Thursday, October 28, 2010

Itchy Feet!

Daryll writes:

We are still attending school and finish off on Monday and hope to leave early Tuesday morning to Lago Atitlan for 2 nights and then on to Antigua.  Even though the last few days have been tough studying Spanish, I know a lot more now than when I first arrived at the school.  I may not be able to hold a grammatically correct conversation, however I can string words together to get my point across and understand a lot more than I can speak.  With time, I hope to expand my vocabulary so that I can communicate better.  Going to school is intense as we have 1-on-1 instruction so there is no such thing as sitting at the back of the class and messing around, as I would have done when I was back in school.  My Maestra (teacher) tests me every morning on the vocabulario and verbos (vocabulary and verbs) that we studied the previous day.

Angela and her Maestra Dora
We have now been in Xela for 12 days and it is the longest that we have been in one place for and are rearing to get going again.  The time we have spent here though has given us the opportunity to see some of the sights, the cementario being the highlight.  The original cemetery was almost at the centre of town and was moved around a 100 years ago.  It’s site now is about a 20 minute walk from the centre of town and located with Volcan Santa Maria as it’s backdrop.  There is a distinct class system here.  If a family has money, they can pay for a site closer to the entrance of the cemetery and many of these plots are purchased by families to hold the entire family once they die.  The poor on the other hand get the very back of the cemetery and in my opinion, have the best sites as these are located on a hill overlooking the city; not that they are looking for a view.  Something that I found very interesting is that the family of the deceased has to take care of the site on an ongoing basis i.e. weed and cut the grass around the grave.  If there isn’t a family member to do this and if the grave site becomes over-run, the city will step in, remove the body, dispose of the remains in a mass grave and re-use the site.

Volcan Santa Maria in the distance
Another interesting point about Guatemala I thought I would share are the shower heads.  Not everyone has hot water or water in that case and those that do, have an electrical shower head that heats the water before it comes out.  You really don't want to be touching anything whilst taking a shower as I'm not sure how safe these are.

Hotel Andina, Xela
When we originally purchased our travel maps and planned out a route, we had just placed dots on the places we wanted to visit on our maps and left the exact route planning to when we arrived in the country as things change here so quickly that one day a major highway could be open and the next day, it be blocked by a landslide.  So with our free time over the last weekend, we mapped out the next week and a bit that we will spend in Guatemala.  On Tuesday, we are off to Panajachel on Lago Atitlan for 2 nights and then off to Antigua for at least 3 nights where we hope to hike up Volcan Pacaya, one of the active volcanoes in the area.  Then it is off to the northern part of Guatemala to Tikal and one of the largest Mayan ruins in the area before we cross into Honduras.

New pictures uploaded to the Guatemala photo album.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back to School!

Daryll writes:

Over the last few weeks, we have received several supportive emails and comments on the blog from people that we have never met, but who have found our blog through friends, neighbors or work colleagues.  Thank you for all the support and I hope that our updates do justice to our experiences.  Glad to have you along with us.

Apart from Brazil where Portuguese is the official language, Spanish is the official language in the rest of Central and South America.  A few people do speak English and we have been getting by thus far.  Angela did a Spanish course whilst in Vancouver and I still remember a few basic words/phrases from our trip to Peru in 2006 and have been relying on Ang. for anything more than the basics.  So we wanted to take a Spanish immersion course for 2 weeks to get a better feel of the places we visit and be able to communicate with the locals as we travel south.  We chose Xela, in Guatemala for our 2 weeks of school and let me tell you, it is hard work and I admire all those that go back to University or study later on in life. 

The 2 week school fee includes accommodation with a family and 3 meals a day, so we not only get to learn Spanish, but we also get the opportunity to live with a local family.  We were fortunate and lucked out with our family as we were able to get a family that would be able to accommodate the both of us and have secure bike parking for the 2 week period.  Lilly, our host mother does not speak any English, which forces us to communicate in Spanish, guess that is part of the experience.  She has a huge house and as a form of income, has international students stay with her and rents out rooms to other locals that need a place to stay.  The home is lovely and has a warm shower and bathroom a few steps away.  It helped as I got sick from something I ate yesterday and needed to take several trips to the bathroom during the night.  At the moment, Lilly has her son, who speaks fluent English, his wife, their 7 week old son and daughter (not sure of her age) live with her together with another granddaughter.   Lilly’s daughter now lives in the US and there is a long story about that and how she crossed the border through the desert.  Yup, this is real life drama here.  Makes our US border crossing pale in comparison to her story. 

Daryll trying to study
We are up around 6:45 am, have breakfast at 7:15am and it is whatever Lilly makes for the rest of the family.  The food is good and is all traditional food.  We walk about 15 minutes to school and are in school from 8am-1pm and by the end of those 5 hours, we are beat and need a siesta.  We get back home and have lunch and then nap in the afternoon. Well deserved siesta time.  We normally have dinner around 7:30pm with Mario, one of the borders that live at Lilly’s place as well and then try to study for the rest of the evening before going to bed.  The last week hasn’t been very interesting.

I needed some work done on my bike and had got a recommendation from another traveler that recommended a bike shop in Xela and met Horacio, the owner of the bike shop and Alex, his mechanic.  To those that are on their way south, if you need some work done, visit Commercial Aguilar.  Amazing folks with amazing service.  Horacio also races sports bikes and Alex is his pit mechanic and finished 5th in Central America this last season.  Horacio also offered to have his leather guy that repairs his racing suits fix the holes in our gloves as well as my boot.

Horacio, Daryll, Alex
There is a fiesta in town this evening, so we plan on getting out and experiencing some of the local sounds, smell and vibe.

New Guatemala pictures uploaded to the album.
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Into Guatemala!

Daryll writes:

No, there are no stories of fainting and yes, we are both safely in a new country – Guatemala.  The exit out of Mexico was painless – cancel our Temporary Vehicle Import Permits and get stamped out of the country.  To get into Guatemala, we had to have the bikes fumigated (they simply sprayed some liquid on our tires), passports stamped and have the bikes imported into the country.  Both borders took about an hour (1 in Mexico and 3km later the Guatemala border) and was hassle free except for the Guatemalan Migracion officer who asked for 20 pesos (Mexican currency) to have our passports returned after he had stamped them – sounded strange so I simply asked for a “recibo” – he pulled a few drawers open, realized that I wasn’t budging as I knew that the tourist entry into Guatemala was free; he returned both the passports and motioned for me to go without insisting on the payment.  I am sure there are going to be more of those scams to come.

Guatemala Border
As we rode away from the border and into the lush green mountains, it was clear that Mexico was behind us.  The other striking difference were the trucks, buses and every other vehicle on the road that belched up thick black smoke while they plodded along.  Remember your yellow school bus; well all those buses make their way down here, get a new paint job and stay on the road when they are past their prime for North America.

I should have done this for the towns we visited in Mexico as well, but will try and give some background info on the towns we stop at.  We are in Quetzaltenango and don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either; however the city is also known as Xela (pronounced ‘shayla', the Mayan name) which is the second largest city after Guatemala City and is set among a group of high mountains and volcanoes, one of which, Santa Maria caused considerable damage, destruction and 1500 lives were lost after an eruption in 1902.  Now a smaller volcano, Santiaguito, spews clouds of dust and ash on a daily basis and is considered one of the dangerous volcanoes in the world.  Encouraging news as we are here for another 2 weeks as we chose Xela to do our Spanish immersion.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Devastation in Mexico

Daryll writes:

When we arrived in Mexico a few weeks ago, we had learnt that many of the towns on the Gulf Coast around the state of Veracruz were devastated with landslides and while we were in Aguascalientes, the state of Oaxaca got hit with storms and landslides which caused several roads to be closed.  We arrived in the state of Oaxaca a week after the devastation, and experienced it first hand.  We were very lucky that the roads that we took were even open.  We rode through some of the poorest countrysides I've seen since being in Mexico and it was heartbreaking to see the locals lost what little they had.

oneworld2explore - vid 2 from Daryll Naidu on Vimeo.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gotta Love a Good Commute

Hello out there in radio and TV land!  Sorry it’s been getting longer between posts but we have to make the stories first before we can tell you about them. We’re currently staying in a hostel in San Cristobal de Las Casas.  Last night we stayed at a hotel in some random town that actually had a 3 hour room rate! 200 pesos for 3 hrs or 270 pesos for all night.  Clearly we are only staying at the best accommodations. On our ride today we saw the following creatures crossing the road: a 2 foot lizard, a 3 foot snake (much to Daryll’s horror), a freakin’ black tarantula (much to MY horror) and a turtle. Actually the turtle was in the driveway leading out of our hotel. I went to the parking lot to tell Daryll to come see it and when we came back, this vendor lady form across the street had come and taken the turtle away – let’s just say I don’t think she was putting it in an aquarium at home.

So back to last Saturday - on our way to the archaeological site of Teotihuacan we experienced some pretty crazy driving in and around Mexico City. We tried to avoid the freeways and go around this capital as much as possible to get to our destination but we got sucked into the vortex of multiple highways, express lanes, construction and traffic congestion. I was actually concerned about driving there as due to the severe pollution they have daily driving restrictions according the last number of your license plate. Mine ends in 0 and as it turns out, that day I was not suppose to be driving. Luckily I didn’t get pulled over.

In the city people drive wherever they want, even if there are painted lane lines that are suppose to mark territory. Motorcycles don’t seem to command any space requirements at all and if there’s physical space they will drive right beside you. In a particularly wide lane section I tried to stay in a dominate left lane position however traffic then started passing me in my lane, on the right!  The strange thing is though, I don’t actually feel in danger in this crazy traffic flow. I know the others drivers don’t want to hit me as much as I don’t want to be hit. Somehow this chaos works and we end up just going with it and try to stay flexible, even if sometimes our tempers and horns get the best of us. The best thing about driving in Mexico City was the really great people we met in traffic. We had random people pull over to give us directions, others called out their windows to ask us where we were from and where we were going, and many gave us the “thumb up”.  One man even took it upon himself to welcome us to Mexico!

The hard work riding Mexico City paid off the next day when we went to visit the archaeological site of Teotihuacan. The night before we had stayed in a small town about 5 minutes away from the ruins so that we could leave our bikes for the day  and take a cab over to the site.  We did not want to carry our motorcycle gear around the 2 km park, and up and down pyramids all day in the baking sun. Daryll and I arrived to Teotihuacan at 7 am, before the sun came up, in the cold wet fog of the morning. We were the only ones at the park, except for 2 dogs that followed us and frolicked in the grass while we walked up the center street called the “Avenue of the Dead”.  In the fog and the fact that there were no other souls in sight, it was kind of spooky but we had a map and we knew what structures to look for. We almost missed seeing the first of the 2 pyramids due to the fog.  We decided to climb the 248 stairs to the top of the the Pyramid of the Sun and were highly rewarded by reaching the top. This structure is the 3rd largest pyramid in the world (the first 2 are in Egypt) and we that morning, were the only one’s in the whole wide world standing on top of it. It was a pretty cool feeling and we set the camera on auto timer.  After we climbed down the pyramid we went to the site museum and noticed the first tour buses and souvenir vendors arriving.  We then had to share the site with hundreds of other people but that was okay – we were so fortunate to have these structures all to ourselves for the first few hours of the morning. 

In the last couple of days we have witnessed some of the havoc that Mexico’s severe rainy season has caused this year. Yesterday we rode very close to the state of Veracruz where Hurricane Karl went through a couple weeks back. Some of the lowlands that we drove through were absolutely flooded and all the cows, donkeys, and horses were highly concentrated on the higher grassland. The temperature of the air was super cool and damp and there was a huge cloud of mist over the area. I guess the sun was working pretty hard to try and evaporate all the extra water in the area. We did not venture into the state of Veracruz though as we did not want to be a burden on the already  limited resources in the community. Instead we chose to ride southwest, through the state of Oaxaca which because of the increased rain this year, has succumb to numerous mudslides over it’s high mountain roads.  We made sure that our route did not include going to Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca as this is where mudslides actually killed some drivers a few weeks back.

This free road that we took 2 days ago from Tehuacán to the city of Oaxaca was absolutely incredible. It was high mountain, curvy road with lush green scenery.  At the bottom of the valley we could see a raging river of muddy water and see that it had recently burst it’s banks. There were butterflies everywhere and every now and then the air was perfumed by the fresh wild flowers along the road.  Absolutely breathtaking. We weren’t actually sure if this road would be open the entire way as we kept coming across mudslides that had occurred from the rain several weeks back. We have photos and videos of riding this road which we will post shortly. There was hardly any traffic and our speed ranged from about 20-80 km/hr depending on the severity of the twists through the mountains and whether or not there were any sink holes in the pavement to avoid.  We were cautioned well in advance against most obstacles as local road crews had highlighted dangers with painted rocks and piled up bushes. 

Mexico has been very good to us and we will miss it dearly. Heading for Guatemala in 2 days. We’ll keep you posted!

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cobblestone Hell!

Daryll writes:

Guanajuato was founded in 1548 around the silver mines in the area and has a river run through the town causing it to have several underground streets and tunnels that wind their way underneath the town and can be very confusing if you were riding.  There are only 2 directions in Guanajuato as we were told – Up & Down.  We were fortunate to be staying with Kay who gave us fantastic directions to her place which avoided the downtown core.  Kay was kind enough to arrange secure bike parking for us at a friends place; thus giving us the opportunity to park the bikes for a few days and explore the town on foot.  Ang. visited the Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum) but didn’t think too much of it and wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside.

Guanajuato tunnels
While in La Paz a week earlier, I had ordered two 14T sprockets and had them shipped to a friend of ours (Carol-Lee Gordon) who lived in Chapala, so we made our way to Lake Chapala after spending three wonderful days with Kay in Guanajuato.  Carol-Lee also had our Carnet documents that were shipped to Mexico that we needed to pick up as well.  She had given us great directions; however the adventurous type we are, we noticed that there was a short cut that we could take to her home from the opposite direction.  It seemed like it was a paved road as we were taking these smaller “yellow” roads for most of the day as they meandered through farms and the countryside.  We got off the highway and the road climbed into the mountains and crossed a valley to get to the lake.  The pavement was short lived though and as soon as it ended, the road turned to cobblestone that descended the valley with tight switchbacks.  Cobblestone is uneven and the rocks are smooth due to wear over time and in some spots, where the rocks have been dislodged, now only a hole appeared so trying to avoid the holes, and staying upright was a challenge.  The views were incredible and on a straight down hill section, I pulled to the right to take out the video camera.  Ang. wasn’t having any of it as she could barely touch the ground when having the bike stopped due to the uneven cobbles.  The cobblestone continued towards the lake and a dirt road appeared that ran parallel to the lake in the direction of where we wanted to go.  This was definitely not a road as the map had shown, but merely a cow path with deep ruts, ditches with rocks and huge boulders strewn across the road.  This day wasn’t getting any better.  As I steered my bike onto the dirt road, the front end slipped from under me and I had to lay the bike down and roll off.  No damage to myself or the bike thankfully; however with the local kids looking on, and thinking what dumb tourists, I quickly picked the bike up with Ang’s help after maneuvering her bike to a safe spot.  Didn’t think of taking a pic of the bike laying on it’s side; however I am sure there will be more opportunities.  Soon the dirt path ended and a new cobblestone road started that passed through some of the most rural villages along Lake Chapala.  This cobblestone road though had two tracks for car wheels to drive through, so eased the tension and was better to ride on.  As we headed west on this new cobblestone path, it split with the cobblestone track continuing along the lake and a paved road headed away from the lake.  Our map had been wrong before, so we decided to call it quits and take the paved road and backtrack if needed.  Low and behold, this paved road took us right past the entrance to Carol-Lee’s place.

Carol-Lee was the HR Director at the Elmwood Spa in Toronto where Ang. and I worked and met, now almost 9 years ago.  She has been incredible and has been so generous with us being with her as we waited for the package of parts to arrive.  Being at her place was taking a holiday from our holiday as we did nothing but relax and had the opportunity to meet some of her close friends and take in some of the sights of the area.  On our first evening in Chapala, we went out for dinner only to realize that there was a fiesta, parade and fair going on.  It was a Sunday evening and families were out enjoying the music and fair.

Carol-Lee, Collette, John & Mike
Both Chapala and Ajijic the next town on the lake are popular towns where many expats come to retire.  There are some amazing homes in the area.  We also had the opportunity to wonder through a magnificent Spa in an expat complex.  All good things have to come to an end, and it was time to leave and head to Teotihuacan, the largest ruins in Mexico, located just east of Mexico City.

New pictures added to the Mexico album.
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Friday, October 1, 2010

My First Attempt!

Daryll writes:

With having some down time, I managed to edit the video clips I have been collecting along the way.  Note that this is my first attempt at editing, so there are lots of flaws and I still need some practice.  Hopefully I will get better at it as time goes and will make them shorter; so sorry to bore you with this long video.  I did try to add a soundtrack originally, however YouTube rejected the video as the soundtrack was copyrighted.  If anyone reading this knows how I can get around this and add soundtracks to the video clips, please let me know.

oneworld2explore - vid 1 from Daryll Naidu on Vimeo.

On another note, I wanted to send a huge shout-out to Jeff at Procycle.  I should have dealt with this before leaving home, but thought that I can work with the stock gearing on the bikes.  They end up being too tall for the DR's, which means it makes them really difficult to ride on rough terrain.  To fix this, one can drop down to a 14T front sprocket which will make the bike easier to handle in the rough stuff.  Jeff responded to my queries on a Sunday evening and shipped out the parts I needed by Monday to a friend of ours here in Mexico.  Thanks again Jeff for the fantastic service.
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