Central America

October 25th: Monterrico, Guatemala to Mizata Beach, El Salvador – 245km

The first thing I did after I left my room around 9am was to buy a gallon of water at the local store. At 33C, I was expecting to feel warm in my suit. At the other end of town was the end of the road and a lot of barges waiting to transport cars north on the river. The owner of the hotel I stayed in told me it was quite stable and safe to ride. I was happy to hear that as it saved me almost two hours of riding. There was a barge ready to leave when I arrived. They had a spot for me and asked for 65$ for the ride. I thought it was a bit steep and we agreed for 45$. They looked intimidated by the size of the motorcycle before I rode on the barge. They laid down a nice wide ramp and after 10 seconds, I had turned around and was in the barge. I found a safe spot for my side stand to rest on and soon we were navigating the river. It took us less than 30 minutes to reach the next road. The guys helped me to back up Olga out of the barge and off I was driving to the border

Border Crossing to El Salvador:

I stopped in a gas station about 5km away from the border to spend the last 10$ I had in the local currency. There, I guy rode slowly behind me and asked me how I was doing in an English very easy to understand. Immediately, I remembered my crazy helpers at the Guatemala border and was a little defensive to engage with this guy. George told me that he used to live in the USA with his girlfriend was from Montreal. Now he was helping tourists drive through that border. He explained that he could enjoy his life better when he wasn’t working 60h/week. I asked him how much he charged. He replied that he would get me in Honduras for 45$. It seemed reasonable to get his help, but I still asked him how much he made over that amount. He answered that he needed 25$ for paperwork and go faster through checkpoints. He said that it could take me 5-6h by myself if I wanted to try. I agreed to give him 45$ at the end and I followed him towards the border.

There was a huge truck line-up to the Guatemala Customs building. George showed me the way and I parked next to a few officials sitting outside behind a small table. George asked me to take my motorcycle permit out. They detached the receipt and gave it to me. I told them that I did not want to cancel it as it was supposed to be valid for all Central America. They all laughed and told me that whoever had said this was wrong. Was I allowed not to be surprised? They then verified that the plate number and VIN matched before writing their initials on the permit. I then went to the other end of that building to get my passport stamped out of Guatemala. We then went to a small copy shop to get a copy of my stamped passport, license and title. I now needed to walk to the other side of the building to cancel my temporary import permit. There, was an armed guard who opened the door and gave George a hard time for going in. We waited for 10 minutes before one of the officials asked me to show my papers. He double checked everything and then asked me to go next to my motorcycle. He came out of a random door and checked the plate and VIN once again. He stamped everything and left me with a confirmation document. We were done with Guatemala.

We crossed a bridge over a beautiful river and went around a very long trucks line-up again. George had my confirmation document by that point and “convinced” the army guy at the checkpoint to let us pass in front of everyone else. 30 seconds later, I was parking Olga in front of the El Salvador border. George asked me to wait in line to get my passport stamped while he walked to a copy shop to make copies of that document. A little wait and a few questions later, the offcial told me that I was good and did not stamp my passport. George gave me a form to fill and explained what I needed to do to get my temporary motorcycle import permit. I waited a bit more and an official followed me outside to Olga. He checked the information I wrote about her and asked me a few questions. He then put his initials on the document and indicated me to speak with the other official. My licence and title copies were not full page and this guy asked me to get proper copies. I asked George to go get them. He came back 2 minutes later and shortly after, I was good to go with my permit. George showed me the map of El Salvador and called one of his friend at the other border to let him know I would be there in two days. We then rode to the last check point where George again “convinced” the official to let us pass. I was happy with his service and paid him the 45$. I was also happy about the fact that I would get such help on the other side 2 days later.

I arrived at my hotel (Mizata Point Resort) around 4pm and it was a very beautiful place. People were surfing right in front on big waves. I spoke a little with the owner who was very nice. I then met with a cool couple from British Columbia. They now live in Tofino to surf and were in El Salvador for the same reason. I enjoyed my diner with them and then went to sleep.

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Loading Dock

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More barges

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Still river

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El Salvador

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George

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Mizata Point Resort

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October 26th: Mizata Beach to San Miguel – 200km

I left after lunch as I spent all morning writing one of my previous post. The road by the ocean was twisty and beautiful. I saw many animals on the road. What most impressed me were 8 cows walking two by two, perfectly following their right lane (on the road) just like a car would do. Pick-up trucks were used as buses and even though most were the size of a ford ranger, 10-15 people would be standing in the bed and the suspension leaves were always reversed. I arrived in San Miguel around 4pm and went out to the shopping center to get something to eat. I was running low on cash and decided to use an ATM amongst the 5 available in the main alley. 4 were already in use and I squeezed in thinking that it was great that I could blend in and kind of hide what I was doing. After putting the 200$ in my wallet while hiding the bills, I turned around and noticed 3 guys who were starring at me in a bad way. I made sure to remember each face and kept on walking in the mall while being aware of my surroundings. I noticed that one of the guys, the best dressed, was following me now. I went into the grocery store and was excited to see so many vegetables and fruits. I started putting some in my basket before this guy walked behind me. I played fool by looking at a label for about 60 seconds and then looked directly at him. He was still staring at me and I knew I had to get away from him. I walked rapidly towards to door and dropped my basket in the empty basket pile as I walked past it. I walked fast towards the exit. Outside, I walked behind columns to limit the guy’s angle of vision and wished he would lose sight. I then walked amongst the cars in the parking before going by a guard at the fence. I had to take a pedestrian overpass to reach my hotel on the other side of the highway. Before going up the stairs, I turned around and could not see him. I climbed the stairs 3×3 and looked for him once at the top. Still no sign of him. I then walked at a normal pace to my hotel which had armed guards at the parking fence and front door. I was happy to have dinner in the hotel restaurant before going to bed.

 

 

October 27th: San Miguel, El Salvador to Choluteca, Honduras – 160km

Border Crossing to Honduras:

I left my hotel around 9h30. At 10h30, I was about 2km from the border when I heard my name loud and clear while coming out of a turn. I met with George’s friend Ricky and another guy that he called his brother who had an official badge on him. Ricky grew up in Texas and could speak really well in English. Ricky explained that we needed his brother as he was the only one allowed to speak with the officials in Honduras. They both climbed in the bed of a small red truck and I followed them to the El Salvador Office. We went past a truck lineup and I parked Olga close to the customs. One of the guys watched her while I waited in line to speak with a customs agent. He asked a few questions and let me go with a small ticket. Ricky took it and walked in front of me. He gave the ticket to the official at the checkpoint along with a “convincer” and off we were on the bridge.

On the other side, other officials were waiting and Ricky also gave them a “convincer”. At that point, they both told me that it really slow down the process if I follow them around. Ricky told me to give his brother all of my paperwork and that we could wait in the shade while he took care of the rest. I stupidly gave him my papers and waited with Ricky next to the bike under a tree. At 35C and lots of people walking around, it seemed like a good idea at that point. We waited for about 45 minutes before his brother came back for the first time. I could see him running around before, but this time, he was asking me to move the bike before I got a ticket. The customs agent asked to see my face, but other than that, his brother took care of everything. Another 45 minutes later, he showed me the various documents and asked us to follow him in a small restaurant at the border where we could talk. The red truck driver watched the bike while we went inside.

He started to explain all the steps he did and Ricky would translate when I did not understand. Here is a summary of what he asked me to pay: 17$ Visa, 3$ entrée fee, 45$ motorcycle permit, 42.50$ road fee, 45$ various official “convincers”. I could see receipts of the transactions for everything but the official tips (of course) and the road fees. There was a special stamp in my passport that they kept referring to for the road fee, but there was no trace of the actual fee. Nevertheless, he told me that the officials were mad that my passport number did not match (66 instead of GG) on my permit to temporary import the bike in El Salvador. My helpers told me they had a hard time convincing the officials not to give me a 1000$ fine. Even though I wondered who can actually pay that kind of money down there, they were right about the mistake by the guys in El Salvador. I paid all the fees listed above. We then drove past huge lineups of trucks and when we would reach one of the three remaining checkpoints, my helpers would wave to the officials and it seemed like they told them they would come back later. Every time, the officials let us pass free and within a minute and showing my papers at the last, I had crossed all three checkpoint. I gave my helpers 20$/each and off I was to Choluteca. I really felt like they got me well though.

I arrived in Choluteca around 2h30pm and did not have a reservation there. I found a nice place out of town and they had a room available. I relaxed for the rest of the day and went to sleep after watching a movie.

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October 28th: Choluteca, Honduras to Poneloya, Nicaragua – 155km

Border Crossing to Nicaragua:

I left Choluteca around 9h30 and was at the border at 10h30. For some “unexplainable” reason I heard my name once again as I approached the customs building. This guy came to me saying that his friend Ricky called him and that he would help me with the border. I immediately thought that I was a good catch. So I asked him how much the various fees at that border were. He repeated the same exact amounts I paid the day before. It seemed all too perfect and this time, I decided to do things differently. I locked everything on the bike, set the proximity sensor and ask a guy nearby if he was interested in watching the bike while I did my things. I promised 5$ and he very seriously agreed to watch it. I told the other guy that he could help me if he wanted, but I would be the one going through the steps and he would be guiding me. His face changed and it was enough to tell me that I was doing the right thing. We started by making copies of the temporary permit at a local copy shop. We then headed inside the customs office. There, he tried to take all of my stuff while saying that I should be watching my motorcycle for thieves. I told him to go and watch it while I did the paperwork, but he did not agree. I got my passport stamped out of Honduras and then I canceled my permit at another window. It was all free, and my friend could not explain me why he previously asked for a 20$ fee for these steps. He then asked one of his friend to come meet me. He told me that from this point, this guys would be helping me. That was an easy 100$ saving so far. I gave 5$ to my very serious watcher and left.

I followed this new guy who was much nicer to Nicaragua. There, he showed me the ATM. Then I had to stand in front of a thermal camera to check if I had Ebola. I then spoke with a customs agent and paid a 12$ fee to get in the country. We then headed another window to get the temporary import permit. Once I got it, I needed to purchase insurance outside for 12$. Soon, I gave my friend 20$ and I was riding away.

I arrived in Poneloya around 2pm. I took a cold shower and went to the small restaurant in front of my room. I met with Estanitlas, the owner. He was from Spain and offered me a beer. We discussed various topics in Spanish. As we drank one beer after another, my Spanish fluency improved almost in a directly proportional fashion. I also spent time discussing with his employees and a really cool guy from Germany. Willi was traveling the world with his small RV and it was very nice talking about the common places we have been. I had a very entertaining night.

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October 29th: Poneloya to San Juan Del Sur – 245km

I left around 10h30 and arrived in San Juan Del Sur around 2pm. I took a cold shower and walked towards the town center. I found a nice little café where I had a salad and a panini. I then headed back to my room where I read for a few hours. I met with two girls from Quebec who were staying next door. I then also met with two guys from British Columbia. I ended up following them in town for dinner. Owen and Cole were two brothers traveling together. Seeing them having fun together made me miss my brother and sister as well. We went in a pub-like place next to the beach. We talked about various subject, but they were very interested about the motorcycle trip. We returned to our hostel with a few drinks and met with a cool couple that we ended up spending the evening with.

 

 

October 30th: San Juan Del Sur

Owen, Cole and I had breakfast together. They did not have to make a great effort to convince me to follow them to a surf spot in the afternoon. They had been surfing for many days already and it would be their last day before taking a break. We bought our shuttle tickets in the morning and got some food for later on the beach. At 12h30pm, we boarded a truck bed towards the beach. After 45 minutes on mainly dirt road, we were at Playa Maderas. There were a couple small surf shops, a hostel and a restaurant there. We dropped our stuff on the beach and had lunch before renting our boards for 10$. Cole gave me a crash course on how to get up on the board and off I was to the sea. They told me to start practicing in the waves that had already broken. In other words, in the foamy white stuff after it breaks. I did that and after 30 minutes, I had stood a couple times for a few seconds. Getting the feel of where to put my feet on that huge board seemed more difficult that I had anticipated. I then wanted to try with real waves. It took me many tries to get the timing right. At some point, the board hit me directly in the throat and I feared for the worst before realizing that I could still breathe quite well. After 1h30, I had to get back on the beach to drink water. My head hurt and it was the signal for dehydration. It was so hot on the beach that I had to get back in the water. Mind as well keep tying! After another 30 minutes, I caught my first real wave and was able to stand for about 2 seconds. That was so cool! I wanted more. I kept trying and after another 30 minutes, I caught a big one and was able to stand for about 3 seconds. The speed you gain in such a short time is amazing! I was definitely hooked now. Unfortunately, I was getting tired so I let myself float on the board for a little, away from the breaking point. At 4h30pm, we got ready for our return shuttle at 5pm. We arrived in town 30 minutes later and we agreed to have dinner together an hour later. It was a fun night as we had great pizza and met another cool couple.

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October 31st: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua to La Fortuna, Costa Rica – 240km

Owen and Cole signed the map before we had breakfast together. We wished each other safe travels and I left around 9h30.

Border Crossing to Costa Rica:

There were lots of potential helpers trying to stop me before the gate at the Nicaragua border. I drove past them and they let me alone. I showed my papers to the officials and after they handed them back to me after verifying my numbers. I then parked in the plaza where all the customs offices are. A guy started talking to me and charged 10$ for the whole process. After asking him a few questions, he agreed to guide me through the process. He gave me a form that I filled and handed it to an official who verified my luggage. I paid a 1$ fee to get in migration. A 2$ fee to get out of the country. Then I waited to get my temporary import permit canceled for about 45 minutes. The last step was to show everything to police officers. Then I was out of Nicaragua.

On the Costa Rica side, there were no helpers. Many police officers that seemed very nice and were helping with guidance. I went inside to get my passport stamped. Then outside, I went to another small office where the lady asked me to fill two forms. She then came out with me to verify my information and the bike. She then indicated the way to go buy insurance that was mandatory. There, I purchased insurance for 15$. Then I needed copies of that document along with stamped passport, licence and title. Once I got those, I went back in to get my temporary import permit. I was out of there after about 1 hour.

I started driving towards La Fortuna and Volcan Arenal. I thought the route near the lake would be scenic and I headed that way. I was surprised to turn onto a dirt road about 100km out of La Fortuna. The road was beautiful, twisty, rocky and fun. Then it started raining, hard. After 30km of dirt, I was back on pavement and the road was very twisty and narrow. I would have to keep my speed down until I reached La Fortuna around 5h30pm. I washed my outfit in the shower, bought some fruits and vegetables for dinner and finished writing my last post before going to bed.

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November 1st: La Fortuna to Quepos – 240km

I left around 9am after eating an omelet. Just out of town, I got stuck behind a cycling event. The cops kept telling me to pull over and I had to do so at some point. After following them for about 45 minutes I decided to take another route around. There was a lot of traffic since there had been a land slide the day before. Around 11am, the engine started to choke while pushing it a little. It literally stalled while I went up a small hill. I found a quiet spot and suspected my O2 sensors. I plugged the bike to my computer and read that there was a faulty O2 sensor. Luckily, I had a small connector meant to cancel the sensor with a fixed voltage value. When I started the bike again, it stalled within seconds. I then disconnected my connector for low octane gasoline and still, the bike would not start. After trying different combination of this connector and which O2 sensor I would use my connector on, the bike still did not want to start. I started to think that I would miss my hotel and that if I did not figure out a solution, no one in the village would be able to help me. I would need to find a guy with a pick-up truck to drive me to Panama. Then I thought about the time that I saved the bike mapping on my computer back in January. I uploaded the mapping back in the bike and tried the engine once again with no connector. It started! I was so happy! After driving for another 5 minutes, then engine started to choke again. I was suspecting the high ethanol content in the gas there. I plugged my connector back on my second sensor and magic: the engine was firing again. I basically was running on one cylinder, but a 500cc is better than pushing!

Shortly after, it started raining hard and the traffic was just really bad on these twisty, hilly, narrow roads. It took me about 4 hours in pouring rain to get to Quepos. I arrived just before sunset, completely soaked. I forgot to totally shut one of my pockets and it happened to contain my passport. It was completely soaked as well and I managed to dry it over the A/C overnight. I had dinner with 4 cool girls that were volunteering in a city in Costa Rica. I had a good evening and went to bed early thinking about the next day.

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November 2nd: Quepos, Costa Rica to Las Lajas, Panama – 325km

I woke up at 6am and was on the road at 7h30am. I had 200km to ride before the border and it was very enjoyable without traffic.

Border Crossing to Panama:

I arrived at the border around 9h30am. I parked the bike in front of the main place where everyone was waiting. The first step was to pay 8$ to a 18 years old boy and his computer next to a van. They told me the bank was closed on Sundays and he was taking over. He gave me a receipt that I needed to get stamped out. After getting the stamp in another location, I filled a few forms and got my permit canceled for the motorcycle.

I then drove to the Panama border where I met another traveler on a bike. Marcos was from Argentina and was coming from Alaska as well. We chatted for a few minutes before I started my process with a guy helping me for 5$. Marcos then walked to me and said he would start driving slowly away from the border and would wait for me further down the road. I got insurance for the bike for 15$, got this insurance inspected on the second floor. Then I went through migration to get stamped. Then I went to the customs and they gave me my permit. I got all my paperwork verified by an official and needed to get fumigation. 1 hour later, I was driving away from my last border crossing for a few weeks.

I still had 130km to do to my hotel. I stopped for a few minutes in a grocery store to eat lunch and then kept riding. I was looking for Marcos, but couldn’t see him anywhere. I arrived at my hotel around 3h30pm and spent the rest of the day working on my stuff.

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Easier to dig around than to remove the post.

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November 3rd: Las Lajas to Panama City – 390km

I left around 8h30am because I had almost 400km to drive to Panama City. The road was quite nice and I got stopped by police officers to check my papers 3 times. I crossed the Panama Canal just out of the city and arrived at my B&B around 1pm. I met with the owners who showed me where I could leave my bike for two weeks. It was behind a motorized steel gate, under a roof and was just awesome. They then invited me to join them for lunch and I accepted. I had a good time discussing with them as I ate 3 plates of salad from the salad bar. When we came back, Marcos’ bike was parked in front of the B&B. Out of the hundreds of hotels in Panama City, we were staying at the same small place without telling each other. It was fun to discuss the common place we have been to and we had a great dinner at the mall.

 

November 4th: Panama City

I spent most of my day getting ready for the next. The next morning, I needed to catch a plane to Montreal. I would spend 1 week there to get interviewed by a business school before flying to Europe for another week to do more interviews.

 

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2 responses to “Central America

  1. Hey bud! Owen and Cole here, we are catching up on your travels while in the Managua hostel. On our way to San Francisco in the morning. Great blog, the pictures are all awesome and we had good laughs at some of the new stories! Best wishes and safe travels

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