February 10, 2008 GMT
Guatemala

Leaving San Cristobel early a few days later we head straight for the Border and cross into Guatemala.


First we need to deal with exiting Mexico, this goes smoothly and we get our paperwork back in no time.


Then we cross the border which is in the middle of the town of La Mesilla. We drive down the main street and get waved over to the first stop for fumigation of the bike. The Guatemalan guy is really friendly. We then change some pesos into quetzals (worryingly Darren keeps calling them pretzals) with a money changer who helps us get parked up safely.

There is a crowd of guys around the bike touching it and looking at the stickers. Immigration is a breeze with a very fun Officer, then we head to Customs for the bike which again is very simple. We pay for the import in a nearby office and are on our way in less than an hour.

The road ahead is the market and we have to drive through the stalls to exit the town.



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Once out of the town the scenery opens up and it is absolutely stunning.



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We follow the only road down which starts out as perfectly smooth tarmac and very few topes compared to Mexico.


As we climb higher the views continue. Kids are waving at us every so often and on first impressions it is alot cleaner than Mexico.


As a rider the roads up over the mountains were great fun, twisty with good tarmac and very up and down. I agree with Em, Guatamala is vastly different to Mexico, everyone is so friendly and laid back, the villages that bit cleaner and finally we escape the topes at every corner.


After about 2 hours on the road we are really high up and in the clouds which gets really cold and makes visability difficult. It is then that we hit roadworks. This is actually the road disintergrating into rubble, mud, sand and dust.
The going is pretty tough with no signs indicating where to go, deep sand, the buses continue to hammer past us, some people are veering off on to the far sides of the track to pick a better route - it is a free for all. We have a 'moment' where a truck clearly thinks we should be further over as he steams past us and misses the pannier by what seems like half a centimetre.


This incident is actually bigger than Em thinks, as we are riding along the broken tarmac, the Toyota 4x4 just drives straight at us, forcing us off the road to the right, down a drop of around 18 inches from the tarmac into deep sand.
We are doing around 45mph and the front washed out, with more luck than judgement, I just gas it.. the rear steps in line with the front as the front wheels lifts out of the deep sand and I get just enough steering to put us in the direction of the road... that was the closest we have come so far to a big off.


Every so often the road improves then goes back to rubble again, the traffic starts to queue up and we are waiting around for a while at each interval. The workmen at the front of the queues have a 'stinger' trap and a gun. I am not joking. They obviously take queue jumping pretty seriously.


We make it through and follow a small road down to Panajachel which is on Lake Atitlan. Panajachel is an 800 year old pueblo. Lake Atitlan is in a Volcano crater and is stunning. There are 3 volcano peaks to see on the far side of the lake too.



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After a lot of riding around and up a one way street much to the amusement of the locals, we finally find the hotel we had been looking for. Sadly it is full so the owner calls a 'runner' to take us to one around the corner. They are really friendly and help carry all our luggage. The parking is 3 blocks away in their personal garage.


The place is spotless and costs about $40, far cleaner than ANY motel I have stayed in in the US.
The food is a lot better too with international choices.


Next day we rest up, get some cash, enjoy a walk along the lake side and route plan for the next few days.



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The town of Panjachel is really hectic and busy and we are right in the middle of it. All the banks in the town have armed guards who control the doors. The Texaco garage has a guy patrolling it with a pump action shotgun - so he can't miss! Despite all this you do feel pretty safe as there are armed oficials everywhere, controlling traffic and generally keeping the place safe.


We are up early the following day and say our farewells to the family running the San Sebastian Hotel. They were fantastic - friendly, helpful, cheerful. They give us a big wave as we drive off.
Thanks for your hospitality guys.



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We hit the main road running through Guatemala (CA-1) and follow it East towards Chiquimula. This takes us through Guatemala City, although the map shows one road cutting through, it doesn't happen like that at all. As we get near the city the road signs disappear and there are four different lanes to choose. We use the GPS and keep as close as we can to our compass bearing, finally we manage to get on the right road. About an hour later the road signs confirm that we are indeed heading the right way.


At Chiquimula we find a hotel with really secure parking for $30. We walk 2 mins down the road to the shopping mall (in Guatemala?!?) and stop in at the 'Pollo Campero' which is like a KFC. After ordering what we wanted all okay, they give us our dinner to go. I ask for plates and say we want to eat here.
The guy tries to explain to us that we can eat in no problem - they will plate our food for us and serve us at a table- if we would like to take a seat etc... He is talking so fast and using so many words that I really don't get it.
All the other staff join in trying to help explain it to us, some are trying to speak English, others are using sign language. It is a really embarrassing but funny moment as they are all very friendly and only trying to help. We get our dinner finally and it is tasty. The restaurant is spotlessly clean.


Next day we plan to cross the border into Hondouras via El Florida.

Posted by Darren Homer at 02:33 AM GMT
Honduras

We are on the road for 8.30am and stop at the local Texaco for fuel before heading to the border. There is some confusion about what fuel we want and they ask us to pay before we pump. Everyone is watching us, although friendly when we say 'hello'.


The road to the border takes about 45 mins and is scenic still with green hills.


Once at the border we park up and change some quetzals for Honduran Lempira ready for the cross over as we were told by everyone that they will only accept local currency. The money changer helpfully gives us back 20 quetzals - we aren't really sure why but smile and nod like we do.



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Customs Offices


First up is Customs and this all go's smoothly. Then to Immigration to check out of Guatemala - all fine. We get asked to pay 20 quetzals (10 each) and realise this is why the money changer gave it back to us! Probably his cut on the transaction or a bribe?


Then we get sent to another window there which is the Honduran Immigration and finally 200 yards down the road to the Customs office to import the bike. Both of these offices accept US dollars.


The whole process takes us 45 mins in total and was again very easy. Maybe we are just getting lucky with these border crossings.


We head off into Honduras and everything looks great- roads are good, views nice.


Stopping at Copan 12km later we take a tour around the town which is jam packed with people as it is a Sunday. The streets are cobbled and very bumpy and we are at slow speeds and stops and starts due to the traffic. It is nothing short of a nightmare and we manage to escape the town via a dirt track which is steep and washed away at points.


Deciding to go and see the Copan ruins first as it is only 10.30am and worry about hotels later we continue.


We get parked up and a cold drink as it feels like 85 degrees in the shade at this point. It is so humid and hot. We enter the ruins and wander around slowly taking it all in.



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There are lots of beautifully carved obelisks with interesting animals and faces.



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Darren wanders off to look at an obelisk while I stay in the shade. A group of ladies looking round nearby stop and ask me (in Spanish) whether I speak Spanish. I say the usual 'a little' and they chat to me for 10 mins about where I am from, the motorbike, where we have travelled, how long have I been learning Spanish etc. This is my first proper spanish conversation and it feels amazing to be conversing with people finally! We shake hands and agree that it was a pleasure to meet each other.



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Further on and a group of 5 young Honduran lads all with bikes themselves start quizzing us about the bike (engine size, mileage etc), they are really friendly.


Unlike Em, my spanish is limited to either filling the bike with fuel or myself with coffee or beer, so it was a rather strange conversation I had with the local lads. Its amazing the universal language of the motorcycle - we understood each other perfectly despite not speaking each others' language!


As we get back to the bike a local policeman starts to ask us about our travels as he has been looking at our pannier stickers. He asks us if we are making a film about our travels. We give him a card with our blog address on.


Heading back into town we look for a hotel and find one just as we pull in. It is $20. They move their truck from the garage so that we can park the bike in there.



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We get cleaned up then wander into the main square and get a coffee. Then we wander some more and find a Travellers bar full of Americans. After a few beers we move on to a restaurant and get a great meal.


I started to really enjoy Copan and the Honduran way of life, for the first time I was actually looking forward to the rest of Cental America. After Mexico, I had concerns as to what to expect of Guat onwards and worried that this part of the trip would be a challange for me and Em, but we were both really enjoying the experience, the trip had come alive again for both of us.

Next day we are up early and heading for La Esperanza. The first road we take is tarmac and twisty fun. The second road we hit is the same for a while until it suddenly deteriorates into mud.



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We follow it till we reach a gas station and stop to give our backsides a break.
At the fuel stop a group of guys come over and chat about the bike. One guy buys us two bottles of water as he leaves. We can't believe how friendly the Hondurans are.



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We continue on and the road gets worse and steep with high drop offs.
Lots of people we pass stare at us like we are nuts as Darren is standing on the pegs while I hold on for grim death. We have a moment on a switchback when in the wrong gear the engine stalls, luckily Darren manages to hold it and we don't go over.


It was great to get some off road again, Em makes out that she didn't enjoy it, but once its over she always has a smile on her face.

Finally reaching La Esperanza it is really rough so we decide to head on to the next big town which is Siugatepeque to find a hotel. We find one on the outskirts of town which is great and costs $30. It has a buffet restaurant which causes lots of confusion as each item you chose from the buffet gets charged seperately depending on how much you eat. This means that someone hovers over you as you try to eat totting up your meal.


No need to worry about parking the bike up overnight either, a security guard with the standard issue pump action shotgun stands by it all night - finally I get a good nights sleep..until the squawking parotts wake us up early and we hit the road by 8.30am.


Posted by Darren Homer at 03:00 AM GMT
February 15, 2008 GMT
Nicaragua

Darren thinks we can hit the border today and head into Nicaragua via Los Manos. The roads are okay although starting quite clear of traffic we soon start backing up behind truck after truck, making the going painfuly slow.


We make it to Los Manos by 12.45 and pass the huge queue of trucks on either side of the road for half a mile until we reach the border. As we pull up a young lad working the border runs after us to secure our business.
He is a 'runner' someone we pay to get us through the burocracy of paperwork quicker. He will jump queues and harrass people to get the job done. He also knows exactly what paperwork is needed and when. This is a very hectic crossing as everything is happening very quickly - changing money, paying for visas, obligatory insurance, photocopies of documents etc.
There is one scary moment when the runner sprints down the road with Darren's passport (to get it photocopied) before returning in 2 mins time.


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It all gets done in about 45 mins and then we have 2 further police stops on the way out checking our passports are processed properly.


Finally we get in to Nicaragua and it seems okay. Things soon start to deteriorate compared to Honduras as it is a pretty poor place. However the roads are staying good.


I knew that Nicaragua was the poorest Central American Country we planned to visit, so I guess I was expecting the roads to be bad and the general infrastructure to be poor. But we are pleasantly suprised at how good the main roads are, if you take some of the minor roads it becomes seriously pot holed, but not bad.


Life looks hard for the locals we spot, but everyone is always friendly particularly if you make the effort to wave or say hello. We do get a lot of stares from people, it takes a while to get used to but I guess we must look like aliens to these guys.



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A familier scene develops each day, when we stop for fuel we attract a gathering of people all looking at the bike, its then that I use my best "Spanglish" to point at the pannier stickers and tell our story of where we have been and come from. This is always met with wide eyes and looks at each other, then the questions start, what engine size?, how much?, where you go next?


Its then normally hand shakes all round before saying our goodbyes, knowing that we will probably be doing the same thing in 200miles time.


Reaching our planned stop for the night at Ocotal we don't feel comfortable in this town. There is a guy with obvious mental health issues splashing himself with water from a muddy puddle outside the first hotel we find. The second one looks like a penetentionary with no parking so we move on to the next big town of Estelli.


This town doesn't get much better but we manage to find a hotel that looks ok on the main drag of the town. It has courtyard parking so priority number 1 (the bike) is all good. The room is a hovel with one towel for us both to use and cold water. After I have a freezing cold shower Darren then manages to get the hot water working- great.



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We go for dinner in the restaurant which although quiet (not a good sign) is actually okay. We skip the salad for saftey reasons and feel really bad about it as it looks delicious.


Another early start the following day and more of the same twisty, slow 'stuck in traffic' roads with amazing views.


We stop off at the Massai National Park to look into a Volcano, one of the craters is still active and we peer down to take a look.



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We take a look at the museum and check our trip progress on the globe.



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On the way out of the park a lizzard runs out in front of the bike, I hit the brakes and manage to avoid it. I explain to Em what happened but she doesnt understand my concern as she didnt see it - the lizzard was 2 foot long and could have taken us off!


We reach our planned stop in Granada. After an hour spent fruitlessly searching the town for a hotel we give up and head back to Managua.


Finding a hotel on the outskirts we figure it should be cheaper. It is $58 but has breakfast included and a restaurant and internet.


The room is pretty scabby and we soon find out we are sharing it with a lizard too (2 inches long this time). Again one towel and this time definately no hot water.


After a cold shower we head to the restaurant for food. It is not open - great. The receptionist says we can order something to be delivered to the hotel then phones them and hands me the phone in 10 seconds to attempt to order something. After a very painful 10 mins of gutteral spanish and alot of 'no entiendos' we manage to get there in the end.


The food gets delivered half an hour later and is ok.


Looking forward to breakfast the next morning Darren says he is 'going to get his
money's worth' and eat loads.


An old women brings out a small plate with scrambled egg, a slice of cheese and some rice and beans for our breakfast. It smells funny and I am struggling to keep swallowing it. We wash it down with rank Coffee and an inch of scum on the top of my tea. The old lady kept snorting and clearing her throat throughout which really didn't help.
Darren eats both his own and my breakfast, before we make a quick getaway when the old woman returns to the kitchen.


Back on the road we head South to the beach resort of San Juan. The roads down are riddled with pot holes.



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After a bumpy morning we reach the town and head for the hotel we had seen online. The road up to the hotel is the steepest track I have ever seen - it looks almost vertical at one point. Darren tells me to lean forward so I do and grab the tank. As we get up the hill I can feel the front wheel leaving the ground every so often as it wants to flip us over. Gee this is fun.


The hotel is full so we have to get back down the hill into town. This is where, unusually I am going to take a swipe at BMW. You see the brake system on the GS with integral ABS, has to have the ignition on and for the front wheel to move a few revolutions to activate the brakes. I get on the bike, start up and head toward the scary steep track Em mentioned - you guessed it, nothing, nada, no bloody brakes! I slam the bike into first gear and try to slow us down before we hurtle into town.


When Darren says we will have to use the gears to slow down I start to panic a bit but he manages to get us down in one piece after we hit a bump halfway down and I think I am going to die.


We head back into town and find the most lovely hotel right on the beachfront. It is pretty expensive but we figured we deserved it after the past difficult few days "basic" accommodation.


The hotel doesn't have official parking but they let us use the small delivery courtyard by the kitchens.



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We get cleaned up then settle into the bar for our free welcome drink- local rum and coke. Then we wander into the town and find a bar overlooking the beach.



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We have a lovely meal that evening and the staff at the hotel are really sweet and very attentive.


Next morning Em has a fantastic platter of fresh local tropical fruits for breakfast (watermelon, papaya, melon, pineapple, orange and kiwi) which she says is delicious, while I finally get a decent cup of coffee. Its funny, but I expected the coffee to be great in Central America, but the truth is that its nasty and very bitter - so I made the most of it before getting packed up.


As we get packed up the Hotel Manager takes Darren to one side and asks how our stay was. Darren says it was great- very attentive, The Manager says that his staff had informed him that we were a pleasure to look after. We have quite a send off as we leave, the porter insists on carrying my jacket, the waiters wave us off, the whole housekeeping team too.


We head back up the pothole road and hit he CA-1 towards the border at Penas Blancas.


We hit the border and it all kicks off. First a group of 10 guys stop us all viying for our business. One guy speaks English well and looks really professional so Darren points at him, everyone else soon disapears. Everything we had read about this border says that it is a nightmare, very confusing, lots of offices and windows to visit, people to pay etc. We definately needed a 'runner' for this one.


The guy we had picked was Nicaraguan and great. He gets us to ride the bike up the wrong side of the road to get a shortcut to the office we need. It takes half an hour or so to get our exit organised. Sadly then he introduces us to a guy in a bright orange t-shirt saying that this guy can help us to sort the Costa Rican side of things. We pay the first guy for his trouble and head off following Mr Orange on his bike.


There is a huge backup of trucks and we weave our way through then onto the path between some bollards to get through.


The next building is Immigration and it is rammed full of people- queues and queues of people. Outside is the bus stop too which doesn't help.



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Darren goes into the building with Mr Orange while I wait outside for 45 mins. In that time I watch people and can see a gang/ group working something. Mr Orange keeps coming over to the door and talking with them then heading back.


While Em waits with the bike, I deal with Immigration, or rather Mr Orange does on my behalf - with a bribe he works the line and gets to the front of the queue - saving us around an hour I guess, so far so good.. we then head into a different office.


As I stand outside a guy approaches me with an official badge and asks me where my passport is. I tell him it is with my husband inside Immigration. He says no it's not with my husband, it's with 'them' and thats very dangerous. I realise he means the gang and wait for Darren to come back out - trying not to worry.


While Em is once again outside with the bike I wait with Mr Orange for a while before he ushers me into a queue to get our passports stamped - its then that an official warns me about the "fat man" "very bad man" the boss of Mr Orange who has now joined our party.


I thank the official for the heads up and with our passports stamped head back into the street to get the bike documents that Mr Orange is holding. Once there I notice fat man has the docs now and has his entourage in tow, I need to nip this in the bud now..
I shout to Mr Orange "I deal with you, I pay only you" he nods and the fat man steps towards me.. "give me my documents!" I shout, he replys "dont worry, no problem" and starts to turn away, I step in front of him again and shout "dont f*#?k with me! Give me the documents now!" The others look on and fat man smiles and hands over the documents, with relief I walk off with Mr Orange who turns to me and says "you have balls gringo".


Mr Orange then leads us to deal with the bike import, he earns his money, queue jumping the numerous windows that we have to visit to get the nesscesary stamps. I look outside and see one of the gang heading for the bike and Em, I grab Mr Orange and point at the guy with Em, "tell that guy to get lost now" Mr Orange shouts at the guy and they have a heated discussion - this guy obviously thinks he is in on the take..


Mr Orange now realises that I am not happy, he informs me that all paperwork is complete and we agree on his fee - the whole process was a pain in the backside dealing with these guys, but its a nesscesary evil, we were through in less than two hours.


The fee for the crossing and the two guys we hired was around $100, not cheap, but looking back they probably earnt it, I was just glad that Fat Man did not see I was bluffing...


Posted by Darren Homer at 08:19 PM GMT
Costa Rica

We continue down the main route South and first impressions of Costa Rica is that it has very beautiful scenery and great tarmac. People are friendly too and many wave as we pass by. Its clear that Costa Rica has plenty of money especially compared with Nicaragua - the difference is startling.



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There are bill boards everywhere advertising the latest holiday resort being built, shops and hotels and the "golden arches" have returned, we must be in civilisation if theres a mickey ds..
(Macdonalds!!)

Reaching our destination for that night on the Pacific Coast we look around for a hotel by the beach. To be honest it is quite scabby and expensive $100 a room. So we head back onto the main route and find a Best Western in Liberia for a cheaper rate with Breakfast included.


The hotel is very nice and the staff very friendly.



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Next day we head inland cross country toward the Carribean side of Costa Rica, passing Mountains and lakes as we do so. The road winds upwards once we get off the PanAm and head towards the Arenal Volcano and the stunning lake.


The road around Lake Arenal is twisty with amazing views over the water, along the way we see Ring Tale Lemers and Monkeys and all around are tropical flowers.



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We stop for a coffee before heading on to La Fortuna, originally we were going to stop here for the night, but the town was very touristy and it was only 1pm so we decide to crack onto Sarapiqui.

After taking a detour through Quesada, the weather turned to heavy rain, the humidity is very high and the temperature decidedly warm so we dont bother with the waterproofs and ride on - once the rain stops we are dry inside 30minutes.

Once at Sarapiqui we stay one night in the Jungle at an Eco Lodge which is very different. The rooms are spacious but basic, they are on stilts so you are in the Jungle canopy.



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We see giant lizards on the way to our room and get woken by howler monkeys at 4am next morning. On the way to breakfast we see a poison arrow frog, some interesting birds and a scary wire bridge.



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Next day we reluctantly check out of the Eco Lodge and hit the road again, its another day of stunning scenery and good tarmac as we head south east toward the Caribbean coast. I have to be very careful with the speed as there are traffic Police everywere, I wave as we pass and thankfully we have no trouble.


After passing through Puerto Limon we get our first look at the Caribbean before ending the day in Cahuta.


We find a hotel right on the beach, again it is pretty basic but it does the job - just. The building is made of timber and is infested with termites - the resulting wood dust is everywhere, the beds, floor are covered, nice.


As Em comes to terms with the accomodation, I need to cool off, its seriously hot and after a day in the saddle the sea is calling.



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The locals give me a funny look as this strangely tanned Englishman strips off and dives into the sea. Its very refreshing but I have to be careful as the rip tides are fierce - I wondered why no one was swimming.


We take a look aound later that day trying to find somewhere decent to get a meal, no luck, so we decide to spend the food budget on alcohol and we get smashed at the bar instead.


Heading out early next morning we go straight to the border and check out of Costa Rica. This takes about 10mins. Then we have the infamous Banana Bridge to cross before we can enter Panama. This bridge was the main rail supply route for the Banana trade hence the name.



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We walk the bridge first to suss it out and it's not pretty. Boards are missing and cracked, pedestrians everywhere. At first Darren thinks its best to ride on the sleepers between the tracks, but then we spot that a few are missing so the only option is to choose a route along the planks.



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I walk the bridge while Darren waits for a nod from the guards as to when to cross. We decide the best option is to follow a truck through, a good plan which works well until the truck decides to stop halfway.


As Em waits halfway across the bridge, I sit waiting for the chance to cross and the longer I wait the more nervous I get. This is not helped when a local comes over to me and crosses himself then taps me on the shoulder.


I decide to take my helmet off, if I do end up falling into the water the lid woud probably break my neck, it also means that I have better visibility - not a bad thing.


The truck in front moves off and I wait a while longer for it to get ahead before moving off, I am in first gear doing around 12mph while standing on the pegs.


All goes well until the truck stops halfway, I slow down hoping he will move off before I reach him but no luck. As I reach the truck I stop and try to put my feet down, the left foot dangles down into thin air above the rail track...I lean right and hope.. and breath a sigh of relief as my right foot hits the timber plank.



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The truck moves off and we both get across the bridge and fumigated, that certainly got the blood pumping..


It takes us another hour or so to get the Panama side sorted as we are ordered to take everything off the bike for it's fumigation. Then we have to wait with the truckers at the Customs office for our paperwork to be processed. The truckers are really fun and are having a good time teasing each other and being generally playful. We are told we need photocopies so have to walk 100 yards down the road to get these then come back for our papers.


All this time we are getting heckled by a group of small boys who must be 6 or 7 years old. They keep demanding money and asking to watch the bike for money. The bike is parked outside the armed guards office so it can't get much safer so we just keep telling the boys no. They continue and it is very hard in the 90 degree heat in bike clothing, walking, to not get too stressed by it. One little boy has a shoe shine box that he carries with him. After the stress of the border is over I feel terrible that we didn't pay them to 'help' as they are only trying to earn an honest living. We resolve to next time.

Posted by Darren Homer at 08:30 PM GMT
Panama

Heading off to Changunola we stop for a drink and some cash at an ATM. People are very friendly in Panama and one lady passes by telling another passer by (in Spanish) that she has never seen a woman on a motorbike before.


After a stressful half an hour of trying to get on the right road we finally manage to.


It feels great to be finally travelling for the day and we round the bend then stop abruptly as a horrible sight comes into view.
It is another Banana Bridge, this time twice as long and worse than the first one as there are no barriers on the side except the odd metal pole.


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Again we pull over and walk part of it to work out how bad it is. There are no pedestrian pull ins like the first one and the drop is even higher. A new bridge is being built alongside and there are workman everywhere in orange vests.


I had read that there was another bridge, but was not sure if our route would take us over it, well it exists and its in front of us. After riding the bridge at the crossing the thought of riding the "proper banana bridge" now was making me nervous. As Em says, we walked part of it, but the truth is that I am not great with hieghts and after getting halfway I have seen enough - sod it, stop worrying and just ride the bloody thing..



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Darren says I should walk it first and he will ride after me. There is a traffc light system which appears to make it easier for the flow of traffic.


I tuck my gloves into my pocket and carry my lid in one hand and set off. I am not hanging around and you need to watch where you are going especially in clumpy metal toed motorcross boots. I am notoriously clumsy and had images in my head of tripping and falling through the bars to my watery death.


I get a quarter of the way out and start getting heckled by the builders with wolf whistles, cat calls and the usual 'hey baby' remarks. A lot of the builders on the bridge itself are very polite and move out of the way for me. A car comes up behind me, luckily there is a third plank at this point and I step on to the edge alongside a builder doing the same as the car passes. We are both holding onto the scafolding pole which is the 'safety bar' staring down 40ft into murky water.


I continue along as I am now halfway and walking as fast as I can, This bridge is longer than you think it is.
I suddenly become aware that there are cars coming now the other way and I move over as best I can on to the edge of a plank and hold onto the safety bar with my one free hand.
The car drivers are obviously locals and not hanging around. After 5 or 6 pass me by inches I look round and to my horror see a juganaut- not a truck a ruddy great juggernaut with massive metal bolts sticking out on the wheels. Oh shit.


I can't move much further except to step with one foot out onto the saftey bar and lean forward over the water with my one free hand grab the other bar. As the lorry gets nearer the bridge starts to shake badly.
I look up at the driver and our eyes meet. He nods at me as if to say stay where you are. My other foot is on the edge of a strut which starts to shake violently as the lorry passes me revving hard and loudly as it must be 2inches from my toes. I look down into the massive gap that I could easily fall through and start hyperventilating. After 2 mins I burst into tears, utterly terrified.


The lorry passes, then some cars and then a coach.
The coach driver sees my distress and stops the coach, winds down his window and tells me to get on. I am frozen with fear and my spanish escapes me, I cannot think of how to say anything. There are people hanging out of the coach windows all shouting in Spanish, one guy at the back of the coach gets a builders attention.
The builder marches over to me and just grabs my hand, then he leads me alongside all the stopped traffic as we step across the struts on the edges, ducking to avoid wing mirrors every so often.

Finally reaching the other side I thank the builder, he just nods and walks off.


Not aware of Ems traumatic experience, I sit waiting for the lights to go green, again the helmets off and strangely all of a sudden I feel quite calm - I guess I had resigned myself to what will be will be, I just have to trust my skills, choose a line and stick to it.


Beep! The lights are still red but the traffic behind urges me foward, I drop the clutch get on the pegs and move off. Without any traffic in front of me I was able to keep a steady 12mph and all was going to plan. Workman were on the plank ahead that I had chosen and each cheered as I passed and I thanked them for moving shouting "Gracias" loudly.


Looking ahead I saw that the middle plank disappeared, I cant move to the inside plank as theres a gap that would grab the front wheel, instead I move to the outside plank just in time to see both the middle plank and the outside barrier disappear - for a brief moment my peripheral vision just stares down to the water below and space.


Keep calm, look ahead, more cheers from the workman and before I know it I am safely accross and I feel releaved and elated, until I catch site of Em with her head in her hands crying.


We stop for a while and pull ourselves back together, I tell Em just how well she has done and promise her no more scary bridges.


The day then consists of crossing the mountains from north Panama to the south, the views are once again jaw dropping and even the rain can't dampen our spirits.



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Then as we stop to check the map Em spots a potential problem..



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Thankfully the Tourance tires we are using are steel belted and the key had not actually punctured the tire. I wasnt going to remove it though until we reached the hotel.


After a long day of riding and trauma, we reach the town of David and find the most amazing little Hotel in the middle of town. Maybe my expectations are falling but this place was clean, tidy, basic and had a cracking restaurant downstairs with friendly staff, good food and service. Parking was secure and internet available too, all for $26 a night.


Heading on reluctantly from David we head to Panama City. We do 300 miles along the PanAm and reach the airport after 5pm too late to visit the Girag Cargo Offices. Panama City itself is nothing short of a nightmare with terrible traffic jams and signage. The old town is really very rough and rundown- not the place you even want to stop.


There are manholes in the road with no covers on - not what you need to see when on a bike - not funny.


Holeing up in a hotel near to the Airport we do more research that night on hotels in the city. Next day we head out and don't find any of them. We manage to find the Girag Office and get organised for Monday. This is a really laid back affair- basically just turn up with your cash and go.


It was clear that riding around Panama city looking for hotels was not going to be a good day out, so we decide to head back out of town and back to Puento Barcas andout 50 miles down the road. We find a clean nice place in a shoping mall and decide to hang out here for a while as we wait to frieght the bike.


This proves to be a great stop for getting organised with an Internet Cafe, photocopies of all our documents, laundry and stocking up in the 24hr supermarket. However this place is obviously 'the' place to hang out if you are a Panamanian youth with a beaten up car with a loud sound system. Also we put the bike as near to the room as possible but the alarm went off about 3 times a day with people knocking it, or leaning on it. Darren did't get much sleep.



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We head back to Panama City, crossing the Bridge of the Americas once more, before taking a detour to check out the Panama Canal.



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As we stop for pictues and watch the ships pass, we get chatting to some locals who were competing in a relay running race from coast to coast.


Its then that we head back to the obnoxious Riande Airport Hotel on Sunday night for two nights, this time managing to get on the Route South bypass meaning that we avoid the city centre.


The hotel was purley for the purpose of getting us sorted as it is the only hotel near the airport (unless you count the 'love hotels' nearby - dubious stains everywhere apparently, thanks Jeff for the heads up).


Next day we are up early to breakfast before taking the bike over to Girag at Cargo. We meet a great guy at breakfast who is travelling from Mexico on a KLR, he too is heading to Girag. We have a good chat about bikes and travel etc. and none of us can believe that we are the only bike travellers we have met since Mexico.


We get the bike to Girag and meet up with Jeff and his KLR there too. It is a great morning as we all get packed up together- disconnecting batteries and getting paperwork organised.



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Girag are so relaxed they are are horizontal, we pay our cash and hand over our copies, they give us our waybill and a reciept - job done. We stop to pay the cargo guys $5 so that they will shrink wrap the bikes and stop anybody tampering with them.



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Whilst this is all happening Jeff mentions that he is a chiropractor and notices my bad shoulder straight away. Very kindly he offers to fix it for me and having been in pain for 2 years I happily agree.


We have an audience with the cargo guys watching as Jeff checks the problem. Needing somewhere for me to lie down the only thing we find is a few stacked pallets - they'll do.



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Darren is nearly sick as Jeff cracks my back and neck back into place.
I feel better already - thank you Jeff you are a star - it was a pleasure meeting you, hope we can catch up on the road for that acupuncture...

Next day we head for the airport for our flights to Quito, which goes really well until the Immigration Officer notices that I didn't have an entry stamp in my passport to Panama so I technically can't leave. After alot of explanation about bikes etc he lets me on the flight. Phew.
It is only an hour and a half flight. Although Immigration is a nightmare in Quito and takes us 1 hour to get through- give me border crossings any day!


With Central America now completed we are now looking forward to the South American part of the adventure. See you in Equador everybody...


Posted by Darren Homer at 08:52 PM GMT
February 19, 2008 GMT
Ecuador

From the airport we jump into a taxi and head for the hotel that we had booked online. The hotel was not too pricey, but more importantly it was only 5 minutes from the airport and the air cargo terminal.


As the taxi pulls up, Em and I look at each other - this will do! Somehow we had managed to book a cracking posh hotel for very little money - result. It got better, after we check in we are shown to our room - a suite.

Em hurridly ran around the room checking out all the freebies, toiletries, chocolates etc, when she gets to the bathroom she lets out a scream. I run in to find her almost in tears of joy - we have a Spa bath!!



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The reason we got so excited is that we really aren't used to these luxuries now. We resolve to get our monies worth and take it in turns to use the bath to sooth our biker aches and pains. We have decided that our backsides aren't just sore - they are actually broken...


We eat in the hotel restaurant that evening which overlooks Quito, with the rain and fog it reminded me of London. Quito is the second highest city in the World and you can feel the lack of air at first. Em was unaffected, but the bike and I were decidedly down on power.


During the meal the service was impeccable and first impressions of the Ecuadorian people are that they are very friendly and nice, this is a great start to our South American adventure.



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At the bar we also get a free welcome drink (another result) the drink is a cocktail that is a traditional local brew used for traditional ceremonies such as warriers going to battle and preparing for a journey. Its supossed to be lucky too, so we give it a try - Em struggles so I have to drink hers too, the taste is very Perno & Black, but gritty as the taste largely comes from crushed roots and berries.


Heading out at 10am the following day we get the shuttle coach over to the airport to get our bike back from Cargo. We had only a phone number from Girag as a contact and this didn't work so we decide to head straight for the Girag office in Quito and go from there.
Only problem is that no one has heard of it and we wander down the cargo terminals for half an hour looking. I spot a sign in the window of Cubana's Offices who use Girag for air cargo, it is in a lock up and the guard won't let us in.


I try again, he is not having any of it. We stand outside the window debating what to do and checking our paperwork again. The kind lady in the office sees us waiting and calls the guard over who tells her we want to have a flight to Panama(?) (is my spanish really that bad?!).


She tells him to send us in, so he gives us badges to wear, sweeps us with a sensor and takes our passports for good measure. The kind lady speaks great English and calls the Girag office for us, then gives us the address.


We catch a cab to their office - you would NEVER find it in a million years without help, even the cab driver struggles. Once there we get our paperwork sorted pay $22.50 for it then get lined up with a 'helper' called Perry. He gets us a cab to his Office for more paperwork, then the process stalls, as it is lunchtime, so we head out for an hour and return to his office at 1.30pm. Heading straight over to Customs we visit about 5 offices all over the place, several without any signs - you wouldn't have a hope of doing this on your own.



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Finally we set eyes on the bike in a warehouse. We then have to wait another 3 hours before we can get it as paperwork needs to be signed, then checked, then signed some more. The only good thing is that Perry has started running everywhere now and appears to be earning his $50.


We have not much option but to hang out in the cargo yard with all the truckers loading and unloading. No-one pays us much attention until finally we get the bike out. Suddenly we are swamped with people asking us questions (where have you been, where are you going, how big, how much? etc).



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While all this is happening, I give the bike a good check and its fine, I cant tell you how relieved I was, I now class this combination of metal and plastic as family - it was good to be re-united.


After reconnecting the battery, mirrors and inflating the tires we were ready to get back to the hotel, once there it really feels like the trip is back on.


Next day we leave our hotel and head out for a trip North of Quito to see the Mitad del Mundo - The Equator. This is a great day out and we meet some lovely people interested in the bike and our travels as we wander around. Some even ask to be photographed with us. It feels like we are celebrities for all of 5 mins...



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This is a pretty big moment for me, I had seen so many websites and blogs of bike travellers standing with a foot either side of the Equator - well now its our turn.



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The Equator monument itself has an interesting Culture and crafts museum too.


We head back to the outskirts of Quito and stay one more night, while checking into the hotel a businessman walks up to me as I stand by the bike and says "your a long way from home" the guy was English and it was great to hear the Queens English again. As with all Brits abroad, Stephen offered us his card and said if we need anything while in South America.....thanks Stephen, nice meeting you.


We are up and out early next day for our first day travelling in Ecuador, all goes well if a little slow and we reach the town of Banos by 4pm.


The scenery is truly stunning here with lush mountains and tropical flowers, but easily the most impressive thing we have seen for a while comes into view just before we hit town.



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The Volcano Tungurahua (16,500ft) is dead ahead of us and is active, really active as in throwing up ash. The scene is one of those once in a lifetime deals and we struggle to take it in.


After the Volcano we check out some nice looking hotels, but they are out of our price range so we head for the main square and find a Hostal for $18 which is clean and basic. A couple of doors down there is a secure garage which costs $2 overnight so we get parked and sorted then head out for some food.


Today has been abit of a culture shock for me and I am not particularly hungry as I find the general grime and dirtiness everywhere quite off putting.


I have been carrying a bottle of DEET with me for 6 months now and for some reason today it had decided to leak and melt my hairbrush (and I have been putting it on my skin?!). We walk round the town and find a little shop to buy another hairbrush and some water. Then we find ourseves in the local Cathedral which has a service just starting and people singing.


We stay for a bit then light some candles- I am not religous at all but it was just a nice place to be.



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Next day we are up early and over to Cuenca. The views are stunning and the road is great. We see a group of woman working near the road - with their brightly coloured clothing and hand tools. Lots of people are friendly and wave as we pass.



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As we climb higher the road gets washed away and it is brown slippery mud.


Ems not kidding, as we got to the town of Alausi, the PanAm ran out to broken tarmac and eventually a mud track. Its now starting to rain and the "road" is rutted and slippery as we make our way through what the locals call the "Devils Nose" (I think I remember that correctly, we called it the Devils A*@#hole as it was a challenging stretch of road, brown and messy).



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Once safely back on tarmac, the rain really starts to come down (well it is the rainy season here) we then spend the afternoon tackling the landslides that occured due to the rain. We would come round a bend to see either a muddy river, piles of earth or occasionally the road washed away altogether.



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Throughout the day my mind was back in London, my brother and good friends were at the Bike Show - I would normally be with them and I could not stop thinking about the day, its 3pm back home, the boys will be in the pub now.....thankfully I got to talk to them later that day which capped a difficult yet very rewarding day.


After the hard days riding the hotel we find in town is again near the main square. This place must be Ecuador's version of Faulty Towers complete with a Manwell like Porter/ Waiter who keeps saying "que". The food is ok and we head to bed early as we are both exhausted by todays hard riding.
Unfortunately we are kept awake by a party all night.


Leaving next day after another dodgy bean breakfast, we head for Loja and find an amazing hotel in town again near the main square.This place is beautiful and I spend some time getting pampered while Darren attends to the bike.



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While finding this hotel, as I ride around the streets I notice that everyone seems to be soaking wet? Its a hot sunny day so it seams strange, then I notice the water pistols and water bombs that everyone is carrying - we find out later that it is part of a "Carnival" - and yes we did get wet!


While Em is pampering herself I am once again working on the bike, the hotel staff are very helpful as I explain that I need to work on the bike in their pristine underground garage.


Two minutes later a waiter brings a bucket of water, a brush, rag and soap while the hotel Manager and Chef join the party to watch me swap the brake pads and filters on the bike.


The job takes twice as long as it should as I keep up a running commentary on what I am doing and answer as many questions as I can in my limited Spanish. Thanks for your help guys.


Next day as we head out, the Manager asks if he can take our photo outside the Hotel - we are celebrities again. We have another great send off as all the waiters and door staff wave us off.



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We continue to follow the PanAm highway up and down and for a while it gets really twisty. I loose count of the amount of animals jumping out at us - pigs, dogs, goats, donkeys, cows etc. are all over the road.


Again we find ourselves at altitude after the twisty climb and come across a military checkpoint. We are asked to pull over and show our documents which of course we do. Before long we have a group of army guys around the bike (and Em) all asking about the trip / bike. They were a friendly bunch and we were soon waved on our way.


On rounding a bend close to town a lorry full of locals passes us and one of the occupants throws a bucket of water at my head, bloody carnival! Em then finds it hysterical when I tell her that at the time I had my visor open - I hope that was river water...


We reach the border town of Macara and it is pretty bleak with nothing much there. Its a very poor town with the main income coming from agriculture - largely rice. Stoping for fuel we have to queue for half an hour. There is an armed official overseeing each fill up. I am told by a lady that this is because of the border being so close they have to police it.



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We find two hotels in the town which I check out - both rooms are gross and smell revolting. Really really bad. There are swarms of flies everywhere. This 'town' really is the pits.


We head around and out of the town and don't find much. Heading back into town we spot a Hostal and not expecting much I look around. You really can't judge these places from the outside as it looks pretty bad (swarms of flies everywhere, 90 year old ladies peeling nuts on a step, scabby stray dog outside etc.)


However the room is pretty clean and basic with a private bathroom and no hot water (the norm here) all for $12. We get unpacked then head over to find some food from the local shops. The first shop has a scary young lady with bad armpit hair who has a bit of an attitude. After not being allowed in the shop and having to guess at what we want we head off down the street. Finding another shop the lady is really helpful and sweet telling us that this chocolate we have chosen is delicious etc...


We settle back in at the Hostal for a restless nights sleep. After checking behind the curtains Darren removes several beetles and moths.


Once I had removed the wildlife for Em, she settled down to sleep (Em- I was cocooned in my silk sleep sack so nothing could get in!). I on the other hand knew it was probably going to be a long night for me. First up the bike was parked on the street outside the hostel, this was the first time we had not either found secure parking or had been in view of the bike and this made me uneasy. Secondly as I laid there I could here beetles and bugs flying into the window pane and I repeatedly had to catch the various bugs that were coming in under the door.


Thankfully the only English speaking channel on the TV was showing Apollo 13, so I watched it twice to pass the time. Eventually around 4am, I was comfortable enough to think about getting some sleep, then something flew in front of my vision, what the...


My first thought was that it must be a bat, but as I jump up and try to catch the thing before Em wakes up, I realise that it is in fact a moth - a big moth, about the size of my hand.


I manage to catch it in my riding shirt (better than a bug spray) and put it outside the door, as I look out the whole landing which is exposed to the night, is covered with every bug you could imagine.


We were in Macara as it is supposed to be an easier border crossing, it better be worth it.



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Happy to leave 'bugfest' we are out of the Hostal and at the border by 8.30am.
The Ecuadorian side is fine and takes 20 mins. The Peruvian side is more interesting however as after Immigration we have to head over to the National Police Office for questioning on our travels. The Police Officer is actually very friendly and nice. He queries us as to why we have the same surname- I explain that we are married, he doesn't understand this and asks if 'we are from the same Mother'? I explain that it is usual for a woman to take her Husbands surname when they marry- he thinks this is unbelievable and asks 'but what if you divorce?' I say that I can keep my name, he thinks this is even more ridiculous and unbelievable.


Heading on to the Customs Office the guy is very laid back and takes his time. He is made up that we have colour copies of our documents 'just for him'. He asks us to fill in the same form each although he meant with Darren's details only, then for some reason he seems to find it hysterical that I have signed my copy.


We get another customs sticker for the bike that melts within 2 hours and is unreadable. Don't you just love the burocracy?



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Posted by Darren Homer at 08:58 PM GMT
 
 

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