You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

July 1, 2011

Nicaraguan Jungle Boogie

6/28/2011- Jungle River Lodge

Monday night I got ahold of Alex on Facebook to plan our meeting Tuesday morning.  Turns out he needed another day of diving before coming back… so I had an extra day to kill in the garbage port city La Ceiba.  I don’t dislike many places, but La Ceiba has nothing to offer in town.  I immediately went to Wendy’s and got on their free Wi-Fi.

Before continuing, I had a great time snorkeling Monday morning in Trujillo through a tour set up by Tranquility Bay.  We took off at 8:30am from the T-Bay beach in a boat captained by Carlos.  He first took us a ways down the beach to explore a reef.  The reef was full of extravagant fish and I started by diving as deep as I could to get a better view.  After three minutes of that I realized I had pushed myself too far and my ears were hurting every time I submerged them.  From there on out I just had to swim around face-down on the surface exploring everything from a distance.

After the reef we motored across the bay to a spot known for a prevalence of starfish.  Sure enough, they were there in droves.  Carlos must have collected eight or ten for us to check out.  They weren’t like our starfish at home.  These had hard exterior shells and couldn’t move their arms.  My catch of the day was a baby starfish.  We left that spot and got back to T-Bay round noon.  At the end of it all Brian paid for the entire boat, what a boss.  By 1:00pm I had said my goodbyes and was back on the road.

I had 140 miles on my tank so I tried to find some gas in Trujillo before heading to Tocoa 40 miles away.  The Texaco was under renovation, the other gas station didn’t seem to have any gas, and everyone I asked pointed in a different direction on where to find some fuel for sale.  After forty minutes of dealing with the Honduran petro fiasco I decided to just chance it and hit the road for Tocoa.  The tank should be able to get at least 200 miles, but we have run out of gas earlier on hard riding.  I also had lingering doubts that some gas had evaporated from my tank during the four dormant days baking in the Trujillo sun (it has happened before). 

It was a long forty miles to Tocoa.  I was nervous the entire time, but prepared to start flagging Hondurans to siphon their gas.  At the blown out bridge I had a chance to pour my spare liter of gas into the tank just in case.  Every time I’ve run out of gas before, it has been very hard to get the bike started again whether I added extra gas or not.  The tank wraps around the frame and hangs down on both sides.  When out of gas, you have to lay the bike on its side and tip it upside-down to get the gas on the right side of the tank to pour into the left side where the fuel petcock draws it into the engine.  I didn’t feel like dealing with that scenario, hence the spare liter going in early.

I pulled into Tacoa half an hour later very relieved.  I gassed up and a bought some water and a Snickers.  When I came out of the minimart there was a crowd of Hondurans surrounding my bike.  They wanted to know how much it costs… I told them $1,500.  It just doesn’t seem right to explain to someone that the cheapest bike I could find actually costs a year’s pay in their world.  They were impressed by the 650cc’s.  I gave it a good rev on my way out of the gas station to make their day.

Then I got back to La Ceiba, chatted with Alex, and planned my epic Tuesday.  I found Jungle River Lodge online while searching for canopy zip line tours near La Ceiba.  Jenna in Trujillo had told me they are a blast so I figured that would be a great way to pass the next day.  Jungle River Lodge seemed to be the most popular outpost in the area, so I took down their directions and hit the sack early.  Their tours departed at 8:00am every morning and I didn’t have a reservation… so I needed to get there even earlier.

I rolled in at 7:30am and immediately sank into one of the best views I’ve seen from a hostel (except for Zephyr Lodge of course).  Jungle River Lodge is built overlooking Rio Cangreja and the view was exceptional in every direction.  To each side was the rocky riverbed with the low river meandering through.  Straight ahead the Honduran mountains climbed high overhead covered in pristine untouched jungle.  The sun was beating down and I was at home.  I got a coffee and sat down and started talking to some Texans.

The Texan family was down in Honduras for a volunteer mission.  After a while I caught on that most of the guests in the breakfast were from Texas as well.  They all had crosses hanging from their necklaces as well.  That’s when I met Don.  He had been listening in making small talk for the past twenty minutes as I talked to the other Texans.  The first moment he got he asked me ‘So Tom how do you fit in with Jesus Christ at this point in your life?’

I told him quite well; that I was a confirmed Catholic who was generally good to people.  Not good enough.  I needed to prove my love of Jesus, the other stuff didn’t do it for him at all.  Don started drawing me a diagram on a napkin.  He drew a canyon, started drawing man and his sinfulness in and God and his holiness.  I entertained it.  By the end the whole diagram turned into a cross.  He looked at me as if expecting an epiphany in my eyes.

To his credit, Don was the kindest religion pusher I’ve met.  He was good at not sounding completely insane and he understood my apprehension to the entire conversation.  I told him I was impressed with his speech and said I’d do some thinking on his guaranteed path to salvation.  Then he asked me if I’d like to commit to Jesus right then.  ‘Right now?’  ‘Yes right now, I’ll lead you right here.’  Not about to join hands in prayer with a Texan pastor with a 4,000 member congregation, I told him it was too personal of an experience for me to take so abruptly.  He got it, and after that we just talked about sports.

The Texan mission group left around 9:00am.  I had been asking around to other people and everyone was signing up for the three-hour rafting trip.  By 10:00am I was in the back of a truck with a lifejacket and helmet heading upriver.  We stopped 4km up the road and walked down to the shore. 

Our guides brought the rafts down and put them to the side.  The main guide Juan Carlos started explaining that the river was very low and therefore we could only do a short portion.  In lieu of the rafting, we would be doing a short hike that involved some jumping and swimming beforehand.  The guides did a good job keeping it entertaining.  We jumped off a bunch of cliffs and did a slew of things that would be completely illegal in the states.  After an hour of this we went back and hopped in the rafts.

My raft consisted of me, Darwin the guide, and Ed the Canadian from Vancouver Island.  He’d never rafted before so he wasn’t sure what to expect.  I told him it was pretty simple; just follow the commands and don’t fall in.  We set off like a row of ducklings and headed towards the lodge.  We were told to expect Class I through Class III rapids.  I’ve rafted up to Class IV in the past so I ready for a pretty tame ride.

Turned out there were about seven different rapids, and only one of them was Class III.  Not only that, the ‘rapids’ were one rapid long each.  Literally a focal point between two big rocks where the water churned a bit and then dropped a couple feet on the other side… but that’s alright because I had an awesome time.  Darwin kept it exciting by taking us down half of them backwards.  Not only that, it was just a blast to grab a paddle and cruise around in a raft in Honduras.  The tour was $40 and included a free night’s stay at the lodge, well worth it.

That afternoon and evening I hung out with a trio of travelers heading north together.  There was Sonya from Ireland, Emily from Minnesota, and Amit from Israel.  Amit’s birthday was in a couple days so the girls decided to celebrate it that night.  The three of us ate cake and nursed a bottle of Bacardi and told stories.  Ed hung out for a while with some good insight and eventually we all turned in.   In the morning more goodbyes and I rode back to La Ceiba to meet Alex.

6/30/2011- On the Run

Al and I met as planned and both of us had the same direction in mind: south.  We’d both spent too much money in Honduras and it was time to go.  Honduras had its moments, but as a country, it was my least favorite place to visit.  The locals were nice as far as I could tell, but not warm or welcoming like I found in Mexico and Guatemala.  The place seemed to have some flavor, but I didn’t sense a lot of pride among the people; to hear their political situation for the last couple decades I can hardly blame them.

It’s possible that we just didn’t give it enough time too.  I met some really cool Hondurans everywhere I went.  Dennis and Carlos were my favorites.  There were plenty of others coming in and out of our group during Carnival.  I even met a Honduran-American down here on vacation from Waukegan, IL.  I told him about my Midwest connections and he was thrilled.  Honduras is on the right track, but not there yet.

The only feasible way to Nicaragua was on the Pacific side so we took off back the way we had come in breaking south about 100 miles into the ride.  Al and I rode until 6:00pm through the mountains.  There was a brief downpour and also forty miles of construction.  Just like in Guatemala, you had to defend your lane position the entire time.  With no painted lines or sense of regulation, everyone just starts passing in whatever capacity they can.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to share my lane with an oncoming car that couldn’t wait thirty seconds longer.  It sounds dangerous, but I’m used to it.  I’m a motorcycle; it’s my responsibility to keep the road as open as possible.

We finally stopped at an ‘auto hotel’ in the capital city Tegucigalpa.  I love auto hotels.  They are similar to a motel but the garage is connected to the room itself.  They are usually built in pretty dodgy areas so the deal is once you arrive, they close the garage behind you, and it doesn’t open again until the morning.  The all offer cheap room service, cable TV, and air conditioning.  Perfect for recharging after a day on the road. 

The problem is that they are primarily used as a spot to bring prostitutes.  Some of them charge by the hour and there is always at least one porn channel.  So when Alex and I roll up and ask to share a room with one bed we get some strange looks.  We make it very clear that we are just friends, but I think the culture down here simply takes it as fact that two guys sharing a room in an auto hotel are together.  Oh well, we ordered a pizza and had a great sleep.

We also changed my brakes in the garage.  I knew they were getting weaker but the pads were still visible at a glance so I was wearing them down a little further.  During the construction zone I needed to come to a quick stop when I saw the road was turning to dirt and I ended up locking up my rear tire and squealing for about ten feet.  You’re supposed to give 70% front brake 30% rear since all the weight moves to the front tire during a stop.  My front was too weak so I had to lay on the rear too much and caused the skid.  It wasn’t a big deal, but not something I wanted to deal with again.  Changing the brake pads was a very simple process that involved five bolts and twenty minutes.  Unfortunately, Al couldn’t find his spares after searching his luggage three different times.  He will have to find some soon but he hasn’t had any trouble stopping yet.

This morning we awoke ready to cross the border at Las Manos into Nicaragua.  We went and got some chicken and then plotted our route on the internet.  No map for Nicaragua yet so we are back to taking pictures of google maps and digging out the camera again every time we need to know where we are.  60 miles later we pulled up to the chaotic border scene.

Immediately we were swarmed with fifteen Hondurans who all wanted to help us cross and change our currency.  I had to wade through them to get to immigration and do it myself.  Getting out of Honduras was pretty simple, but getting into Nicaragua was an expensive and confusing ordeal.  After an hour and a half we had our stamps, insurance, and importation paperwork.  We wanted to get as far into Nicaragua as we could with the rest of the afternoon.

Both Alex and I are confirmed passengers on the July 28th voyage of the Stahlratte ship from Panama City, Panama to Cartegena, Colombia.  That means we’ve got one month to cover the next three countries.  There is supposed to be plenty to see in each of them so we’re a little crunched on this stretch.  Our first stop will be in Granada, Nicaragua.  I don’t know anything about it, but that’s where people go so I’ll be there. 

Tonight we made it as far as Esteli, a couple hours north of Granada.  We stopped riding around 4:00pm and found a very cheap hostel meant for Nicaraguan travelers.  I was tired from the heat, the border, and my traffic infraction today.  I got caught passing a semi in a no-passing zone on a straightaway.  Before anyone has visions of funerals, I cannot stress enough how mundane it is to pass on a double-yellow in Central America.  The semi-trucks do it; the school busses do it; everybody does it.  The roads are all two-lane not built to handle long-haul transportation.  Because the truck routes have filled in, though, the roads are clogged with slow, cumbersome rigs puttering along blowing black smoke out the exhaust all day long. 

Since they are often moving around 25mph, they are very easy to pass on a motorcycle as long as you can see well ahead that there is no oncoming traffic.  I chose to do this just as I came into a straightaway.  What I didn’t see was the police checkpoint a couple hundred yards ahead.  They definitely saw me.  White guy on a $5,000 motorcycle breaking the law?  Jackpot!  I ended up paying about $16 for illegally passing and after I handed over the money the cops made sure to stress that we couldn’t tell any other authorities about the transaction.  Fair enough. 

The police force may be corrupt, but they are effective.  I only passed on the dotted line the rest of the day.  Traffic laws seem to be a little stricter here in Nicaragua so I’ll have to stop driving like a Mexican.

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