We’ve been in Guatemala for about three days..maybe four. It’s like that on the road. Feels like we’ve been here three weeks. We started by exploring Tikal, the ruins of a 2000+year old Mayan city right on the border with Belize. Stunning stuff, and even better that we got to camp, right in the midst of dozens of coatis, sort of like a pointy nosed monkey. For once I was not the only one scratching myself in public.

From there we rode up into the mountains and to Semuc Champey, an area with limestone caves and waterfalls. The ride down was epic, a rough rocky mountain road so steep that when we stopped I had to use both front and back brake to keep from sliding downhill. By the time we reached our camping spot the sweat was literally dripping out of my jacket sleeves. We stumbled down the dark jungle path and found the falls and pools to be just the cooling solution we needed. However, the next day’s ride out of the site was…a disaster. Both of our bikes have electrical problems, meaning that if we stalled riding up that hellish road we had to turn the loaded bikes around and push start them downhill…not easy. So not easy that I got pretty bad heat exhaustion, and long story short we gave up and hauled the bikes out on a truck. Lesson: riding a bike on a mountain path while dizzy and having tunnel vision is not a good idea.

We then met up with Richard and Suzanne (picture by Victoria below), fellow riders Victoria met online. The riding community is pretty awesome…they met up with us, we had lunch, and they drove us to the fabulous Earth Lodge overlooking the colonial town of Antigua.

I thought I’d take a few week break from the Menno part of Menno Moto…but when we arrived at the lodge we were served Mennonite farmer sausage for lunch. Turns out there are a few Swiss Mennonite villages nearby…so I’ll go see if I can find more cousins, though it’s unlikely given it sounds like they are all of Swiss origin.


Victoria shows the road who is boss


Semuc Champey waterfalls


Semuc Champey waterfalls


Camping in Tikal. Works well when you have a cheap tent.


Tikal Mayan ruins.


Semuc Champey waterfalls




Semuc Champey waterfalls



Richard and Suzanne

We are taking a writing day, and this is the view from our desks (photo by Victoria)

Bye bye Belize

It’s time to cross another border…Belize to Guatemala. It’s raining out…touring the Mayan ruins of Tikal, in the middle of the jungle, will be very …. wet.

Belize is an interesting, odd little place. I spent the last few days in Blue Creek, with Ed Reimers, who did a splendid job of hosting me. I didn’t see much of Belize’s tourist features, but I’m in full sightseeing mode for the next few weeks, and countries. Vic has patiently been waiting in Belize for nearly 3 weeks…I think we’re done here.

And I have a camera lens once again, so expect more snaps.






Spanish Lookout

Today I leave Spanish Lookout. It’s raining, and I have to drive across Belize. But Belize is pretty small, so no worries.

I arrived here on Monday, and one of my first stops was the home and farm of Klaas Friesen. They’re distant family, through a few different connections in the family tree, as is often the case with Mennonites. They offered me a bed in a sort of summer house that gives me plenty of space, and privacy, and I’ve been here ever since.

I’ve been pretty impressed with Spanish Lookout. When you’re driving through Belize this place stands out for it’s orderliness, nice homes, beautiful landscaping and obvious wealth. People have all been incredibly friendly, kind and welcoming. I’ve had some very interesting conversations that have helped me get a better picture of the place. Like Klaas’ story of being kidnapped and held for ransom by Belizian thugs. Safety is still a huge concern here, becoming worse every day, and the Mennonites have actually taken up arms against the thieves.

I spent a long evening with Clarence Dueck (also a relative? probably), who is one of three elected leaders in the community, in charge of roads, order, finances, making and upholding community rules, land purchases, etc. The colony runs like any small (2000 people) town, with its own taxes, highways, bank, stores, police, etc. It was also interesting to hear the leadership’s thoughts on issues such as racism, inclusion, financial planning, education and the future of Mennonite colonies such as his.

Spanish Lookout reminds me a lot of Manitoba Colony in northern Mexico. Large, rich, fairly progressive, independent, filled with very clever business people. I attended a meeting where they discussed the recent purchase and division of 29,000 acres of new land that needs to be broken. But it also has the same approach to education, which is to pull kids out of school at teens, or allow them to drop out. That’s worrying, as it results in the same thing in both colonies: racism, arrogance, narrow mindedness and a limited range of possibility.

I visited Barton Creek yesterday. It’s a nearby colony started in the 70s by a radical offshoot of Mennonites from Belize. No electricity, no paint on the houses, no phones, no engines of any sort, no glass windows, only farming and basic manufacturing allowed, everyone dressed the same in long shirts/dresses/beards. They allow no one to take pictures of them (they caught me trying to shoot video) One of the hot topics was whether using hydro power was a sin, just as electricity is to them. They won’t take a ride from a Mennonite from another colony (that would make that man sin) but they will accept a ride from a Belizian, as “they don’t know any better”. They are deeply ignorant, although they live a pretty good life. It reminded me of a poor village in Thailand or China, although these guys are not very poor. I find their theories a bit wacky, and their arrogance is only possible when combined with ignorance, but good for them if they’ve found a way to live that makes them happy.

Today I’ll take a break from the Mennonite story and meet up with Victoria again to ride to Belize City. We’ll leave our bikes there and take a ferry to Cay Caulker to go snorkeling. Then on Sunday I plan to go to the Blue Creek colony for a few days, and then we’re done with Belize. I broke my camera, and am waiting for replacement parts to arrive, so no photos.



I arrived in Belize on Sat afternoon and went straight to Caprice and Joe’s home. They’re friends of my sister Connie’s, and moved from Vancouver late last year to homestead in N Belize, near the border. They,re carving a very nice little farm out for themselves…they’re almost as good at homesteading as the Mennos. Totally off-grid living, and doing most of the set-up work themselves. My contribution was to hold down a chair on the front porch all weekend, just in case the wind might blow it away. I spent the weekend with them, did some maintenance on my bike and finally arranged to have one of my other lenses shipped out from HK.

I set off this morning and drove to Spanish Lookout, near the Guatemala border. Stunning town, huge visual difference from the rest of the area. And now my food has just arrived at the Golden Corral…so time to eat. They were out of perogies, sadly. After lunch it’s time to go looking for relatives, and a place to sleep tonite.

Yucatan Mayan ruins

I’ve spent the last few days visiting a few of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. Namely Sayil, Xlapak, Labna, Kabah and Uxmal. Pretty impressive stuff considering they built it all without using the wheel or beasts of burden. Good work ethic…like the Mennonites who are now farming all around these ruins. Oh…but didn’t the Mayan culture get destroyed by drought and internal fighting? Hmm…






20120809-181203.jpgThis isn’t Mayan…it’s the Catholic church in Hopelchen

Hopelchen Old Colony Mennos

I spent a few interesting days with the Sommerfeld and Old Colony Mennonites that live in the colonies around Hopelchen. They were friendly, if a bit shy and guarded. It’s a relatively new area for the Mennonites, the first colonies were started about 28 years ago, and there are still new colonies being started today. They are not nearly as rich as the Mennonites in the north, and in general are far more conservative. The Mennonites here don’t have as many confrontations with the Mexicans as is the case in the north, but there’s still some tension caused by the rather destructive and land-depleting farming practices of the Mennonites, as well as their racism and ignorance.


There’s a very clear racism towards the Mexicans (both Spanish and Mayan) from the Mennonite side. I was told that the two can’t mix because they eat different food, they worship in different churches, and, if that’s not gonna stop you, Mennonite men with Mexican wives have reported that they even smell different.


The Mennonites here would say faith and culture hold the community together. I’d say ignorance plays a pretty big role as well. These communities actively promote ignorance as a virtuous trait, and are afraid that if their children receive more the 6-7 years of education that they now receive that they’ll run away from the colony. I ran into a lot of people who had no knowledge of basic natural science, such as how ocean tides work, why there are clouds in the sky, etc. They are deeply ignorant of anything beyond their tiny world. The Beachy Amish have come to proselytize the Old Colony (as have other more evangelical Mennonites as well as the Jehovah Witnesses) but even they warned me that education beyond Grade 12 could put the soul in danger. I think this ignorance plays a pretty big role in the tension between the Mennonites and the much better educated Mexicans.





Victoria and I left San Cristobal two days ago. We got up early, before dawn, with plans to get to Campeche in a day. Ha! yea right. Vic’s bike started spewing oil again as we pulled out of town, so we nursed it to the Yamaha dealer. I knew the problem…an o-ring by the oil filter was torn, so Gary and I, back in Mexico City, jury rigged an o-ring, which seemed to work. but it didn’t. Now I figured we’d spend the time and get it right. The shop boys drove all over town finding the right one, but about an hour or two later we were back on track. Then I got us lost, again. I do that a lot. After making about a 5-10 km backtrack I started asking every dude I could find along the route what town we were heading for. I learned to pronounce one or two town names and then just shouted them out at random as we drove through villages, doing a quick straw poll of which way most of the arms were pointing. It works great.

The ride from San Cristobal was stunningly beautiful…through more mountains, more curves, misty valleys and chilly mountain passes. We had a blast riding it. But it was sooo slooowwww. You just can’t go more than 60km/hr on that road without killing yourself. So we had to split the ride from SC to Campeche in half, stayed in a gritty little town called Frontera last night. It was heavenly when we finally broke free of the mountains…flat, straight roads. I twisted my throttle till I thought it would break off.

We just pulled into Campeche this afternoon. Lovely little colonial town, cobblestone streets lined with tidy pastel brick and plaster buildings. Looks much like San Cristobal at first glance, sans the mountains.

Today was one of the best days on the road so far. We set off early, just after sunrise, just a coffee and then the road. We rode for an hour or so and then pulled over when we finally saw the sea, but on the inland side, as we rode the isthmus (don’t know the name). We stopped in a small restaurant, and ordered what we saw the worker dudes eating. A seafood soup of sorts, fresh prawns, a whole fish between the two of us, all very fresh, with tortillas. Lovely breakfast. We then drove like the clappers (Vic is now hitting 120km/hr with total abandon. Don’t tell her mom) until we passed a HUGE blue crab walking across the road. By the time I’d pulled a u-turn and made it back he was making off for the bush. Another guy had spotted it at the same time as me and was sprinting for it…when I pointed it out he looked surprised. I think he thought we were racing for dinner. Nah, I just wanted to see it. He pulled it from the underbrush and headed home with it, I resumed my ride. We stopped off again once the water, this time on the Gulf side, looked nice and clean. Pulled over at a beach cafe, stripped down and had a great swim in nice clear water off a white sand beach. I couldn’t bear to put my riding jacket back on, so rode the rest of the day in my t-shirt…bit burnt now. Pulled over once more to buy sandwiches in a gasolineria and eat them under a shady tree overlooking the sea. Pulled into Campeche around 5pm, found a cheap hotel, and here I sit…

Tomorrow I’ll ride to Hopelchen, where there are several large Old Colony Mennonite colonies. Goodbye Tecate, hello home-baked pie. It’s a battle between calorie sources.

Photo by Victoria Burrows

Curve Sickness

It’s been an incredible ride south from Mexico City. Victoria has come up to speed, literally, on her bike. I have to confess, after the first day of riding with her I thought, “Oh dear, this could be a long few weeks of riding.” She was quite nervous on the first day, especially when we hit the highway and she had to pass big trucks. But since then she’s become very comfortable on the bike and is taking on the role of biker chick very well, as this photo shows.

The morning of our departure we discovered that an oil seal on Vic’s bike was leaking…actually gushing oil. We couldn’t find an O-ring of the right size, but we managed to cut one down to fit. However, the oil still leaks out when the bike is cold…so we’ll have to sort that out at a bike shop soon.

From Mexico City we headed to the Tenochtitlan ruins. Impressive, hot, and lots of tourists. The ride to Puebla was Vic’s first taste of the open highway. We ended up ducking into a Holiday Inn the first night, as it was dark, we were tired, and it was there. The next day’s ride, from Puebla to Oaxaca, was incredible. Twisting mountain roads, 2-lane, incredible scenery, tiny villages, and just km after km of riding, with very little traffic.

Of course, you can’t go riding off into the hills of Mexico without having a petrol issue. Oddly, Victoria’s little 250cc Yamaha appears to have longer fuel range than my 650cc, so at around 6pm I frantically started looking for fuel. We had 2 hours left to ride, and everyone we asked seemed to have a different idea on where we might find fuel. Finally, after stopping and asking for a “gasolinara” for the umpteenth time we found a family selling petrol out of their back door.

Fueling station. Photo by Victoria

Many, many curves later we rolled into Oaxaca, very tired. We took the next morning off to take a quick look at the town. Stunning architecture, lots of cool little shops and cafes. And lots of tourists.

It was back on the curvy road that afternoon, but we didn’t make it far before I got us lost, and then Victoria’s gear shifter broke (twice). I had a bolt that fit, but while I was working on the bike I firmly planted my elbow on the hot muffler. Ahh, the smell of BBQ on a mountain road. We fell short of reaching our target of Tehuantepec for the night, so holed up in a little village about 50km away. It was dark by the time we rolled in, and we had just enough energy to enjoy a few Coronitas and a very tasty 40 peso (for 2. that’s US$3) meal on the street.

Yesterday we made the final dash to San Cristobal. We found a shop along the way, which gave me an old bushing which I sanded/cut to shape to fit Victoria’s bike. Now it’s good as new.

Repair job. Seems I'm always begging shop time on my adventures. Photo by Victoria

We rolled into San Cristobal during daylight…a first since leaving Mexico City. This is yet another lovely little city, cobblestone streets, amazingly pretty courtyard hotels with well-kept colonial-era buildings. Today I’ll do some work on the bike — new tire is so wide it rubs on my muffler, so gotta adjust that, and a few bits that are rattling, need oil, etc. I may also raise my bike back up. When I bought it I dropped it an inch cause I’m too short to ride it at stock height, however, fully loaded on Mexican roads I really need that extra inch of travel/clearance, so I’ll just have to grow my toenails long so I can touch the ground.

Photo by Victoria Burrows