Glad you like the site. Don't forget to tell your friends about us!
To respond to your question, our travels through Central and South America were in 1987 and 1998 respectively, but based on feedback from travellers, I don't think much has changed.
First off, you are unlikely to have your bags thoroughly searched at borders unless you look really suspicious or make dumb comments about drugs or weapons. We carried a laptop on all our travels, at the bottom of a saddlebag, and it was never found by any border guard.
Pack your laptop and videocamera gear deep in your boxes and cover them with other stuff, preferably old stinking clothing.
See the story by Julia Powell and Kevin Sanders in the August, 2000 newsletter:
"...We opened up the second pannier and knew it was full of stinking clothes. We hadn't done laundry for over two weeks, and Kevs socks were almost leaping out of the bag as we unzipped the hold-all and the knickers were equally as gruesome! The stench hit our nostrils and in a fit of impatience, Kev grabbed a handful and shouted at the Officer, "solo ropas" (only clothes) "necessito limpiar" (need to clean!) and proceeded to shove them right under his nose. The Officer stumbled backwards as if hit with a brick and coughing, finally waved his hand to say he was done." http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/new...0-08-01.shtml.
Although we wouldn't recommend this tactic, we do have several pages written on border crossing procedures, with excellent general advice on 'How To' from Erwin Thoma, and specific info on a number of Central American borders - what to expect. http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/tri...rs/index.shtml
As far as the safety of your bike and other valuables, there are lots of opinions and advice on the HUBB and the site about this topic. Most of it comes down to common sense. Just as if you were travelling in a big city in the USA, there would be neighborhoods you'd avoid, you wouldn't wander around after dark in deserted areas, and you'd probably not want to flash expensive gear around in front of poorer people.
Here's a link to a good general article on not becoming a victim of crime: http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/tri...CrimeAvoidance
Your own State Department also has a very good article on this topic: http://travel.state.gov/asafetripabroad.html
At the end of the day, are you safer staying home and never leaving your house? Probably, but who wants to live like that?
"He who is afraid of a thing gives it power over him." ~ Moorish Proverb ~
I'll leave you with a quote from Ryan Wagner and Dan Koengeter, Americans who rode through South America in 1999/2000 - "...Without a doubt-without a shadow of a doubt the best enlightening, growing, fun, insane, unforgettable, weird, bizarre, educational, crazy, incredible experience of my life of 23 years... My only advice is that if you are thinking of having a little adventure of your own - leave now without further procrastination. Don't use money, jobs, and materialism to stop you from experiencing life. Drop everything and GO!!"
For more inspiration, read about Ryan and Dan's trip in the Travellers Stories section on this site: http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/tst...an/index.shtml
So you have my personal 'go ahead'! And don't forget to write us about your trip!
Good luck and safe travels!
Share the Dream at www.HorizonsUnlimited.com
[This message has been edited by Susan (edited 10 December 2001).]