Posted on February 9, 2014
After our restful time in Cuenca, it was time to pack the bags and hit the road. We thought we could make it out of Ecuador in one day, but seeing as half of the country has the Andes mountain range running through it, you can’t make it anywhere very quickly.
In Mexico we weren’t happy with anything less than a 200 mile day, but when hairpins and s-curves, climbing then descending then climbing again, and dodging trucks (and stray dogs) is the norm you’re happy with a 100 miles. However, the day before our last day in Ecuador we saw some of the best scenery in the whole country, rolling green mountains, and just enough curves to have fun on without slowing you down.
Research is a must before every border crossing! Even if it is just to see pictures of where the buildings are (many crossing in Central America have the buildings in illogical places where they must be hunted out) and to know how much you might have to pay for insurance. In looking at the Ecuador-Peru border there seemed to be unity on the inter-webs as to its ease.
Leaving early and never knowing what to expect we headed to the border and in less than an hour and a half we were processed out of Ecuador and into Peru. This was the best border crossing of the whole trip, bar none. The Peruvian Aduana (customs) employees were friendly and helpful, two qualities you don’t find in many border officials, and a first of the trip, they even made copies for us of the paperwork they required!
Many of the countries that we have visited have shocked me in how different they are then I had imagined them. For instance, I always thought that Colombia was just one giant jungle. And don’t get me wrong, there is jungle there, but no country is one ecosystem, and the landscape of Colombia is one of the most diverse we have seen. With that said, northern Peru was exactly how I imagined it.
Ecuador is green, lush, and for a third world country, particularly trash free (Alex informed me later that there were anti-littering signs posted everywhere along the road). Northern Peru could not be any different, and was the most dramatic shift in environment we have experienced. The landscape is dry, arid desert spotted with a few towns. As you continue, the desert only intensifies into dunes that remind one of Tunisia.
We filled up with gas after the border, using the last of our cash, and continued on, hoping to hit an ATM at the first real town. Tambo Grande was the first larger town (i.e. not a cluster of huts along the road) that we stumbled upon and we went in search of an ATM. After driving through the whole town we stopped and Alex asked a passerby where we might find a cash machine. His response was that there wasn’t one in the entire town.
Onward it was. Continuing through large swaths of dry desert and the occasional grouping of houses, that are more what people at home would think of as huts, on the sides of the freeway. We got to Piura (the first major town on the map) and here we struck pay dirt at a mall that had a line of ATMs from every major international bank. We decided to call it quits for the day and thankfully we did, because early the next morning we found out how long it was to the next town.
What started as brown dry desert reminiscent of Baja, California, gradually turned into dunes as we got further from Piura. The luck of that day was that we filled up before we left Piura, because once we were in the desert it was 120 miles to the next town. As we entered the Zonas de Dunas, the winds picked up and it was hours of riding with the bikes tilted at an angle, reflected in the small brush on the side of the road that had grown blown in one direction.
What some people might not realize about this trip, or any trip on motorcycles, is that there are days where all you do is get up, and ride. It’s not a complaint, we have seen some of the best sights while on two wheels, but it is a reality I don’t think many people grasp. Riding into a town at dusk, looking for a hostel with parking (something you never worry about while backpacking), and only thinking about how much your ass hurts and that the overpowering, sometimes rancid, smell of your riding suit permeates every breath.
Get up the next morning, pack the bags, grab a bite and jump back on the bike for another full day. The dunes continue, going through small towns on a two lane road, dodging trucks and tuk-tuks. The sun is high in the sky, then low, then setting. The haze of evaporated water blends sky and earth and sand and road. A water color painting of a landscape that has no outstanding features. And we ride.
Get up, pack, no breakfast, on the bikes. We make it to the ocean, dunes that lead right to the break. The towns become further apart. Stop when you can for food, for gas, for a break from the bike. Then more riding. The mirages stretche ahead, endless pools of nonexistent water, reminding you of the heat and the sand and the sun beating down. Sweat pools in your underwear, you can feel it every time you shift weight on the bike.
Its near the end of the third day that we hit a true stretch of freeway, not a two lane road, but an actual freeway and we twist the throttle and really open the bikes up. Ripping through the dunes, and the mountains of trash. What makes northern Peru look like a post-apocalyptic nightmare are the mounds of trash, which are usually on fire, that accompany the exit of every city.
Trash as far as the eye can see, with huts scattered throughout where people live and sift through the garbage. And then back into the desert of Mad Max the road warrior. The wind picks up, you tilt the bike, feel the sand sting that one spot your gloves and jacket have left unprotected. And the sun sets.
The final days ride brought us to Lima, our goal for the first leg of Peru.
Peruvians favorite part of the car is the horn, which they use instead of brakes or signals to inform others of the haphazard driving maneuvers they will perform that would churn the stomach of even the most talented of stunt drivers. Traffic be damned, Alex maneuvered us through the honks and sirens and shouts to our hostel, for a couple of days rest and some sight seeing before we get back on the bikes.
Posted on December 16, 2013
With only a few days left in Nicaragua, Alex and I were reviewing the timeline before we battled our way through another border and on into Costa Rica. We decided that we wanted to spend a half day in Granada before moving on to the border.
Granada is a lake town that sits on the edge of Lago Nicaragua, with views of Concepción Volcan in the distance. We would have pictures of all of this, but there was another unfortunate motorcycle hiccup. As we pulled the motorcycles into our hotel in Granada (Hotel Casa Barcelona, a hotel that promotes jobs for local women to become independent bread winners) Alex felt/heard a snapping sensation in her clutch cable, lo and behold we could see that of the nine or ten strands of cable, all but three had snapped.Plans for our restful day by the lake quickly dissolved into web-searches, youtube videos, and greasy fingers. After watching a video on how to remove the clutch cable, Alex stated to me “I think we can do this, without any tools”. Well one of those two statements turned out to be true.
Before I could protest, Alex was out of the hotel lobby and into the courtyard, borrowing a pair of pliers from the hotel handyman (Giovanni, he will be in the story later) and beginning to rip into the clutch lever. The only conversation we had on the subject, was whether we thought the bike could make it in its current state to the shop we are going to in Costa Rica. Upon further review we both decided it would be foolish to continue without some sort of repair.
In about thirty minutes we had dissembled the clutch lever and removed the clutch cable. Alex held it out to the two handymen that were working on staining a table in the courtyard where our bikes were. Giovanni came over to inspect the cable, and Alex asked where we might be able to obtain another one.
By now it was 4:00, and the main concern was that if we didn’t find a replacement, most of the shops would not be open on Sunday and it might mean a delay of several days to get it repaired. Giovanni said he knew of a shop and suddenly we were in his car racing through Granada.
It was at this time that the sky’s let loose the rain they has been threatening all day and monsoon style downpour drenched the tiny town as Alex and Giovanni sprinted into the shop. The full cable assemblies they had in stock were too short by only a couple of inches, so we ended up getting a long replacement cable to feed into the tubing of the original.
Back to the hotel we went, the rain went just as quickly as it came, and though the bikes were wet, it didn’t slow the installation. Giovanni provided a helping hand in getting the new cable threaded and hooking the clutch lever back up. Next we needed to attach it to the motor. Here we ran into some problems because the washer and bolt that came with the replacement cable were too big to fit into the housing on the motor.Giovanni pulled out a grinder and started shaping the nut to fit. A little bending to widen the housing, and we were able to get the nut into the system. A little adjustment at the lever, and it was good as new or at least jimmy-rigged enough to get us to Costa Rica. It wasn’t pretty, but it meant we could stay on schedule and get across the border. It took all the time we had in Granada to do it, however Alex’s faith in us being able to fix it was unwavering, she amazes me!
Also, as in Honduras, when we needed help, the right people seemed to show up. We are grateful that Giovanni was so willing to help two strangers and are still amazed at the kindness of strangers here in Central America.
The following day came early and it was time to see if the cable would hold and what the border had in store for us. The border crossing wasn’t the worst in terms of harassment, but was the most extensive in paperwork and general futility. All told it took five hours.
Nicaragua had the most amount of work to exit a country yet. Most countries are glad to let you go with a stamp and some well wishes as you become the next country’s problem. However, Nicaragua required we have an official (who is wandering around the immigration area) inspect the bikes, then we had to get a stamp from a second of official in a booth, before tracking down a police officer (who also is just wandering around) to sign our forms. It took two hours just to get all the paperwork filled out and signed just to exit Nicaragua. For comparison, exiting Honduras took all of twenty minutes.
Next it was on to Costa Rica. Instead of describing the whole procedure, we have drawn this diagram:
After five hours of border crossing hi jinks, which included the insurance agency typing Alex’s VIN wrong three times, we made it into the countryside and all the way to Liberia Canton for a victory dinner. Country number seven is ours for the taking, and we are off to San Jose for our appointment to have some much needed maintenance done to the bikes.
Posted on December 4, 2013
The days since we left Antigua have been intense and it’s going to be hard for me to focus on the key events so bear with me. We usually attempt to focus our blogs on a collection of days that are related but the past week has been a total hodge podg of experiences.
Also, my brain has been hyper-focused on trip related issues so I don’t have very many photos from the past few days.
After Antigua we cruised south to a small town closer to the border called Chiquimulila. We stayed one night there before hitting the road for the El Salvador border, however I was not mentally prepared to deal with the ‘fixers’.
In our previous border crossings people haven’t been annoyingly persistent in their attempts to solicit us and it lulled me into believing all people would be so agreeable.
As we approached the El Salvadorian border we saw the first of the trucks. Central American countries have few crossings where the semis can get through and the line of rumbling smoking beasts can stretch for miles leading up to a border. As a motorcyclist or regular car you should just go around them if there is space. They aren’t dealing with the same officials or paperwork as tourists so you aren’t ‘cutting’ anybody.
As we approached the first trucks we swung ourselves into the opposite lane and kept going as a collection of guys with scooters tried to flag us down near the end of the line.
Four men on two scooters then proceeded to follow us weaving in and out of the trucks and trying to motion us through the trucks for the next several miles (see video).
It can get pretty overwhelming to be honest and as Nathaniel and I arrived to the custom office and began parking I totally lost my temper and screamed at them. I’m not fluent enough in Spanish for cursing to happen as an accident (I did not curse at them), but I definitely didn’t plan to yell at them.
I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP. LEAVE ME ALONE.
One of them men jumped backwards and seemed really surprised at my outburst while his partner trailed us for another 10 minutes before finally giving up.
Without any hiccups the crossing took about two hours. It was mostly boring and hot, though not very difficult, although I sometimes get mentally tired constantly dealing with official documents in Spanish.
Something very important about crossing borders with a vehicle in Latin America is that you need originals of your passport, drivers license, title, registration and several copies of all of them before you even think about visiting Aduana (customs).
We left the border and made for Sunzal El Salvador. The coastal road to get there was equal to many sections of Highway 1 in California and we found a place to stay a few hundred feet from the beach for $20 a night, we have now driven from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean and back!
We only arrived about an hour before sundown so I asked Nathaniel if we could crash for two nights in Sunzal as the idea of two border crossings in two days (we were on a mission to get to Honduras) made my head hurt.
We spent a very lazy day in Sunzal eating fish papusas, Nathaniel swimming in the ocean (he is Aquaman), and laying on hammocks before getting up early and heading out for the next border. Because of some ATM issues (sometimes finding money in Latin America can be difficult when your off the beaten path) we couldn’t cross the border December 2nd as intended and had to stay in a border town called Santa Rosa de Lima.After checking out a few hotel options at the end of a hot day we were just ready to take anything and followed a sign for a ‘Auto Hotel’. When we arrived we were so excited to see that each room had its own enclosed garage below it. Perfect!
I asked the man how much per night and was okay with the $35 price tag because it meant our bikes would be totally safe for the night as there weren’t any real other viable options in this border town. Once we went up to our room we realized we had accidentally booked ourselves into an infamous ‘Love Hotel‘.
A Love Hotel is basically a place where you can pull your car into a garage, close the door, pay for the room (3 hour minimum) and leave all without ever talking to someone face to face. You pay in cash and they don’t ask for your name.
The room was actually really clean (cleaner than most), but had some very bizarre features that a regular hotel would never have. For starters – they pipe in music and although you can control the volume you can’t quite turn it off. Secondly high up of the wall was an automated air freshener that sprayed the room with sickly flower smell every 15 minutes.
The entire situation was comical but the hotel its self was secure and clean which is why we were able to push the ick-factor out of our minds and hunkerdown with cheeseburgers and an CSI marathon for the night. On CSI commercial breaks I would occasionally go to the window to keep track of the hotel’s turnover rate by counting closed garage doors.
Once again the next morning we zipped up our riding suits (still giggling about the hotel) and put our sights on the next border.
For the El Salvador – Honduras border we had our game faces on.
It’s supposed to be the most grueling Kafkaesque border crossing in all of Central America. We knew it could take a few hours, but we had to be prepared for it to take all day.
We checked multiple sources for information on what we needed before crossing and we found a BRILLIANT post on RideDot (Link) that had a step by step breakdown of the process.
As we approached the fixers quickly surrounded us and I gave them the silent treatment for a few minutes before turning to the most annoying of them and in my best pure-bitch-dehumanizing voice told him:
I’m not going to talk to you. I speak Spanish. I don’t need your help.
And they left us alone pretty quickly.
I hate being rude to people, but I had learned the crossing before that a hundred ‘no thank yous’ won’t go as far as one very direct and angry message.Getting out of El Salvador was easier and faster than navigating BART from SF to the East Bay and the Aduana Official of Honduras was an angel. I don’t think I’ve met a nicer or more friendly government employee in any country. The most unpleasant part was the giant line at the immigration office on the Honduran side, but by then the light at the end of the tunnel was glorious and bright.
We are now in the Honduran capitol of Tegucigalpa and plan on leaving for Leon Nicaragua in a few days.
Thank you for sticking with me through this post – I know it was a little all over the place.
Posted on October 19, 2013
We woke up early on Wednesday, got everything packed away on our now dry bikes and took off for the south on Mexico Hwy-1. In looking at our now worn AAA map the distance to La Paz was 280 miles. It was going to be a long day, but we were rested from our time in Loreto and the first half of the ride was through beautiful mountain passes fresh from the soaking the day before. We made our way to Ciudad Constitución without any issues, stopped for lunch and then continued on to La Paz.
The ride went quick, but we were both sore by the time we cruised into La Paz and up the driveway of the Baja Backpackers hostel (which we didn’t know at the time, would be our home for the next week). There was parking in the back for the bikes, and we figured we had it made to head out the next day on the ferry to Mazatlán, nothing could be further from the truth.
The next several days is a blur of bureaucracy that I will try to keep brief as even I am bored thinking about it. Upon arrival in La Paz we were informed that we were going to need our FMM cards just to be able to leave for Mazatlán (our time as undocumented travelers was coming to an end). Stories abound of people who were in similar situations that just went to the airport here in La Paz and got someone to stamp their passport. We did not have such luck (neither did another traveler we ran into, but more on him later).
We spent all day Thursday at the immigration office, first in the morning to start and then again, and again, and again as we filled out forms wrong, didn’t have the correct information and genuinely just fell through the red tape one stumble at a time. It became clear at 1:00pm on Thursday, that we were not going to make the ferry that day (and with what we know now – that never was a possibility).
Friday brought more issues than relief, but in waves of good and bad news. By noon on Friday we had our FMM cards (go to this google doc for a in-depth guide on how to get an FMM card in La Paz). We went on our merry way to the ferry building in Pichilingue, got our tickets for the ferry in ten minutes and thought we were on our way.
It was only an hour later or so that we found out that we still needed to get our importation documents for the motorcycles. We ran out of the hostel and back to Pichilingue for the second time to see if we could get the importation documents. The bank was closed for the day when we arrived and thus ended to effort for that day.
Saturday we made it out for our third trip to Pichilingue to try and get our importation documents (though our friend Matt told us that we were going to need the original title or registration). I have the original registration for my bike (and clearly remember my dad asking if I thought I needed the title and me saying no), but Alex doesn’t have either original, just copies. We were turned away from the bank because of the lack of documentation for Alex.
What this means is that we had to push back our tickets with the ferry and come up with a new plan. This post is already getting long, so to make it short, if Alex can’t get someone back home to find her registration, then she is going to have to fly back to Tijuana and take a bus to San Diego so she can get a copy of her registration at a AAA/DMV office.
All said and done, we have moved our tickets to Thursday and that is the day that no matter what happens (with-in reason) we will be on he ferry. We don’t blame the system, it was a complete lack of planning that brought us here, but we are happy that it is happening not to far from home. All of the other border crossings might be a breeze compared to this, but at least at the end of this we should have all the documentation we should need in the future.
This too shall pass.