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Cindie's Travel Journal for Guatemala #1: The Highlands
La Mesilla to Antigua, Guatemala
(Nov. 8 - Dec. 15, 2002)

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Nov 8 La Mesilla, Guatemala to somewhere on the road to Huehuetenango.  We slept in and got kind of a late start.  I always dislike border towns and could not get away fast enough.  On the way out of town we passed a trash heap and people were walking all over it.  I thought what are these people doing living in a trash heap.   Then Tim said, "They are looking for food or things to sell".  I was quite unnerved by the scene.

We steadily climbed up and away from La Mesilla.  We thought that there would be little towns and then open stretches of road but it seemed that for the first 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) there were little houses lining the road all along the way.  These houses were made of concrete, discarded building materials, and sometimes adobe.  We saw wash basins outside of the house, and women weaving on the porch.  We moved on up the road and began riding in a narrow canyon.  The height of the canyon walls ranged from 1000 to 2000 feet of shear limestone cliff.  The river below was raging through a deep ravine and over large blocks of limestone.   Waterfalls were abundant and springs gushed out of the rock near the road.   The sky was beginning to cloud up and the ceiling started to drop quickly.  We decided to start looking for a place to camp.  We rode ten kilometers (6.2 miles) and still could not find a place to camp. When there was a flat spot between the river and the cliff there was always a little house placed there. 

While we were riding through one particular stretch I saw what I though was a rock hit the ground.  I looked up and could not even see the top of the cliff.  Then in front of me to the right a piece of fruit smashed to pieces.  Oh s**t.  I said, "Lets get out of here, someone is throwing fruit at us and trying to hit us."   I put it in high gear and rode as fast and hard as I could.  I could hear things hitting the ground behind me.  Tim was behind me.  He had a full water bag strapped on top of his rack along with everything else he was carrying. This added an extra 20 lbs. so he was a bit slower.  It was obvious that the fruit (the size and weight of a cantaloupe) was being thrown from high above (200 feet or more).  I knew that if it hit me in the head I could seriously be injured if not killed.  I did not want to met my demised by getting hit by a piece of fruit.  I was worried that Tim being larger and a bit slower was a better target then I.  We got away but Tim had a close call with fruit hitting directly in front of him (he had to ride through the spray) and inches away from his right side. We both were a bit shaken after that ordeal.  We still had to find a camp site and it began to rain.  We searched in vain but found nothing.  We turned a corner and saw a structure with a tin roof that looked like a rickety car port.  The sign said that it was a bus stop for school children.  We pushed our bikes under just before the down pour.  We discussed what kind of damage to your spine a cantaloupe thrown from 200 feet above would cause.  We concluded death.

We settled in and the locals were wondering why a couple of gringos were camped out in their bus stop.  A few men came over to talk.  They were indigenous to the area, friendly and polite.  The women wore colorful scarves in their hair and beautifully woven skirts and blouse.  It is obvious that these people live a hard life.   They carry their burdens on their back with a strap around their forehead.   The mountains are steep and the trails look like only billy goats could go up them.

We stayed the night without incident, however, it did rain most of the night.  Tim did not get much sleep but he said he knew I was sleeping when he heard me snoring.

20.5 miles
Nov 9 The bus stop to Huehuetenango.  We woke up bright and early and it seemed that everyone else was up early too.  People were at the bus stop flagging down any car or bus (chicken bus) they could.  We packed up and continued up the canyon.  This area of the canyon is very narrow and there was evidence of landslides at every turn.  Our pace slowed down to a crawl. 

At one point we saw a cluster of new graves on the side of the road and people were placing flowers and candles on them.  We later found out that a bus had gone over the cliff here and dropped 300 meters (1000 ft.) to the river.  The only survivors were three people who were thrown from the bus on the way down.  I think it is safer to be on a bike right now.

We stopped for some lunch near Colotenango.  We had eggs and beans.  In Guatemala their currency is the quetzal.  One US dollar equals 7.8 quetzales.   The only quetzales note I had was 100, ($12.80) but I could not find anyone at the restaurant, store or market who had change.  Finally, I found a merchant who had change.

We continued to climb out of the canyon.  The homes here are without electricity and running water.  We passed a group of men making cinder blocks by hand.   Whole families passed us carrying wood on their backs.  Everyone had a burden including grandpa and grandson.  Women carry everything on their head from vases full of water to vegetables.  I am glad we are here at harvest time because I think that food would be hard to come by at other times.  I have never seen people struggling so hard just to eat and stay alive.  I felt over weight and spoiled.  Its times like this I realize what a great land of opportunity the United States is.  We may consider some people to be poor in the US but rarely do they struggle for survival the way these people do. 

We finally arrived in Huehuetenango. and went out for dinner.  We were so hungry that we had two dinners a piece.  Food and lodging are much cheaper here than Mexico.   Our hotel room at Hotel Gobernador is 41 quetzales ($5.30) with a shared bath with plenty of hot water.  Our dinner cost 30 quetzales ($3.80) each.  My favorite snack is a frozen banana covered with chocolate and nuts.  I use to eat these as a kid on the New Jersey shore.  They are a bit cheaper here at 1 quetzal ($0.12).

33.5 miles
Nov 10 It is Sunday in Guatemala and it is pretty much the same as Mexico, everything is closed.  We walked around for an hour looking for a bank machine and finally found one that took our Visa ATM debit card.  We were worried that we could not get quetzales (local currency) with our card.  No problem, Honduras will be another story but we do not have to worry about that now.

Huehuetenango is a town of about 20,000.  The town is run down and has abandoned buildings here and there.   The people are not as smartly dressed as in Mexico and there is a sense of sadness in the air.  This area of Guatemala saw heavy fighting during the civil war and this town was virtually a ghost town for many years.  It seems that it takes a long time to heal the wounds of war.

We learned this evening that the electricity could go out at any time. Right in the middle of a movie is not the best time but that is exactly what happened.  Ah well, it was a B movie anyway.

Nov 11 Our mission for today was to get our laundry done.  Easier said then done.  Normally we wash it by hand, but it was pretty dirty from sweat and the damp jungle.  The one laundry mat in town had lost power the night before and was without electricity.  All this dirty laundry and no place to go.  I could hardly stand carrying it any where.  With nothing else to do, we made our way to the internet cafe to check email. While there we met Nellie from Texas. She said she knew a women who would wash our cloths by hand.  She said that Juanita needed the work because she had just lost her job and she had three kids to feed.  So we made arrangements to meet the next morning.

When we returned from the internet we met Juan who had worked in the state of Maryland and spoke pretty good English.  He was impressed with our trip and took us out to dinner at a local cafe.  We had chili Rellenos, not the kind in Arizona where they cover a chili with batter, stuff it with cheese and then fry it. This chili Rellenos was a mixture of carrots, onions, and chilies rolled in batter and fried.   Pretty good.

Nov 12 I dropped the laundry off at Nellie's house.  It was an adventure just finding it.  I stopped and asked people along the way lots of questions and rode up and down streets two or three times.  The whole place is half built and in need of paint.  The roads are so full of pot holes they might as well be dirt.  The outside of Nellie's condominium looked run down.  However, when I went inside it looked like any modern condominium in the USA.  Appearances are deceiving in Guatemala.  I dropped off our clothes and made plans to pick them up tomorrow.  I paid 33 quetzales ($4.25) to get three loads of laundry cleaned by hand.  That was a days wage for this women.  I paid her the same amount I would the laundry mat. Most people pay her less.  I suggested to her to put up a sign in the hotels for travelers.  I hope she gets more work out of travelers who come here.  
Nov 13 I picked our clothes up this morning and was extremely happy with the work Juanita did.  I had pine sap on a pair of white pants that would not come out.   Juanita cleaned every bit of it out.  Yahoo!!! Clean again. 

We are all rested up and planned to leave town today.  No such luck.  The clouds rolled in and the sky looked like it was ready to burst so we postponed our departure for another day.  I will take the time to study Spanish and catch up on my journal.

I do not feel totally comfortable in Huehuetenango.  I have never experienced what real poverty is, and I see it every where here and in the surrounding country side.    It is both frightening and gives me a sense of hopelessness at the same time.   I have experienced poverty (what I thought was poverty) during my early college years, yet I did not have the hopelessness with it.  On the contrary, I knew with hard work and persistence that I could eventually change my situation.  This is not so  here.  The despair, sadness and struggle is to get through the day, not to a better place in life.  I realize now, that seeing the world is just not looking at the pretty places.

Nov 14 Left Huehuetenango for Quetzaltenango.  We rode 30 km (19 miles) in rolling terrain.  Up 1000 feet down 800 feet up 800 feet down 500 feet and so on.  We could see the large mountain looming in the distance.  We stopped at the base of the mountain with enough time to relax and enjoy the rest of the day.  We found a great camping spot away from the road, flat and secluded. We decided that we did not need the tent.  Not a good decision, the mosquitoes (at 2100 meters (7000 ft)) kept us both up all night. 19 miles
Nov 15 We climbed the endless mountain today the road went from new pavement to gravel and back to pavement again.  We began our climb at 2100 meters (7000 ft) and ended at 2815 meters (9230 feet).  The climate changed from warm to cold.  A welcome change from the hot jungle of Chiapas.  We passed many little villages along the way.  The people here are truly frightened of foreigners.  At one point a women collecting water near the road saw us coming and ran for her life while hiding her baby from us.  Rumor has it that foreigner, white women in particular, have been known to come to Guatemala and take young children away from their families and sell them for adoption.  A disturbing thought to me is they may mistake me for one of those women. But where would I carry a baby on a bike?

Later in the afternoon we found a pleasant camp site in the pine forest.  Right before the sun went down a group of children with what appeared to be their grandfather showed up at our camp site  When Tim stood up to greet them, the young children ran for their lives.  The grandfather kept his distance, was nervous and told us that it was dangerous to camp here.  That made us feel real comfortable. Consequently, Tim and I were awake all night.  However, we had no problems during the night.

20 miles
Nov 16 In the morning a group of women were gathering pine needles near our campsite.  They were obviously curious and asked us to their house for some lunch.   We were obviously curious and accepted the invitation while not being sure what we were getting into.  We followed the women who were carrying their very large loads of pine needles to the village. We descended down a steep hill that was wet and slippery. I was not looking forward to the return trip.  As we entered the village an older gentlemen asked Tim if we brought bibles.  Maria's house was on the other side of the village and everyone stood in their doorway and stared in curiosity. 

We traveled through a corn field and arrived at Maria's house.  The house had no electricity, no running water and a dirt floor.  Along side the house was a large kiln/oven for cooking.  The corn field came right up to the back of the house, they were in the process of drying blue corn in the sun.  On close inspection, beans were also planted in the corn field and the beans grew on the corn stalks.  There was a couple of chickens, pigs, and dogs running around the small yard as well.

Maria was the only one of the five women who would tell us her name.  She had at a young child she breast feed and another four year old running around.  The other women were her sisters or perhaps daughters as well.  I could not tell.  Maria showed me her beautiful embroidery.  We decided that it was time to leave but Maria insisted on giving us attole to drink.  Attole (in Guatemala) is made of corn meal and water.  Not very tasty but it would be rude not to drink it.  We hoped that this would not lead to stomach upset in the future.  Then Maria went into the cornfield and picked some corn and cooked it on an open fire.  This tasted more like popcorn then the sweet corn I love in the USA.  We said our good-byes and tackled the steep slippery hill back to the road.

The ride into Quetzaltenango was down hill and quick.  We dropped 500 meters (1500 feet).  We went to the plaza as usual.  While in the plaza we met Jin, a young man from Japan who is also bike touring, he spoke a little more Spanish then we did and hardly spoke any English.  We had a great time talking about his travels in Spanish.   Later in the afternoon we found Casa Argentina, the youth hostel we plan to stay at for a while.

Nov 17 Quetzaltenango (Xela, in Mayan). Checked out two Spanish schools today, Utitlan and Celsa Mayan.  I first looked at Celsa Mayan.  The cost to study Spanish for one week one on one including activities, without a home stay is US $90.  The facility is pleasant with nicely displayed plants and an internet cafe.  I then looked at the Spanish school Utitlan.  It was not as pretty but to study Spanish for one on one including activities, without a home stay is US $75.  both options are for 5 hours a day five days a week. I signed up for the Spanish school Utitlan. I went for the cheaper option.  
Nov 18 Started school today!  I started at 8:00 am with a half hour break at 10:30 am and finishing at 1:00 PM.  We spent the day reviewing vocabulary and the conjugation of regular verbs.  
Nov 19 Second day in school. We reviewed grammar in the morning and went to the market and bakery in the afternoon.  We spoke Spanish the entire time.  In the afternoon a group of us from the school and Tim went to San Andres Xecul.  San Andres Xecul has the most colorful church in Central America.  Near the center square is the town well and just down stream is the community laundry washing area.  While in town we witnessed a Religious Procession MPEG Movie through town.  
Nov 20 Third day in school.  Reviewed irregular verbs.  I was tired today and had a hard time getting it.  I was frustrated with my homework.  
Nov 21 Reviewed yesterday's lessons.  Went to the cemetery and learned about the customs of Guatemaltecas.  Rather than celebrate the day of the dead on November 1 and 2 like the Mexicans they celebrate Saints day.  All the families gather in the cemetery to remember their dead family members.  This cemetery is the largest I have ever seen.  Attended a benefit for Quetaltrekkers.  The benefit was for street children in Quetzaltenango.  The organization provides shelter and schooling for about 75 youths.  
Nov 22 Went to the market in San Francisco de Alto.  It is a traditional market where traditional dress is sold.  It was also like a 4-H club outing.  In a large parking lot there were cows, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, turkeys, ducks, cats, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens were for sale.  Not all of them were for eating.   Everything is carried to the market on peoples backs.  Huge loads of clothing are carried on the backs of men and baskets full of turkeys are carried in a basket on the top of women's heads.  
Nov 23 We woke up this morning at 4:00 am to meet every one at the school to catch a taxi to the base of the volcano Santa Maria.  The climb started out slow and we passed cornfields on both sides of us.  The climb began to get steep and it stayed steep.  In areas the trail was muddy and slippery.  At one point Tim was hanging from a root trying to get a grip to climb up.  Tim carried most of our water, 7.5 liters in all, plus food, we had squished chocolate cupcakes for lunch.  Tim was using a red backpack that he had since he was in the boy scouts.  It could not handle the strain today and one of the straps pulled through the grommet half way up the hill.   Tim repaired the backpack quickly using a stick.  I am afraid that it will be it's last outing. 

Climbing to the top of a volcano is different than climbing up to the top of a mountain.  Unlike a mountain top there was no summit and then a ridge to the top it was straight up and then boom we were at the top.  The group from the Utitlan Spanish school were waiting for us at the top.  While we were eating lunch at the top we watched a near by volcano Santiaguito erupt.  Excellent!

Nov 24 Stayed in Quetzaltenango and recovered from the hike up Santa Maria.   My legs hurt so much I could hardly walk.  We gingerly walked around town today and I studied Spanish.  
Nov 25 Started my second week of Spanish with Edna at Spanish School Utitlan.  
Nov 26 Went to Spanish School and the afternoon activity of going to the town of Almolongo.  Almolongo is a rich valley where they grow vegetable year round.   The fields are tended by each family.  The locals water the gardens by hand.   Water is brought to the fields via irrigation canals or in some areas cisterns.   The water is spread over the plants by shoveling the water from the canals and cisterns, what a laborious way to water the garden.

Almolongo use to predominantly Catholic but in the last five years the evangelists have made their way into the community.  The law in this area is more like vigilante justice then the way we think of law and order in the United States.  We were told that three years ago three youths from the neighboring town of Quetzaltenango came to Almolongo and started stealing vegetables.  I have no idea how much they stole.  They were caught by the locals in charge, found guilty, dosed with gasoline, and set on fire.  Wow, what an extreme way to take care of problems.  We were also told that the surrounding villages were afraid of this town.  I can see why.

We then went to the Balanarios where we rented a hot tube for 25 Q ($3.33) for three people (Tim, Robert from Germany, and me).  A pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

Nov 27 Went to Spanish School.   
Nov 28 Thanksgiving Day.  We went to a vegetarian Thanksgiving Day feast.   I missed the turkey and cranberry sauce.  Otherwise it was a great meal.   We met Jasmine from Costa Rica and Paul from the US.  They are traveling in Central America for as long as they can.  We also met Peggy from Michigan who has been in the Peace Corp in Senegal and is currently teaching at an American School in Guatemala City.  We plan to meet her in Guatemala City in the next couple of weeks.   We also invited her on a hike we are doing with the Spanish school to Lake Chicabal on Saturday.  Jasmine and Paul want to go also.  
Nov 29 My last day of class, I was sad to say good-bye to Edna.  I could stay her for two months and go to Spanish School.  Unfortunately at this time we do not have the time or money to stay here much longer.  We attended the dinner with the school.  The director of the school warned us of robberies that were taking place on the highways and to be careful when we travel.

We washed the tent and some laundry today.

Nov 30 We met at the school at 6:00 am to go to Lake Chicabal. We did not see Peggy, Paul or Jasmine.  We walked to the bus station on the other side of town.   Before we left we met Casper from the school and Peggy, there was ten people in all on the hike.

Lake Chicabal is to the north of Volcano Santa Maria, it took us about 45 minutes by bus to arrive there.  Lake Chicabal is located in a dormant volcano.   The Mayans consider the lake a sacred place and still perform Mayan rituals there.   This volcano was not near as difficult as Santa Maria, it was a steep climb to the rim of the volcano and the a very steep decent down to the lake.  We relaxed at the rim for lunch and then descended down to the lake.  I watched a Mayan ceremony where they sacrificed a chicken, burned it, and made offerings of coke and alcohol to the gods.

We had dinner with Peggy, Rodney from Israel, Joe from Alaska.  It was hilarious to listen to Joe explain to Rodney what a moose looked like.  Tim asked if he had ever watched Rocky and Bullwinkle, Rodney said no, I have a hole in my education.   Then Rodney asked, Is it the size of that Toyota 4-Runner.  Joe replied, no a moose would eat that truck for lunch.  It was difficult for an Israeli to imagine how large a moose really is.

Dec 1 We spent the day getting ready to leave tomorrow.  Sundays are a difficult time to go shopping, nothing is open.

The room looks like a boom exploded in it.  I am often amazed that we carry all this stuff.  Before we head to South America I intend to lighten the load some more.  I am considering sending another package home from Guatemala city.

We had dinner with Rodney.  Rodney made the rice, Persian style.  I made beans, Arizona style.  I added one too many jalapeños so it was a bit hot.  We were socializing and having a good time so we did not finish packing completely so we decided to stay another day.

Dec 2 We spent the day packing a running the last of our chores.  We had an awesome pizza with the crew from Casa Argentina.  We were packed and ready to head out the door tomorrow.  Our map indicates that we will be going over the highest pass on the Pan-American highway at 3600 meters (12,000 feet).  I have not been on my bike in two weeks and I hope I have not lost a lot of my fitness.  Otherwise it is going to be a long day.  Some of you may be wondering what Tim was doing while I was studying Spanish for 5 hours a day.  Well he worked on the web page, wrote a newsletter home, answered a ton of email (we always answer our email), and I suspect watched cable TV.  
Dec 3 We stopped by the school on our way out of town.  We said good-bye to Casper, Edna, Marvin and the other students at school.  Jin from Japan said he would meet us in Antigua in a week or so.

The wind was blowing hard as we left and of course into our face.  The road was narrow and the drivers impatient so we would ride in the dirt along side the road when traffic got heavy.  When we were passing through a small town with narrow streets traffic was backed up for at least 2 kilometers.  Tim and I cruised right on through.  Sometimes a bike is faster and easier.  We stopped for lunch and then tackled the hill towards the pass.  The pan-American highway has been recently paved and it has a wide shoulder.  The only thing that is bothersome is that the new pavement is only to the white line except through curves.  So we end up riding up and down a lip on the pavement.  Otherwise there is plenty of room for traffic and us.  Amazing for Central America!

We climbed from 2300 to 2800 meters (1,500 feet).  We made camp at the top of the hill out of site of the road.  While setting up camp we met the locals.  Among other things, they asked us to take them back to the US.  It was pretty cold during the night and when we woke up there was frost on the ground.

28 k
Dec 4 The pass was actually at 2960 meters, more or less, rather than 3620 meters labeled on the map..  What a relief.   We knew we had a nice down hill some where, and we did, for about 10 k.  We stopped for lunch just after a police checkpoint, they waved us on through.

We met Tony from New Zealand at the restaurant.  He is riding his motorcycle, a Honda Enduro 650 from Denver, Colorado to Panama City, Panama and back.  We told him about our route to the Lake Atitlan, it was nice to know that some knew we were on this side road.   We turned off the Pan-American highway down towards Lake Atitlan at KM 148.   The lake is in the middle of a caldera, a blown out volcano, in this case a large blown out volcano.  Locals say that the ash from this volcano was found as far south as Panama and as far east as Florida.

Before we descended into the caldera, we first had to ride up to the rim of the volcano on a steep narrow road.  It was so steep that I had to switchback across the road to ride up it.  We were going as hard as we could because we did not want to get caught out on the road near dark.  When we finally made it to the rim it was misty and chilly.  We descended down the steepest windiest paved road I have ever been on.  I felt like I was mountain biking not touring.  We stopped many times to cool our brakes.  Tim is going to have to put on new brake pads in San Pedro.  When we got below the clouds we could see the towns that rim the lake, magical.  The road down was not completely downhill, we still had spurts of short steep up hills.  The roads through the towns were cobblestone and difficult.  We asked directions along the way because there were not many signs.  The vegetation has gone from pine and corn at the rim to banana and coffee at the lake shore.  My legs were sore and I was feeling tired by the time we reached town.  We did not know where the hotels were and a local girl took us to the tourist part of town.  We did not see any tourists in the main part of town, it was eerie because we knew that there were many boat loads of tourist here.

We found a room at the Hotel Bella Vista in San Pedro, near the boat dock for Panajachel.  We are paying 24 Q ($3.20) per night.  We have access to a nice kitchen, however, the water temperature went from hot to luke warm in a day.  They always tell you that they have hot water, I suggest that you check.  In this case we were better off with our own solar shower.  Still a pleasant place to stay.

54 k
Dec 5 Laid around and rested. Explored San Pedro, found cafe munchies, the name should tell you what they make there, brownies and cookies. Met Kate, Cody, and Andrew from Cape Cod.  Kate and Cody plan on building a house here and Andrew came down to help them build the house.  We plan on hiking up Volcano San Pedro tomorrow.  
Dec 6 Tim woke up with an upset stomach so we had to skip the volcano for today.  We needed to buy a backpack anyway.  We went to the market and found a Guatemalan style pack for $5.  Hopefully it will last a while.  We decided to hike from Santa Cruz to San Marcos on the other side lake.  These towns (except San Marcos) are accessible by foot or boat only.

The weather here at San Pedro (elevation approximately 1550 meters) is temperate, about 75 - 80 during the day, dry (dry for Guatemala), and cool 55 at night.  The temperature does not change much here all year long.   The rainy season May - October is known as winter and the dry season November - April is known as summer.  So it is summer time now.

Dec 7 Packed a lunch and caught a boat to Santa Cruz.  Just like the bus, when we got in it was not crowded but we picked up people along the way.  The lake was rough so we were bouncing around and getting wet.  Great fun.  We were glad to get off the boat and I was amazed that Tim was not seasick.  We started up the road towards the town of Santa Cruz.  We asked where the trail was for San Marcos and found out that we had gone the wrong way.  Oh well it was a pretty town.  We had great views of the lake all along the trail.  The trail meandered up and down the cliffs.   We met locals along the way in native dress and had great views of the Volcano San Pedro.  They grow coffee here and I think that it is harvest time.  The beans are laid out to dry and sorted by kids. We stopped in the next town called Jaibalito for lunch at the Vulcano Lodge.  An awesome place run by Norwegians, clean, beautiful gardens and wonderful food.  A recommended retreat for those who want peace and quiet.  It was another hour and a half to Tzununa and another hour and a half to San Marcos.  Most of the time the trail was easy to find, sometimes we headed off in the wrong direction and just asked a local where to go.  We asked a little girl which way to go and she said she would tell us for 2 quetzals, we said no thank you and moved on.  Then we came upon two little girls who asked us to take their photo.  We then gave them a quetzal a piece for the photo.   The entire hike took a leisurely four hours to complete.  At San Marcos we waited for a boat back to San Pedro, we waited for an hour and a half and finally a boat arrived.  I would highly recommend this hike to anyone who likes to explore new areas and see what some of the less visited towns along the lake are like. Warning, people have been robbed on this trail, read my journal for Dec. 9.

Arriving back in San Pedro I felt a bit sick to my stomach, not so much from the boat ride, more like from something I ate.

Dec 8 I woke up not feeling very well.  So I just relaxed the entire day.   Tonight is the Festival of the Virgin Mary.  The festival is with the Catholic church.  A statue of the Virgin Mary is paraded through town from the catholic church around to the market and back.  The entire procession takes two hours to return.   In the mean time firecrackers, bottle rockets and fireworks are lit by the men (yes the men, not the kids) of the town announcing the processions arrival.  Just before the Virgin Mary re-enters the church, a man with an apparatus that looks like a bull covered with fire works runs through the street chasing kids and foreigners alike.  I spoke to an Englishmen who said that he was coming out of a restaurant and was trapped in the doorway while the bull was running for him fireworks a blazing.  He said it was the craziest thing he ever experienced in his life.  After the fireworks display, the best I have ever seen, I returned to the hotel to go to sleep.  It took some time to unwind from all the excitement of the evening.  
Dec 9 Tim decided he wanted to try horseback riding here.  We thought a two hour ride would be long enough for a newbie.  The horse they gave me was frisky and liked to run, I was happy with that and we would run ahead.  Tim on the other hand did not fit in the saddle, we had to stop and adjust the stirrups for him.  He felt better after that.  Tim asked our guide how much weight the horse could carry and he replied, 100 kilograms.  This made Tim feel terrible, Tim weights more than 100 kilograms.  So he did not push the horse much, and just enjoyed the sites.   Tim kept saying, " I could ride my bike here".  So in the end Tim decided that he preferred riding his bike over riding a horse.  The next time we ride, I will make sure that Tim gets the big horse, so he feels more comfortable.

We met Nacho and Melinda from Uruguay at the hotel.  There are only three million people who live in Uruguay. Uruguay is wedged between Argentina and Brazil in South America.  

As we were talking to them Andrew came up to us and told us he was just robbed.   It took me a second to register what he had told me.  I asked him where, and he said near the village of Tzununa.  The village where we had hiked through two days earlier.  He said that he had his day pack and was planning on walking over to Panajachel to do some shopping.  He had a change of cloths, a notebook and camera in the bag.  He happen to have his passport is his pocket and not his day pack.  He said that four teenagers with machetes came up from behind him and pulled the pack off of him.  One of them held a machete to his throat and demanded his money.  They cussed at him in English and were very impatient with the amount of time it took him to hand over his money.  After the robbery, he walked back to San Pedro and the hotel to tell Kate and Cody.  They went back to San Marcos to file a police report and search for the stolen notebook.  They did not come back until after 8:00 PM.  We (Tim, Francisco the hotel owner and I) were all a bit worried about them.

Dec 10 Our plan for today was to do laundry and pack to leave tomorrow.  We got our laundry done in the morning, the old fashion way, by hand in a wash basin.  I think I prefer a washing machine, washing clothes by hand is laborious.

Cody and Kate showed us the land they bought and plan to build a house on soon.  Wow, an incredible view of the lake. The land was cleared two years ago, it has young coffee plants, lime trees, avocado and other fruit trees on it. The growing season here is year round so their vegetable garden is going to be awesome. What an awesome project to take on, build your own house, garden, outhouse ect.  A task that could take years to finish.  I hope to come back again and see how they are doing.

So much for packing today.  We went out to dinner and ran into Roberto and Marco who went to Spanish school with me in Quetzaltenango.

Dec 11 San Pedro for Panajachel.  We woke up this morning and started packing for the trip across the lake.  We took photos of Francisco and Family, they were such great hosts at the Hotel Bella Vista, they gave the place a homey feel.  We caught a boat to Panajachel, we were not sure if our bikes would fit in the boat, it was a tight squeeze.  We arrived in Panajachel and began searching for a room.  I could not seem to find a room that was cheap enough and big enough for our two bikes.  We decided to follow a couple of local kids to a hotel they recommended.   We should know better.  After winding through some side streets we came to a hotel that looked like it would suit our needs.  Before we followed our guides to the hotel I though we had agreed that the price was 25 Q. ($3.20).  When we arrived they said that it was 25 Q per person.  We got the price down to 40Q.  I do not remember the name of the hotel, it doesn't matter, I would not recommend it any way.   We went out to dinner, witnessed a drunk fall on to a table and pull everything to the ground.  I do not think I like this town, at least my first impression isn't very good.  Tim bought a Gallo (Guatemalan beer) T-shirt.

We discussed whether we were going to ride the road out of Panajachel to the Pan-American or if we were going to hitch a ride in a pick up truck.  We are concerned with safety.  We read on the US Embassy page that there have been a number of armed robberies on this stretch of road.   We decided to take the fact that Andrew was robbed two days ago as a wake up call and decided to get a ride up to the highway in a truck and then ride our bikes on the busier Pan-American highway to Antigua.

Dec 12 Panajachel to Km 103 (Pan-American Highway).  We thought that it would be easy to get money in such a tourist town as Panajachel but no such luck.   Both ATMs were not working so we had to go to the bank (Bank Agromercantil) to get money out with our Visa card, the only bank that would take a credit card.  This stalled our departure for some time.  As we were heading to the docks to haggle for a ride to the Pan American highway, Tim found us a pick up truck driver who would take us to the Pan-American Highway, bikes and all, for 50 Q.  It turned out the driver was 14 and his companions all jumped in the back for fun.  The three boys spoke quite a bit of English.  I asked the oldest boy if he went to school (They are on break at the moment) and he said that his father died and his mother could not afford to pay for school, uniforms, books ect.  Then he asked me if I wanted to buy a necklace.   Tim said, "You can always believe a street wise kid".  I think he is right in this case.  The boys spoke a Mayan dialect called X.  I told the oldest boy I thought that the his language sounded beautiful, I meant it.  He seemed to like this comment and he settled down after that.  In the mean time Tim caught one of the other boys going through the (empty) pockets of my panniers.

The ride up the hill was fascinating and a relief at the same time, the road was narrow, steep and full of traffic.   I know that it would not have been a pleasant ride, on the other hand the views were spectacular.  We went through the town of Solola, it did not look particularly friendly but it had a beautiful church and a stunning view of the Lake.  Lake Atitlan is a awesome special place, just a unique place to live on the edge of a huge caldera.   The elevation of Panajachel was 1700 meters and the intersection of the highway is 2300 meters, 18 kilometers long.

The Pan-American Highway was a bit crowded, not something I thought I would ever welcome, but I did.  The road is wide with a large shoulder so we felt like we had a bike lane of our own.  The locals also use the wide pavement to sell crafts, since the Christmas season is here, we saw mangers, Reindeer (some with 4 antlers, I'm guessing they have never seen one), and wreaths made with straw and pine.  We steadily climbed up hills and then descended into valleys.  We found a place to camp up on a hill among tall vegetation with some very sharp leaves.

48 Km
Dec 13 Km 103 to Chimaltenango.  I woke up, looked at my watch and noticed that it was Friday the 13th, traditionally a day of bad luck.  I shrugged off the warning and moved on.  It would turn out to be a Friday the 13th more for Tim then I.   We got an early start and I though we would get pretty far today.  Tim started loading his bike and noticed that he had a flat front tire.   He fixed it, adjusted my brakes, we need new pads soon, and we headed down the road.  We road for 25 minutes up hill and Tim was changing a flat tire again.   Hmm we thought the valve was bad on this one. 

We pushed on the scenery was wonderful, the weather chilly, but comfortable.  We finally made the pass and saw a truck stop area and stopped for lunch.  Tim had Carne Adobado and I had Chicken.   The lunch was absolutely delicious, the best we have had in the past 6 months.   Satisfied and in good spirits we pressed on, we even had a tail wind.  After a long down hill glide the road turned from wide and smooth to narrow and bumpy.   Because there was so much traffic we moved over to the side of the road in the dirt.  With a tail wind we were still making good time, then it happen while riding about 17 miles an hour, Tim hit a good sized pot hole and knocked his rear wheel out of true badly.  Tim spent 45 minutes trying to true the wheel, and we pushed on.  He was bummed, he thinks he bent the rim and we may need to replace it in Antigua.  We slowed our pace and pushed on.  As we were rounding a corner Tim felt his front tire go soft.  Lets see, flat tire number three.  Tim was frustrated beyond belief.  On the road again we cruised to Chimaltenango and arrived about 4:00 PM.  What a scruffy looking town.   We asked directions to a hotel and could not understand the response.  It sounded like a mixture of Spanish and an Indian dialect.  We then encountered some police on motor bikes and asked about a cheap but secure place to stay.  They took us to hospedaje Popular.  A welcome site, the room was 30 Q ($4.00),  we had the room with a new paint job pink and green.

50 Km
Dec 14 I woke up with stomach problems again and Tim did not feel like riding today.  So we decided to stay in Chimaltenango for one more night.  Besides we wanted to go to the shrine for San Simon, the cigar smoking, rum drink, womanizing saint.   He is worshiped by prostitutes, drug addicts, and drunks.  Tim had to see what this place looked like, was it a myth or what.  We took a taxi from Chimaltenango to San Andres Itzapa.  The taxi driver dropped us off at the door.  We walked into a courtyard with mounds of burnt ash scattered around.  We walked into the chapel full of people.  There was a line on the left to go up and visit the statue of San Simon.  We got in line and read the plaques on the wall as we made our way forward.   Most of the plaques thanked San Simon for the miracle that they had experienced.   We were behind a gentlemen who offered alcohol, money and cigarette to San Simon.   Then he beat himself with a bundle of sweet smelling flowers.  I certainly did not understand this ritual at all.  We left after inspecting the statue that had his face and hand covered with plastic (I am guessing to protect it from alcohol spray), a lap full of money and bottles of opened booze bottles at his feet.  Strange.  
Dec 15 I was hoping that we would have an easy ride down into Antigua.  We first passed a recreational area with a lake that also had a large circle of concrete structures to wash cloths.  At least 25 people could wash their clothes all at once.   Few people around here have indoor plumbing.

Except for two short very steep hills the entire ride to Antigua was down hill.  Good thing too, Tim's wheel was starting to wobble and hit his brake pad.  I guess we have to except the fact that that wheel is history.  I shutter to think how much this is going to cost.  Only time will tell.  We arrived in Antigua at around noon, went to the central park and immediately ran into Jin from Japan.  We also saw Marco from Switzerland, Robert from Germany, and Joel and Katie from Canada.  I guess we are all on the same circuit.   A pleasant bunch of traveling companions.

In search of a cheap hotel, I looked at six different hotels and we decided to take the cheapest for the night and then look elsewhere in the morning, Hotel Posada Ruiz II at 37Q ($4.90).  We pushed our bikes in the room, put our own pad lock on the door and went to eat, we were starving.  I looked for the women who showed us the room but I could not find her.  I thought, I will just pay later, at other hotels we have often paid for our room at a later time, even the next day.  When we returned from dinner the women was extremely upset, I would say pissed that we did not pay for the room before we left. She put another lock on our door and wrapped a wire around the door hinge, why she did this I do not know, all she did was create work for herself.  I paid for the room, not understanding why she was so bend out of shape.  It may be an indication of the kind of clientele they get here.  At this point I am up for going to another hotel in the morning.

20 km
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Taking a break along the road to Huehuetenango.

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An interesting use of the American Flag.

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Tim with a full water bag from the village well to his right.

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The steep and curvy road down to Lake Atitlan

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Tim and Cindie near San Pedro.

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The edge of the Caldera is left and Volcano San Pedro is to the right.

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Local children in the village of Tzununa pose for a photograph.

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The boat dock at San Marcos.

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Tim watching the loading of our bikes on to the boat to Panajachel.

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INDEX #1: North and Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03

1North and
Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03

2 South America
6-3-03 to 6-17-04

3 SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to

4 Australia
9-15-06 to 9-15-07

5 New Zealand
9-16-07 to 5-2-08
6 Alaska, Canada, and the USA
5-3-08 to 4-30-10
7 India. Nepal, and the Subcontinent
5-1-10 to present

(see all 3 book)

(Before March 30, 2002)
Life in Prescott Arizona, USA

Cindie's Daily Journals
Life in Prescott Arizona

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Good bye Letter

Other essays by Tim
About Us
Our Bicycle Wedding
Riding In Prescott
Hiking in Arizona
Favorite Bike Movies
The Great Zorr Dog
Life in a $500 RV
The Plan
Good bye Letter


(March 30 - May 12, 2002)
The State of Arizona, USA
Prescott to Douglas, Arizona

Cindie's Daily Journals
Cindie's Journal in Arizona, USA

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Our first week Down the Road!
Enjoying Arizona
Heading into Mexico

Other essays by Tim
The Day We Left
Lost Dutchman Mine
Ghost Towns
Chiricahua National Monument
Portal Arizona
Backpacking in the Chiricahua Mountains
Apache Wars

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page for Arizona Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Pictures from the first day
- Arizona Photo Page #1 Prescott AZ - Tucson AZ
- Lost Dutchman State Park
- Arizona Photo Page #2 Tucson AZ - Tombstone AZ
- San Xavier Mission
- Arizona Photo Page #3 Tombstone AZ to Portal AZ 
- Tombstone Arizona
- Ghost Towns in Arizona 
- Chiricahua National Monument
- Portal Arizona
- Chiricahua Wilderness Area Backpack (Trek)


(May 13 - 31, 2002)
The States of Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico
Agua Prieta to Cuauhtemoc, Mexico

Cindie's Daily Journals
The States of Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Greetings from Mexico!

Other essays by Tim
The Problems with the Border Area Between Mexico and the USA
Paquime Ruins Casas Grandes, Mexico
Barranca del Cobre or Copper Canyon

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Mexico #1 Photo Page   Agua Prieta to Zaragoza, Mexico
- Paquime Ruins - Casas Grandes, Mexico
- Mexico #2 Photo Page    Zaragoza to Col. Alvaro Obregon, Mexico
- The Mennonites of Chihuahua, Mexico
- Mexico #3 Photo Page 
- Barranca del Cobre or Copper Canyon Photo Page


(June 1 - July 17, 2002)
The States of Zacatecas and Guanajuato, Mexico
Zacatecas to Guanajuato, Mexico

Cindie's Daily Journals
The States of Zacatecas and Guanajuato, Mexico

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Hello Guanajuato
Adios Guanajuato

Other essays by Tim
One Fine Day Down The Road
Learning Spanish at Casa Mexicana in Guanajuato, Mexico
Cindie's Car Crash: a Mexican Experience Guanajuato, Mexico

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Zacatecas and Guanajuato Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Zacatecas, Mexico
- Central Mexico #1  Zacatecas to Ojuelos, Mexico
- One Fine Day Down The Road  State of Zacatecas, Mexico
- Central Mexico #2 Zacatecas to Guanajuato, Mexico
- Dolores Hidalgo, the Home of the Mexican War of Independence
- Guanajuato and the Mexican War of Independence
- Guanajuato, Mexico #1
- Guanajuato, Mexico #2
- Mineral Museum of the University of Guanajuato


(July 18 - Aug 22, 2002)
The State of Michoacan, Mexico
Guanajuato to Toluca, Mexico

Cindie's Daily Journals
The State of Michoacan, Mexico

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
The Great Secret of Michoacan!

Other essays by Tim
Into the Mist State of Michoacan, Mexico

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Michoacan, Mexico Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Guanajuato to   Penjamillo, Mexico
- Penjamillo to Patzcuaro, Mexico
- Patzcuaro, Mexico
- Patzcuaro to Cuidad Hidalgo, Michoacan, Mexico
- Morelia, Mexico
- Into the Mist Mexican highway 15
- Cuidad Hidalgo, Michoacan, to Toluca, Mexico
- Toluca, Mexico
- The Velodrome in Toluca, Mexico


(Aug. 23 - Sept. 17, 2002)
The States of Mexico and Morelos, Mexico
Toluca to Amecameca, Mexico

Cindie's Daily Journals
The States of Mexico and Morelos

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
So Close to Mexico City Yet So Far From Anything

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of The States of Mexico and Morelos, Mexico Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Toluca to Chalma, Mexico
- Malinalco, Mexico
- Chalma to Amecameca, Mexico
- Cuernavaca, Mexico
- Amecameca
- September 16 Mexican Independence Day
- Various Extra Pictures


(September 18 - 27, 2002)
Mexico City Area
Including the ruins of Teotihuacan

Mexico City, Mexico

Cindie's Daily Journals
Mexico City Area

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Six Months Down the Road

Other essays by Tim
Looking Deep Into the Eyes of a Thief Mexico City Metro (subway)
The Velodrome in Mexico City

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Mexico City Area Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Mexico City
- National Palace and Zocalo
- The Velodrome (bicycle track) in Mexico City
- The Ruins of Teotihuacan #1
- The Ruins of Teotihuacan #2
- Xochimilco
- Mexico City Zoo
- National Museum of Anthropology


(Oct.  12 - Nov. 8, 2002)
The States of Tabasco and Chiapas, Mexico
Villahermosa, Tabasco to Cuauhtemoc Chiapas, Mexico

Cindie's Daily Journals
The States of Tabasco and Chiapas, Mexico

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Our Final Weeks in Mexico

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Tabasco and Chiapas, Mexico Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Museum La Venta and the Olmec Heads Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico
- Villahermosa, Tabasco  to Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico
- Palenque #1 Photo Picture Page
- Palenque #2 Photo Picture Page
- Misol-Ha Waterfall Chiapas, Mexico
- Agua Azul Chiapas, Mexico
- Tonina Mayan Ruins Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico
- Mexico's Day of the Dead Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico
- Ocosingo to Cuauhtemoc Chiapas, Mexico


(Dec 2 - 15, 2002)
Guatemala #1: The Highlands
Quetzaltenango to Antigua

Cindie's Daily Journals
Guatemala #1 The Highlands

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Guatemala: Riding Through the Highlands

Guatemala: From Paradise to Despair

Other Pages Tim Made
Escuela de Idioma Español Utatlan, Spanish Immersion School in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Guatemala #1 Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- La Mesilla to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
- The Indigenous Highland Village of San Andreas Xecul
- Climbing the Volcano Santa Maria.
- Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
- Quetzaltenango to Antigua, Guatemala.
- San Pedro la Laguna Lago (Lake) Atitlan, Guatemala
- Lago (Lake) Atitlan Santa Cruz to San Marcos Hike
- More San Pedro Photos Photo Page


(Dec. 16, 2002 - Jan. 6, 2003)
Guatemala #2: Northeast Towards the Caribbean
Antigua to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala

Cindie's Daily Journals
Guatemala #2
: Heading Northeast Towards the Caribbean

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Antigua, Guatemala to the Sea

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Guatemala #2 Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- The Colonial City of Antigua, Guatemala. #1
- The Historical City of Antigua, Guatemala. #2
- The Active Volcano Pacaya, Near Antigua
- Antigua to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala
- The Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
- Livingston, Guatemala


(January 7 - 31, 2003)
From the Guatemalan Border to the Nicaraguan Border

Cindie's Daily Journals

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Honduras: From the Guatemalan Border to the Nicaraguan Border

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Honduras Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Honduras: The Border to Comayagua, Honduras
- Omoa, Honduras and Fortaleza de San Fernando de Omoa
- Parque Nacional Cero Azul Meambar, Honduras Page #1
- Parque Nacional Cero Azul Meambar, Honduras Page #2
- Comayagua to Tegucigalpa, Honduras
- Tegucigalpa, Honduras to the Border with Nicaragua
- Odds and Ends


(Feb. 1 - 19, 2003)
From the Honduras Border to the Costa Rican Border

Cindie's Daily Journals

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Nicaragua: Travels Through a Troubled Land

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Nicaragua Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Nicaragua: The Honduras border to Esteli, Nicaragua
- Esteli, Nicaragua:  the Stronghold of the Sandinista
- Esteli to Granada, Nicaragua
- Granada, Nicaragua #1
- Granada, Nicaragua #2
- Volcano Masaya - Near Managua, Nicaragua
- Granada, Nicaragua to the Costa Rican Border
- Isla / Island Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua
- Ernie, The Entertainer from Jamaica


(Feb. 21 - March 14, 2003)
Costa Rica #1
La Cruz to Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica

Cindie's Daily Journals
Costa Rica #1

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Costa Rica #1 (incomplete)

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Costa Rica #1 Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Nicaraguan Border to Playa Tamarindo
- Liberia, Guancaste, Costa Rica.
- Playa Tamarindo
to Playa Samara
- Playa Samara to Playa Jaco
- Manuel Antonio National Park #1
- Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica #1
- Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica #2


(March 15 - April 10, 2003)
Costa Rica #2
Manual Antonio to Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Cindie's Daily Journals
Costa Rica #2

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Costa Rica #2 (incomplete)

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Costa Rica #2 Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Parque National Manuel Antonio, #2
- City of Santa Elena and Monteverde
- Butterfly Garden, Santa Elena, Monteverde
- Finca Ecological, Monteverde
- Frog Pond (Ranario), Santa Elena
- Santa Elena, Cloud Forest, National Park
- Sky Walk, Suspension Bridge, Canopy Tour
- Sky Trek Zip Line, Canopy Tour
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve


(April 12 - 17, 2003)
Panama City, Panama

Cindie's Daily Journals

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Panama (Incomplete)

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Panama Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Panama City #1
- Panama City #2
- Panama Canal

1North and
Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03

2 South America
6-3-03 to 6-17-04

3 SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to

4 Australia
9-15-06 to 9-15-07

5 New Zealand
9-16-07 to 5-2-08
6 Alaska, Canada, and the USA
5-3-08 to 4-30-10
7 India. Nepal, and the Subcontinent
5-1-10 to present
Where am I  now

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