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Before visiting Costa Rica, I had high very hopes for it. This was due to the fact that a number of my college friends went there and came back raving about it, several of whom had life-changing experiences. Their stories of colorful reefs and thick rainforests, their pictures of sloths and parrots, and those smiles that lit up their faces every time they thought back on it, it all made me think that Costa Rica was a safe, clean paradise of ecological wonders in the Central American region.
But that was a while ago, and I also heard more recently from fellow travelers that Costa Rica has become insanely touristy, extrmely expensive, and so overrun with wealthy Americans, that some people I'd talked to actually left the country early.
So when Tim and I rode our motorcycle zig-zagging across Costa Rica, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to fall in love with it, or hate it.
By: Tim Notier
The border between Nicaragua and Honduras took a little longer than average, along with a dose of some of the hottest temperatures we had come by so far. All we needed was just a little patience, and I was continuously thankful that Marisa is fluent in Spanish.
When we cross borders throughout the Americas, the form always asks for my nationality. I have to ask myself: “What am I?" We are in the Americas, so American doesn't really specify where I am from. I think it is kind of ignorant to hijack an entire continent and say, “You know, I'm from the America where we play football with our hands."
So, I put down USA... but that's not right either. No one says, “I am England" or “I am South Africa." It is English, South African, Asian, or Irish and so on. I thought about writing down USAish or USAian, because I didn't want to write “A Citizen of the United States of America," but figured that would add to the confusion.
About ten years ago, I had a friend who said he visited Nicaragua while studying abroad at a university in Costa Rica. He only crossed the border into Nicaragua for a day or two, but when he told me this, I thought he must have either been the bravest, or stupidest, person in the world. Visions of communist jungle guerrillas trafficking cocaine flashed through my mind: men wearing green uniforms and fully equipped with both Kalashnikovs and machetes. I wondered why my friend would go to such a place and I remember thinking, “Good for you, but I wouldn’t go there.”
Of course, if I could go back in time and tell myself that not even a decade later I would be traversing this country by motorcycle for over a month, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. And Nicaragua turned out to be nothing like my imagined doomsday exaggerations. It is actually an incredible place full of friendly people, breathtaking views, and the most dangerous thing we encountered while there were its fire-breathing volcanoes.
By: Tim Notier
Our time in El Salvador and Honduras was short and brief, but we were able to absorb a taste of what it had to offer. Honestly, these two countries were on our “worry" list. Marisa had spent the last two years before our trip as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher, and many of her students were refugees from these countries. We have always tried to avoid the rhetoric that Mexico and (enter “dangerous" country here) is not safe, especially when it comes from people who have only heard about place, and who have never actually been. But, hearing first-hand accounts of how life can be in these countries from children who have witnessed unimaginable horrors, shines a light of actual perspective.
Some of Marisa's old students asked her, “Why would you go to the country I fled?"
These kids’ lives have been put through so much terror and abuse that they made a long journey to escape the inhumanity of their homeland, and hoped for a better future in... Arkansas(?). Marisa was able to bond with them, and play an important role in their lives when they sometimes had no family in the States to turn to for support or attention, and she took their stories to heart.
Guatemala: a land of fire and water, of jungle and mountains, of colorful textiles that match the colorful fruit and parrots decorating the trees. It's an ancient land still steeped in its traditions, and a place where sometimes it feels as if time has stopped.
Having previously never thought too much about this tiny Central American country, I didn't quite know what to expect when I entered Belize. But as it turns out, Belize felt completely different from Mexico and its neighbors, and it surprised me in many ways.
As our time in Mexico has come to a close, we've reflected on both the magic and the misfortune that we've encountered during our two and half months there (mostly it was magical).
Highlights (and a few not-so-nice adventures) in chronological order -
San Felipe, Baja California
By Tim Notier
As I sit comfortably in a house we are staying at for a couple weeks, at no cost, I am able to reflect on the last 3 months of travel. Our trip has already piled on more memories than I could have hoped for.
We rode through some of the most beautiful states in the U.S. We were able to fix the bike when things went astray, and I survived a bad case of poison oak that spread to my unmentionables.
By Tim Notier
The States had proved themselves to be as amazing and hospitable as we could have hoped. We met wonderful people, saw nature in all of its glory, and shook some excess bugs out of our gear, the bike’s load, and literally out of our jackets and helmets.
A big shout out to the people who assisted us and invited us into their homes along the way, Dana Dahl and her husband William (where we almost declared legal residency because we stayed for so long), Paul Sprague (who insisted on paying for our hotel room for a night), and Jim Piatt, along with his fellow riders of the Pokka Dots: Brian Small and Ron Hess. Jim provided us with a pair of passenger foot pegs that miraculously fit (with a little grinding). We have now dubbed the bike “Peg-asus” because now she has wings!
There are too many people to thank individually, but we are grateful to every individual who provided kindness and assistance, down to just good conversations.
But now we are in Mexico, having made it all the way to Cabo. Once past Tijuana, Baja opened its window to the wondrous views it has to offer. The nights were spent at a variety of playas, each seemingly more beautiful than the last. Eating at small family owned stands, constant swimming in the Sea of Cortez, and reading books while we lay in our hammock is how we spent the majority of our days. It was true relaxation mixed in with random bonus gifts, including our Texan neighbor, Captain Gunner, letting us use his kayak-a-maran in the Bay of Conception and having a whale shark swim directly underneath us. A truly once in a lifetime experience. In the same bay, bioluminescence sparkled in the water as we swam at 4am. Everything seemed magical. Almost magical, with a couple scratches to the flawless facade.
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