Sunday, February 21, 2010

El Salvador - Honduras - Nicaragua : Pushing on...

"I’ve finally turned the corner on my cold.  I’m up late with a bit of a cold medicine buzz.  Hoping to jot down some thoughts for the moment before I go crash.  So stoked to be here in León, Nicaragua.  The last couple of days have been incredible despite being plagued by my terrible head cold and sinus infection.  The green goblins are back but hopefully they’ll turn clear and leave for good.  The riding has been epic and there has been lots of it.  These small countries have made for exciting days as I’ve pushed out of Guatemala, crossed El Salvador and a tiny corner of Honduras and now find myself sitting in a good position to push through Nicaragua and make it in time to Costa Rica to see Ben and Kaitlin.

Barring any mechanical issues, I’ve got an extra day for exploring the Northern Coast of Nica before pushing further South and crossing into Costa Rica on Sunday."  -excerpted from my journal...

Since we were waiting on Ben's bike to get repaired up in San Salvador, and all of us aside from Mark, ended up sick in one way or another, we decided to relax at our cool hotel in Playa Tunco.  In between naps and doses of cold medicine I wandered around the grounds and snapped some shots.

The hotel is located right on the beach which was superb.  To come here for a week or two to surf would be an ideal vacation.  I tried swimming in the ocean to help with the sinus infection.  It was good therapy.

But on the next day, Jon was feeling better and I was ready to push on hoping to still meet my deadline.  Charles chose to stay behind and wait for Ben, not wanting to cross the border into Honduras risking getting too far ahead of him.

Jon and Mark, both firefighters for the U.S. Forest Service, were riding their KLR's to Panama with the intention of turning around there and heading back north.  They also needed to be in Costa Rica by the 10th of January to rendezvous with a friend bringing down a new tire.  So they were the perfect team for me to join up with for the push through Honduras and Nicaragua.  We loaded up and bid Charles farewell, ripping down the coast.  The El Salvadoran coastal road was good other than a couple of wheel swallowing potholes.

When we got closer to the border, we opted for a back road that skirted a sweet volcano.  Looking to get out of the sweaty and humid coastal atmosphere, this was a great option.  The road was much rougher.  A curvy climb up to the flanks of the volcano with great views and much cooler temps.

Arriving at the famous El Amatillo border crossing into Honduras at 2:30 we made the decision to cross into the country.  Our other option was to stay somewhere on the El Salvador side and make a double border push the next day.  Honduras is the most expensive country to visit when importing a vehicle.  I would have loved to just skip it since most of the "good" stuff is all on the Caribbean.  Unfortunately for me, Honduras stretches all the way to the Pacific making bypassing it impossible.  Or nearly impossible...  We researched taking a boat from El Salvador directly to Nicaragua via the Pacific Ocean. We found one write up on the internet documenting one motorcyclists journey through this adventure.  He ended up taking several boats and had to have his bike carried over a 40 yard stretch of ocean mud to get to shore.  It took him four days.  Not something my new team was interested in doing.  And who could blame them.  It sounded like hell.  So we were forced to enter Honduras to ride the short 100 miles to Nicaragua.  Our timing was such that we would have to overnight somewhere near the Nica border and cross in the morning.

Borders are typically filled with "helpers" or "tramitadores" who insist on 'helping' you through the process of immigration and importing your motorcycle through customs.  My opinion of these so-called helpers is that they really are only there to levy money from you.  Rarely is the process difficult and often they make it harder in order to try to get more money out of the tourist they are helping.  When we pulled up the the border one such helper insisted on helping us.  We declined his help numerous times but when the border official threatened to send Mark back to the U.S. because he only had a photocopy of his title, we caved.  Our helper, Jose, insisted that he would be able to get us across with the documents we had.  We gave it a shot.  This turned into a several hour process where Mark and I, the only Spanish speakers took turns working with Jose, while Jon remained with the bikes keeping a close eye on our stuff.  Borders are stuffed with interesting characters that usually appear to lack money and prey upon unsuspecting individuals caught up in the process.  I.E. theft is common.

Everything seemed to be going well, until Jose claimed that we each were required to pay a $25 dollar road tax.  I had never heard of such a tax so we debated this fact for several hours.  Since Jose was holding all of our documents, we were in a sensitive position.  Without our paperwork and passports we were stuck at his mercy.  I pulled out my cell phone and feigned a call to my attorney.  We stalled and delayed, thinking this was another typical scam.  Mark and I debated whether we should just pay or whether we should wait out Jose's patience.  It was getting dark and we were all getting impatient.

Finally well after dark and some serious scheming we got our documents back from Jose and took our chances without paying the tax.  None of us were very happy to be riding into Honduras in the dark.  Of all the Central American countries, Honduras is the least stable currently.  We had been warned numerous times of robberies.  Pitch black now, we mounted the bikes and charged into the unknown on high alert.  The threat of a being arrested for not paying the "road tax" only heightened our anxiety.  We rode in tight formation to the first town.  Unable to find adequate accommodation, we pushed further.  Eventually finding a mediocre motel, we decided we'd all had enough for the day.  Tired and weak from being sick, I was ready for bed.  Our room was sparsely furnished, the top sheets on the beds were dirty from debris falling from the ceiling.  And when I pulled the sheet down I found this little friend waiting for me.

We trapped him with a towel and released him outside.  Wondering if this would affect our sleep...  We shut out the lights hoping for the best.  Next thing I knew Jon was waking us up to bust out for Nicaragua.  It was sunny and beautiful riding through the Honduran countryside.  Aside from being stopped several times by the police to check our documents (none of them asked about a road tax) the miles clicked by without a hitch.

As we approached the Nicaraguan border, we could see San Cristobal volcano smoking on the horizon.

Having been to Nicaragua previously, I was really excited to return.  I had really enjoyed my first visit and was excited to arrive in León.  All we needed to do was check out of Honduras and pass into Nicaragua.  One more chance to be busted for not paying the road tax.  I was hoping that since none of the several police stops created a problem, we would escape free of concern.

Once we passed this guy we were home free.  I guess we'll never know but seems like we got away without paying the road tax.  Maybe Jose wasn't lying but regardless we never got asked about it.

We agreed that we would avoid all helpers this time around.  I went through the process on my own and 15 minutes later was out to take Mark and then Jon through the system.  It took us less than an hour and we were on our way ripping towards the smoking volcano.  Rocketing through the countryside with smiles on our faces heading for the colonial city of León.

It didn't take long and the drive was superb.

We ended up at a really cool hostel called Lazybones.  Mark went in first to see if it was going to be o.k. and if we could park the bikes inside.  He came out with a funny look on his face and said I better go check it out.  Knowing that I'm picky about these things he said to walk through the courtyard and check out the "lounge" area.  This was what I found...

Yep, that'll do.  And killer parking too.

After our dodgy Honduran motel this place was like heaven.  Cool art filled the walls, a private room for the three of us complete with mosquito nets over the beds, high speed wireless internet, funky jams filling the air and of course, the pool made this little oasis remarkable.  An hour or so into hanging at the pool and we'd met a Canadian named Peter, who invited us to come the next day to his beach house a short drive away.  Just at dark another surprise arrived.

Sam, from back in Mexico, showed up with his new riding partner Dan and their surfboard toting KLR's.  It had been about a month since I'd seen Sam.  So we packed a couple more bikes into the courtyard and became the token spectacle at the hostel.

We all went out for the night and caught up over some beers.  Excited for our adventure to Las Peñitas to stay with Peter and his crew the next day.

1 comment:

Dr. Benny said...

You're a blog posting machine! Nice stuff. Keep it up!