Posted on January 17, 2014
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 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.
Villa de Leyva
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.
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.
Posted on November 24, 2013
(We are constantly trying to think of ways to tell our story without just giving our readers an elongated blow by blow of our trip in every single post. This post is going to summarize the last few days with photos and extended cutlines – enjoy!)
As I type this post and am about to publish it we are in the city of Coban Guatemala. Our ride here yesterday was miserable because it rained on us more or less all day. By the time we checked into our hotel we were both soaked and my hands looked like raisins. We hope to arrive to Antigua after 4-5 more hours or riding and we are both really excited for it. I went to Antigua several years ago with a friend and it is absolutely gorgeous.
Thanks for looking.
Posted on November 14, 2013
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.
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.
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).
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!
Posted on October 29, 2013
After a week of being in a holding pattern in La Paz, Alex received her documents in the mail via DHL (thank you Val!) and by Wednesday we had everything we needed to board the ferry on Thursday. We got up early, did a little maintenance on Alex’s bike (which involved taking the gas tank completely off), packed all of the gear (which took longer due to a week of rust) and headed off to Pichilingue to get our importation documents for the motorcycles and board the ferry.
Several hours later, we boarded the ferry without any problems (it’s amazing how fast bureaucracy works when you have all the right paperwork!). Waiting to board the ferry, a fellow motorcyclist pulled up and helped us while away the time with good conversation. Jim was riding a BMW down from Seattle to his second home in Mazatlan. He had great stories of family, and his own adventures riding through Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.
After securing the bikes on the ferry (which consisted of tying them down with rope) we headed to our seats, which were pretty comfortable and proceeded to watch some movies and sleep for the next 16 hours. Untied the bikes, and disembarked in Mazatlan without any instances, though while on board Alex had determined that we were going to have to ride 700 miles in two days to reach her family in Huamantla.
The first day we left Mazatlan at 11am and rode all day aside from a gas stop, and two tip overs, one by me and the other by Alex, into a car (count is 4-2 with two dinged cars), until dusk to reach Guadalajara setting a new one day record of 300 miles. The country between Mazatlan and Guadalajara is some of the best I have seen, and one name I thought of for this post was going to be ‘The Road of Butterflies’ as there were sections of road with hundreds of butterflies on either side (and sometimes in the middle).
Less than 12-hours later it was back on the bikes as ‘Alex the whip’ drove us on to Huamantla. From Guadalajara to Huamantla was going to be over 400 miles, my reaction the night before was:
“I don’t think we can do it, but fuck let’s give it a shot.”
We left just after sunrise and made it to Santiago de Querétaro by 2:30pm with only one stop for gas and food in between. That is when the things got really tough.
What some that haven’t rode a motorcycle or haven’t gone long distances don’t understand is that there is a slow deterioration of the feeling in one’s gluteus maximus as the day goes on. In the morning you’re fine, smelling fresh flowers and grass, listening to the roar of the engine and the wind past your helmet, meditating in your own world as the country passes you by. But as the day goes on you begin to loose feeling in your posterior, the smell of flowers is replaced by truck fumes, and the wind becomes a relentless howling echoed only by the constant drone of the hell-beast that is your horse trampling down any resemblance of a thought in your head.
At 4:00pm we stopped for gas (again), with rain clouds on the horizon of Mexico City D.F. my spirits were low, reflected in the idling of my engine, that had lowered as well, due to the altitude we had climbed that day. Alex insisted we could make it, and I had to channel a new inner level of zen to sally forth past the thoughts of doubt that continued to haunt me during the ride.A few minutes later, we were back on the road, that fortuitously turned to the east, bypassing most of the clouds (and rain) and took us on a route to Huamantla skirting Mexico City (which everyone under the sun told us to avoid driving in as it is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere).
A couple of drops of rain, some heavy wind, and another 100 miles brought us to the doorstep of Alex’s house in Mexico, in a little town named Huamantla that sits in the shadow of a mountain called ‘La Malinche’. A new record setting day of 432 miles came to an end with empty stomachs (and gas tanks) and sore bottoms. It was all made worth it when we were welcomed by family, given a hot meal, and a warm bed to collapse into.
You always reach your destination, even if it wasn’t where you planned.
Posted on October 19, 2013
We woke up early on Wednesday, got everything packed away on our now dry bikes and took off for the south on Mexico Hwy-1. In looking at our now worn AAA map the distance to La Paz was 280 miles. It was going to be a long day, but we were rested from our time in Loreto and the first half of the ride was through beautiful mountain passes fresh from the soaking the day before. We made our way to Ciudad Constitución without any issues, stopped for lunch and then continued on to La Paz.
The ride went quick, but we were both sore by the time we cruised into La Paz and up the driveway of the Baja Backpackers hostel (which we didn’t know at the time, would be our home for the next week). There was parking in the back for the bikes, and we figured we had it made to head out the next day on the ferry to Mazatlán, nothing could be further from the truth.
The next several days is a blur of bureaucracy that I will try to keep brief as even I am bored thinking about it. Upon arrival in La Paz we were informed that we were going to need our FMM cards just to be able to leave for Mazatlán (our time as undocumented travelers was coming to an end). Stories abound of people who were in similar situations that just went to the airport here in La Paz and got someone to stamp their passport. We did not have such luck (neither did another traveler we ran into, but more on him later).
We spent all day Thursday at the immigration office, first in the morning to start and then again, and again, and again as we filled out forms wrong, didn’t have the correct information and genuinely just fell through the red tape one stumble at a time. It became clear at 1:00pm on Thursday, that we were not going to make the ferry that day (and with what we know now – that never was a possibility).
Friday brought more issues than relief, but in waves of good and bad news. By noon on Friday we had our FMM cards (go to this google doc for a in-depth guide on how to get an FMM card in La Paz). We went on our merry way to the ferry building in Pichilingue, got our tickets for the ferry in ten minutes and thought we were on our way.
It was only an hour later or so that we found out that we still needed to get our importation documents for the motorcycles. We ran out of the hostel and back to Pichilingue for the second time to see if we could get the importation documents. The bank was closed for the day when we arrived and thus ended to effort for that day.
Saturday we made it out for our third trip to Pichilingue to try and get our importation documents (though our friend Matt told us that we were going to need the original title or registration). I have the original registration for my bike (and clearly remember my dad asking if I thought I needed the title and me saying no), but Alex doesn’t have either original, just copies. We were turned away from the bank because of the lack of documentation for Alex.
What this means is that we had to push back our tickets with the ferry and come up with a new plan. This post is already getting long, so to make it short, if Alex can’t get someone back home to find her registration, then she is going to have to fly back to Tijuana and take a bus to San Diego so she can get a copy of her registration at a AAA/DMV office.
All said and done, we have moved our tickets to Thursday and that is the day that no matter what happens (with-in reason) we will be on he ferry. We don’t blame the system, it was a complete lack of planning that brought us here, but we are happy that it is happening not to far from home. All of the other border crossings might be a breeze compared to this, but at least at the end of this we should have all the documentation we should need in the future.
This too shall pass.