Reflections on El Camino

Back on the good o'l "Coastal Highway" which we maintain is not really a highway! This photo represents the first day we did real ADV riding. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

Back on the good o’l “Coastal Highway” which we maintain is not really a highway! This photo represents the first day we did real ADV riding. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

Nearly nine months have passed since Alex and I rode through the gates of Ushuaia realizing our goal of riding from San Francisco to the end of the world. When we got back people wanted to know what our favorite country was or the best experience of the trip and what I found was that it was hard to put this trip into the mini sound-bites people wanted to hear. Yes I have a favorite country from the trip, I have places I would like to go back and places I don’t ever want to go back, but they are all a part of one massive undertaking Alex and I completed.

Another thing that I think people want to hear is that you had a life altering spiritual experience that has moved the clouds of doubt from your life and everything is clear now. Unfortunately, for me, that was not the case. I’m not saying that this trip hasn’t changed me, it most certainly has, but in small ways I see in my every day life.

On the adventure to getting our bikes back from the shipping container (story to follow) a fellow biker and I found ourselves on the long road to LA talking about our trips and the experiences. One comment that he had was that he could remember every day of his trip distinctly for one reason or another, but since being back the weeks blended together and he could hardly remember what happened last week let alone a couple weeks ago. I find the same occurrence in my own life. I can run through almost every day of the trip in my head, but often forget what I did last week. It’s because during “Autopista End” every day was a new experience or a new place. I need that in my life now because at the end of it all, I won’t remember any given weekend I spent watching Netflix but I will remember crashing in Cusco.

The other thing I learned was that I needed to stop procrastinating with the goals in my life and need to take steps, even little ones, every day in achieving what I want. I don’t want to wake up twenty years from now saying that the best thing I did in my life was the Autopista End trip. I need something more than that.

Alex and I have talked about the phenomenon of the “Bucket List” in recent years and how you will overhear people saying, quite literally on a daily basis, “oh I am putting that on my bucket list”. I don’t have a bucket list anymore, if there is something I really want to do, I am going to find a way of doing it, of taking some step toward accomplishing it. It doesn’t mean it will happen this month or this year even, but if I keep taking steps toward it I will eventually succeed or realize it wasn’t what I really wanted. I would rather die in the process of achieving a goal than with a list of a bunch of dreams I never even attempted to realize.

This trip has changed me in ways I can’t really put into words and there are still some days where I think it was all a dream, that Alex and I are still planning this crazy idea we had so many months ago.

I would like to thank everyone that followed our blog, left us comments or helped us along the way. I would like to thank my Mom, for teaching me that “I can do anything, it may take me longer, but I will get there” and my Dad for keeping my imagination alive and young. But most all I want to thank Alex Washburn for without which this trip wouldn’t have happened. She is an amazing person that I have been fortunate enough to share my life with.


Three Roads

Nathaniel prepares to record me crossing a bridge along the gloriously names 'Coastal Highway'. Photo: Alex Washburn

Nathaniel prepares to record me crossing a bridge along the gloriously named ‘Coastal Highway’. Photo: Alex Washburn

It is impossible to get lost driving in the country of Belize. It’s tiny – at only 8,867 square miles in size it is barely larger than the state of Massachusetts.

In addition to this; a large percentage of this tiny country’s land is still untouched and they have minimal infrastructure. This has negatives and positives for the country as a whole, but what it meant for us as we looked at a map on Sunday is that there was only one obvious route to Placencia from Belize city and really only three major roads in the whole country.

A Canadian very familiar to the country had warned us about how terrible a fourth road (the coastal highway) was but we took the warning with a grain of salt because foreigners from first world countries sometimes have a skewed perception of what a ‘bad’ road is.

Sunday morning several Belizeans at our hotel confirmed that the coastal highway (which by the way is neither coastal nor an actual highway) was a terrible road. However – when we came to the turnoff where we could take the unpaved coastal highway or continue on the road most traveled we decided to have a little adventure (video coming soon).

We were on the coastal highway for less than 10 minutes and I could feel the smile slowly spreading across my face. It was rocky, dirty, muddy bumpy and everything our Kawasaki KLRs were meant to handle when we decided they were the best bikes for the trip. It took us 2.5 hours to drive 37 miles and it was fantastic (even if I tipped over twice and got super muddy).

A group of locals concentrates on their game of dominos in the shade next to the only gas station in Placencia Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

A group of locals concentrates on their game of dominos in the shade next to the only gas station in Placencia Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

Placencia itself was pleasant enough… We decided to go because a local Belizean told us the miniature peninsula along Belize’s southern coast was beautiful and it is! However, most people seem to be in Placencia to lay on a beach and get a nice day drunk going which is just not the kind of tourists we are. Although, I got accidentally tipsy one day because the infamous “Ms. Brenda” served us two rum and punches but Nathaniel doesn’t drink. Ms. Brenda is not the kind of woman you send food back to so I had to drink both glasses while Nathaniel ate his spicy jerk chicken lunch without a beverage.

As we attempted to leave we ended up hanging out at a gas station for about twenty minutes with some of the locals. I was feeling really dehydrated and I didn’t want to start the three hour ride to San Ignacio before drinking some water so we filled up and chilled out. The taxi drivers and gas station attendants were more than happy to let us share their shade and laugh at their brisk games of dominos.

Belizeans have been super friendly towards us no matter where we’ve gone. There were a lot of homeless people and panhandlers in Belize City, but everyone we’ve met from gas station attendants to hotel clerks, fellow restaurant diners and random people on the street have been welcoming and talkative. The men at the gas station accepting our presence so quickly is just another example of this.

The ride to San Ignacio up the Hummingbird Highway was the most beautiful stretch of road we’ve come across in Belize. The hills are so overgrown with palm trees, flowers and vines they resemble the scenery in Jurassic Park. The asphault on the “highways” is generally in great condition and it isn’t until you drive through the cities that you encounter insane potholes. I have never experienced potholes like they have in Belize.

They are epic pits appearing from nowhere waiting to swallow your front tire whole. In many places swerving around one hole just dumps you right into another so it’s best to just ride straight through and try not to break your teeth as you grit through it.

When we arrived to San Ignacio we had our first meal of the day at Hode's where this flute player provided the soundtrack. Photo: Alex Washburn

When we arrived to San Ignacio we had our first meal of the day at Hode’s where this flute player provided the soundtrack. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our bikes parked in front of Hode's restaurant in San Ignacio Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our bikes parked in front of Hode’s restaurant in San Ignacio Belize. And yes – that is a giant red umbrella attached to my bike. Photo: Alex Washburn

We arrived to San Ignacio in the early afternoon and after battling some epic potholes and unpaved surfaces in the city itself, found a place to eat and a hostel with a secure yard for our bikes. We didn’t have to actually come to San Ignacio, but we wanted to be close to Belmopan (the capitol) because we made an appointment to have our bikes looked at today.

We are both eager to (hopefully) cross the border into Guatemala after our appointment and continue our adventures in Spanish speaking Latin America.

RECOMMENDATION: If you are riding bikes from the US through Latin America it might be hard to get your bike serviced in Mexico depending on what you are riding. If you come to Belize – Motor Solutions in Belmopan is a well stocked shop that should be able to help you out and English is the official language of Belize which should be a relief if you don’t speak spanish.

Hello Belize

A map documenting our progress through Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

A map documenting our progress through Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

After waiting a day in Chetumal for the Banjercito to open, Monday morning came and the rain clouds cleared to reveal the humid boiling sun. We packed the gear, counted our remaining pesos, and fueled up at the last Pemex of the trip.

Nathaniel packs his gear, getting ready to cross the Belize border. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

Nathaniel packs his gear, getting ready to cross the Belize border. Photo: Alex Washburn

Chetumal ended up being closer to Belize than we thought, and it took us less than ten minutes to get to the border crossing (we might have been able to cross on Friday, but after all the paperwork I think we may have gotten stuck in limbo). With all the issues we had in La Paz we knew we had all the needed paperwork, but were still ready for some bureaucracy.

First stop was to turn in our FMM cards and get stamps out of Mexico (check). Next off to the Banjercito to get our deposits back and release the bikes from Mexico, we went to the wrong Banjercito first but found our way eventually (check). Next we had to get the bikes fumigated (what?!) and get insurance for Belize.

The office where you get your fumigation certificate is also where you can purchase insurance. However, by the time we got there we were running low on money and Alex had to make a run to an ATM while I hung out with the attendant. It was during this time that a heavy rain moved in, and I discovered that the first language of Belize is English. Once Alex got back, we got the insurance slips and were informed we didn’t need to be fumigated because of the rain (sweet!).

After this it was off to immigration at the Belize border to get the bikes and us into the country. It took some time (the officers were in no hurry to fill the paperwork out to get us processed), but there were no hiccups in getting it done. Once all the stamps had been pushed, I walked over to join Alex in Belize, only to have a middle-aged man approach us.

I didn’t know who it was as Alex introduced me to Hector. The continued to talk in Spanish, and I was afriad this was a scam trying to get us to buy something before we crossed (or worse, be drug mules). I was later to find out that this was one of her Uncles who was running a load from Belize up to Huamantla. It’s such a small world, where you can run into family even at a border crossing. It was fitting, we had family at the beginning, middle, and end of Mexico, the best book ends.

As we left the immigration office we were all smiles walking back to the bikes. As we packed our documents back into the bikes, I saw another bike pass by and head towards the border, but he was soon directed (as we had been) to the immigration parking lot. This is when we met, Thiago Berto who is driving from Alaska to Brazil (or maybe all the way to Argentina, he hasn’t decided). He flew from LA to Fairbanks, Alaska and found this motorcycle (which was driven years ago from Brazil to Alaska and then left by another Brazilian, which it why it has Brazilian plates) that he is now riding down the continent.

We exchanged stories, he questioned us about the process of getting across the border, we asked him where he was going. There is a respect that fellow travelers have for each other, and that camaraderie is only magnified when they are also motorcyclists. Bikers like Thiago make us feel less bad-ass as he was riding in just a light jacket, regular pants, boots and his stuff heaped on the back of the bike, but to each his own (I seem to fall a lot so my choice of gear seems fitting).

Thiago is riding from Alaska to Brazil, trying now to get through the Belize border Photo: Nathaniel Chaney.

Thiago is riding from Alaska to Brazil, trying now to get through the Belize border (Photo: Nathaniel Chaney).

We wished him luck, readied our papers and made our way for the border crossing. The guard asked me if I was hot in my gear and I replied it was hot, but protective. He responded that that is true, but that falls don’t happened that often. My response? More often than you would think. And with that I was waved on.

We ran into Hector one more time after we crossed, he gave us some final directions (though there is only one real road in Belize) shook our hands and we were off.

About an hour down the road we hit the worst rain of the trip. It wasn’t just raining, it was pouring enough to work its was into our helmets and for me felt like pinpricks as the droplets hit my jacket. Knowing now that Belize is only 174 miles long, would have helped in that situation of knowing how far Belize City was, but we drove on, not worried about the gear getting wet because we knew we would have time to let it dry.

For a while, each time we broke through the black clouds and towards the blue sky the road would veer off back into the heart of the darkness. However, we finally blew past the storm and made our way to Belize City. It took a little while to find a place (Alex gets all the credit for finding the Palm Inn), but when we did and it was amazing. It had parking in the back behind high walls and under an overhang so we were out of the rain.

I will skip the details of Belize city (we were only really there a day and a half), but needless to say it isn’t the best city. It is mainly used as a stopping point for cruise ships and people heading to the Cayes (think of keys, but no bridges) and it shows. There aren’t many restaurants, and there is a hustle to the city that clearly denotes that a main portion of its income is derived from tourists.

Alex and I were happy to plan our escape to Caye Caulker the next day. We spent some time at the Belize Museum and walking around the city, but really we were just biding our time and the moment was coming to escape!