Posted on December 25, 2013
As David would say four hours later “I wanted some adventure, but this may be too much.”
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 7, 2013
Yesterday we planned to have breakfast in a cute town just outside Tegucigalpa Honduras and then make our way to a small town near the Nicaraguan border so we could cross early today. However, the gods of the Autopista had their own plans and although it wasn’t the worst possible day of riding it was probably the most dangerous day of riding we’ve had so far on this trip.We set off through the gridlock traffic of Tegucigalpa from our hotel and the only thing that made it bearable was that the sun hadn’t had the chance to bring the city to a simmer yet. Creeping along the one way streets it took us longer to go two miles than it did the next eight once we had escaped the city limits.
Santa Lucia (our goal for breakfast) is an adorable little town in the mountains just outside of “Tegus.” The town built into the green sloping landscape has a clean pond in the middle of it, a town square not much bigger than a basketball court, and a simple white church with a hilltop view of the valley that holds Tegucigalpa.
Unfortunately for us cuteness sometimes comes with cobblestones, which are murder to ride a bike on in Latin America. The stones are huge (typically much bigger than European cobblestones) so if one stone or a series of them have become seriously tilted it can throw your bike around. We finally found the correct cobblestone road out of Santa Lucia heading towards the hills and the rock quickly faded to a hard packed dirt road winding up and up and up.
Every once in a while we would pass a small grouping of houses or a few lonely chickens back-lit by amazing views. Dark green smallish mountains with fields and clouds and sunshine.
It was turning out to be a perfect ride, but around mile 20 there were some really deep indentations in the road from where water runs over the ground in rainstorms. I made it over them and kicked my bike down into first or second gear so that I could ride really slow till Nathaniel showed up again in my mirrors. As I was watching my mirrors I wasn’t paying much attention to where I was going and almost as soon as I saw Nathaniel appear in my mirror I felt my back tire start to slide out from under me in the gravel and I went down.
I clearly wasn’t hurt as you can see in the video and it only took us a second to get the bike back up, however once we did it wouldn’t start. At first I thought maybe the bike had flooded because some gas has started leaking out of it when it was on its side, but after letting the bike sit for several minutes and trying again that was clearly not the case. We decided the only way we were going to be able to get the bike moving again would be to try and roll start it down the hill.
In the process of pushing my bike up the hill and maneuvering it into position for our second attempt at a roll start, Nathaniel noticed that the back tire of his bike was going flat. When I couldn’t get my bike to roll start Nathaniel tried and got it running, which was awesome, however I was supposed to try and follow him slowly up the hill on his bike. When I threw my leg over it I realized his tire wasn’t just going flat – it was a pancake.
We spent probably an hour trying to fix Nathaniel’s tire, first using the goo we had and then plugs from a tire repair kit, neither of which were keeping air in the tire at first. We ran out of our compressed air and then I started asking people passing by if they had anything to inflate tires with in their vehicle.
I hailed a tuk-tuk driver over and asked him if he had one (assuming those little tires must have a lot of problems on these roads) and his passenger became very concerned for Nathaniel and I. We talked for several minutes about where a mechanic might be and how to get the tire inflated. The passenger ended up paying the tuk-tuk driver to take the boy he had been riding with back to their home and the tuk-tuk driver would then bring back something to inflate the tire with as he waited with us to make sure we were okay.
The man that stayed with us was incredibly nice. He was probably in his mid 50’s to early 60’s and he told us that although the area we were in was safe he wanted to make sure visitors to his country were taken care of. Although it’s not something that lives in our minds everyday, it’s worth mentioning Honduras is one of the most murderous countries in the world. It usually places in the top three in any given year above places like Uganda, Malawi, and the Congo.
The tuk-tuk driver returned in about 20 minutes and told us that after he filled Nathaniel’s tire we should follow him to a tire repair shop. He filled the tire from a hand pump and our friend that waited with us used pieces of plant alongside the road to stuff into the hole created by the nail Nathaniel had run over. I started up the road on Nathaniel’s bike after the tuk-tuk as Nathaniel roll started my bike and came after us.Up through the hills we went till at last we hit asphalt again and the tuk-tuk led us to a tire repair shop. They dealt with Nathaniel’s tire quickly and the mechanic eventually came to the decision that my battery was bad. As I type this from our hotel it’s nearly midnight and I will have to wait till morning to figure out what is really going on with it.
The men at the shop charged us $15 for their help and jumped my bike with one of their cars before Nathaniel and I headed off into the night. We avoid riding at night because the roads here are sprinkled with nasty potholes and a lack of ambient light makes them a lot darker then in the US.
Getting back to Tegucigalpa was the worst 15 miles of riding we’ve had on the entire trip. With low visibility in the dark we couldn’t ride fast enough to keep our face shields from fogging and because it was raining they were also covered in water droplets so anytime we met oncoming traffic light would catch in the droplets on my face mask totally blinding me.
It took us a really long time to get back to the hotel we’ve been staying at in Tegucigalpa. Until we got back to the city center I was in a constant cycle of opening my face shield to vent it, wiping the water off it, flipping my mask up and squinting into the rain when cars came, flipping the face shield back down, praying during the moments I was totally blind on the road that I wouldn’t hit a pothole. Plus, I always worried that if I stalled the bike we’d be stuck along a dark rainy road in the middle of Honduras, without a way to start it again.
We’re now back in the same hotel we spend the last three nights and hope to figure out what is wrong with the bike today.
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 November 14, 2013
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.
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.
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).
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!