November 05, 2003 GMT
Turbo Tourismo in Centro America

Have the border crossing all become a living nightmare like people tell me, did Guetemala in a pre-election frenzy cause me some hairy moments, read on.....

The border crossing into Guetamala was at Mesilla was a breeze. Half an hour of time and only cost me $6. The first police roadblock turned out to be a good laugh and lots of waving people. My first impressions were that the people are incredibly friendly.

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I managed to get off the asphalt and headed for the small town of Sacopulus in the jungle. How many times in the UK have I got to roadworks that have closed the whole road, only to have the workers get into their diggers to make a path for the tourist on the moto to pass through. I was amazed that they did this for me and equally amazed that i managed to ride throught the mud and over the boulders on the paths they made without dropping the bike. The pressure was on as the whole work crew at each site gathered to watch me demonstrate whether or not I could handle my overlaoded pig of a bike. Other than the construction the other hazards I encountered on all the dirt roads was dust so thick that you could not breathe and loco driving.

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I was glad to have made Sacopulus and celebrated with a beer or three. Next day back to the dirt, delays and mad driving. Today was the first day that I have been run off the road by one of fast pickup trucks that opererate as taxis. In one town I counted 19 people in and hanging off a pickup truck screaming down the road. I was lucky the ditch was shallow and I managed to get the bike back on the road. I rode all day to get to what local had told me was the eigth wonder of the world, Semuc Champery. This was a river that went underground dramatically and above the underground section there were lots of tourqoise pools of water. Impressive yes but not that good. I camped at this spot thinking I would have a great night of jungle sounds but in realitty nearlly died from dehydration as it was so hot all night. I had one more day of dirt roads to go before making the east side of the country and the ashphalt road. Guetemala saved the best for last. The road was shocking, narrow and full of limestaone cobbles and boulders. Add to that some good wet weather and it was like trying to ride over ice at times. I made real slow progress but the villages it went through were fantastic. From peoples reactions they see very few tourists and ones on motorbikes even less. Everywhere people stared like they didnt know what to make of me, very few smiled back. The other strange thing was that the little kids would come to the road to see me approach but as soon as I got close run away and hide. Someone told me that westerners had in the past taken children from villages and that a myth exist that tourist steal children. I find this unbelievably but have no better explanation to offer. That night after a very long day I made the town of Flores, near to Tikal.
Next day dawned very wet but I was off to see Tikal at 5.30am. Thankfully it stopped raining half way though the day allowing me to see all of the Tikal ruins. I had a fantastic day here. The jungle in itself is amazing, so full of wildlife. I saw monkeys, lemur like groud critters, parrots, wild pigs, fox and more colourful birds than I can name.

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Then you had the huge pyramids and other ruins left from the biggest Mayan city. I climbed many of the ruins and managed to see the whole site. It was truly an impressive place, well worth the three days of dirt roads to get to.

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The next day I headed south to get myself one hour off the Honduran border ready to cross the next day. Leaving the town of Flores I stumbled on an intersesting style of winning votes. The general election was days away and to rally support for the PAN party a convoy of vehicles drove slowly through town and in amongst them all was this flat bed truck full of scantily clad beauties dancing on the back of it. Thats electioneering with a twist.

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Heres another crossing that was reputidly time consuming but took no more than 30 mins and $30 to sort out. I headed for my second Mayan ruins, Copan. I managed to see all the ruins the same day and was again very impressed. The quality of the stone carvings at Copan has to be seen to be believed. What Copan lacks in size it makes up for in quality. I have now had my fill of ruins and next day headed for the coast on the Carribean side. I found a hostel in the real small town of Omoa which was on the beach. I spent 2 days here supping beer, swimming in the warm sea and doing nothing much. Exactly what was required ready for the push to Nicaragua.
From Omoa I rode to El Paraiso, a small town, near the border and the quietest of the border crossings. The town was a really interesting place, lots of people in the town square hanging about socialising and doing everyday activities. The old people have so much character, if I could only speak spanish and hear their stories.

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Nicaraguan Customs was the one that I had heard all the stories about. “Delays up to four hours are not uncommon”. On arriving at the border I had my first encounter with Tramitadores. These guys are there to help you process your paperwork and get you through the borders in quick time. They tend to mob you for business as soon as you ride up. I picked the most honest looking one of the bunch and he got me throught the Honduran side in less than 5 minutes. On the Nicaraguan side the process was a bit more complicated but it still took only forty minutes. The Tramitador had to work much harder for his $5 on this side.

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I headed for the town of Leon and left behind the Jungle scenery for flat plains and smoking volcanoes. A bizarre sight I saw on the road to Leon was a donkey cremation taking place. There was this guy standing near a dead donkey on the side of the road that he had placed 4 old tyres on it, doused it with gas and set fire to it. It was burning with big flames and thick black smoke. What was more odd was that no one except me paid a blind bit of attention to it, it must be normal.

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Leon was an interesting place. Very run down and very busy. Some guy offered to show me to this great cheap hotel, I was glad of the help as it was real hot and I was tired. It turned out that it was not close and I had to ride through the busy town standing up on the bike footrests while he squeezed himself onto my seat. As if I wasn’t already an excuse to be stared at. I got lots of weird looks. The hotel was the first that insisted that the bike go into the room I was staying for safe keeping. Great for the novelty value but the smell of gas that hung around all night was real bad. Next day I rode to Masaya via the capital, Managua. I decided to test the reactions of a taxi driver en-route by pulling out on him, luckily for me he was awake, the second near miss. Masaya is a beutifull little town which specialises in local art and craft. From here I made my way to my destination for the day, Granada. Everyone I had met had said that this was a must-go-to place. They were right. It is situated on the shores of Lake Managua and I full of interesting buildings and people.

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The town is quite touristy but has a lot of charm. At last I also met with some other bikers headed south and spent a good night in the Bearded Monkey beering and bullshitting.
Costa Rica was the next days destination, I was rushing but needed to buy a flight as soon as possible to get me home before the fares went up for xmas. This was the bussiest border as all traffic has to go through it. Again I hired a Tramitadores. The border was not easy to understand and for another $5 each it was well worth the expense. After 90 minutes and a few more police checkpoints I was on my way to the capital, San Jose. I had read about speed traps in Costa Rica and had made a note not to speed too much. Within 45 minutes of crossing the border I had been pulled. These guys hide themselves in bushes, you have no chance of seeing them before they get you. I couldn’t face the thought of giving the cops any money so gave them a tall story about being very low on cash and needing to get to San Jose to get more. Thank you and on my way I went with a still intact pocket of cash. Its amazing how sad you can look if it is going to save you money Crossing form Nicaragua to Costa Rica was like leaving the third world and entering the into a mainstream western country. Instead of the usual smoke belching trucks and ox carts their were new cars and lots of visable sign of wealth. Some people still looked to be living basic lives but a lot have money also. San Jose has more similarities to a town in the states to anything else I saw in Central America.
I arrived in San Jose wet and tired and pulled over to look at a map to find a hostel. This guy pulls up next to me on a Vespa scooter and asks were I am from and what I am doing. He tells me I am welcome to use the phone at his place and sort out some accommodation. A good offer when you are in a wet city at dusk. I follow him back to his house which turns out to be in a secure estate and is equipped with garages, a swimming pool and guest house. Oscars wife Margi and his two daughters greeted me and told me he has done this more than once, ie adopted foreign motorcyclists and brought them home. Oscar is nuts about bikes, or as you would saw in Spanish, moto loco. He has a collection of them which includes English classics and BMW’s. Add this to his collection of VW cars and you start to get the picture. Once again on the trip I had walked into some exceptionally good luck. For the remainder of my time in Costa Rica I used Oscars house as base ans went out to explore the east and west coast and do some serious lying on a beach. I had one week to relax before flying back to the UK. I originally intended to fly back for christmas then get back on the bike early feb to continue south. That was until I received a job offer I couldnt refuse, 6 months working in a school I knew with staff who were a good laugh.
6 months is now up and I am getting ready to return to the bike. I am glad I broke the trip into two sections as I am now refresshed and a lot more enthusiastic about the travelling to come. Also I am to be joined by Jess, my gilfriend who is going to meet me in Ecuador, buy a small bike and ride with me to Ushuia. On the 30th June I fly back to Costa Rica and hopefully manage to escape the country without being fined $500 plus tax.

Posted by Peter Slarke at November 05, 2003 08:08 PM GMT
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