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Archive for February, 2011

Caught In The “Strom”

Caught In The “Strom”

Pereira, 24-Feb-2011

Llama technical name is “V-Strom”.  The name V-Strom combines V referring to the bike’s V engine configuration with the German word Strom, meaning stream or current. In the following weeks, my trip will revolve around my bike: I was caught in its “Strom”.

Hints about the trouble awaiting me started in Cancun airport when Colombian immigration required me to have a return plane ticket, i.e. a ticket or way out of the country as a proof I will leave.  Duh, I will be riding my bikes out! OK, sure Colombian women are drop dead gorgeous and I could see why a guy would want to stay, but come-on boys, share the wealth. AnywayZ, it took me a good hour of back and forth messages with Bogota before I was allowed to board the plane.  Later I realized I was lucky to even have made it in.  You’ll see why later, but first thing first; once I got to Bogota all I wanted to do is to go see my baby: nothing beats the sweet prrr of Llama.  The following day I went to renew my bike’s temporary import permit issued by the DIAN, the Colombian Aduana.  After visiting 4 different DIAN locations, each pointing me to the other, I finally found the right office which would help me with my papers: it was the head office!  There are no receptionist here, no customer service desk; this is the actual customs agency offices.  So I interrupted the very busy government workers (most where sipping their coffee while chit-chatting and laughing with their colleagues) and I was sent from one cubicle to the next, from one floor to the other, until I was finally pointed to a person who could help… even if he actually didn’t know it! Have you seen “Les 12 traveaux d’Asterix”? Remember his task in a government office where he needed to get a permit? Bingo, he was here!  AnywayZ, I filed my bike’s extension claim and headed back to relax and chill in Bogota.  I visited Botero museum (still don’t get him…at least other artists were on display) and went to Zipaquirá, the famous salt mine cathedral.  The cathedral itself didn’t change much since 2001 the last time I was around; they installed better lighting which really highlights the beauty of the place but on the other hand, it’s now a fully fledged tourist center: snacks, coffee shop, a cinema (in 3D please), artesania, “salt” souvenirs,… even an emerald stand are within the mine’s hallway, 160m deep.

Weekend parties were great and when Monday came, I called the DIAN office to know if I can pick up my papers as I was itching to hit the road. “Your extension request was denied”. Wow, easy now… Why? Well, t turned out the moment I left the country to go on my Caribbean Escapade the bike’s permit was canceled; and that was nearly a month ago, back on January 11th. Technically the law requires the imported vehicle to also leave the country once the owner’s do so.  But how could I have known? I decided to just head to the office and talk to them f2f.  For the next 2 days I tried to make my case.  “Sorry, my mistake, but look at it from my point of you. No one told me anything about these “misterious” laws; it’s not written on any paper I got, I was even allowed to leave the country without anyone asking me about the bike”“all I want is a simple extension to visit YOUR country”“I think Colombian customs have more serious problem then a tourist on a motorcycle enjoying his time here”.  Unfortunately, that didn’t help.  Actually, the situation got worst. “Where’s your bike, it’s illegal in the country and we are required to confiscate it”.   Great, kick me when I am down guys.  Actually the customs officers weren’t at all mean, they were caught in the same bureaucracy I was tangled in and they were just doing their job… although all I wanted was a simple extension.  “Amigo, you can’t confiscate my bike, it’s all I’ve got”.  One of the managers took me on the side: “So just exit the country, hope the police won’t stop you along the way and pray that the border’s customs agent turns a blind eye and let you exit”.  That doesn’t seem to re-assuring now, does it? Especially knowing my luck with the cops. “Can you give me a temporary permit so I can just make it to the border?”. No. Case closed. Defeated, head low, I headed back to my hostel with one thing on my mind: Get out of here, NOW!.   Well actually I was also thinking of faking the customs papers (Photoshop baby!). It’s easy enough, just change the expiry date. But the risk was too big: Not from the DIAN paper point of view, the police won’t even realize what hit them.  The issue was rather my bike’s SOAT (Colombia’s mandatory insurance): This can’t be faked, it’s traceable by the cops and if anything happens on the road I will be caught red-handed.  Basically, I would dig my own grave.  So the only valid option was to rush to Ecuador in 2 days, leaving tomorrow, Wednesday morning.  But the sun shone a little on me: Tim, an Oz fellow rider I met in Bogota will accompany me to the border.  That’s great news: cops rarely, if ever, stop multiple riders.  We decided to leave a day later as Tim had a few things to take care off.  As for Llama it was well hidden in the hostel so the DIAN won’t find it if they decided to show up; everyone knew to say it left already.

We rode up early Thursday morning (Kilometer 36,539; Bogota, 10-Feb-11 @ 7:15) aiming to reach Cali by sunset.  It’s a long ride mainly because it’s a mountainous terrain: we first head down the Cordillera Central, cross the Rio Magdalena then up the Cordillera Occidental (up to 3,300m.a.s.l) before heading down again to reach Cali.  It was an amazing route and I took huge pleasure riding it.  And Tim was great company; not only to share a few laugh each time we took a break (Red Bull time!) but also he rides as fast as me and we ripped through the mountain roads and leaned deep on the twisties.  We made it to Cali (Kilometer 37,029; Cali, 10-Feb-11 @ 16:05) with sore “behinds” and once there, as Tim put it: “I need a beer and a shower but you know which comes first!” :).  Next morning rain was to the rendezvous, accompanying us up to Popayan (Kilometer 37,181; Popayan, 11-Feb-11 @ 10:50) but from there on it cleared up and we could enjoy the roads again, although the first part was very slippery, I had a couple frightening fish tails! Close call guys, saved by kicking my foot on the ground to lift the bike back up. By early afternoon, the sun shone strong to dry the roads just in time for the most beautiful stretch:  up from Pasto to Ipiales zigzagging on narrow mountain road.

I had a simple plan to pass the border: Don’t stop :).  That sounds ridiculous anywhere else but the Ecuador/Colombian border is just a bridge and the custom + immigration offices lies on the side of the road at each end of the bridge; whose to stop me from just going straight?  And that’s exactly what I did.  Once Llama was safe in Ecuador, I freely walked back to Colombia immigration to get my passport stamped before heading back in Ecuador to do the same (Whom actually still haven’t got my files properly in the system and luckily I found the border agent who helped me last time I was here; he recognized me, told me to leave the passport with him until tomorrow and he’ll take care of me while I rest in Tulcan).  And while Tim was getting his Ecuadorian temporary bike custom’s papers ready (took 3 hours), I crossed back to Colombia to ask if it was OK for me to head back tomorrow into the country with my bike.  Hey, no one will stop the Llama show!… well maybe lack of money but that’s another story. For tonight celebrations are in order and we got a couple of liters of beer to help with that (Kilometer 37,532; Tulcan, 11-Feb-11 @ 21:15).

I said my goodbye to Tim as he was heading to meet a friend in Quito while I rode back to Colombia.  I only was able to cross the border by noon time because of my aforementioned Ecuadorian immigration file issues (Kilometer 37,536; Ipiales, 12-Feb-11 @ 12:55).   At least the sun was shining and I just decided to ride until sunset at which point I’ll find a village to lay my head down for the night.  By late afternoon, as I am zipping through some tricky mountain road I passed 2 bikers stopped on the side of the road.   That doesn’t look right! I immediately u-turned to see wassup & offer help to my bros.  My fears were true: a 3rd rider had crashed.  Dan (US) and Nick & Rob (Canada) were riding south when Dan was caught by a closing radius sharp right turn, oversteered and clipped his panier on an incoming car.  The bike jolted to its right then flipped forward throwing Dan head first on the pavement before the bike tumbled on top of him, pinning him down.  This happened just a few minutes ago; Dan was bruised and shocked but he was OK, able to move all his body members except for his left foot.  While Rob was dealing with the car owner regarding the damage, Nick and I were just trying to be with Dan.  He didn’t want to go to the hospital as of yet and after a while we told him to remove his boots so we could check the damage; we needed to know what we are facing and make a decision.  Well, his big toe was enflamed and its nail ripped out and bleeding heavily.  As nightfall was closing I knew we needed to get out of here: this is an unsecure area at night, a guerilla hot bed (Kilometer 37,797; accident scene just south of El Bordo, 12-Feb-11 @ 16:20). El Bordo was 5Km ahead and the car owner proposed to take Dan to the hospital. I proposed to Nick and Rob to ride back to accompany him, find a hotel and come back 2up to drive Dan’s bike back to the town. In the mean time I’ll stay on guard here: “Just be back before 18:30 guys”!

Kilometer 37,805; El Bordo, 12-Feb-11 @ 18:35. The “hospital” (actually more of a clinic) cleaned Dan’s wound, gave him pain killers and told him to go rest and wait until Monday (it was Saturday) for the private clinic to open where he could get his foot X-rayed.  So we all headed back to the hotel, sat in the outdoor restaurant to relax, eat and have a drink: it’s been a long day.  The next morning, while Dan went back to the clinic (his toe was still bleeding) I took the bike to a local mechanic, Elvio, to start with the repair while Nick and Rob were packing up and watching over Dan.  By 13:00, the boys continued their journey south (they were really short on time) and I decided to stay in El Bordo to keep Dan company and to help around: Dan needed a lot of rest (not to mention the pain killers took care of putting him to sleep) and there were lots to deal with: Hospital, Insurance, Bike repair, Panier soldering,…

By Monday early afternoon most of the stuff to do were in motion: Elvio will watch over Dan and the bike, the doctor was awaiting for the X-ray, the welder shop dealing with the panier, I agreed with the hotel owner not to let Dan ride until he’s better :), and the local restaurant señora will cook for Dan special meals to his liking,…  it still amazes me how much Colombian are nice, helpful and caring people and especially here in El Bordo the locals are genuinely kind; Dan is still with them up to now.  As for me, well my show was still running and I needed to head north.

Since I left El Bordo late that afternoon, the farthest I could reach was Manizales; but I didn’t even make it there. By sunset I was in Pereira and decided to stop for the night (Kilometer 38,243; Pereira, 14-Feb-11 @ 19:00). Pereira is a manufacturing town, richer than other Colombian cities and Suzuki’s assembly line is here.  I was still trying to get an appointment with them (yeah, what’s new) and me staying here will hopefully force the issue. It did and on Wednesday I went to meet with Juan-Carlo Manzur (yep, Lebanese descendant) head of Suzuki motorcycle marketing and Ricardo one of his managers.  They liked my proposal, were impressed by my trip and with my Suzuki but needed me to make an official request and presentation so it can be forwarded to their director for evaluation.  I spent the next 2 days working on the proposal aiming to impress: The idea we agreed upon was to develop an interactive DVD based on my website which contains all information needed by any motorcyclist to travel in South America: Where to go, what to visit, which road to take, distance, time required, status of the road, paperwork needed, mechanic, local contacts,…and much more.  This software would be distributed with each bike and to existing customers and motorcycle clubs.  By Friday, I sent in my proposal and feeling proud with what I have done, I decided to go to Manizales, a nearby mountain town, to rest and hike its surroundings (Kilometer 38,359; Manizales, 18-Feb-11 @ 16:15).  Manizales nests high up on a ridge surrounded by tremendous green scenery.  On Saturday I went to a local orchid and butterfly park before spending my afternoon in the city itself.  On Sunday, I joined John-Edward, a Suzuki technician I met at the assembly who called in his riding buddies for a motorcycle trip to Los Nevados national park: we were 8 V-Stroms riding through the cloud forest and altiplano, a gorgeous setting in the high Andean mountain.  We had lunch in a small village on the other side of the park, before passing (to my great excitement) thorough a village called Libano. I was snapping my pictures like crazy and telling everyone in the street that I am from the real Lebanon, to the local complete indifference; they were just looking at me amused by the sight.  Ah well, whatever makes you happy.  We continued our road down the valley to visit Armero, a village destroyed by a horrific mud-slide back in 199 6 which left 20,000 dead, before heading back up the Cordillera Occidental to Manizales.  We only made it back home long after dark, exhausted yet extremely happy and satisfied with our day (Kilometer 38,647; Manizales, 21-Feb-11 @ 19:20).

I headed back to Pereira on Monday, awaiting Suzuki’s response… but nothing came.  I sent them an e-mail mentioning that I could afford to wait for their answer (I still want to visit Colombia vs. working) however I need to do some maintenance on the bike, especially new tires and brakes and re-asked if they could help on that front with a discount on parts… to which they told me yet again “mañana” (BTW this mañana answer started last Thursday).  Another mañana came and things were still the same.  Luckily I became friends with some of the people working in shops around my hotel and they pointed me to a trustworthy mechanic, Alvaro. And since I already went to check shops for the necessary bike parts, I just headed to Alvaro’s and during the following 2 days, I forgot about Suzuki and just hanged out with Alvaro, Cesar and the guys, working on the bike. The boys took amazing good care of my baby and by Thursday afternoon I was finally ready to hit the road. Suzuki was passé, I didn’t even re-contact them; I just wanted to get out of this town.  Although it was late and I would reach Bogota way after sunset I just saddled up and hit the road (Kilometer 38,718; Pereira, 24-Feb-11 @ 14:35); beside I promised Adriana to meet her in Bogota not to mention I need to continue on with my trip.

Ride up!


Photo Album


Caribbean Escapade

Caribbean Escapade

Riviera Maya, 3-Feb-2011

The Llama show is taking a few weeks break:  I need to attend 2 of my friend’s wedding in the Caribbean and the faster (and cheaper) way to get there is by taking a plane.  I debated a lot on if I should ride with Llama to Mexico but a few things held me back: First, the cost.  Not only the actual trip through Central America but also shipping the bike to Panama.  It’s a U$D 880 to cross the Darien gap by sea for both of us, more expensive if we want to fly.  The problem is exacerbated when you think that I have to ship the bike back to Colombia or Ecuador.  The other factors were the rough seas at this time of year: I met so many riders who had a miserable trip, sea sick and all, while crossing the ocean and a few of the bikes needed a tune-up once on land because of all the salt and waves hitting it.  And finally, time.  I hate being rushed, I don’t want to run crossing 7 borders and no way am I going to miss my friend’s wedding.

My first stop was Panama; most flights to Central America will stopover in Panama City’s airport, a huge hub in the region.  Otherwise it is via Miami and hell no, I am not dealing with the US immigration and airport security.  Imagine this: a Lebanese (these guys forget that I am Canadian too) travelling by motorcycle and now on a 3 week loop from Colombia to Mexico. Yeah, that sounds fun.  Beside, I will have the opportunity to visit Panama so let’s just forget American Airlines!  I took the early morning flight and my only comment is: nothing beat flying on Llama :).  I had one main destination in Panama: visiting the San Blas archipelago.  San Blas is a cluster of around 360 small islands on the eastern coast of Panama in the Caribbean.  The image of this archipelago is straight out of a beach paradise movie; most riders crossing south took a boat through the archipelago and their story pushed me to explore it myself.  So the next morning I hoped on the jeep heading to the Caribbean coast where a “lancha” (i.e. a ~12m long wood/fiberglass boat) would take us to the island of our choosing.  As we reached Miramar, we were met by severe winds forming a 4m high swell and the police’s marine unit closed the port… for tourists at least.  Locals can still come and go: the sea is their livelihood but then again we all share the same danger.  We later found out the reason of the port closure: a lancha cap-sized, luckily everyone on-board was unharmed.  Taking this into account, the police closing the port to tourists was more about not dealing with an international incident vs. safety; if local dies, no one is going to come after the marines.

Not all was bad though.  The (unique?) village hostel offered to take most of us in.  We were treated like kings: Special food was prepared for us and a few villagers joined us for lunch before being offered to go to a luxury hotel just off the coast: No one was there at the moment and we could use the beach front pool.  That was enough to convince us and we spent the afternoon chilling and laughing by the pool side: Our gang was made of 2 German girls Tamara &), a Swedish couple (Michael & Jessica), 2 fellow Canadians (Josh & Gaven) and a Spaniard (Blash).  At night, we got treated to a BBQ in the hotel courtyard, the cooler had cold beer and the music filled the air.

Next morning, the seas were “relatively” calmer and the hotel owner got a boat ready to take us to San Blas.  It was a very rough ride: the boat was riding up the waves before smashing down hard.  The boat might take it (although a couple of us were questioning it) but our backs surely didn’t; my whole back vertebra up to my neck felt as if it was squashed. Add to that plowing through 2-3m high waves meaning we were constantly splashed by sea water.  But 2 hours later, as we crossed the barrier reef and entered the archipelago, the sea was calm and serine.  The outer edge of the barrier reef act like a shield, a port’s harbor if you wish, blocking all the waves and offering us smooth sailing in between these palm filled islands.  San Blas belongs to the Kuna, an autonomous native culture who owns and manages the archipelago.  An island is owned by 1 or 2 Kuna families who live here and choose to build a few huts to cater for tourists: absolute basic lodging and 3 meals a day, mostly fresh sea food.  What else do you want? Oh yeah, rum :). How does $7 the bottle sounds like?  Entering the archipelago, we had the choice to go to any of the surrounding islands in the vicinity of Porvenir.  The girls chose to be dropped off at Iguana Island, a very small and isolated island with a couple of huts while the rest of us chose between a few other islands capable of receiving a dozen or so tourists thus offering a little bit more “life” but still being less than 100m in length.   I stayed at Senydup’s, sharing “my” island with several other cool tourists (Cray and Kate from Oz, Matheas from Deutshland, Marie, Andrea from Austria) all out here to relax and have a few drinks.  So what to do on an isolated palm island? Well first, watch out for falling coconuts.  Honest, these things can kill: 4 or 5 times a day a coconut will fall 15m down, the sound enough to send shiver down your spine. Second, just be :): Relaxation and fun are the motto here.  It’s truly a piece of paradise on earth.  Nights are even better:  we huddle around a bonfire, drinks are passed around, jump for a midnight swim (or skinny-dipping ;)) under the moonlight,…   During the day, I managed to organize a tour via lancha to a few surrounding islands so we can explore more of paradise, go snorkel, leave our footsteps on sandy shores and swim in different beaches.  We even visited the main community island to get a feel on how the Kuna go about their daily lives.

Unfortunately I had to head back to the mainland soon and due to the bad seas I wisely (read “reluctantly”) decided to have a 1 day buffer.  It will also allow me to continue my visit of Panama city: I wanted to check the Panama Canal in action at the Miraflores lock, visit Panama Viejo which was famously and ruthlessly sacked & burned by captain Henry Morgan (Ever wondered where Captain Morgan Rum name comes from?) and party in the trendy Uruguay street of new Panama.  BTW, new Panama City is a city of high-rises and wealth: A lot of money flows through these streets, not only because of the Canal but also because Panama is a major trade hub with all sorts of goods funneling through here (legally or illegally – and I am not talking about prohibited stuff!).   Even El-Donaldo (Donald Trump) is building one of his major Casino/Hotel complexes.  The sad part is new Panama stands next to the poorest slums I have seen.  The ironic part is that all of these skyscraper apartment buildings are empty: the 3 nights I spent in Panama City, the majority of these building had no lights… ghost town.  Inquiring with the locals taxi drivers and they are quick to point: these buildings are great money laundering tools.

Panama photo album

l left to Republica Dominicana the next morning and checked in into luxury.  Carol and Ravi will be getting married at the Paradysus, a prestigious beach resort.  Poor me, switching from hostels and dorms with skimpy breakfast to an all inclusive luxury resort.  Let me put it in another way: 1 night here will allow me to live almost a month in Bolivia.  At least Jaime and Kifa7 arranged that I share their room and soon after I was chilling on the beach with my good TO friends.  That alone was worth the trip.  During the 3 days leading to the wedding we hanged out by the beach, enjoying the tourist “scenery”, gouging on exquisite food, drinking Piña Colada, Mamajuana and CocoLoco before the group re-gathered for our nightly dinners and party.  As for the icing on the cake, well of course it was Carol and Ravi’s beach shore wedding.  The setting was truly magical and it was a sweet little ceremony surrounded by family and good friends.  These 2 were dating for more than 11 years and this ceremony was long in the waiting: you could see the joy exploding from the parents faces as much as the newly wed.  BTW, Ravi “was not worried” ;).

Carol & Ravi's wedding - Rep. Dominicana

I didn’t sleep that night as after the party I headed directly to the airport: my next destination was Cancun for Becky and Jason’s wedding that same afternoon.  All was going according to plan with the flights and timing… except I forgot about Jason’s cool and relaxed way of living :).  I was checking my e-mail at Panama’s airport to see how to meet-up with the boys prior to the wedding when I saw an e-mail from Jason.  It was sent yesterday, Thursday morning, informing us that the wedding day has been moved to “today @ 14:00”!  Oops, I missed the wedding :(.  The local weather channel predict a thunderstorm to lash Cancun on Friday and Becky made sure the wedding will still go ahead by having it moved one day earlier to Thursday. It was utterly disappointing not to be by Jay’s side on his wedding day and I felt disheartened, I really wanted to be part of this special occasion especially when you think the reception was purposely held to accommodate less than a dozen very close friends including family.

We made it up though.  The next 3 days, as the bride and groom’s parents headed back to Canada, I spent most of the days with Jason and Becky as well as Barry, Ryan and Sarah.  Becky even offered to wear the wedding dress at their beach hotel so I could be in the wedding picture.  The final day was spent chilling at their honeymoon resort before I let the newlywed enjoy their new life together (like their neighbors were ;)).

Becky & Jason's wedding - Cancun, Mexico

Now it’s time to stretch my legs – other than on the dance floor.  Since Cancun is an overhyped, rather anonymous and uninspiring beach city I decided to head south: my first stop was to head to Guatemala to visit the famous Tikal ruins.  Ever since I visited Palenque’s Maya ruins on the Mexican side I was eager to explore this other Maya marvel.  When I arrived to Flores, the base city to visit Tikal, I was in luck: a young British/Oz couple (Claire and Toby) were heading for a 3 day trek to reach Tikal (BTW, you can also directly visit Tikal via a 1 hour bus ride from Flores).  I happily joined them and the next morning, our guide Julian and ariero Carlos took us through the forests to our first campsite: Zots.  Zots means “bats” in the Maya language and the temples here, although overgrown by vegetation gave us a glimpse of the grandeur of the Mayan cities in current day Guatemala.  And the name “Zots” comes for the nearby cave where thousands of bats hide during the day before rushing out in a swarm at sunset.  Unfortunately for us (and even more for the bats) the cave crumbled a couple of days before we came.  But we still managed to see the surviving bats exit through a small whole in a furry buzz.  It lasted around 1 minute and we could hear the loud whistling sound and feel the wind resulting from this bat convoy.

At dinner time, we found out that Tikal actually lays 10hours away from Zots and our camp 2, the last permitted and safe campsite prior to entering the dense jungle is only a 3 hour walk from here.  That mean on our 3rd day, we will arrive late and tired at Tikal, only allowing us a few hours to visit the site.  We got tricked by the agency… and this was on top of finding (the painful way) that the food we got served at breakfast/lunch was expired! All of us, even the guides, spent the first night holding our stomach.  Next morning, feeling better  we decided to go for it: we will walk the 36Km separating us from Tikal (for me it will be a total of 43Km as I woke up early in the morning for a 1 hour walk to visit other Zots pyramids).  But Julian and Carlos were not in agreement with our decision and tried their utmost to make us stay at the 2nd camp.  Their fear was walking at sunset or in the dark in the jungle to reach Tikal: deadly spiders and snakes abound and incidents have been reported.  Carlos even “disappeared” on us for half an hour at lunchtime, leaving us with the task to light a fire and prepare lunch, otherwise it would have been impossible to carry on with our journey. Only by 14:00 we finally hit the road again.  We knew we had to rush and do 6 hours in less than 4.  And this was not your usual walk in the park: we where zigzagging through thick jungle, watching for overhead branches, avoiding spine filled tree trunks  (I grabbed one once trying not to fall… damn it hurts) or lianas littering the soil.  But it was a spectacular walk: the flora and fauna are stunning.  Every once and a while we hear the frightening (yet harmless) sound of howler monkeys and at other times we cross under a group of spider monkeys.  These guys were sometimes not too happy by our presence and start shaking violently the tree branches, breaking some of them and throwing them at us.  It’s even known that spider monkeys ill actually pee on you although it didn’t come to that today. We reached Tikal by sunset to the great relief and astonishment of Julian: he was really worried about us but all is good.  We entered the site and Toby and I even climbed the famed Temple IV to witness the warm sunset colors.  We then treated ourselves to a nice dinner, a good shower and soon thereafter we were fast asleep.

We woke up early morning to go witness the sunrise on Tikal.  Toby and Claire decided to go to Temple II to see the sunrise light up temple IV while I went to the later to see the actual sun rising.  None of us got their wish as it was a cloudy day.  Soon thereafter, Toby and Claire joined me on top of Temple IV and since we were alone, we took advantage of the moment, absorbing this magical sight, gazing at the complex in front of us while listening to howler monkeys and having our breakfast.  Once people started showing up we left to visit the site.  It’s really extensive, Tikal used to house an estimated 90,000 people.  Temples, platforms, altars and stelae abound and I strolled around the site up to closing time.  Pictures say it all and I really struggled to choose which ones to put.  A notable highlight was seeing and listening to howler monkeys when I returned (yet again) to Temple IV in late afternoon.

Tikal photo album

That night I had dinner with Claire and Toby and in the morning we said our goodbyes.  I was heading to Belize while they were further exploring Guatemala.  In Belize, same as in Guatemala, I only wanted to visit one site, this time the island of Caye Calker for some scuba diving.  During the Llama show I took pleasure in spending relaxed time and not rushing, enjoying my destinations to their fullest.  Belize with Caye Calker will be the same and I will spend 4 days here.  I first went snorkeling on the nearby reef, swimming with nurse sharks, rays and a multitude of fish before going Scuba diving.  On my first diving day, I went to dive the outside wall of the coral barrier before heading out the following day on a 2 hour boat ride to Turneffee Atoll for a 3 dive trip around some pristine coral reef and the oceans wall.  We saw turtles, sharks, spotted manta rays, moray eels,… but the best part was the astonishing coral floor.  It is an absolute marvel of submarine life and vegetation, in startling shapes and colors teaming with fish and small cretaceous.  I was joined by Perrine and Jocelyn, a French couple whom I met in Tikal.  It was an even more special moment for them:  Jocelyn just proposed to Perrine (congrats guys!) and the celebrations and photo taking was in full swing, even underwater.  I was lucky enough as Perrine took a few pics of me and shared her pics & videos!  Even if my scuba experience was remarkable, I have to admit that seeing a dolphin swimming freely in the ocean was a particularly special moment.

I decided not to dive the famous Blue Hole.  It was very expensive trip and diving 8min to a 40m depth after 2 hours of open water boat ride was not my cup of tea.  Instead, I decided to head back to the Riviera Maya to dive with Tiger sharks… although that didn’t turn out well either: the Tiger shark season ended a month ago (who didn’t do his homework?).  Ah well, next time.  But it really wasn’t all that bad. I went diving in a couple of cenotes off Playa del Carmen with Chac Mool internal air filled cavern full of stalactite being absolutely amazing.

Deep Blue photo album

And that’s it.  Tomorrow I will rejoin my baby and get my show on the road again.

Ride up!