Originally published in Castine Patriot, December 20, 2018
Penobscot man finds adventure, beauty on the road
By motorcycle through Central America
On the road to Oaxaca, Geoffrey Huppe takes a break, with his 1999 Kawasaki bike he calls Maya Plum.
by Anne Berleant
One morning in late November, Geoffrey Huppe packed his saddlebags, zipped up his leather jacket, and slung his leg over the seat of his 1999 Kawasaki Concourse, a 1000cc motorcycle he calls Maya Plum.
“Often people ask me why I do the things I do and, quite frankly, I am not sure myself,” he wrote by email from Guatemala. “I suppose it is a compulsion to see what I have never seen and to meet people I do not know. However, there is more to it. I think it stems from my upbringing and the summers I have spent in Maine.”
Huppe summered in Castine starting as a newborn 61 years ago, and as an adult, found land in Penobscot and built the house where he now lives.
That home, with the big covered sailboat in the yard, is where Huppe returns from his traveling life. He has cycled around Europe, hitchhiked across the U.S., sailed the East Coast and visited the Far East while in the Navy. He has spent time as a commercial diver and, at age 48, became an airline pilot.
His current travels have brought him to Mexico, Antigua and Guatemala. He will visit Tikal, the site of a Mayan ruin, “the true goal of this trip,” before heading to Belize for Christmas, and then back to Mexico.
Why travel alone by motorcycle in Central America? “I can only say that to me it is the right thing to do,” he replied. “I have never felt that this life is a rehearsal for the next.”
In his own words
Tuesday, November 29th
San Pedro La Laguna, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
I am sitting on the veranda of my hostel, off the main road, a cobblestone lane with barely enough room for a car. Tuk-Tuks, small three-wheeled taxis, roll by constantly. There is always a cacophony of noise in Mexico and Central America. Roosters wake you up at 4 a.m., fireworks go off at every hour, church bells ring and at the construction site next door a guy has been hammering away since early morning. There is music playing from up on the hill. Dogs bark, birds sing and children yell as they play.
At night, the stars come out over the mountains and volcanoes that surround the lake making all the day’s noises and confusion seem distant and worthwhile.
I started this trip on November 26th. The voyage began last year when I made a similar trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Being on a motorcycle, alone, in Mexico and Central America, everyday life begins anew and it is normal to expect the unexpected.
I crossed the border at McAllen. Culture shock is immediate entering Mexico. Road signs disappear quickly, as does one’s sense of direction. I have been lost countless times here. I try to avoid using GPS out of a sense of exploration and do-it-yourself-edness. I also do not want to have a GPS on my instruments because it is dangerous to take your eyes off the road for an instant here. I have seen potholes as big as my bike and just about as deep appear out of nowhere on main roads.
In Monterrey I had my first scare. I did not intend to enter the city but got off track and entered as night was falling, breaking one of my cardinal rules not to drive at night here. Monterrey is enormous. Traffic is bewildering and fast. I got off the main road thinking I could find a place to rest for the night and found nothing. It was a rough couple hours but eventually I found a very kind man who told me to follow him and I got a place for the night.
From San Miguel I continued the trek south toward Mexico City and the ruins at Teotihuacan. I ascended the Pyramid of the Sun and walked the ruins in a state of amazement. It is difficult to imagine building something like that today, let alone over 1,000 years ago.
From Mexico City I went on to Oaxaca. A fantastic road leads through steep ravines that are strewn with tall cacti and rocky cliffs. This twisting, turning road is a motorcyclist’s dream.
Oaxaca’s history is as multifaceted as its colors. From the Mixtec (Toltec) ruins of Mont Alban, dating before the birth of Christ, to the struggle for independence and revolution, Oaxaca survives through earthquakes and the struggles of the indigenous peoples; many of whom are extremely poor.
It was time to move on to Guatemala, a two days’ journey through the Sierra mountains to the coastal Pacific plane. I made it through the treacherous mountain pass and got to the coast where the wind was so strong I had to lean the bike into it. This area had mile after mile of electricity-producing windmills, an impressive sight. I made it to a rather dismal city called Arriaga for the night where I stayed in a pleasant hotel run by a woman with an enchanting little daughter who was seven and wanted to chat in English.
It was time to for the last stage into Guatemala. The border from Mexico into Guatemala is a spectacle unto itself. Money changers surround you as do guys that want to assist you in the paperwork. You don’t need their help but if you find a good one they can help assist for $5 to $10.
In the morning it was time to say “adios” and I was off to Lake Atitlán.
Atitlán is an ancient volcano crater that fills with water with no real way for the water to escape. The cliffs surrounding the lake are precipitous and the road twists and turns down the slopes in a fashion a snake would find difficult to negotiate.
The roads in Guatemala are a strange affair. For the first part of the morning the road was beautiful and wound through amazing scenes of jungle and farms built into the steep inclines of the volcanic mountains. Without any warning the beautiful road just ended and became a frightful mix of cobblestone and dirt.
My motorcycle is heavy and it was all I could do to stay upright. I lost a bag off the back and, as I was putting things back, a policeman showed up with an officer on the back of their motorcycle, pistol out and ready. They were concerned about me stopping because the place was well known for bandits. I followed them into the next village and continued on.
On the winding road I met a truck coming downhill at a 180 degree turn in the road. I pulled to the side to avoid the truck and dropped the bike. It was so steep that I couldn’t right the bike and fuel started leaking from the gas tank. I started to unpack all my gear to lighten the motorcycle. As I did a kind Guatemalan stopped and helped me right the bike and told me of a simple route to get me on my way.
I made it to Antigua, a beautiful colonial town and found my hostel. I have been here for three days now and have been invited to stay with the Terrys, from Castine, who have a lovely house here. I will stay here, take Spanish lessons at one of the local schools and be on my way to Tikal in the unforeseen future.