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.

Big Pictures – Guatemala

(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!)

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediate left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever got to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive was one of my favorite travel experiences to date - made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer. Photo: Alex Washburn

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediately left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever go to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive is one of my favorite travel experiences to date – made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer than the pyramid. This photo represents my favorite spanish word – ‘Madrugada’ The sliver of time between night and day. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. The moments where the tourists could collectively refrain from fidgeting were remarkable. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn't very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn't gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn’t very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn’t gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs in groups of 10-50. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food the noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food they noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

I don't really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

After Tikal’s dawn hike we took a quick nap and hit the road for Flores. I don’t really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. I had Nathaniel take this our first day in Flores. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random times - swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random moments – swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it's also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15,  and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it’s also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15, and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

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!

Bye Bye Baja

Eva and Rick are the lovely people who own Baja Backpackers in La Paz Mexico. Because of the problems with our paperwork we ended up staying at their hostel for over a week and Alex created a new web site for their business.

Eva and Rick are the lovely people who own Baja Backpackers in La Paz Mexico. Because of the problems with our paperwork we ended up staying at their hostel for over a week and Alex created a new web site for their business. Photo: Alex Washburn

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).

We pulled into a nice looking hotel in Guadalajara and intended to check into it until Alex saw a more "cost efficient" business across the street.  The room was about $24 USD but it had hot water and was clean. Photo: Alex Washburn

We pulled into a nice looking hotel in Guadalajara and intended to check into it until Alex saw a more “cost efficient” business across the street. The room was about $24 USD but it had hot water and was clean. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Our route from Mazatlan to Huamantla

Our route from Mazatlan to Huamantla

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.

The Hotel Baja California

Alex looking very hot and frustrated after 6 hours of dealing with immigration paperwork. (Photo: Nathaniel Chaney)

Alex looking very hot and frustrated after 6 hours of dealing with immigration paperwork. (Photo: Nathaniel Chaney)

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.

Entering La Paz off Mexico Hwy-1

Entering La Paz off Mexico Hwy-1 (Photo: Nathaniel Chaney)

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.