ALMOST 6,000 MILES ON THE ODOMETER. OUR SPRINT THROUGH CENTRAL AMERICA WAS A SHORT ACTION PACKED THRILLER WITH RAIN, TRAFFIC, MUD, BEACHES, VOLCANOES, ONE VERY LARGE FAMOUS CANAL AND NEVER-ENDING CUSTOMS PROCEDURES.
MONDAY JUNE 24TH – DAY 19 – PALENQUE, MEXICO – HUEHUETENANGO, GUATEMALA (CONTINUED)
First impressions of Guatemala..Similar to Mexico but everything is twice as old, everyone is twice as poor, the mountains are twice as steep and the roads are twice as crappy. Mexico has an upper class and a lower class, it seems like Guatemala only has the lower class.
The border turned out to be a lot easier than I imagined. Everything was straight forward. We got back our $300 deposit on our motorcycles, stamped out of Mexico, got our bikes fumigated for a few bucks, paid a couple bucks to enter ourselves and another 20 for our bikes. Again, not a very popular border crossing. No one wants to go to Guatemala apparently. In the hour and a half we were there, we didn’t see a single car or bus pass through. haha does everyone know something we don’t?
After the crossing it was almost dark and we broke the cardinal rule of driving at night for about an hour. At one point I asked a police officer how far to the next town. His response, “Well, it depends on how fast your motorcycle is.” haha No speed limits. Good to know. We found the first city Huehuetenango and we soon realized… we like Guatemala! We paid $3.98 each for a private hotel room and then $4.50 for a dinner sufficient for a 400 lb. lucha libre wrestler. The family that ran the restaurant didn’t know where California was but they knew how to throw together a GIANT bowl of chicken soup.
Side note: The tortillas here are fatter and DELICIOUS!
We went to bed quite content.
TUESDAY JUNE 25TH – DAY 20 – HUEHUETENANGO, GUATEMALA – JALPATAGUA, GUATEMALA
We woke up the next morning and returned to our new favorite family restaurant for some big cheap eatin’. Then we hit the road for the El Salvadorian border. We soon realized how daunting a task this would become. Crappy roads, construction stops and thousands of unexpected speed bumps kept our speed down to a crawl. The terrain in Guatemala was not as I expected though. It was for the most part it was extremely high mountains with loosely populated indigenous villages strewn about all over the place. Our one detour of the day was visiting Lake Atitlan, we didn’t have much time to appreciate it though. Chase and I both agree that of all the Central American countries we would have liked to have had more time in, Guatemala takes the cake. There’s a lot to see. After our bodies couldn’t take anymore speed bumps and an approaching thunderstorm threatened our warm-blooded bodies we pulled over to find a hotel. $6 each for a private room and found good food across the street for $1.50.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 26TH – DAY 21 – JALPATAGUA, GUATEMALA – EL SALVADOR – CHOLUTECA, HONDURAS
Getting on our bikes in the morning, we were only 15 minutes away from the el salvadorian border. The plan- complete 2 border crossings and travel all the way through El Salvador in one day. The border crossing was a little longer when there were “problems” with Chase’s paperwork. We arrived on the El Salvadorian side to pay $10 for insurance. When I asked what it covered, the stoic government lady simply says, “if you die, your family gets $4000.” hahaha oh. GREAT! I tried to not laugh out loud at her response, but I couldn’t help it.
My observations of El Salvador are as follows. Lots of Volcanoes, lava rock fields, great roads (the panamerican highway is well developed in El Salvador, If there is a Panamerican highway in Guatemala, we never found it), and lots of farmland/deforestation. The highway is littered with Papusa shops, we stopped at a cafeteria and ate their 1/2-inch thick tortillas. DELICIOUS!! They also use the dollar, that’s nice too. We made great time on the highway and within several hours we arrived at the honduran border.
From here I’ll go into what a typical Central American border crossing is like. I’ll describe our El Salvador-Honduras experience, but all are about the same.
For about 1/4-mile leading up to the border there’s people sitting around. Sometimes in shops, sometimes on the streets. When we come into sight, half of these people perk up and start waving their arms wildly for us to come talk to them. For the most part they are “border helpers”. At the beginning of the 1/4-mile frenzy a guy practically throws himself in front of my bike. I have to swerve to avoid him and then watch him sprint the 1/4-mile in my rear-view mirror. hahaha. When we make it to the government customs building generally we are immediately swarmed by people offering to do all our paperwork for a small tip or by people who offer to change out the old currency for the new one. When the sprinter finally arrived at the pack I felt kind of bad for him, he couldn’t even get his words out because he was so winded. Then I have to sternly say to all of them “we don’t need help! We’ve done this before, thanks but no thanks, go away please.” Some don’t believe me and they start guiding us through to the right buildings. I have to tell them things like “I promise you, I’m not going to pay you anything, don’t waste your time.” They usually give up after a few minutes when they realize we’re competent gringos. First we stamp ourselves out of the country we started in, cancel our vehicle permits and then stamp in to the new country and get new vehicle permits and/or insurance.
During the process there’s a series of 20 police/border agents that check your stuff along the way. Just as we get to the bridge to cross into Nicaragua a Honduran police officer starts pointing at dates on Chase’s motorcycle title that relate to his old registration that were expired. He was a worthless excuse for a human being. he grabs the title and says “Oh if you don’t need it then i’ll keep it.” So I had to explain how California titles and registration work. This thug thought if he could catch us doing something illegal he could force a bribe out of us to get the title back. His little scheme failed. When I didn’t back down he finally relinquished the title and then asked me to give him my boots. haha I wanted to throw him off the bridge.
Assaulted with more helpers on the Honduran side and slow moving border agents we spent $35 to enter with our motorcycles and hit the road for the nearest city. We arrived in Choluteca and since we needed money for dinner, a hotel and breakfast the next morning we took out $10 each. 🙂 love it.
My observations of Honduras. Similar to other Central American countries in most respects. As poor as Guatemala but without all the indigenous culture. Roads were the worst we’ve seen in the whole trip and maybe for the same reason, NO ONE has cars, they all walk.
We found a hotel that fell within our $10 24-hour budget and hit the hay.
THURSDAY JUNE 27TH – DAY 22 – CHOLUTECA, HONDURAS – NICARAGUA – LA CRUZ, COSTA RICA
Waking up it was an hour or so to the Nicaraguan border. Another day. Another 2 border crossings and one entire country knocked off our list.
We both recognize that at this speed we can’t ‘truly’ appreciate a country. It’s true. But in this way we’ll have more time to appreciate South America.
Our grand exit from Honduras was marked with 2-foot-deep pot hole mine fields littering the highway. I felt like a skier going through the moguls. It was pretty interesting to look ahead and see oncoming semis swerving left and right into your lane to avoid the potholes. Crossing into Nicaragua was pretty uneventful. Similar to all the others.
My observations of Nicaragua. The people have enough money to buy bicycles, Honduras NO. More Volcanoes, more green stuff everywhere, and big lakes. We didn’t make any real detours through Nicaragua. In part because we were stopped on three occasions by corrupt police officers pulling retarded infractions out of their butts. I was so annoyed, I just wanted to get to Costa Rica. The first stop was just a “routine stop” they held us while they thought of something we did wrong but they came up blank. The second stop was for chase following the car in front of him too closely. I didn’t get all the info from the cop BUT I WAS IN FRONT OF HIM. The cop started out at $100 and then I came back to see what his deal was. I laughed at him and threw him a $20 and we got on our way. The third stop occured when I saw our fellow travelers we met on the Baja Ferry on the highway. I pulled up nearer to their SUV and honked my horn; in my excitement I wasn’t watching for the freaking POE-POES. $10 and a whole bunch of stern warnings and fake threats from the cop and we were on our way. I was glad to get to Costa Rica. $35 for insurance and we were set loose in the country. We stopped at the nearest city and soon discovered, everything is practically American prices. This is the worst country of them all! Chase and I reminisced about our beloved Guatemala after paying $12 each for the crappiest hotel of the trip.
FRIDAY JUNE 28TH – DAY 23 – LA CRUZ, COSTA RICA – JACO, COSTA RICA
BEST first half of the day followed by the WORST. First thing in the morning we took a road prohibited to all vehicles except those with “extreme off-road” capabilities. We traveled 10 miles through the santa rosa national park to the a surf spot called “witch’s rock.” We didn’t have surfboards, so it was the off-road journey to the beach that motivated our quest. A few hours traveling through the jungle and swimming in a pristine and isolated beach was a fantastic detour.
We got back on the road only to get caught in a never-ending downpour. It started out uncomfortable in the warm weather but by the second hour it became a mind game of blocking out the pain. Our original plan was to make it to a beach where we could camp, but the rain soaked our camp gear and with it our hopes of camping comfortably. At a gas station we decided to call it quits and headed for a nearby coastal town called Jaco. It turned out to be a great stop. Jaco is a little surf town that seems to thrive entirely on foreign surfers. We got a cheap hotel and I paid $5 bucks for a board to use the next morning.
SATURDAY JUNE 29TH – DAY 24 – JACO, COSTA RICA – DAVID, PANAMA
I woke up to glassy head high beachbreak and surfed for about 3 hours with just one german to keep me company. The waves were great, but the water was a little dirty from a river dumping poop a few hundred yards away. That might have been my undoing.
After Chase slept in and I had my fill of waves, we set off for Panama. The road was beautiful! The highway curved along with the Costa Rican beaches on one side and the jungle on the other. Other than that nothing of special importance during the ride. The Panamanian border crossing was the longest and most complicated yet. Somewhere during the border steps I felt my stomach feel funny. And then I knew. The next few hours or days would be unpleasant. We stopped in David, Panama and got some street hamburgers and spent the night at a hostal. I dreamt that I was sick and I woke up the next morning to see my dream come true.
SUNDAY JUNE 30TH – DAY 25 – DAVID, PANAMA – SANTIAGO, PANAMA
That morning we went to Church, just 10 blocks away from our hostal and then I felt like the grim reaper had me in his clutches. Extreme fatigue and achiness, accompanied with the usual intestinal problems. I had a gnarly fever too so I went back to the hostal to take a nap. Waking up, I felt surpisingly better but everytime I exerted myself in anyway I felt like crap. We got on the road anyways and made it to Santiago, Panama when Chase’s bike started trembling under acceleration. It should have been an easy diagnosis but in my sick and exhausted haze it took me awhile to notice that his rear sprocket was totally obliterated. So there we were…on the side of the road in the rain. Changing a sprocket (We brought an extra, because boyscouts are always prepared) while my body felt as if it suddenly aged 70 years. It’s a memory I will hold dear to my heart. We got everything sorted out and had to spend the night in the same city.
MONDAY JULY 1ST – DAY 26 – SANTIAGO, PANAMA – PANAMA CITY
Feeling just as crappy as the day before we set off for Panama City. We needed to get another spare sprocket now for my bike which looked like it only had a few hundred miles left on the sprocket. Poor chain maintenance had cost us a bit. We crossed the Panama Canal and took a little detour to get as close as we could before we entered the city to begin our hunt for a sprocket for a bike that isn’t really sold outside the US. It was quite a hopeless endeavour but we found one that was almost identical except it didn’t have 8 screw holes, it had 6. So we went to a machine shop to get it redrilled. We stopped later at La Casa de Carmen, a well-known hostal here in the city. Most of the guys here are from Jamaica or the Carribean. More than anything it was nice to have a place to lay down while in my sickly state.
At the moment I’m still trying to get the sprocket thing fixed on my bike; the guy that drilled the holes did a poor job and I need him to re-do it. We hope to leave for Colon, Colombia today to find a boat captain to take us to Colombia for a cheap price. It is the second day here waiting on sickness, sprockets, other random mechanical problems and boat captain responses, etc. Aside from that we’ve just been chillin with the Jamaicans and Carribean Islanders that live here.