Central American odyssey: Hurrying South

Dreams are over. Time to Hurry up. Time to catch us a boat to Colombia!

Indeed, we had a boat scheduled to take us from Panama to Colombia in about a week. The boat was a pretty good looking boat, called La Poste. It was our only option really, all the other reputable boats were fully booked and this one was the only other boat that looked legit. With a website and all.

So we left paradise, the many pretty surfer girls, the endless conversations, the pupusas (food, not call girls!) and the peace of El Tunco.

We decided our next stop is Nicaragua. It’s far, and Honduras is in between, but we can do it. We did it in two days, first day staying in San Miguel, with William getting sick. That was a funny town. There was a heap of funeral homes, headstone shops and everything related to death. This obviously crept us out and we thought we finally came to the “real” danger zone of El Salvador.

After I walked around the neighborhood I found out our hotel was standing next to a huge cemetery. So huge, that for the size of the town (half a million inhabitants) was a bit alarming to say the least. But anyway, it’s not all death and murder in San Miguel. Actually there is lots of life. Young people, not too many elders, but lively, busy and at least on first glance, didn’t seem dangerous to me. However, I made sure I was in bed before it got completely dark, mostly because next day was a big day. And it resulted to be bigger than I ever thought. William sick, hot weather and the most ridiculous border crossings. Honduras is a joke of a country and just to get in took us hours with so much (subtle) bribing, that I was getting worried how it will be on our transit through the country.

We had to pay about 22$ to get in. Into Honduras. Where you probably live for a week for that money. But hey, that’s the cost of adventure for gringos and I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

On the bright side, once again I was surprised with how nice the people were. With the exception of one customs official that I mistaken for a “tramite”, a guy who sorts out the papers for a fee, and politely sent him to f. off when he wanted to take my passport. In my defense, he didn’t look legit at all. But later I learned that officers don’t really wear uniforms there, and if they do, the uniforms are very worn out. Typical European mentality, when we think all governments have tons of money to spend on their employees…

Honduras is done, met a vast array of bikers on both borders, some cool stories, but nothing to take my interest further than a shake of hands and a “good luck”.

We got into Nicaragua after another impossible border and a late night arrival into Chinandega. William was dying, but still had enough energy for some fast food and a beer. Nicaragua was again, same same but different from everything I saw so far. Poor, but with a strong “western” influence, with its big shopping malls and plenty of fast food. Well, in terms of food, the whole Central America is pretty much an ongoing feast of fried chicken and rice with beans (pico de gallo).

The quality of the pavement in Nicaragua is outstanding. Apparently mostly donated by Japan and I have to say, my Japanese made bike was very grateful for that. Smooth ride. A bit too straight for me, but a smoothness we greatly appreciated after Honduras.

We stopped in Leon for lunch, met some lovely locals and a Canadian biker called Dave. Cool guy, with a similar plan, but on a much faster bike, a GS800. And a different, longer plan than we did. We had lunch together and kept going. Destination Granada.

 

Party, party, party, sex, sex, sex, we were out of there. This was pretty much what the whole trip through Nicaragua looked like, with the welcome exception of Ometepe. A “tit island” as I use to call it. An island, that is basically two connected volcano cones in a big volcano lake. A very special place. This was the only place on the whole trip that we rode slow. Mostly because of all the pigs lying around in the middle of the road, who didn’t care if you run them over and of course, because of the stunning nature. Call it positive energy, call it seclusion, this island is a very special place. So it was the ferry ride, but this maybe another day. Ometepe is a place that feels out of this world. A place that really has nothing to do with the latin chaos of Central America, nothing to do with wars, news, poverty or anything exciting. It’s a place that will calm you down, no matter what are your ideas about peace and relax. It’s just that kind of place. Even if standing next to an active volcano.

The excuse to stop there for days was of course women. In this case was a William project and I was just sitting quiet, admiring the many colorful birds, hauling monkeys etc. I’m glad we stopped, I think I’ve been to the real Eden, right there.

Guess what happened next, San Juan del Sur and more fiesta. This time a big one. Apparently the biggest pool crawl in this part of the world. Go figure what they mean by that. All I know is that there was like a little Woodstock lets say. Everyone there had something in common. Everyone was a traveler. Surfer, hitchhiker, biker, cyclist, everyone there was a stranger and everyone was there to have a good time. And good time it was!

To my surprise, next day we actually stuck to the plan and left. Today was time for Costa Rica and Montezuma. Didn’t make it all the way to there. Lets say it was too hot and the customs took us too long. And maybe the night was a bit too long…

Yet, we made it to Montezuma, met some new and some old friends, learned how to open a coconut with a stick and a rock and relaxed after the long days riding and longer nights celebrating.

 

 

 

Central American odyssey: Agôn

Guatemala is great!

Cheaper than Mexico, people are kind and well, we smuggled A LOT of tequila with us! The driving kind of improved I think, traffic is fluent and nobody cares which way you pass them.

We rode into San Pedro de las Lagunas at night and found ourself a little base for the next days. We were supposed to wait for Jean and Zach, the two had to join us on the trip.

San Pedro was a weird place and to our surprise, the guys came the same day as we did. We took advantage of the smuggled tequila and went to dinner. Had the biggest plate of nachos in my life. That and the fact that everyone we met on the streets was obviously stoned, reinforced my opinion about the village.

Next day, waking up to the brightest, most glorious day so far, we learned this is a big party place. Young North Americans come here to enjoy relatively cheap drugs hassle free. I met a couple of girls who move here in winter for a couple of months to make their art and enjoy the relaxed ambiance. By art I mean the making of dream catchers and necklaces to sell to the wealthier North Americans.


I had a couple of memorable experiences there, but it was time to move. Our next stop was Antigua Guatemala. Beautiful little town that seems familiar even if it’s your first time you’re there.

 

Lots of European women and even more live music. The electric guitar kind of music. I like. But there, after just a couple of days of traveling together, my relationship with Jean started deteriorating very fast. Mostly I’d keep to myself and the European females, because I could see we don’t agree on some basic terms of this travel and life goals/morals in general. But whenever he’d get drunk, i.e. every evening he’d get angry at whatever I said and well, confrontational at time.
Long story short, this escalated till we parted our ways the day we left Antigua. Zach got a job in a restaurant, so he was staying there. So with Jean out of the picture and Zach staying in Guatemala, it was only me and William.

We decided we have to get to South America quick. Our boat was about to leave in 2 weeks and Colombia was much higher on our list than any country in Central America.

Ditto, we had to change country. Honduras or El Salvador? After spending about half an hour to list the pros and cons about El Salvador, we decided we’ll see this spooky country.

The border took us about 4 hours, but it was pleasant. Everyone was very nice and we had a good chat with the local authorities. Everyone was warning us about how dangerous it is in this country and despite not feeling in danger, it was obvious crime was a big deal here, because I’ve never seen so many guns on the street like in this country. Every single shop had bars on doors and windows and most of them had an armed security guy standing in the front.

We got to Santa Ana that night and we went straight to the Hostel Casa Verde, which was highly recommended to us by some travelers we met in Guatemala. Home sweet home is all I can say. Carlos, the owner, greeted us like we were some cousins of his that he hasn’t seen for about two weeks. Opened the garage, waved us in and got us some beer. How are you, how it’s going? I have to say we had no reservation and we never met Carlos, but from the first second I knew we’re staying there for longer than we planned.
Santa Ana is nice, but Casa Verde is home. And that’s because of the owner, who is slightly OCD, but in a relaxed way. The place is spotless and EVERY SINGLE THING is thought of. Pool, BBQ, 2 kitchens, lockers with integrated USB charging ports and you even have a box for your smelly socks! 10/10, best hostel/hotel I’ve been to in my life. Nothing too fancy, but just extremely practical.

Stayed there another 4 days, made some good friends and then we decided it’s time to see the Pacific Ocean. All of us, one way or the other, got to Playa del Tunco. Again, without exaggeration, home. But most important, was the way to there. The CA12S passing the volcano of Santa Ana is gorgeous. Riding up, past the volcano with some good views and even better bends. Not a whole lot of traffic for one of the main roads in the area too. We got to Los Cobanos for lunch on the beach and then rode to El Tunco on the coastal road. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to ride much of El Salvador, but this was the best road so far. About 50kms of coastal road, sort of HWY1, but with light traffic and NO SPEED LIMITS. Great ride.

Playa El Tunco was a little piece of paradise that I’ll never forget and always wish to return to. Peaceful, nice, good surf and cool people. It’s a small village, with just the right ratio between locals and gringos. Needless to say, we stayed there longer than we thought…

Central American odyssey: The Beginning

I made it to San Cristobal de Las Casas as planned, despite all the topes and occasional road block by the guerrillas. The Zapatistas are trying to get their voice heard by the Mexican government and to achieve that, they occasionally pose a road block and collect a toll to ride through their land.

In San Cristobal I learned that the fight is going on forever and it’s sort of a tradition and well, nobody really knows why they really fight. It started as a struggle for equality between natives and less native Mexicans. Long story short, that’s the kind of shit you get when colonizing lands that are already inhabited. Today the Zapatistas and the anti-Zapatista militia clash every now and then and after that have beers together (as said a local).


The town of San Cristobal is a very interesting place. Thriving with people from all parts of the globe and really rich in it’s ancient and more recent heritage. Perfect place to wait for Will, who was fashionably late. Gave me time to get some shots against Hepatitis and other diseases I didn’t want to get. And in Mexico healthcare is for free, so I think it was a good decision to wait till I got here.
Got some shots in the morning and then headed to the bar in the evening, meeting a friend of a friend who was in the area and well, we got some more shots. I must admit that was by far the worse idea I had on this trip yet…

Finally William joined me and we carried our way south, together at last. We were about to meet 2 more guys in Guatemala, one of them I already met, Jean, the crazy french. And there is to be another american from Alaska or so.

Our first stop will be in San Pedro de las Lagunas, Guatemala. As I have no maps for Guatemala, we have to navigate old school SAR (Stop, Ask, Ride).
The border crossing took us about an hour and a half all together. Get our money from Mexico (from the security deposit you have to leave when entering), get stamps, ride to the Guatemalan border and do the temporary importation and everything once again. This time with much less cash.
All in all was quite fun and while riding the few kilometers through La Mesilla everything felt rather different. We got into Central America.

Niko’s Kantina Ride: Topes

Some make you fly, some make you die. The topes are the most efficent way to slow down traffic.


First of all, I’d like to ask a pardon for the huge delay in posting to this blog. I came to realize that time really flies when you ain’t doing shit. Almost every day starts at around 8 o’clock and ends at midnight. Where all the hours go, no clue, but we’re having fun, that’s for sure.

Back to our story. One thing that a motorcycle traveler has to deal with in the entire Latin America are the so called topes. You can call them speed bumps on steroids.

They come in all shapes and sizes. From the nice, ramp like, smooth asphalted, wheelie aiding road add-on, to the killer, rim bending piece of concrete that seems to just have fallen off a truck. I’ve seen certain places use huge ropes laid on the street, same as in Albania. Others just pile a bit of dirt, as you can imagine not all the topes are man made. Some just happen, others are made by the government, others by locals who want to slow down traffic so they protect their children when they are trying to sell you all sorts of local products. Sometimes locals just like to sit and watch what happens at that particularly nasty tope.

I think it’s brilliant, it is a really effective way to slow down traffic. Especially when there is enough space on the side (or sometimes between lanes) to ride your bike past it. Tabasco and Chiapas regions had the highest density of topes, sometimes you had a set every kilometer or so. It gets old very quick I have to say. Especially when you have a fun road with lots of turns, they love to place them just behind a turn.

After all the fun at sea, it was time to go and join with William in Chiapas. From there we were to cross the border into Guatemala. Decided to be in South America as soon as possible. Will it happen?

Niko’s Kantina Ride: Happy Festivus!

After a quick glance on the map, I came to the conclusion that I’ll be riding something like 1800 kilometers in two days. My personal ironbutt challenge.

From San Miguel, to Playa del Carmen in order to meet an old friend Julien, who was about to leave in the next days. Further motivation were more friends from the diving industry who also leave there, diving in the cenotes and good time spent on the nice Carribean coast. One of my favorite places on Earth.

900 kilometers in a day, mostly trucking on highways, some little detours to enjoy the scenery. Pre-Christmas processions and yeah. Fiesta. Like all Mexico, all the time.

Got my first rain in this country and realized the roads are like ice when wet. Especially in Playa. Rode some of the worse roads to get there, maybe 20 kilometers in total, but it was nightmareish. Riding in Albania seems like a joke in confront to that. Second day riding, somewhere in Tabasco counrty I got a total topes overdose. For those who are not familiar with that, topes are some sort of speed bumps, but that have a life of their own. Mostly they aggregate around inhabited areas, but sometimes you find them at random, around intersections or any place where they want to slow you down. There are not two topes who are the same. Some are painted, marked with a sign, some are not. Some are high and wide, some just high, some are just dirt, some are made of metal and slick as banana peels, some are fun to jump over. I like them, because they are a very effective way to slow traffic. I hate them, because like in Tabasco, they happen to be 50 meters apart, for kilometers! So it feels more like a motocross heat on a loaded bike than anything else.

After arriving to Playa del Carmen, I met with the extended family and relaxed for a couple of days. After that, I decided it’s time to find a quiet spot for New Years celebrations. So I went to Tulum, Playa las palmas, found a campsite next to the sea and enjoyed the “buena onda” with the local hippies and causal travelers, musicians and so on and so forth. Swiming three times a day and diving every now and then. Ceviche and shrimp tacos. High life.