Run To The Hills - El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua - Moto Trip: The Americas

We ride through three countries over 2 weeks. 2 of them compete for the title of "murder capital of the world". Whoo!
After grabbing breakfast at our hostel we set out for the El Salvador border. Just outside of the main street of Monterrico is a dock on the river where a fleet of rickety wooden boats wait to take vehicles up the river. This saved us from backtracking about 50 miles, so we went for it. Loading the bikes on was a little sketchy, as the wooden planks that made up the deck of the boat were uneven and had large gaps, so we had to make sure the tires and especially the kickstand were all on something solid. But in no time we were on our way up the river. As other boats would pass by us, our boat would begin to twist as it encountered their wake, looking like it would snap apart at any moment. But somehow it prevailed and we struggled to roll our heavily loaded bikes off. We then proceeded down the surprisingly poorly maintained road past several military checkpoints until we made it to the main highway. From there it was a short ride to the border.

We had researched this border in advance, and tried to have all our documents ready. But it was a mess. Nothing was labeled obviously, and the building design required us to backtrack and cut between numerous buildings and offices to find the next step. We encountered a local fixer, who we normally never use as we feel they are a bit of a rip off, but in this situation we decided to see what he could do. And sure enough, he somehow got us to the front of a line of 20+ grouchly locals into the heavily guarded Guatemalan customs office to have our vehicle import papers canceled. Once we had those papers we headed into El Salvador where we had to show our papers to several officials before we could get to immigration, which was fairly simple. But then we had to go to the aduana (customs) office. There we could see people sitting in the back at their desks, but then they would refuse to come to the window and do their jobs. Finally we got them to look at our bundle of paperwork, which they disappeared with for another 30 minutes, before returning to verify the VIN #'s on our bikes. Then another 30 minutes went by before they reappeared and asked us to follow them to another building where all the truck drivers were having their paperwork processed. They handed us off there, and told us all our documents would have to be redone. After another hour of waiting and negotiating, we FINALLY had our papers and were able to enter the country.

After 3 hours at the border, we were hot and tired, and just wanted to get to our planned town for the night. We had used up our Guatemalan cash at the border, and needed to pull some out of an ATM. We saw a bank and Josh ran inside to use the ATM. This bank seemed legitimate, full of armed guards and professionally dressed staff. The ATM was telling us that we couldn't take cash out at this time, so Josh asked one of the attendants is there was a reason why. They pressed some buttons on the ATM, and caused it to crash and reboot. With our ATM card stuck inside. They then proceeded to tell us that that would only happen if our card was stolen, so it was not their problem. We told them we weren't leaving without it, and began setting our tent up in the bank when they finally let us speak to the manager. He said it would be tomorrow, and we told him that was unacceptable since we couldn't get any money out for a hotel room. This was a border town after all, and not somewhere we wanted to stay. After he got the message that we would be sleeping in his bank, suddenly he got in touch with a technician and within the hour they came and got our card out of the machine.

After that we were back on the road again, not having the greatest first impression of El Salvador. When we reached the first major town the sun was beginning to set, and we knew better than to ride at night. We found a hotel with secure parking for $7 a night and took it, despite the horrible condition of the room. We were just happy to get out of our riding gear.

The next morning we had a short ride to the capital city, San Salvador. On the way we stopped by the ruins of Joya de Ceren, known as the Pompeii of the Americas. Unfortunately it was closed, apparently for a worker protest, so we continued into the city. We found a very nice hostel just a block from the World Trade Center and proceeded to run some errands, visiting several Yamaha locations for a replacement clutch lever (nobody carries one for our bikes unfortunately) and then we explored the city by foot. It was a surprisingly modern and impressive city. If only it wasn't so hot.

In the morning we geared up to head into the mountains and escape the heat. We rode through some sketchy traffic and finally found ourselves on some fun, winding roads up in to the mountains. By noon we arrived at the Hotel Maya and were able to have a relaxing afternoon on our private balcony overlooking an incredible view of El Salvador.

The next day we were ready to hit the border of Honduras, and hoped it would go smoother than the last one. And at first, it did. We got out of El Salvador in no time, and were feeling pretty good as we got through Honduran immigration. But at the Honduras customs office, they told us their system had just gone down, so we would have to wait. After 45 minutes of waiting in the scorching heat, the government employee said he could start on our paperwork. We have never seen anyone type as poorly as this. It took him a literal hour to type one page for each of us. He then told us to take these pages to the bank, pay them, and bring him the receipt. After doing that, he then proceeded to screw up our final permits, writing the wrong VIN #'s on each of our documents. When we pointed this out to him, he decided making a new one was too hard, and just wrote the correct VIN underneath, telling us they wouldn't care when we exited the country. This was hard to believe, but we decided we just really wanted out of there.

So another border was down, and we were quickly learning we hated border crossing days. We followed google maps instructions towards the city of Ruinas Copan. At some point it diverted us off the main road to a dirt road. No problem, we have dualsport bikes. But then it kept leading us further off the beaten track, onto very narrow, muddy roads where no motor vehicles traveled, only horses. This became very difficult on our fully loaded bikes, and at one point on a steep hill, Josh's bike went down, throwing him off into a pile of fresh horse shit. After the border this was the last straw, we just weren't in the mood for it anymore, and turned back to the main road. Google said it was the longer route, but we no longer cared. We followed the long way to Copan, but it worked. In town we found the Hostel Iguana Azul, and stayed in Studio 22, a private studio/loft. It even had a kitchen with a microwave. We liked it so much we stayed for 3 days, and spent that first night washing the shit off Josh's clothes and drinking way too much quality beer at a German expat's bar with some new friends from various countries.

Quite possibly one of the horses that left the present for Josh.

During our stay we explored the small town then walked to the Ruins. These were easily some of our favorite ruins that we've ever visited. The site was well maintained, and we were there early enough that there were no crowds or groups of vendors trying to sell us worthless junk. We practically had the place to ourselves. We had a fantastic time hiking around the ruins, then headed back to town for food.  

An ant filled omelette. Guess if that's what we ordered or not.
From Ruinas Copan we then went to the small old town of Gracias, where we dealt with heavy rainfall. We walked through their small botanical garden and explored the town, but didn't find much to keep us there. The next day we rode to the capital, Tegucicalpa. We noticed that drivers in Honduras have a nasty habit of throwing their food out the window, and had to regularly dodge trash flying at us from their terrible drivers. It's apparently so common, that we even found t-shirts making fun of it in Honduras. In Tegucicalpa we found a nice hostel that was filled with Canadian missionaries (who were quite rude), and prepared ourselves for another border crossing.

The next morning we were ready, we had all our documents copied, our cash ready, etc. When we reached the border the rain was coming down hard. But we got checked out of Honduras fairly quickly. Entering the Nicaragua side, we were told we could skip the fumigation because of the rain, and went straight to customs. The process was slow, but fairly simple, and then we were sent to immigration. The man took all our documents and then disappeared. An hour later he came back and asked how much money we had with us. We told him we already paid him and that we had no more cash, we needed an ATM. He then wanted to know how much money our ATM and credit cards could hold. Using the translator app on Johanna's phone we told him that was irrelevant and he told us to wait, disappearing back inside. After 2 more hours waiting in the pouring rain, Josh was called into the building where a different man who spoke English told him he had to fill out a new form stating everywhere we planned to go (which is hard on an open ended trip), and then take a photo of it and email it to them. Josh asked why they hadn't given us this form 3 hours ago and he just said "Do you want to leave or not?" Josh filled out the form, while the man's tablet turned back on and started playing the movie he had clearly been watching instead of doing his job, and then we were told to get back in line. Finally they gave us the required documents and we rode to the gate. There we had to buy insurance from two random people in street clothes, plus pay $1 each for a slip of paper from a different random person. We had read about this, so we were prepared, but it still felt sketchy.

After the miserable time at the border we just wanted to get dry. We rode to the small town of Ocotal and found a hostel, and then it stopped raining (of course). We explored the town a bit, found some very cheap food, and settled in for the night. When reloading the bikes, we noticed Johanna's rack had developed a crack in the same spot Josh's had in Guatemala. We didn't have time to deal with it that morning, so we rode on to the larger town of Esteli. We found a hostel on ioverlander and when we pulled in there was a man doing some welding. Josh asked if he could help weld our rack, and he did a fantastic and quick job. Afterwards, he refused payment as well. Despite the border problems, Nicaragua was starting to grow on us. We enjoyed Esteli and our hostel so much, we ended up staying an extra day and taking advantage of their kitchen to cook our own food. Peppers the resident guard dog enjoyed it as well.

Finally we said our goodbyes and moved on to the city of Leon. Made up of semi-flooded cobblestone streets, Leon had an old charm to it, but felt practically abandoned when we were there. Maybe it was the time of year. But luckily our hostel on the edge of town let us park the bikes right in the lobby, and we even got to go see a movie, something we haven't done in a long time.

The next day we were on the road again, stopping along Lago Xolotlan for a photo before continuing to Managua to see the Catedral de Santiago, an old church that was damaged by earthquakes. It is condemned now and you can't go inside, but we managed to get some photos with it before the security guards could reach us. After that we rode through the most traffic we had seen in Nicaragua and made it to the Paradiso Hotel, a very touristy location overlooking Laguna de Apoyo, a small lake in a crater surrounded by mountains. We snagged some tubes and floated on the lake with some beers. It was a very pleasant evening, if a little too much a party scene for us.

The next day we slept in and had a very short ride to the town of Granada, on the edge of Lago Cocibolca. We didn't do a lot in Granada other than our laundry and some basic bike maintenance. We were in a sketchy old hostel that didn't even have locks on the doors, but they had parking which was the main concern for us. We were out the door early the next day and making good time to Rivas, a small town near the Costa Rica border. Suddenly Johanna started weaving hard across her lane, and she switched on her radio to say that her front tire had blown out. Her quick reflexes prevented her from going down, and we pulled over to check it out. Using some nearby rocks, we created a jack under her skidplate and pulled the front tire off. As we started using tire irons to pull the tire off the rim, two more bikes pulled up and we met Flo and Kate, who we learned were also taking the Stahlratte with us. They helped us swap the tube out, while Petr and Martina also showed up to lend a hand. This tire disaster turned out to be very fortuitous. 

Petr and Martina headed on to cross the border that day, while Flo and Kate joined us in Rivas for the evening. In town we watched parades go through nearly every street, apparently in celebration of the president. 

Next stop tomorrow: Costa Rica!