Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Turn and Burn for Panama, Part 1

December 6th, 7th, and 8th:

Justin’s parents showed up on the 6th of December and I said my goodbyes. It was hard to leave Justin; he is an awesome guy and had been a great friend and excellent riding partner, even though we had just met a few days before we crossed the border into Mexico. I was more than a little depressed to say goodbye, knowing that he had a long road back to recovery in front of him and that I was going to be on my own.

Justin is a stand up dude. He’s funny, a great rider, and a hell of a friend. After I accidently ate all of the marijuana back in San Pedro, he checked up on me throughout the night to make sure I was okay. me.

I had a spot reserved on the Independence that was sailing for Colombia on the 13th, and I knew that if I didn’t leave today, I would be spending $1,600 to fly myself and the bike across the darrien. Even leaving now, I knew I was going to have to ride hard to make it to Panama in time.
Jdowns had spent the night at the hospital as well, and after we said our goodbyes, we both headed for San Salvador, 60 miles away in order to get to Mario’s shop and conduct some maintenance.

We arrived at Mario’s and got down to business. I changed my oil and got some new brake pads for my front end. When I pulled out one of my oil drain plugs, I noticed that it had stretched out quite a bit. I imagine that I over-torqued it just a little too much the last time I reinstalled it. You can see the old one on the left below:

Mario's mechanics found me a new bolt (the one on the right) and I was all set. Mario has a great shop; if you are passing through El Salvador, you have to go and see him! Plus he's got an XR650R for sale....I know my brother will drool when he sees this picture....

I had Mario sign my tank:

And got a picture with Jdowns and all of the mechanics:

After finishing up the work on the bikes, Mario lead us out to his coffee farm where jdowns and I crashed for the night.

While we were unpacking, some of the caretaker's kids came out and I put a few on the bike....

This kid is going to be an ADV rider some day....

Mario came back out later with his wife and we had a little barbeque and drank some beer. At about four in the morning I woke up to hysterical screaming from Jdowns who claimed a bat had just landed on his face. Sure enough, I turned on my headlamp and there was a little bloodsucker flying racetrack loops around our room. Oh well. I just went back to sleep.
We woke up early the next morning and I linked up with Stan, a 66 year old Scottish guy on a KLR who was in a hurry to get to South America. Mario led us out of town and we said our goodbyes. Jdowns headed back for Guatemala, saying something about needing to get his teeth cleaned….

Jdowns is a stand up guy. When he found out that Justin was down, he rode 310 miles in a single day to come see him. He also gave Justin $260 towards his recovery fund. He even let me sign his tank! I’m honored.

Stan and I made good time and got to the El Salvador-Honduras border around 11:00 AM. I had managed to hold on to my Honduras aduana papers, (even though I wasn’t supposed to) which made my crossing especially easy. Once again we had to fend off hoards of tramitadors (boarder helpers). Man, those guys can be annoying. Here’s a tramitador hanging of the side of a semi….that’s how dedicated they are to getting your business.

While Stan was wading through the murky waters off third world border chaos, I stepped out of the aduana office and bought some cokes. I then took them back into the office and used them to bribe the officials….thanks for the great idea, Jdowns!

We were across the border in a little under two hours and making tracks for Nicaragua. The roads through this section of Honduras were surprisingly good, although a little crowded with cattle drives. We covered the distance in a little over two hours and arrived at our second border crossing of the day: Honduras to Nicaragua.

Right off the bat we were jumped by about five tramitadors. I ignored them and took my papers to the first official. Unfortunately, they got their hooks into Stan and I was soon confronted by a Tramitador carrying Stan’s papers and telling me that he needed my stuff to make copies. I told him, in English, that there was no way he was taking my passport somewhere without me. He just smiled and nodded. Obviously he only knew how to speak some English phrases but had no idea how to understand it. I went and made copies with him, then told him to make himself scarce. Unfortunately, he managed to hold onto Stan’s documents, so I had to listen to him blabbering away in pigeon English the entire time that we took care of our Honduran paperwork.

He was a feisty one, that little Tramitador. He even had a little homemade ID badge and an embroidered shirt that proudly displayed the words “Tramitatador” and “Official”. I jokingly told Stan that this guy was legit. He must belong to the “Venerable and Honorable Guild of Honduran Tramitadors”. I told him multiple times that I didn’t need his help and that he should get lost. Still, he kept working with Stan.

As I was walking away from the immigration office, Stan asked me if I had payed the five dollar exit fee in American dollars. What exit fee? I’ve already left Honduras once; no one charges you money to leave their country. Who told you that you needed to pay an exit fee?

The tramitador.

Hijo de puta! Stan had already given the little weasel five dollars. We got the money back and liberated Stan’s documents from his hot little hands. We climbed on our bikes and were getting ready to ride to the Nicaraguan side when the tramitador came running up asking for money.
I wasn’t laughing this time, now I was mad! This character had just tried to rip off Stan, who doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish and had no idea what was going on. I told the tramitador to get the hell out of my way before I ran him down. He gave me a sad look and went off on some random speech about how god was his witness as to how he had tried to help us and how he deserved five dollars American. I was so angry; it took every ounce of self control I had not to throat punch him.

We ran down to the Nicaraguan side and took care of our business in a relatively quick amount of time. As I was waiting for Stan to finish up, I noticed that even the donkeys were getting tired of Latin American border crossings….

This poor little guy must have been working for Tramitadors all day. I managed to make friends with him….

We rolled into Nicaragua around 5PM. We searched for a hotel in the little towns that are just across the border, but had no joy. Finally just after dark, we found a seedy little Auto Hotel (i.e. place where the locals take their girls for a few hours of….well, you know) and pulled in. We didn’t really want to risk going further for the night, so we crashed.

The owner had a little snack shop, so for dinner we had some rolls, peanuts, dorritos, and a can of beer. For breakfast I had had two cookies and some cold coffee. Lunch had consisted of a bag of dorritos and a red bull. I was not feeling so hot after dinner...

Day two. We woke up at quarter till five and were on the road by 6:30 AM. The objective was to try and make it into Costa Rica today. The Nicaraguan roads were fantastic! So far I think they have been some of the best in Latin America.

We rode hard all day, only stopping for fuel and piss breaks. We neared lake nicaragua and saw the two huge volcanos rising out of the water. I really wish I had been able to stop and spend the night on the island. There were also lots of windmills near the lake to pick up the huge crosswind that was blowing me all over the road.

As we passed the lake, we started passing lots of adventure cyclists on their way south. The pan american highway forms sort of a bottle neck right here, so you run into lots of fellow extranjeros heading south (or north). I stopped and talked to two Swiss guys who had ridden here all the way from Vancouver.

These guys are doing it the hard way! Shortly after we saw the cyclists, we reached the Nicaragua - Costa Rica border. I thought it would be easy, but we managed to get behind a bus load of people at customs on the Costa Rican side and it took forever....

All told, Costa Rica took us two hours to get into....not fun. We also met a pair of dudes travelling south from Canada.

As I was leaving the aduana area, I noticed this trucker:

Now that's the right idea! We pushed hard after crossing the border to reach Liberia. We got there around 4 PM and we had about another hour of daylight left; Stan didn't want to push anyfurther for the night, so he stayed put and I kept trucking. I rode another 70 miles before it got too dark to continue, then found a hotel in Puenta Arenas.

I've still got about 550 miles to go to get to the port in Panama. I'm going to push hard and see if I can do it two days so that I can give myself an extra day in Panama as a buffer. You'll all have to forgive me for the rushed nature of these reports; I've been riding from sunrise to sunset for the past few days and am starting to feel it! I'm leaving at six AM tomorrow; I'm going to try for a 350 mile day...

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