Saturday, 30 June 2012

El Salvador and Honduras

It probably wouldn't be a huge surprise after much communication and planning, Mark and I still managed to miss each other on the road in Guatemala to El Salvador.  I waited and waited but the time came for me to cross the border alone.

Adios Guatemala..    Hola El Salvador!!

The process of crossing the border with a motorcycle is always entertaining. And El Salvador did not disappoint!  The customs officer on the right asked me to marry him... Lucky me!


These guys were fun.. (it's not often you can say that about border crossing officers)  I knew straight away I was going to like El Salvador.  I happened across a common problem.  The immigration office is closed for lunch.  Why do they do that?  They know people are showing up at the border all day long.  Why can't they stagger the lunches so there is at least somebody working the entire day.  Instead, they all go to lunch together and lock the doors and a huge line builds up outside.  I seem to get lucky with showing up at lunch time far too often.  But my new future husband and his colleague have me hang out in their office and we discuss whether we are going to live in Australia or El Salvador.  "Sorry, I can not make that decision until I see your country!"  ;-)

Once the doors were open again for immigration, they treated me like a queen and I was walked past all the waiting truckers to be the first one to get my paperwork done. Wow.. Hallelujah!! I think I quite like the life of a rock star!! ;-)  (very short lived, but beggars can't be choosers.. ;-)

When I walked out of the other immigration building past all the staring angry eyes of the other waiting truckers, I hear a motorcycle on the bridge.. It's Mark!!  Finally!  I was worried, so I'm glad to see he made it.

The good news, is that since I have totally learned the process and made friends, it was a breeze to walk Mark to each counter he needed to visit.  And even better news, they treated him like a rock star too and sent him past the waiting truckers.  We are free!  (I put in 3 hours worth of border, Mark got through in I'd say less than 30 minutes!?) I am so glad for that! Now we can hit the road together and continue.


After spending so much time at the border, we only rode for a couple hours before the sun was going down.  The coastal towns were off the beaten track and we found a great place to stop for the night.



So here we are in a coastal village of El Salvador.  There are lots of very tan tourists with their surf boards and shell necklaces.  We came in the dark and left first thing in the morning.. No beach time for me. Am I jealous?!  Just for a moment and I'm over it.  I realized I have a motorcycle and they don't..  ;-))))

Now, Mark is even more on a mission than I am.  I mentioned before that we need to get to Panama in time to cross the Darien Gap.  Mark has an actual booking for a boat and is running out of time.  I haven't booked and I know I don't want to go as early as he does, but it will be great to ride with him and catch up some miles.

The problem is:  El Salvador is totally gorgeous!  However we literally just buzz right through the country in 1 day..  So this blog post will simply be photos from the road. ;-(

I really know as I am riding down the road here I am missing something special.  But if I stop everywhere I love, I won't meet my goal to be in Chile on time.


I have seen this in many countries.  A family's harvest is dried on the shoulder of the road.  At first I thought it was a worry that you'd let your food dry on the side of a dirty road.  But it makes sense really, the flat long surface, which would heat up naturally by the sun and would make the drying process easier?  And quicker?  These crops are corn.  I've seen coffee beans, all sorts of beans really as well as the corn.


This might be a bit deep in thought, but I often think about these people who grow their own food for survival, not for fun.  And to think through the process of corn for example.  You nourish and grow your crop for weeks.  Harvest it, lay the corn out to dry.  Collect and grind it.  Bag it.. and then at some point you turn the corn into tortillas.  I have been very lucky in my life that if I want a tortilla, I go to the store and buy it.  But imagine if there was a major world crisis.  These people will be the ones who survive!  I'd be hopeless at working out a garden that I actually needed to support me.  I love to garden, but I don't have to worry if my corn fails me this year.  (These are things that go through my brain inside my helmet as I ride... sorry!)

Local transport is not nice.  I like that they carry several people reducing traffic, but each truck is a choking mass of black exhaust.  These are so hard to ride behind and we try to get past as quick as possible.  I do my best to hold my breath.  Sometimes I can, other times I come close to passing out either from the smoke or lack of oxygen. 



Some have to walk.  I'm in a country were not only do few people own cars, few people own motorbikes, which I usually see as the back up option.  Quite often they are in horse and buggy which we see more of as we go south.



Bike? ;-)

We stopped on the side of the road.  I was sitting on my bike and I saw this man walking toward us carrying the front of a truck. I thought he looked good so I took a photo.


Then this guy totally on the other side of the street and opposite intersection was whistling so loud.. Take a photo of me!!   Happy to!


Then the guys who had finished up their lunch stall were looking at me.  I felt guilty and added one more photo.  These are the lovely guys of El Salvador!


So that is all I can offer as a look into El Salvador. Really wish there was more!

We arrive the next border crossing, El Salvador into Honduras.


This one was relatively painless.  The beauty of going through these with somebody else is that one of us can wait in line and handle the paperwork for both bikers while the other stands guard over the bikes and gear.  I did the paperwork on this one.

At the next stop, it's Mark's turn for paperwork.  And the endless need for masses of photocopies of every document we own.  Mark is here at the photocopy shop near the Aduana.  We have a constant gripe as to why they can't put the photocopy people in the same building or at least a building next to where they need them.  Usually we have to go on a crazy search for the things.  Recently I had to cross the border of one country without my bike to walk in to the photocopy place in the next country and then return back with the copies to the first country.  They would make more money if they just had a photocopier in the Aduana!  I'm happy to pay for the copies, I just don't want to go on a wild search!  Besides the fact I actually carry loads of copies so I don't have to do this.  Somehow they always want a copy of something different and something I don't have.


My job to stand guard here...



We're free!  On to the next stop.  There is no rhyme or reason to how or where they put the buildings you need to visit to accomplish the paper trail goal of each crossing.. sometimes each office is several kilometers apart.  And that is PER country!  The lengthy process to check out of the country we only spent a day in, is followed by the lengthy process to check into the next country just over the line.

More chaos ahead...

The line up for the border...



Hmmm.. this looks like a humdinger of a border crossing.. ;-/


This is the one and only time we hired a fixer to run around and do it for us.  It only cost us $10 ($5 each) and the man ran around to the offices with our passports and to the photocopy shop, etc etc.  Mark went along with the guy and I guarded the bikes.  We didn't need to do this as we take pride in finding our own way.  But I'm not sure what came over us on this one.  Too many border crossings back to back? This was the third country in three days and we thought, heck it's cheap and he help support the guy who is helping us. We had many borders after this that we did ourselves.  There was no problem using the fixer, but in general we'd rather save our money and do it ourselves.



After another very long hot wait, we are on the road again .. now in Honduras!


This guy didn't make it too far.  I'm surprised I don't see more of these cows accompanied by vultures.


I'm always thinking that I am so glad in my business life that I don't have to make deliveries by Ox and cart.  The Ox have become more popular than horses for transport down this way.  I hope it's not hard for them, but for me to see this is like taking that step back in time I am always wishing I could do.  And every time I see the oxen I think they are such strong and good looking animals.  But I don't know how strong.  The big wood blocks across their necks to pull the cart look painful no matter how strong.  But maybe they are, I really don't know.  ;-/




This is a very busy road with all forms of transport.


This a new one.. pig traffic!


So fun to see the young people excited for the bikes. I haven't seen this much enthusiasm since Albania.


This kid carrying the wood home for cooking...





To see Marks version, check out
Mark's blog El Salvador to Honduras


Adios Honduras.. next stop Nicaragua!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Guatemala!

I've studied my maps, I've looked at what I want to see on the way down, and I really need to keep on the move.  There is always something I need to get to, a goal to meet.  This one is to be to Chile by March 5 to meet up with the Husaberg Adventure Team.. I know it's a long way off, but it's also a long way from here!  I'm also checking ahead for how I'm going to get across the Darien Gap once I get to Panama.  My choices are a boat or airplane.  I've got a lot of figure out and so much research to do.

In the meantime.. keep going!! ;-)


Southern Mexico is beautiful.. however, my road conditions are going a bit down hill..


Third post in a row with a partially missing road.. Would I have seen that stick if I was motoring along here at night?



Aha.. yes lovely photo of Sherri Jo.  The good news is that I have made it to the border of Guatemala.. woo hoo!!  One whole month of traveling through Mexico complete!  And I feel that I haven't seen enough of it. I could stay so much longer!



This border crossing was funny. It's at the end of this bridge where I locked my camera away and I didn't dare bring it out.  There was this chain link fence at the border that had been totally cut through. People everywhere and no security at all!  I had to leave my bags and my bike unattended to go inside and stand in line.  Was not happy!

Once I made it to the counter, the customs (aduana) guy was not happy with my Australian documents and he sent me to a lawyer down the street in Guatemela to make a notarized copy of my own documents that have passed through 30 something countries by now.

The guy saw I was worried and not cool with walking away from my bike and gear to go for a wander around a dirty border town to find a lawyer to notarize a paper..  I don't even have a passport stamp yet for Guatemala!  He was really trying to help, but he said if he didn't do this, he could lose his job.  In a very poor country, I don't want to be responsible for that either.  So we organized a security guard to watch the bike.  

My other big concern is for the first time on this journey, I have an oil leak. I'm in a small panic about it, never had one before!  However, I had done my research and there is a KTM shop in Guatemala City.


After about 3 hours at the border crossing.. sweating and overheating.. I'm free!  Since the camera was still locked away,  I didn't pull it out yet.  All I could think of with this long delay was that I need to  hurry to get to Guatemala City before dark.

So!  This, I'm sure with the overheating, turned me into a mad woman on a motorcycle!!!

The road conditions in Guatemala were beyond bad.  Massive chuck holes.. and where there wasn't a hole, there was a speed bump instead.  Add to that some seriously crazy traffic all heading to the same city that I am!  I just went wild.  I was riding fast, weaving in and out of traffic (as safe as possible), and surprisingly doing most of this standing up. The bike was kicking and bucking like a horse as we kept hitting the deep holes or very tall pointy speed bumps.  Because the road was so bad, there was no option to sit down.  And this is main highway! 

Welcome to Guatemala City!


The first thing I want to do is find the KTM shop.  I know it's too late to go in and have the oil leak checked out, but if I can find it, then I'll get a place to stay nearby.  Just in case this is a major deal, I can be near it and walk home.

The city was huge, the gps doesn't work in the city and I'm going in circles.  But I found it!

And it was closed as expected.  Found a hostel just 2 blocks away.. I made it.  Sometimes it even amazes me.

The owner moved her own car out of the way so I could park my bike inside.  I am quite concerned about the level of locks and gates, but the good news, we are in.


I met the KTM guys.. they would not know the problem unless they took the bike apart.  It was a little shop and they didn't even have oil to do an oil change.  They were super nice and helpful as they could be, but I decided that I didn't want them taking my bike apart.  It is only a little leak and according to most people I talked to online with KTMs, I am far more worried about it than I need to be.   Fine.

There is something about the way they celebrate Christmas around here that helped convince me to get out.


This is good because I don't want to hang around in the big city.  Plus, a man contacted me on facebook that he is just down the road in Antigua, Guatemala.  I knew I wanted to go there already, so I pack up and go to meet him.

Arriving Antigua, Guatemala


This town is looking good!!

And I found Mark!  He rides a BMW f800gs.  Mark is here but his bike is not.  He's had a small mishap with a ditch on the Guatemalan roads (shock) and his bike is in the BMW shop in Guatemala City.  So he's been here in Antigua taking Spanish lessons while he waits.  Smart man!  He's also organized for me to stay at the same hostel in town.  Which is awesome. Saves me a lot of work, just need to find the address and show up. All sorted, thanks Mark!








Since Mark has been here a while, he knows just where to go to find a good cheap meal for lunch.  This place was a classic!  You would have NO idea there was a little restaurant behind this little shop stocked full to the ceiling. You have to SQUEEZE behind the counter through a little door opening and there are 4 large tables in the back.  Mark has some great photos of the place in his blog link here: Radioman rides the World

I told Mark I saw some very good looking street markets on my way in. He knew exactly where and showed me!  



I got a bit enthusiastic and googly eyed over all the colors.. and wished so bad I could have at least something!   I bought a couple little colored bracelets.  I don't have to make space for them on the bike.. Then!!  Mark, I can't stand it!  I must buy something and send it home..! The pressure of not buying anything anywhere in the world must have been building up. He laughed knowing all to well that it's nearly impossible to buy things for ourselves on the trip.  And he enjoyed watching me spend my money he says. 

This young girl was determined to sell me a scarf.  The most determined sales lady I have come across in a long time.  Her English was really good, and I kept telling her I don't need a scarf.  Then she said I should buy 2!  This went on and on, she'd take every excuse I'd give her and then use it against me!  I got weak!  I was still in the buying mood even though I was trying to deny it.. and she knew it!  I bought 2 scarves.. One I still wear nearly every day here.


She saw me on the streets the next day.  I was wearing my new scarf and she said, "I thought you didn't need a scarf!"  and kept walking.. ha!  

The good news it was all super cheap.  (I sent a few small things home, however, I don't think my package ever made it)

Mark also keeps a great blog as he travels the world by motorcycle.
Radioman Blog Post Antigua Guatemala  It's always worth reading a man's point of view of shopping in the markets with Sherri Jo.. ha!

 View of La Merced from the roof of our hostel.


Now for some treats you don't have to send home.  How could you not buy something sweet from this lady!









I love wandering this town and experiencing the culture.  It has a few similarities to the south of Mexico I just came from, but it is very different too.

Dinner time! Mark ordered a beer and I chose a Sangria.. Gee whiz, they must think I'm thirsty!



We actually went for Thai food tonight in Guatemala.. ha!!

A very busy barber shop for this time of night..


And if we were the type of tourist who didn't want to try authentic Guatemalan Thai food, we could always go to McDonalds.  ;-/


Mark's bike is nearly ready in Guatemala City and he's keen to get there and make sure all is well.  I'm too in love with this town so I chose to stay and check it out more.  The next morning he grabs a bus to the city and I go and explore..  To read more of Marks blog, go to Radio man rides the World


I had to take a photo of this couple.  They were so happy in love.


I've decided to go check out a volcano hike that Mark has already done. He said he didn't get to see much when he went due to the fog.  However, view or not, I could use a good hike up a steep hill just for some exercise!


This is Volcan de Pacaya.  The last eruption??  May 27, 2010!!  My logic says it's okay to hike because it will be a few years before the pressure builds up again.  I don't know this, but it makes sense in my own head! ;-)


I have never seen this before.  This tree has grown large enough, but it's roots are on the outside, not in the ground.  The volcanic earth is too hot so for it to survive, the roots grow "up" on itself.  Interesting!


We had a guide on this hike, who was really good.  But I was enjoying so much his dog, Terri.


What the heck is he doing?


He explains that he gets in here when he gets cold.  It is a pocket of hot steam, like a sauna.  Then he asks if any of us would like to get in.. I will!


Oh man, it is sooo nice!!!  I think I'll just stay here while the others hike! ;-)




Walking out of the cloud line on our way back down the volcano.
 


Back on my rooftop in Antigua.. and looking back at the hill I just walked up today..


Went out looking for dinner and on this corner, I could choose from handmade tortillas, packaged marshmallows, or Dominoes Pizza!

I chose to meet Scott at the wine bar instead. So cultured and civilized! I'll never fit in!! ;-) Scott was on my hike today and he happens to be from my home state of Indiana!  He's taking a break from work and like Mark, was in Antigua to learn Spanish!  


I'm still wearing my new pink scarf.. And this lovely boy comes in to sell Chiclets as do millions of kids on the streets at night from Mexico down.  But this guy was special.  When I said no to his Chiclets, he turned the blinking lights on his hat and wiggled his eyebrows.  Gee whiz!  How many Chiclets have you got!  I bought 4 packets.. A new record for me!  I talked to him for quite a while, about the comic books he was carrying and what time does he go to school etc.  It bothers me to see children working at night.

Well the time has come to pack up and leave Antigua.  I loved it here, and it's on a list of places I wouldn't mind returning to someday.  I was thinking maybe I love these places so much because I am going through quickly.  If I stayed in one spot too long it might lose its charm.



The plan is to try to catch up with Mark now that his bike is fixed in Guatemala City.  However, the city is far too hard and slow to navigate so we arrange to meet somewhere on the road between here and the border of El Salvador.. I don't know which would be harder!


While I was looking for Mark, I found this guy.  No idea what he's doing out here, but he was sure he hasn't seen a man on a white BMW!