Motociclistas Sin Fronteras

Families relax near the beach in Sunzal El Salvador. Photo: Alex Washburn

Families relax near the beach in Sunzal El Salvador. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

A closed garage door means a room is "Occupied". Photo: Alex Washburn

A closed garage door means a room is Occupied. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Alex poses next to a sign showing we are close to the Honduran border. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Alex poses next to a sign showing we are close to the Honduran border. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

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.

The Coastal Highway

This video was shot on the Coastal Highway in Belize, the road that all of the locals told us not to ride. I shot it all with a GoPro Hero3 silver edition and edited with the new GoPro suite.

Three Roads

Nathaniel prepares to record me crossing a bridge along the gloriously names 'Coastal Highway'. Photo: Alex Washburn

Nathaniel prepares to record me crossing a bridge along the gloriously named ‘Coastal Highway’. Photo: Alex Washburn

It is impossible to get lost driving in the country of Belize. It’s tiny – at only 8,867 square miles in size it is barely larger than the state of Massachusetts.

In addition to this; a large percentage of this tiny country’s land is still untouched and they have minimal infrastructure. This has negatives and positives for the country as a whole, but what it meant for us as we looked at a map on Sunday is that there was only one obvious route to Placencia from Belize city and really only three major roads in the whole country.

A Canadian very familiar to the country had warned us about how terrible a fourth road (the coastal highway) was but we took the warning with a grain of salt because foreigners from first world countries sometimes have a skewed perception of what a ‘bad’ road is.

Sunday morning several Belizeans at our hotel confirmed that the coastal highway (which by the way is neither coastal nor an actual highway) was a terrible road. However – when we came to the turnoff where we could take the unpaved coastal highway or continue on the road most traveled we decided to have a little adventure (video coming soon).

We were on the coastal highway for less than 10 minutes and I could feel the smile slowly spreading across my face. It was rocky, dirty, muddy bumpy and everything our Kawasaki KLRs were meant to handle when we decided they were the best bikes for the trip. It took us 2.5 hours to drive 37 miles and it was fantastic (even if I tipped over twice and got super muddy).

A group of locals concentrates on their game of dominos in the shade next to the only gas station in Placencia Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

A group of locals concentrates on their game of dominos in the shade next to the only gas station in Placencia Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

Placencia itself was pleasant enough… We decided to go because a local Belizean told us the miniature peninsula along Belize’s southern coast was beautiful and it is! However, most people seem to be in Placencia to lay on a beach and get a nice day drunk going which is just not the kind of tourists we are. Although, I got accidentally tipsy one day because the infamous “Ms. Brenda” served us two rum and punches but Nathaniel doesn’t drink. Ms. Brenda is not the kind of woman you send food back to so I had to drink both glasses while Nathaniel ate his spicy jerk chicken lunch without a beverage.

As we attempted to leave we ended up hanging out at a gas station for about twenty minutes with some of the locals. I was feeling really dehydrated and I didn’t want to start the three hour ride to San Ignacio before drinking some water so we filled up and chilled out. The taxi drivers and gas station attendants were more than happy to let us share their shade and laugh at their brisk games of dominos.

Belizeans have been super friendly towards us no matter where we’ve gone. There were a lot of homeless people and panhandlers in Belize City, but everyone we’ve met from gas station attendants to hotel clerks, fellow restaurant diners and random people on the street have been welcoming and talkative. The men at the gas station accepting our presence so quickly is just another example of this.

The ride to San Ignacio up the Hummingbird Highway was the most beautiful stretch of road we’ve come across in Belize. The hills are so overgrown with palm trees, flowers and vines they resemble the scenery in Jurassic Park. The asphault on the “highways” is generally in great condition and it isn’t until you drive through the cities that you encounter insane potholes. I have never experienced potholes like they have in Belize.

They are epic pits appearing from nowhere waiting to swallow your front tire whole. In many places swerving around one hole just dumps you right into another so it’s best to just ride straight through and try not to break your teeth as you grit through it.

When we arrived to San Ignacio we had our first meal of the day at Hode's where this flute player provided the soundtrack. Photo: Alex Washburn

When we arrived to San Ignacio we had our first meal of the day at Hode’s where this flute player provided the soundtrack. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our bikes parked in front of Hode's restaurant in San Ignacio Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our bikes parked in front of Hode’s restaurant in San Ignacio Belize. And yes – that is a giant red umbrella attached to my bike. Photo: Alex Washburn

We arrived to San Ignacio in the early afternoon and after battling some epic potholes and unpaved surfaces in the city itself, found a place to eat and a hostel with a secure yard for our bikes. We didn’t have to actually come to San Ignacio, but we wanted to be close to Belmopan (the capitol) because we made an appointment to have our bikes looked at today.

We are both eager to (hopefully) cross the border into Guatemala after our appointment and continue our adventures in Spanish speaking Latin America.

RECOMMENDATION: If you are riding bikes from the US through Latin America it might be hard to get your bike serviced in Mexico depending on what you are riding. If you come to Belize – Motor Solutions in Belmopan is a well stocked shop that should be able to help you out and English is the official language of Belize which should be a relief if you don’t speak spanish.

Hello Belize

A map documenting our progress through Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

A map documenting our progress through Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

After waiting a day in Chetumal for the Banjercito to open, Monday morning came and the rain clouds cleared to reveal the humid boiling sun. We packed the gear, counted our remaining pesos, and fueled up at the last Pemex of the trip.

Nathaniel packs his gear, getting ready to cross the Belize border. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

Nathaniel packs his gear, getting ready to cross the Belize border. Photo: Alex Washburn

Chetumal ended up being closer to Belize than we thought, and it took us less than ten minutes to get to the border crossing (we might have been able to cross on Friday, but after all the paperwork I think we may have gotten stuck in limbo). With all the issues we had in La Paz we knew we had all the needed paperwork, but were still ready for some bureaucracy.

First stop was to turn in our FMM cards and get stamps out of Mexico (check). Next off to the Banjercito to get our deposits back and release the bikes from Mexico, we went to the wrong Banjercito first but found our way eventually (check). Next we had to get the bikes fumigated (what?!) and get insurance for Belize.

The office where you get your fumigation certificate is also where you can purchase insurance. However, by the time we got there we were running low on money and Alex had to make a run to an ATM while I hung out with the attendant. It was during this time that a heavy rain moved in, and I discovered that the first language of Belize is English. Once Alex got back, we got the insurance slips and were informed we didn’t need to be fumigated because of the rain (sweet!).

After this it was off to immigration at the Belize border to get the bikes and us into the country. It took some time (the officers were in no hurry to fill the paperwork out to get us processed), but there were no hiccups in getting it done. Once all the stamps had been pushed, I walked over to join Alex in Belize, only to have a middle-aged man approach us.


I didn’t know who it was as Alex introduced me to Hector. The continued to talk in Spanish, and I was afriad this was a scam trying to get us to buy something before we crossed (or worse, be drug mules). I was later to find out that this was one of her Uncles who was running a load from Belize up to Huamantla. It’s such a small world, where you can run into family even at a border crossing. It was fitting, we had family at the beginning, middle, and end of Mexico, the best book ends.

As we left the immigration office we were all smiles walking back to the bikes. As we packed our documents back into the bikes, I saw another bike pass by and head towards the border, but he was soon directed (as we had been) to the immigration parking lot. This is when we met, Thiago Berto who is driving from Alaska to Brazil (or maybe all the way to Argentina, he hasn’t decided). He flew from LA to Fairbanks, Alaska and found this motorcycle (which was driven years ago from Brazil to Alaska and then left by another Brazilian, which it why it has Brazilian plates) that he is now riding down the continent.

We exchanged stories, he questioned us about the process of getting across the border, we asked him where he was going. There is a respect that fellow travelers have for each other, and that camaraderie is only magnified when they are also motorcyclists. Bikers like Thiago make us feel less bad-ass as he was riding in just a light jacket, regular pants, boots and his stuff heaped on the back of the bike, but to each his own (I seem to fall a lot so my choice of gear seems fitting).

Thiago is riding from Alaska to Brazil, trying now to get through the Belize border Photo: Nathaniel Chaney.

Thiago is riding from Alaska to Brazil, trying now to get through the Belize border (Photo: Nathaniel Chaney).

We wished him luck, readied our papers and made our way for the border crossing. The guard asked me if I was hot in my gear and I replied it was hot, but protective. He responded that that is true, but that falls don’t happened that often. My response? More often than you would think. And with that I was waved on.

We ran into Hector one more time after we crossed, he gave us some final directions (though there is only one real road in Belize) shook our hands and we were off.

About an hour down the road we hit the worst rain of the trip. It wasn’t just raining, it was pouring enough to work its was into our helmets and for me felt like pinpricks as the droplets hit my jacket. Knowing now that Belize is only 174 miles long, would have helped in that situation of knowing how far Belize City was, but we drove on, not worried about the gear getting wet because we knew we would have time to let it dry.

For a while, each time we broke through the black clouds and towards the blue sky the road would veer off back into the heart of the darkness. However, we finally blew past the storm and made our way to Belize City. It took a little while to find a place (Alex gets all the credit for finding the Palm Inn), but when we did and it was amazing. It had parking in the back behind high walls and under an overhang so we were out of the rain.

I will skip the details of Belize city (we were only really there a day and a half), but needless to say it isn’t the best city. It is mainly used as a stopping point for cruise ships and people heading to the Cayes (think of keys, but no bridges) and it shows. There aren’t many restaurants, and there is a hustle to the city that clearly denotes that a main portion of its income is derived from tourists.

Alex and I were happy to plan our escape to Caye Caulker the next day. We spent some time at the Belize Museum and walking around the city, but really we were just biding our time and the moment was coming to escape!

One Month in Mexico

Nathaniel floating in Cenote Samula vear Valladolid Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

Nathaniel floating in Cenote Samula near Valladolid Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

It’s been one month since we left Oakley California heading towards I-5, and then quickly turned around 6 miles down the road because I forgot my wallet and Nathaniel forgot his malaria medication.

Today we find ourselves hanging out in a hotel we don’t remember the name of in Chetumal Mexico watching the rain drip till monday morning when we can cross the border to Belize.

When you drive a motor vehicle as deep into Mexico as we have from the United States your are required to leave a sizable deposit with the army bank Banjercito to pay for its temporary importation.

Once you leave Mexico the money is refunded to you in either cash or on your credit card (depending on how you first paid) and like the US most banks are not open on Sunday. We could technically leave Mexico today but it would mean giving up our $400 deposits.

Unfortunately, Chetumal is not a city I am enjoying very much. It’s the largest Mexican city to the northern Belize border and it doesn’t have a true Centro that we’ve seen with an adorable plaza and strolling families.

Chetumal is the seat of government for Quintana Roo (Our 18th state we’ve passed through) but the blocks near the water are an endless series of shoe stores, auto parts stores and Mini Supers – rinse and repeat.

This city it was almost completely destroyed in the 40’s and 50’s by three major Hurricanes. When they rebuilt they rebuilt for the next big one and I think it stripped the city of its charm.

Because of the time we killed in La Paz getting paperwork done we had to blow through a large portion of Mexico that we originally had plans for. So, we are both looking forward to getting to Belize, slowing things down a little bit and absorbing the places we see. -Alex

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It is sometimes mind boggling that we have been on this trip for a month and have been primarily in one country the whole time. I never fully appreciated how expansive Mexico is till driving across it, and looking at the distance reading on my speedometer.

What some may not realize is that Alex and I have now already traveled further in Mexico then we are going to travel to get through all of Central America. And thus, the reason for slowing down a bit to really absorb the places we travel through.

As we get ready to exit the country that has been our home for the last month, I look back on our time here.

Most of the concerns about this trip were over safety, with many remarking that Mexico is not a safe country to be in (Alex’s Mexican family were shocked we hadn’t had any issues with police on our ride).

Knocking on wood now, we haven’t had any issues with police, drug cartels, or petty theft and I have found the Mexican people to be overwhelmingly warm and hospitable. At a random intersection outside of Tuxtepec, a man on the side of the road saw we looked confused and told us how to get to the main city. All of the people we have asked for directions have been more then willing to help these two intrepid motorcyclists.

Many construction works and pedestrians by have waved or flashed peace signs as we have ridden by. Questions of safety ring true for any country (we did purposely ride through Baja to avoid certain parts of Northern Mexico, as much as for the beautiful scenery) as there are many areas of San Francisco I wouldn’t want to walk through after midnight, common sense goes a long way in any travel situation, even when that travel is to a local store for milk at night.

The sun sets on Cataviña Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

The sun sets on Cataviña Mexico. Photo: Alex Washburn

Outside of safety concerns, what has struck me most about Mexico (and something I have mentioned to Alex several times) is the natural beauty of this country. Mexico is beautiful! I have seen California, Arizona, Scotland in its countrysides and experienced high deserts, forest capped mountains, and tropical beaches in its scenery, to mention a few. Mexico has a diverse topography I never knew existed (I pictured it as mostly desert and cacti) that makes road tripping a visual delight.

All I can recommend is getting away from the tourist traps along the coasts and diving into the rich landscape, culture, and amazing food that Mexico has to offer.

I am looking forward to Belize, and finally getting to the third country of the trip, but it is bittersweet to leave Mexico as it was the proving ground. We have spent a lot of time and sweat in this country and I look forward to returning someday.

For now, we look toward the ocean and a whole new country to explore! -Nathaniel