breaths as each bike was lifted into the air and over the edge of the boat. It is a scary sight to watch a 1200GS BMW lifted over salt water by a few ropes even if it isn’t yours.

A few bikers were already on the ship as the bikes started going into the air and Jesse monitored the proceedings already shirtless from the bow of the ship gesturing with his beer can to punctuate his remarks.

The cruise to the San Blas Islands was about three hours and we spent the next day and a half swimming, swinging into the ocean on a rope, exploring the tiny islands near us and eating good food. There was also the serious business of sun tanning and beer drinking to be handled while we were there and by the end of our first day on the island Jesse had managed to pass out in perhaps the most picturesque place a person could safely pass out in.

It would be easy to make this trip sound glamorous, however most of it was actually pretty unpleasant and in the words of Jesse “a bunch of fucking bullshit eh?” The boat ride to Colombia was essentially a perfect three day metaphor for travel as a whole.

Our first day on the boat was actually perfect. The adventure of riding a few hours through a foreign country to winch our motorcycles onto an antique sailing vessel was rewarded by motoring through calm waters to a beautiful chain of islands with every comfort you could reasonably require (wifi not being a reasonable request).

Jesse and Nico laugh at the bow of the ship as we motor out to the San Blas Islands. Photo: Alex Washburn

Jesse and Nico laugh at the bow of the ship as we motor out to the San Blas Islands. Photo: Alex Washburn

We dropped anchor next to one of the many tiny San Blas Islands and spent the day doing every postcard worthy time wasting activity possible. It was seriously gorgeous and perfect and we capped the day off with bbq beef and chicken skewers on a tiny island with good conversation around a bonfire as the sun sunk out of the sky.

After the bbq on the beach Nathaniel and I easily fell asleep below deck with the fan running on the most comfortable bed we’d had in over a week, it felt like paradise but the feeling was short lived. At some point in the night I woke up choking – the air was thick and humid and it was completely dark. I could feel sweat sliding off my arms as I reached for my cell phone and I realized that our precious fan was no longer on.

Using my iPhone as a flashlight (and waking Nathaniel up in the process) I inspected the fan and realized power to the entire ship had been turned off. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and without saying goodbye I stumbled out of the room through the hull of the ship to the stairs that would lead me above deck.

Passengers of the Stahlratte make conversation on the beach before heading back to the boat for the night. Photo: Alex Washburn

Passengers of the Stahlratte make conversation on the beach before heading back to the boat for the night. Photo: Alex Washburn

I felt my way up the stairs and a figure passed in front of me as I got to the top. It was Taylor heading back down the stairs.

“Dude, it’s so hot I can’t breathe.” -Me

“I know that’s why I came up but it’s starting to rain. I’m going back down.” -Taylor

He padded down the stairs and I was suddenly alone on the deck of the ship. I stumbled over to a flat spot where I could sit down and the air felt amazing. The boat rocked softly in the water and apart from the occasional creaky boat sounds it was totally quiet. I decided there was no way I was going below deck before the power came on and I went to look for a folded hammock I had seen on deck earlier in the day.

It was quite a feat getting it hung up in the dark armed only with my iPhone but I collapsed into it sometime around 5 am and wrapped the sides of it around me like a burrito as I watched the stars winking at me from above the crows nest and tangle of ropes necessary on such a large boat.

I wasn’t alone for long – Jesse came stumbling through the dark and after giving me his “Hey Buddy!” catchphrase collapsed onto the metal floor clutching a bottle of water. He muttered some curse words and a general complaint about paying $1,000 dollars to sleep on a metal floor before he was asleep.

We prepare for our BBQ on one of the San Blas Islands. Photo: Alex Washburn

We prepare for our BBQ on one of the San Blas Islands. Photo: Alex Washburn

The second day on the boat was spent anchored next to the tiny island and people really did spend the day with every post card worthy time wasting activity possible in such a small space. I was a little burnt from the day before so I used my trusty hammock as shade near the front of the boat and laid in the netting suspended about twenty feet above the water.

Nathaniel went swimming with some of the other guys and caught a giant starfish for me at my request.

But – as all real travelers know, you pay for those perfect experiences in blood, sweat, tears and occasionally a lot of vomit.

Perfection can get boring so I we went to bed early knowing the boat was going to set sail for Cartagena at 5am the next morning.

As the engine rumbled to life in the pre-dawn light I sat up in bed (thanking god the fan was on still), popped a few dramamine and went back to sleep. Nathaniel got up around 7:30 and and at the urging of Taylor I got up around 8:30 for breakfast…

Seasickness I now know has a lot in common with a hangover – it might not hit you until you stand up. I wobbled through the boat as we rolled over the swells and barely made it to the side of the boat in time to vomit bile into the waves.

The Stahlratte pulls into Cartagena Colombia. Photo : Alex Washburn

The Stahlratte pulls into Cartagena Colombia. Photo : Alex Washburn

I vomited three or four times before stumbling into the kitchen to sit down. Nathaniel came down stairs to join me and suggested I try and eat fruit because vomiting nothing can be really bad for you. After he brought me fruit I managed to eat a few pieces of papaya before I was back to the side of the boat puking again. All off the papaya came back up but it was at least more pleasant than that acidic yellow bile. This fruit eating, projectile vomiting pattern repeated seven or eight times through the next hour as I glared at the clock, the che poster on the wall or Nathaniel laying on the bench next to me. The only thing I couldn’t look at was the endless rolling waves in front of of that kept sending me to the side of the boat.

I kept trying to eat more dramamine, but I couldn’t keep it down. Nathaniel disappeared somewhere and I took his place laying flat on my back on the wooden bench in the kitchen and I didn’t feel sick…
I realized that as long as I laid there I didn’t need to throw up. I sat up long enough to take some more pills and then laid back down.

After a few hours I tried to move back to our room, but couldn’t make it all the way across the ship before I was puking (once again) into a cup I carried with me. I finished vomiting at the edge of the bed and then ran back upstairs collapsing once again onto the wooden bench where the world was okay.

This bench was so terribly uncomfortable a child couldn’t properly lay down on it but I spent the next ten hours of my life laying there sipping water and eating saltine crackers or bread (you can eat them laying down) at random intervals.

Once in a while Nathaniel or someone else would come through for a snack and I would talk to them getting regular updates on the other people sick aboard the ship (I was apparently lucky to not be vomiting blood). As long as I stayed on the bench I had absolutely zero nausea, it was magic and as uncomfortable as I was I was thrilled to have found peace.

Around six o’clock that night I rummaged through the kitchen for a black trash bag (insurance) and then made a break for our room. I made my way as fast as I could across the rolling ship down the stairs and collapsed onto the bed… waiting to see if I was okay.

I had managed to swallow enough dramamine that I was okay – and able to sleep. I spent the rest of the night in the sweaty darkness tangled with that bag. I didn’t moved until we were pulling into the harbor of Cartagena the next morning… where our adventures with Aduana would soon begin.

Ken, Diana, Jesse, Taylor, Nico, Nathaniel and I pose for a photo after victoriously getting our bikes through Aduana and the Colombian insurance office (it took all day). Photo: Alex Washburn

Ken, Diana, Jesse, Taylor, Nico, Nathaniel and I pose for a photo after victoriously getting our bikes through Aduana and the Colombian insurance office (it took all day). Photo: Alex Washburn

Costa Rica is Over

A swimming hole at the top of Montezuma's waterfall. Photo: Alex Washburn

A swimming hole at the top of Montezuma’s waterfall. Photo: Alex Washburn

Before going on this trip, Nathaniel went to Costa Rica with a group of friends in July. This, unbeknownst to him, was the perfect time to go, it was low season.

Costa Rica is on most lists for Best Places to Retire Abroad, but these lists need to be updated as the time of cheap living has passed. Alex and I knew that it would be high-season, but were not prepared for how expensive everything would be.

We got a taste for it in San Jose, when every meal came with a 10% gratuity for staff and 13% tax, so every meal tag was instantly increased by 26%. Hamburgers at a local chain (much like a Mel’s) cost twenty dollars, which for our budgets was breaking the bank.

Getting into the tourist towns didn’t help at all. There are deals to be had at hostels, and we were able to find deals most places we went, but the food killed us at every turn. There is no real street food scene, so no relief there, and every meal ended up being as much, if not more, then it would cost in the US.

Crocodiles in Costa Rica. Photo: Alex Washburn

Crocodiles in Costa Rica. Photo: Alex Washburn

After having been traveling in Central America for almost three months, it was a rude awakening to be jarred with this exorbitant price change. For anyone thinking of going to Costa Rica during the high season, DON’T!!! There are other countries that are just as safe, where the dollar will go so much farther. Costa Rica has gone beyond the means of the regular traveler as even a small bottle of Gatorade was $2.00 at local markets.

I may not seem that steep to others, but for people who are on a budget for six months, these differences in prices are not affordable. Be adventurous and pick a better spot, or go in the low-season to avoided being overcharged at every turn.

Once we crossed the border to Panama, the prices have eased, though we are looking forward to Columbia. After the boarder crossing (not the worst yet) we high-tailed it to Santiago. The middle between Panama Border and Panama City. Santiago is the Las Vegas of Panama, with several big Casinos and a lot of Love Hotels, the best being the “Beverly Hills Gardens”…Classic.

The next day it was back on the bikes, and off to Panama City. Had enough time to explore the Panama Canal and old town. For me, the Panama Canal is one of the places I remember learning about in history class in high school, and never thinking I would ever visit it. It is still impressive, even after 100 years.

We are staying in a hostel with all of the bikers getting on the boat tomorrow and enjoying our time recounting stories on the road. Tomorrow we head for the Caribbean coast and our ship for Columbia. A new year and a new continent is ours to explore, here is to more adventures to come!

Tourists wave to a ship as it passes through the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal. Photo: Alex Washburn

Tourists wave to a ship as it passes through the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal. Photo: Alex Washburn

Volcano Boarding

We explore the crown of Cerro Negro after an hour hike to the top.  Photo:Alex Washburn

We explore the crown of Cerro Negro after an hour hike to the top. Photo:Alex Washburn

We climb into the back of an absurdly large giant four wheel drive truck with other travelers from the UK, Israel, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Holland and the United States; we all fidget with nervous energy grinning and waiting for our adventure to start.

The truck fires up and lurches off throwing us into one another as it rounds corner after corner, bumping along on small cobblestone roads in a way that would make veterans of the Knight Bus nervous (Harry Potter reference).

There are no seat belts and we grab onto the railings, seats, and each other for stability during the 45 minute ride to Cerro Negro.

About a decade ago an Australian with presumably too much time on his hands visited Leon Nicaragua and decided to turn the active volcano Cerro Negro into an extreme sport destination. He first tried boarding the hill with a snowboard and destroyed his equipment in the process — volcanic rock is not kind to fancy gear. Next he tried a refrigerator door (fail), before moving on to a picnic table (also a fail), a mattress (biggest fail) and a variety of other items he thought might make it down the 42 degree slope of black volcanic rock.

Our Volcano Boarding group arrives to Cerro Negro. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our Volcano Boarding group arrives to Cerro Negro. Photo: Alex Washburn

Today in Leon there are several companies that offer volcano boarding tours down Cerro Negro and although the protective gear varies slightly from company to company the boards they use are all the same. A one foot by four foot piece of plywood with several wooden slats across it and a rope handle you hold like a baseball bat can be found on the top, on the bottom a plank of thin metal and a patch of formica held on with adhesive provide your sliding surface. The thrill of sliding down an active volcano wearing prison jump suits while sitting atop construction scraps is what brings our collection of world travelers to the back of this obscene vehicle.

The cobblestones quickly gives way to cracked pavement and then dirt. The driver rushes over the small roads kicking up a mountain of dust that engulfs bicyclists, cows, pedestrians and entire busses as he rushes past and the road just keeps going.

Local guides claim that because of the wind patterns in the area Cerro Negro is the only volcano in the world suitable for Volcano Boarding. This may or may not be true but a google search for ‘volcano boarding’ will only give you hits related to Leon Nicaragua.

We pull up to the entrance of the nature park and slide to a stop. We all have to pay a $7 entry fee to enter the park and sign our names in the visitor ledger before we ride the last few kilometers to the base of Cerro Negro.

Cerro Negro isnt impressive looking because of its size, although it feels massive to hike up carrying a piece of metal sheathed plywood and your obligatory jump suit. No- Cerro Negro impresses with its dramatic slopes of black rock. Nothing grows on it and at the top you are greeted only by the smell of of sulfur and the giant bugs that are drawn to it.

Our guide Jose gives us a quick rundown of what to expect on the hike, how to best carry our board and tells us that we will stop three times along the way for information and to rest — we begin.

The hike starts easy enough on roughly shaped steps made out of larger rocks the size of your head, but as the slope gets steeper, the rocks get smaller, and the wind picks up hitting your board like a kite, it can get scary. We creep along the side of the volcano stopping and posing for photos when Jose tells us to and gripping the boards for dear life as we march up the path.

The real tragedy would be falling off the path, losing your board, and doing the hike for nothing. It takes an hour to climb the Volcano and less than a minute to slide down it, less than 30 seconds if you’re going for a record or are interested in seriously hurting yourself.

At the top we take time to appreciate the view and Jose scuffs a mark into the dirt and has us feel the earth just a few inches below the surface, surprisingly it is almost too hot to touch and you can see a few people’s faces questioning the sanity of sliding through it wearing a cotton jumpsuit and flimsy plastic goggles.

I am already wearing my goggles because it’s so windy at the top of the volcano little bits of rock and dust keep flying into my face. I don’t care if I look silly – I’d rather not blind myself before the ride.

Jose gives the command to ‘SUIT UP!’ and the moonscape at the top of the volcano gets even more bizarre as a dozen tourists start pulling on orange jump suits and goggles, a prison gang run wild. I ignore the command (sorry Jose) and buzz about taking photos of people getting ready as Jose starts his safety speech.

The single rider speed record on Cerro Negro is over 50 mph. When you consider you aren’t going to be wearing gloves or a helmet as you slide down a hill comprised solely of volcanic rocks, then listening to Jose when he gives you safety instructions is key. However – I’ve done this before and I have no desire to break a speed record.

Our secondary guide waits at the bottom of Cerro Negro with a speed gun. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our secondary guide waits at the bottom of Cerro Negro with a speed gun. Photo: Alex Washburn

Last year a couple decided to race down the hill and the boyfriend lost control of his board and hit his girlfriend, breaking her back. A few weeks ago another tourist on vacation with her family lost control at a high speed and broke her leg and foot in several places, stories Jose doesn’t share till we are all at the bottom. It’s scary – but the same things could also happen while snowboarding.

It’s at this point I wrap my 5D Mark II in plastic with my iPhone and stick it in my backpack before pulling the jump suit over it. We take our places in two lines as Jose issues his final instruction before disappearing over the lip of the volcano to take pictures of us as we board down.

Several people take their turns and then suddenly it’s my turn. I carefully position myself on the board as I try and center myself in the starting chute while Nathaniel looks down at me with his GoPro.

The signal is given and I start scooting myself to the edge. I have problems getting out of the chute (the guy before me did it too fast and fell off his board), but once I hit the slope I start to slide easily down the volcano.

Gripping my rope I think I am going too fast so I dig my feet in, but I can’t seem to slow myself down. Once I reach Jose I know I am not allowed to brake anymore because the slope becomes too steep to safely slow yourself down. One of Jose’s biggest warnings at the top:

Once you pass me do NOT try and brake. 45 degrees is too steep to brake on, you will lose control and it will hurt.

The adrenaline starts to pump through me and I am reminded to keep my mouth closed as I taste the grit flying into my teeth. I clamp my mouth shut as I slide past Jose and then I lift my feet. I can use them to steer still – letting my motorcycle boots carefully skim the surface of the volcano, but I resist the urge to bury my feet in the rock.

I can feel the friction heat up the board underneath me and I wonder to myself if something could catch fire with that much heat. My speed starts to increase as pure gravity and the formica slicked board do their work. I start to hop slightly over a few bumps and for a second I think I am going sideways – rushing past our secondary guide who holds a speed gun I safely come to a stop.

Nothing moves.

I stand up, careful to pick up my board by the rope (the board is now hot enough to burn you) and I give my guide my name ‘Alex’ so he can record my speed. I join the others at the truck and start to strip off my jump suit watching the next few people make their way down Cerro Negro.

Once everyone has made it to the bottom we watch in awe as Jose runs down. He passes out our beers and takes a celebratory photo of all of us before we climb back on the truck for an even crazier ride back to our Hostel. At the hostel all volcano boarders are given a free mojito, most people caked in black dust gulp it down and make for the showers.

These are the days that make travel worth it.

Tegulcigapa (again)

Storm clouds approach as two mechanics in a town we don't know the name of struggle to get both our bikes back on the road. Photo: Alex Washburn

Storm clouds approach as two mechanics in a town we don’t know the name of work to get both our bikes back on the road. Photo: Alex Washburn

Yesterday we planned to have breakfast in a cute town just outside Tegucigalpa Honduras and then make our way to a small town near the Nicaraguan border so we could cross early today. However, the gods of the Autopista had their own plans and although it wasn’t the worst possible day of riding it was probably the most dangerous day of riding we’ve had so far on this trip.

The road from Santa Lucia was beautiful and a great road although it gave us our fair share of problems. Photo: Alex Washburn

The road from Santa Lucia was beautiful and a great road although it gave us our fair share of problems. Photo: Alex Washburn

We set off through the gridlock traffic of Tegucigalpa from our hotel and the only thing that made it bearable was that the sun hadn’t had the chance to bring the city to a simmer yet. Creeping along the one way streets it took us longer to go two miles than it did the next eight once we had escaped the city limits.

Santa Lucia (our goal for breakfast) is an adorable little town in the mountains just outside of “Tegus.” The town built into the green sloping landscape has a clean pond in the middle of it, a town square not much bigger than a basketball court, and a simple white church with a hilltop view of the valley that holds Tegucigalpa.

Unfortunately for us cuteness sometimes comes with cobblestones, which are murder to ride a bike on in Latin America. The stones are huge (typically much bigger than European cobblestones) so if one stone or a series of them have become seriously tilted it can throw your bike around. We finally found the correct cobblestone road out of Santa Lucia heading towards the hills and the rock quickly faded to a hard packed dirt road winding up and up and up.

Every once in a while we would pass a small grouping of houses or a few lonely chickens back-lit by amazing views. Dark green smallish mountains with fields and clouds and sunshine.

It was turning out to be a perfect ride, but around mile 20 there were some really deep indentations in the road from where water runs over the ground in rainstorms. I made it over them and kicked my bike down into first or second gear so that I could ride really slow till Nathaniel showed up again in my mirrors. As I was watching my mirrors I wasn’t paying much attention to where I was going and almost as soon as I saw Nathaniel appear in my mirror I felt my back tire start to slide out from under me in the gravel and I went down.

I clearly wasn’t hurt as you can see in the video and it only took us a second to get the bike back up, however once we did it wouldn’t start. At first I thought maybe the bike had flooded because some gas has started leaking out of it when it was on its side, but after letting the bike sit for several minutes and trying again that was clearly not the case. We decided the only way we were going to be able to get the bike moving again would be to try and roll start it down the hill.

In the process of pushing my bike up the hill and maneuvering it into position for our second attempt at a roll start, Nathaniel noticed that the back tire of his bike was going flat. When I couldn’t get my bike to roll start Nathaniel tried and got it running, which was awesome, however I was supposed to try and follow him slowly up the hill on his bike. When I threw my leg over it I realized his tire wasn’t just going flat – it was a pancake.

We spent probably an hour trying to fix Nathaniel’s tire, first using the goo we had and then plugs from a tire repair kit, neither of which were keeping air in the tire at first. We ran out of our compressed air and then I started asking people passing by if they had anything to inflate tires with in their vehicle.

I hailed a tuk-tuk driver over and asked him if he had one (assuming those little tires must have a lot of problems on these roads) and his passenger became very concerned for Nathaniel and I. We talked for several minutes about where a mechanic might be and how to get the tire inflated. The passenger ended up paying the tuk-tuk driver to take the boy he had been riding with back to their home and the tuk-tuk driver would then bring back something to inflate the tire with as he waited with us to make sure we were okay.

The man that stayed with us was incredibly nice. He was probably in his mid 50’s to early 60’s and he told us that although the area we were in was safe he wanted to make sure visitors to his country were taken care of. Although it’s not something that lives in our minds everyday, it’s worth mentioning Honduras is one of the most murderous countries in the world. It usually places in the top three in any given year above places like Uganda, Malawi, and the Congo.

The tuk-tuk driver returned in about 20 minutes and told us that after he filled Nathaniel’s tire we should follow him to a tire repair shop. He filled the tire from a hand pump and our friend that waited with us used pieces of plant alongside the road to stuff into the hole created by the nail Nathaniel had run over. I started up the road on Nathaniel’s bike after the tuk-tuk as Nathaniel roll started my bike and came after us.

When Nathaniel's bike is on its' center stand it is unbalanced and this is how the mechanics held up his bike as they fixed his back tire. Photo: Alex Washburn

When Nathaniel’s bike is on its’ center stand it is unbalanced and this is how the mechanics held up his bike as they fixed his back tire. Photo: Alex Washburn

Up through the hills we went till at last we hit asphalt again and the tuk-tuk led us to a tire repair shop. They dealt with Nathaniel’s tire quickly and the mechanic eventually came to the decision that my battery was bad. As I type this from our hotel it’s nearly midnight and I will have to wait till morning to figure out what is really going on with it.

The men at the shop charged us $15 for their help and jumped my bike with one of their cars before Nathaniel and I headed off into the night. We avoid riding at night because the roads here are sprinkled with nasty potholes and a lack of ambient light makes them a lot darker then in the US.

Getting back to Tegucigalpa was the worst 15 miles of riding we’ve had on the entire trip. With low visibility in the dark we couldn’t ride fast enough to keep our face shields from fogging and because it was raining they were also covered in water droplets so anytime we met oncoming traffic light would catch in the droplets on my face mask totally blinding me.

It took us a really long time to get back to the hotel we’ve been staying at in Tegucigalpa. Until we got back to the city center I was in a constant cycle of opening my face shield to vent it, wiping the water off it, flipping my mask up and squinting into the rain when cars came, flipping the face shield back down, praying during the moments I was totally blind on the road that I wouldn’t hit a pothole. Plus, I always worried that if I stalled the bike we’d be stuck along a dark rainy road in the middle of Honduras, without a way to start it again.

We’re now back in the same hotel we spend the last three nights and hope to figure out what is wrong with the bike today.