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End of Lagunas Route to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile!!

End of Lagunas Route to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile!!

Despite the spotty electricity and running water, we were grateful to have a roof over our heads and heavy blankets under which to sleep! It was a glorious sleep and when we awoke we found everything outside to be covered with a decent blanket of snow. Our bikes were quite a sight!

We unpacked our own stoves and slurped down oatmeal and tea for breakfast, packed up, and headed out to the bikes to see what kind of starting shape they were in. It took some time, but eventually all five bikes were revved up and ready to to go. I was half worried and half curious as to how I would manage riding over snow covered, muddy roads with no rear suspension. I just told myself: “slow and easy” and was thankful that I had a supportive husband and crew of friends close by.

As we rode along it actually wasn’t half bad. The roads were so slippery you couldn’t drive that fast anyhow (or at least I wouldn’t have) and so I just bumbled along and did my best to avoid the bumps. Pretty soon we found ourselves at the next border check. It was busy! Lots of tourists and backpackers waiting to get papers checked so that they could tour through the Lagunas Route in 4x4s. It took some waiting but we got through no problem. So far it seemed that the guys at the remote crossing did the correct paperwork. Finally! We were officially in Chile! We all agreed it felt pretty surreal. This was the country for which we had been aiming for the last four months and we had finally made it! We excitedly hopped back on our bikes and headed down the dirt road to San Pedro de Atacama where we would complete the final passport check and vehicle import. And the road immediately turned to tarmac! Ha! I think the boys were a bit disappointed. I, however, was quite relieved as I found it much easier to manage the trampoline my bike had turned into.

The scenery was beautiful, the extremely high desert with snow covered mountains to either side of the road continued on for miles. As we rode I could feel the elevation quickly dropping. If not by the way my ears felt, then by my temperature. We pretty quickly went from wearing all of our layers to shedding most of them. And the llamas! Holy crap they were huge!! And liked to hang out in the middle of the road! As the road dropped towards San Pedro de Atacama it straightened out and the landscape flattened out as well. I began to see what all the fuss was about this Atacama Desert. It was a vast and beautiful landscape.

Drew

San Pedro de Atacama was a dusty and bustling little tourist town. Our first stop was to find the Aduana and get our import papers completed. It was a busy place! With the long lines of tour busses and backpackers, I could see that this was probably going to become more of a common sight as we made our way south. It was vacation time in this hemisphere, after all. After being pushed from line to line and being made to wait for over two hours, all the bikes got inspected and searched and paperwork stamped. The only thing we had to give up was some popcorn and I had been carrying since Peru.

Hot and hungry, we made our way through the town to find some lunch before attempting to find a hostel. We found a pretty decent place that was not too pricey, but we could tell by looking around that things were already getting more expensive than they had been thus far. After lunch we checked out a few different hostels and they all seemed to be either full of partying hippy backpackers or super expensive. We settled on one that was a little pricier than we hoped for, but quiet and had off street parking for the bikes. We were able to get a little suite with five beds and a little kitchen and it’s own bathroom. Split five ways it wasn’t too expensive. Next task: fix the suspension.

Linus took his bike and rode around town looking for it’s moto street. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much of one in San Pedro de Atacama. The one shop he found did not have the means or knowledge to help repair a suspension and so Linus decided he would have to wake up early the next morning and drive my suspension to the next biggest city of Calama to see what he could find.

suspension effectively removed and ready for transport

In the meantime? Showers and beer. Oh, and to make researching where to go for bike parts even more interesting, there was no wifi. Anywhere. In the whole city. We were told when we checked in to the hostel that there was. But then the owner conveniently remembered to tell us that there had been a huge rainstorm the day before that had knocked out the internet. In the ENTIRE town. And no one seemed to have any idea when it would be repaired. Cheers!

Border crossing time, hello Bolivia!

Border crossing time, hello Bolivia!

Our first mission today after breakfast was to follow up on some rumors on iOverlander and other forums that you’d have to buy insurance for the motorcycles for Bolivia in Peru, as they wouldn’t let you in to Bolivia without insurance but they won’t sell it at the border.

The receptionist had provided Drew with a map where he had marked a few insurance offices for us, and so we took off. Like on many other occasions things quickly got complicated. We could not find any office where the marks were and after asking some locals they said that yes, there is an office there, but it is closed. Around the corner we found another insurance office but they only sold Peruvian insurances and looked at us like we were aliens (the green ones) for asking about getting Bolivia coverage.

We then went to a last insurance office we found on a map but here the office worker had run out of his office to get something and the office was closed. After waiting ten minutes we decided to just go to the border and chance it.

We rode out of Puno and towards the border just by the Bolivian town of Copacabana. The ride was nice and we followed the south coast of the big lake for about 80 miles or so before stopping at the little town of Yunguyo for lunch. We also filled our bikes up to get as far as possible in Bolivia before having to visit a gas station. Bolivia has weird laws for foreigners to fill up their vehicles with different prices for locals and foreigners and paperwork that has to be don when refilling. This leads to foreigners sometimes being turned away from petrol stations because of the extra hassle.

Excited about driving into a new country!

Anyway, after lunch we went to the border and parked our bikes. We got our exit stamps after standing in a long line of backpackers. I had lost my immigration form that you were supposed to carry from entering Peru somewhere in rainy Machu Picchu but luckily the officer let me through after some angry glances and remarks. Then I went off to cancel my Peruvian vehicle permit at the Aduana office. The official there told me my Peruvian vehicle insurance had expired a day ago and that I had to get a new one. I said it is only by one day and I don’t want to buy a whole month more which is the minimum. He said I would have to pay and I said ok so where do I do that. He shrugged and looked at me. Then he said I could pay him right there. How much I asked and he just hummed. I said just tell me how much you want to ignore this but he just hummed so I gave him 20 soles and he laughed a bit. I added up to 50 soles and he said ”ok, I didn’t see that insurance paper”, and signed my permit.

Luckily he was decent enough not to ask for more bribes as I followed Lise in to do her papers. Her insurance had expired the same day as mine, but the official just asked if she was my wife and then stamped the papers without even checking them.

We were then done with Peru and went on to the Bolivian side. Here the Americans had to get a Visa to get through which included paying a guy in a little copy store next to the immigration to print a fake hotel booking, getting passport photos and copies and finally paying $160. For the rest of us this part was easy as pie.

Waiting for the grumpy customs official…

The official who were supposed to inspect and make the import permits got really grumpy when he knew he had to inspect five whole bikes and promptly refused to do anything until we all were ready for inspection so he could do all at once. He also didn’t want to fill out the papers and made us go back to the copy shop where the guy did it for us online somehow for a few coins.

After the papers were done the grumpy official finally walked out to inspect our bikes while telling us how he was an old man and didn’t like to work, he liked sleeping. He also told us he didn’t like motorbikes, foreigners and tall people in general. In the end he still checked our bikes and gave us the right stamps so we could pass on into Bolivia. The final step was to lower the rope that hung across the road so we could pass. I asked some police officers where they guy was that were supposed to let us pass and they told me to just untie it myself. So I did and we all rolled into Bolivia.

“Happy journey” from the Bolivian customs. I don’t know what kind of journey that guy is on, but I want in!

Just a few miles later we rolled into Copacabana and quickly found a nice place to stay, Hotel Sonia. After unloading our stuff and carrying it up three sets of stairs (pretty exhausting at 4000m) we went out to look for food. Copacabana is a nice little city bustling with tourists and we saw myriads of gringo backpackers coming off from boats or buses and walking with their heavy loads through the market streets.

We found a nice little indian restaurant and had a good cheap dinner. After dinner we walked around a bit looking at the local markets before returning to the Hotel. As we came back inside it started raining and soon we were having a little thunderstorm, eventually cutting the power. Not having much else to do we decided to rest early. Tomorrow we will get up early and aim for the city of La Paz!

Through the jungle to Peru

Through the jungle to Peru

We woke up to a misty and beautiful morning, and packed our bikes before breakfast. Today we’ll say goodbye to Ecuador by riding through the mountainous jungle down to the less traversed border crossing at La Balza. We had obtained information from one the bus companies that drive the route that the road was in drivable condition despite the heavy rain two days ago.

Lise assessing the misty morning weather
Lise assessing the misty morning weather

After eating breakfast and checking out from our peaceful hostel we mounted our steel horses an galloped into the hills.
In a blog I had red from 2015 it was mentioned that the paved road turned to gravel after about 10km of the 140km from Vilcabamba to the border. We found that improvements had been made and we rode up and down jungle covered mountains with breathtaking views on nice paved roads, with the exception of a few stretches where flash floods and landslides had destroyed the surface. These stretches were cleared up but dirt and sometimes a bumpy single lane or an occasional small stream crossing.

After the flooded streets in Cartagena and Vilcabamba, this wilderness stream is a breeze
After the flooded streets in Cartagena and Vilcabamba, this wilderness stream is a breeze

A little more than halfway to the border the pavement ended and we drove on dirt roads of varying quality. Sometimes the switchbacks up and down the mountainsides were pretty sharp and steep, and we had to move fairly slow.img_2016-12-12_19-19-48

The temperature kept rising too as we slowly descended into lowland jungle full of gnats and other annoyances. In some villages the road split up and we had to ask for directions. Luckily everyone was very nice and helpful and seemed excited to have us driving through. We stopped to top of the gas in the village of Zumba, and shortly after ran into a military checkpoint. They inspected our passports and sent us on our way, pointing us in the right direction through some intersections.
After about five hours driving we finally descended into a Canyon with a bridge over a river at the bottom. This was La Balza. We drove up to where the closed boom separated us from the bridge. A little restaurant, a few houses and the border offices was all that was here. No annoying helpers and no waiting, the immigration officer shook our hands and we quickly sat down in his office, filled some forms and hot our exit stamp. Then next door to the vehicle office where an official collected our Ecuador vehicle permits, opened the boom and sent us over to Peru. Fastest border ever!

The bikes waiting to get through to Perú
The bikes waiting to get through to Perú

On the Peruvian side things would have been real quick too, if it weren’t for us showing up during their lunch break. We walked around the building to wait in the shade and found two overlanders from Australia who were on their way north in a Toyota suv. We chatted for a bit and soon the officials returned from lunch to get us going. The immigration was really fast, the only thing taking about twenty minutes was filling out the info for the bike import papers. But soon it was done and we were let in to Peru!
We got on our bikes and continued south. After about one hours driving, which included some rain and plenty of rocks and stones on the road, we arrived in San Ignacio. This is a little uninteresting and gray town with lots of half finished brick buildings and a not very charming center. It was time to stop for the day though, and we quickly scouted out a few hostels, checked in to the best alternative and got our of our stinky riding gear.
We went to look for dinner around the center square, and chose the only option we could find. As we were in a new country we didn’t recognize many dishes, so we asked for a chicken dish. The waiter said they had a chicken and potatoe dish and we agreed to get a big order to share. As the order came out we found that it was french fries and deep fried chicken. Starving as we were we still ate our fill, hoping our stomachs wouldn’t give us a rough night.
To balance out the dinner we went to buy some fruit and breakfast for the morning before retreating to our hostel for the night.

Riding up to Ecuador

Riding up to Ecuador

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Something had a feast on our bread tonight! We left it in a plastic bag on the counter, and something, probably a rat, promptly ate a hole in the bag and finished about half the loaf before he or she probably staggered home and fell asleep, full and satisfied.
Luckily we had some other things to eat, as we were up early to get going to the next country on our trip; Ecuador.
We got on the road and started driving towards the border town Ipiales. We went through a long tunnel and onto a road circumventing the big city of Pasto. The roads were quite chilly and we had to stop to put on some extra layers.

Daily riding games shots
Daily riding shots

After about two hours driving on the usual winding mountainous stunning green roads we reached the border crossing to Ecuador. For us this was a very relaxed border. No “helpers”, no copy hysteria, no running between fifteen buildings. Sure, we had to wait in line on the Colombian side, and the lady doing the vehicle import in Ecuador was new on her job and had problems at home that called at her attention all the time, but still. Easy peasy and totally free. Our only friction was a heated discussion about genuine local clothes really being genuine as we waited in line, and the toothless guy claiming to watch our bikes being a bit grumpy because we didn’t give him any money.

The border crossing to Ecuador is on pretty high elevation, around 2800m, and as we drove into the new country we continued driving up. When we stopped to fill up our bikes ($1.48 per gallon!!) I noticed a slight headache, probably from the elevation. We were then at 3300m.

No more sneaking through tolls without paying. But I guess 20 cents per bike would t break the bank...
No more sneaking through tolls without paying. But I guess 20 cents per bike won’t break the bank…

After a light lunch we continued on roads that were under construction. At times we had four lanes and fast traffic, then suddenly only two lanes and road markings going sideways over the road, and half finished intersections and unmarked roundabouts. As we got higher the green mountains turned into dry sandy bare mountain ridges. I checked the altitude as high as 3400m as we rode along.

Ecuador. Still green
Ecuador. Still green but a little dryer and higher

After navigating through the fairly big and confusing city of Ibarra we got on to the final stretch towards our goal, Otavalo. Here we finally had some real rain, it had been threatening all day. We were well protected though and soon we rolled in to Otavalo, dripping wet on the outside but dry on the inside.
We went to the first hostel we had checked out online, got a good deal and checked ourselves in. After unpacking we went out for dinner. Around one of the squares we found a nice little Mexican restaurant where we had dinner. We were a little upset though as we found that while we ate, the street food vendors had set up on the square outside and the food looked and smelled delicious. Well well we will have to eat there tomorrow. To feel a bit better about it we went to a pie shop Lise had read about for a cup of hot chocolate and a sick piece of marenge and chocolate pie. It was great!

Mmmm! How can something this good possibly be bad?
Mmmm! How can something this good possibly be bad?

After this it was time to get back home to the hostel and get connected again. My bike has been running a bit funny today and I’ll have to figure out some possible solutions to try.

Sailing the Open Sea

Sailing the Open Sea

So this will be a pretty uneventful post, as was the crossing to Colombia. Sleeping Saturday night was a little restless for me. The boat moved quite a bit throughout the night, and if you are a side sleeper you find yourself being tossed around quite a bit. I kept rolling into Linus. Anyhow, we woke up on Sunday morning to nothing but ocean all around. It was the most beautiful color of deep turquoise I have ever seen! It stormed a little through the night, but with the morning came a little shining sun. After first breakfast the motion of the waves were bugging my stomach a little, so I layed down in our cabin and took a little nap. That’s pretty much how the day went, alternating between sitting on the upper deck and resting down below. I did play a few rounds of Uno, but that also started to make me feel a bit queezy. Oh, and we did geta few more rainstorms.

Sometime in the afternoon we decided to take a group photo which everyone on the boat and in the middle of that, all the crew members came running out in pirate clothes! They had enough for everyone to dress up too! The silliness continued after dinner as we closed in on Cartagena. It was really beautiful to slowly close in on land as the sun set and the super moon rose. Everyone was really excited to be arriving in a new country and continent.

Moonrise over Cartagena
Moonrise over Cartagena

Linus and I were chilling below deck and we could hear Beach Boys and a hilarious dance party going on. I think they were trying to finish all the rum… After a few minutes I thought it got quiet really quickly but didn’t think much of it. About 30 minutes later I wandered up above to get some water and saw a Colombian police officer in the captain’s area! I was informed to get Linus and come up to the deck. I guess a police boat passed by while the dance party was going on and decided they should check the boat. They ended up checking everyone’s passports and also our motorcycle papers. They also searched the boat! Drug smuggling is still a big problem from Columbia so I guess this is a pretty routine thing to happen, although Charlie said it was a first for Wildcard. Even though it took a good hour or two, he was glad that it happened because it gave him a chance to start a good relationship with the local police.

Pirate Captain Charlie!
Pirate Captain Charlie!

We will sleep on the boat in the harbor tonight and enter Cartagena tomorrow morning. Since it is a public holiday tomorrow, we will get the bikes off the boat on Tuesday morning. Excited to meet South America tomorrow!!

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Cruising the San Blas Islands day 2

Cruising the San Blas Islands day 2

We started moving early this morning . The wind was good so we could actually sail to our next destination.

Around lunch time we got to a small sandpatch sticking out of the water. It apparently used to be an island but it has slowly been eaten away the last year. Charlie told us that we probably were the last group to see it as the next windy day would probably sweep away the last of it.

A dying island
A dying island.

But as we were there we swam over to it and had a break on dry (more or less) land. Maxi the dog happily joined us and swam all the way by himself. Once there he promptly relieved himself all over what was left of the island. After snorkeling around the island seeing a few live corals and quite a few dying ones we returned to the boat and sailed on.

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It now started raining again and the captain put up a rain cover over the fore deck. The group kept the spirits high and we played a game called Werewolves and villagers, a game of deception and accusation where the villagers try to find out who are eating them at night.

Waiting out the rain.
Waiting out the rain.

 

By the time the rain stopped we were anchored outside a new island. We got into the dinghy again and found ourselves on an island with a single Hut and a toilet/shower shed. Here a young Kuna man and his mother lived, and they happily sold us beer and run for our upcoming dinner. The plan was to cook over open fire, and as it had been raining all day we thought we better get on it sooner than later. Me and three others then spent the next three or four hours burning palm leaves to dry firewood enough that we could get some coals to cook the food. To everyones surprise including ourselves and especially the cook Sophie, we actually succeeded eventually, and we ended up eating barbecued skewers and pasta salad as the sun went down.

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After this the crowd continued on to liquid diet and it was fairly late before we finally got back to the boat and our beds.

Cruising the San Blas Islands day 1

Cruising the San Blas Islands day 1

The boat: “Wildcard”, a 60 foot steel sailboat built in Australia about 40 years ago.

The Captain: Charl Anton De Jongh aka “Charlie”, a great guy and a very competent captain from South Africa. He was very concerned with the well being of all passengers and made the trip an excellent experience .

The crew: Charlie’s wife Natalie from Venezuela, their 12 year old son Keenan. Sophie from Australia, an excellent chef and unique human being, first mate from Colombia and two extra Colombians who were tagging along to catch their boat in Cartagena. And of course Maxie, Sofie’s adorable island rescue dog.

When we woke up the next morning  we were already anchoring up at the first group of islands, sharing the protected spot with a Dutch big sailboat.

 

The Captain got the dinghy (small rubber boat) in the water and shuttled some people to the island while others swam or snorkeled to shore.

On this paradise island we spent the whole day swimming, snorkeling, playing volleyball. Me and a crazy Kiwi decided to pick coconuts and open them with our bare hands. We succeeded but probably spent more energy doing so than we gained from the juice and meat. It tasted fantastic non the less, and if course made us feel like survivors.

It's all about survival..
A true survivor !
A Chewbacca egg!
A Chewbacca egg!

 

In the evening the sky made a crazy show for us! The final came after dinner when the sky opened up and we suddenly found ourselves sitting in a water fall. Some natives invited us to take shelter in their hut and we stayed there until we were finally picked up by the dinghy and brought back in darkness to Wildcard.

The sky was spectacular! And so was the rain that followed
The sky was spectacular! And so was the rain that followed.
Welcome to Panama, on the Biggest Holiday of the Year…

Welcome to Panama, on the Biggest Holiday of the Year…

We woke up early and found a breakfast of gallopinto and eggs before heading for the border. Who knows, maybe it will be the last gallopinto.. It was a quick ride to the border, only about 12 miles. The Costa Rica side was pretty straight forward, with only one surprise being that we had to pay an exit tax of $8 per person. The exit paperwork was fairly easy and we quickly cruised on to the Panama side, only 200 meters away. This was a bit more confusing as it was not clearl which offices we needed to visit etc… There was a “helper” that kept following Linus around and telling him what to do. Linus made it clear to him that we did not have any money to give him and made sure not to give him any documents. The man said this was okay and continued to help.  In the end he was actually really nice and helpful, so I gave him $3 and apologized that we didn’t have more to give. He laughed and said it was fine and that he would enjoy a cold cerveza with our tip.

Okay! Not bad! This border crossing only took about 2 hours total. It’s interesting, at the last few crossings I’ve noticed a lot of Africans trying to cross towards the north. Evans told me that it is common for them to be told that if they can get to Venezuela it is easy to get to the U.S. So what happens  is that they basically get scammed into paying a lot of money to cross from Africa to Venezuela, and then find that it is nearly impossible to get through Central America, not to mention that most of them end up WALKING the Darien Gap! It’s so sad.

As we continued into Panama the road pretty quickly went from four to two lanes for construction, but we had no issues at all with traffic. Everything was moving along with no problem, in fact NO ONE was following the posted speed limits. Everyone was cruising along at 55 mph or faster. We settled in at 55. About 3 miles to our destination the skies decided to open up again, we are getting really good at quickly placing our rain gear! And I have given up on maintaining any shred of modesty. It’s so hot that I have been wearing my moto pants with nothing but undies underneath, so when I have to put the rain liners in the passing motorists get a silly show of me in my underwear balancing on one leg trying not to tip over as I put the rain liners on. I’ve even had a few honks! Very funny.

Linus had read about a small b&b run by a German couple in the tiny town of Paraiso off the highway a mile or two. We made our way through the rain (which was easing up) through a green, hilly countryside and were quickly in the little town smack in the middle of stopped traffic. There were people and cars everywhere and I quickly realized it wasn’t traffic, it was a parade! Here we were in the middle of a parade of Panamanians each holding a mostly empty bottle of rum dancing around singing, and then here comes an old (big) tractor pulling some sort of float full of people and cows!

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The tractor driver was an old man that had a bottle of rum in one hand, was driving (sort of) with the other, and there was a boy sitting next to him holding his can of beer.. SO, here I am with Linus in front of me (and a truck in front of him) and a crowd of people behind me,  and the trailer full of cows and people is headed straight for my pannier! I start yelling, and then the men behind me start yelling and just before I get knocked over, the old tractor driver stops and a bunch of drunk men pull my bike back into the crowd. Oh boy! What a shock to go from driving on an empty country road to that, in less than five minutes!

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We finally drove off the road into some muddy grass to get around the mess, and not two minutes later we were being greeted by a nice German woman at the B&B. As soon as introductions were made, she apologized for the fact that this was the craziest weekend of the year in Panama. Now it makes sense why there were parades on the television in the border crossing offices!

The bed and breakfast was really nice, simple and clean. Had it not been for the holiday I’m sure it would have been very peaceful and quiet too! After getting settled and showering, we ventured back into the madness to find some food. We took a gamble and settled on “hamberguesa y papas” for $3 each. What we got were previously frozen everything that had sort of been warmed up, probably in a microwave. Fail. Linus ate his like a champ, I choked down the mystery meat but couldn’t stomach the flavorless grease balls that were supposed to be fries. We decided to chalk it up to the busy holiday and ended up getting a small pizza from the only other restaurant we could find to take home for later.

We headed back home through the crowds of people that seemed to just be sitting around drinking and listening to really loud music. Maybe a few people were sort of dancing.. I guess it was slightly remnant of St. Pat’s in Savannah, but not quite as interesting. Back at home, Linus did some research and apparently there are three holidays in a row, first day is celebrating independence from Columbia, second day is flag day and the third day is Colon Day. Bam!

We met another guest at the b&b who was an older German guy that had a lot of interesting travel stories. Linus also made friends with a pretty silly cat. As we discussed various subjects, the music down the road seemed to get louder and louder the later it got.

New friends
New friends

Around ten I excused myself and decided to try and get some sleep. I can’t believe how loud the music was! And it continued ALL night. At one point there was a bunch of thunder and super heavy rain and I was hoping the power would go out or it would make them stop. Nope! They partied on! I think it was still going when I checked my clock at 4:30! I made use of the Benadryl and earplugs and managed to sleep okay. Happy Independence Day Panama!!

Moving on to Costa rica

Moving on to Costa rica

The team woke up early and left the hostel around 7. 30 am. The plan was to catch the first boat to the mainland at 9 so that we would have plenty of time for the border crossing into Costa Rica. After about one hour riding we arrived Moyogalpa and went straight to the port to buy tickets. There was still room for us but we discovered that it was slightly more expensive to get off the island than to get there from the mainland. No big deal though. As we waited for the ferry to arrive Lise and Evans went to buy breakfast while me and Sam stayed to watch the bikes. The ferry arrived and the staff told us to load the bikes so I loaded my and Lise’s bike, Sam loaded his and Evans came back to load his bike and went back to get breakfast again. Suddenly the crew started untying the ferry but Lise and Evans had not yet come back. I asked a crew member to wait but he said Lise and Evans would have to take the next boat. So I asked him to wait one minute and ran off to find them. After about thirty seconds I found them carrying our breakfast and we ran back to the ferry and jumped on just as they untied the last rope and took off.

The ferry ride was uneventful after this and about an hour later we were back on the road towards the border. About 45 minutes after that we rolled up to the Nicaraguan immigration office to get our exit stamps. Not many “helpers” here and the few that came up were not very persistent. Nice! After figuring out the procedure we went through the processes in teams of two while the other two kept an eye on the bikes. It took us maybe 45 minutes in total. Then off to the Costa Rica side. Here we ended up behind a group doing a tour through North and Central America. They had several 4×4 vehicles and lots of paperwork, and at every station there was only one service window open, so there was a lot of waiting at the immigration and vehicle import offices.

received_1769009313351677 The final office where we got the import paper took us about one and a half hour to go through. The tour group had some problems with their documentation and the guy in the office was extremely slow. We were all hungry, hot and slightly grumpy by the time we finally got back on our bikes and rolled off into Costa Rica. Total border time: around 4 hours! The longest this far.

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20 minutes later we drove through La Cruz and got on a dirt road with huge gravel (very annoying to ride) to get to a little kite surfer hostel Evans had found on the coast. We arrived and got a four person room for a good price. The hotel is in a slope and the road up to the parking for the room was very steep and bumpy. Me, Evans and Sam drove up and parked. As I was unloading I suddenly heard Lise yell my name. I went down to find her bike halfway through a fence on the side of the drive leading up to the room. Both she and the bike seemed fine and we untangled the bike from the fence with some help from the hotel chef. The only damage was to Lise’s pride and to the fence, which I guess will show up on tomorrow’s checkout bill.

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After this we could finally have a deserved shower, beer and brick oven pizza after a long and sweaty day.

The rest of the evening was uneventful except for a temporary jungle ant infestation in the bathroom, and the crew started passing out around 21.00.

 

Through Honduras, or two borders in a day!

Through Honduras, or two borders in a day!

Miles traveled: 190(304km)

 

The day had finally come. We were to cross from El Salvador to Honduras and Honduras into Nicaragua in one day. These were the borders we had heard so many horror stories about. Stories of people being swarmed by kids and helpers climbing on their cars, guards with guns asking for money and officials who won’t let you get the papers you need and working in snail tempo. It was time to see what it held in store for us!

We had a quick breakfast in our room, packed up our bikes and discovered that Lise’s jacket was full of ants. There were ants in all the riding gear but they apparently found some old mint candies in her jacket pocket and promptly decided to have a party right there. The receptionist and a guy repairing the Internet were a bit curious so Lise explained the situation and handed them the mints, hoping they would help dispose of them. They happily did so by eating them. After about ten minutes of shaking and brushing she finally agreed to put it on and we were ready to go.

We were only about 20 minutes from the border and soon we rolled up by a small booth on one side of the road. Immediately a group of men came up telling us to exchange money and that we would need their help with the paper work. After saying no about a hundred times they backed off a bit and we could get to the window. This was the window to cancel the vehicle papers for El Salvador and after running a few times between the window and a copy store we were ready to move on, hoping we had the right amount of copies for the immigration. We drove a little further to a building in the middle of the road. Crowded around were more “helpers” and a line of people waiting to get their passports checked. A bus rolled in and we ended up chatting with a young Swiss couple that showed up behind us in line. The officials checked our passports and we were ready to get our bike import cancelation done. It turned out it was a holiday this day and there was an extra service charge fee to get the papers done. After verifying this info by posters on the wall we agreed, and the kind officer told us that as we are a family we only have to pay once. Yay! OK that wasn’t that bad, now on to the Honduras side. Went over a bridge,  gave copies to a guard on the El Salvador side and more copies to the guard on the Honduras side. He then took us to the immigration window where a lady started filling out our vehicle papers while we got our passports checked. It took maybe 20 minutes here but all was well organized and painless,  except for an old man sitting on the ground begging for money that kept poking Lise with his cane while she got her passport checked. Ok done here after about one and a half hour. Not so bad.

We took off through Honduras and here the roads started being pretty shitty. They were full of potholes big enough to ruin your day regardless of what vehicle you drive, and this made traffic a bit unpredictable because of the other cars flinging themselves over to the opposite lane to avoid them. It was also difficult being after a car or truck as you had less time to react on upcoming holes. The traffic was not that dense though, and after about 3 hours we were through Honduras and pulled up by the immigration building to exit Honduras. Inside there was a line of about 20 people waiting for immigration. No big deal,  the only annoyance being the heat and gnats in your eyes. Half hour later we were done with the exit work,  and the vehicle official even congratulated me on my birthday a week earlier. Then now over to the Nicaraguan side. Here we got our papers checked by a guard and were waved on towards a dirt parking place beside some buildings. More helpers, kids this time. The buildings were scarcely marked and we asked our way to the vehicle import window, but people were telling us we needed stamps and papers for our bikes from a lady that inspects vehicles first. Only problem: she was nowhere to be found. After looking around the buildings for about 10 min she showed up and did an inspection of our VIN numbers,  not even realizing that she checked my paper against Lise’s VIN. Well as long as she signs the papers its not our problem. We went back to the line and waited. And waited. Finally it’s our turn and the lady started working on our papers while we waited. And waited…  Papers done,  time for immigration. No signs but the vehicle lady pointed down the corridor. Ok another window and another line moving painfully slow. And suddenly the stray dogs that wander around all over the place decide to start fighting right in the middle of all the waiting  people. They did not even react to the people trying to scare them off. We were starting to get hangry at this point, and very sweaty. Finally we got to the window, got our passports checked and are told we need to pay for some tourist permit to show the guard at the way out. Payment was done in another window that said closed. A guy sat there  with our passports for a bit and sorted some other papers and passports in bundles. Then he starts looking for something. And he asks some other guy something. And they both start looking. Soon three or four guys are looking for something, making phone calls and telling us to wait. Apparently they had ran out of the forms we needed to have filled out and none were to be found. So we waited,  and waited and waited. About 45 minutes later someone finally arrived with some empty forms. Papers got filled out while we waited a bit longer, a bit more confusion was made about stamps that we didn’t need in the end,  and finally we were on our way. Total time about three hours… Paper was given to the guard on the way out and off we went into Nicaragua. The traffic was by far the most chaotic here yet and we had to dodge off the road because of a semitruck that decided to do a left turn into a line of waiting trucks ending up blocking the whole road. After that we soon ran into a line of trucks waiting to get past some road work. People sneaked past and we’re told to wait at the beginning of the line. Soon other motorcycles zoomed past and continued down the road ignoring the stop sign. One of them signaled to us to just go and after a little wait we decided to go for it. As we went over dirt and concrete we soon realized that this roadwork was miles and miles of one lane road. We met hoards of big semi trucks traveling in the opposite direction, sometimes making the one lane pretty cramped space wise.  Many times the one lane was made of concrete slabs with quite a fall to each side so getting off the road to let them pass was not an option. I managed to get cursed and thrown garbage at by truck drivers before we finally got past the final stretch and went back on normal road. It started to get late but we decided to push past Chinandega and towards León. The roads were well trafficked and we felt safe even though it got dark. Once in León we quickly went through a few hostels before finding one with a double room and garage space for our bikes. There was a Suzuki 650 and a BMW parked there as well, so we suspected that we were not the only riders staying here. We quickly found out that they belonged to Sam and Evans, an English young man and a French Canadian guy that had ran into each other in Baha, and had been traveling together since.  We took a shower,  ate some excellent curry at the hostel and had a beer or two while chatting with Sam about mud and worn out tires etc… After that it was time to get some well deserved rest. We had made it through what we thought would be the worst part of the trip. And it wasn’t that bad actually, except for the Nicaraguan side. Oh I forgot, apparently Sam and Evans got screwed over by the helpers on the El Salvador to Honduras border and ended up having to pay almost 100$ and go for an expensive taxi ride to a bank and all kind of crazy things! I guess the border can be even more of a mess if you don’t watch out…