Border Deluge

Border Deluge

May 17, 2014

Never do a border crossing on an empty stomach. We've done it a few times now and it makes a hot and slow process so much worse. Crossing in to Mexico we were lucky to have two experienced travellers with us, who both spoke Spanish. The countries that have followed – Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – have progressively got hotter and slower. These border crossings have taken between 1.5 hours to 5.5 hours.

Janell handles border crossings for The Pack Track. She is the most organised out of the three when it comes to paperwork and is picking up Spanish phrases a little faster than Stu and Skyla. To cross a border (a bridge over a river in most cases) we have tourist visas, motorbike permits and live animal import/export (that's Skyla). The process involves moving from the immigration and customs queues in one country to get stamps and permit, then moving to the administration buildings of the next country to get more stamps and permits. Sometimes you pay some money. Interestingly not all countries require insurance so when its not mandatory we don't get it. Oh, travelling in a group is handy as someone can always be watching the bikes. Belize is a very small country in both population and area; the population is about the size of Newcastle in NSW at 340,000. Another interesting fact is that its an English speaking country so it was a good first border crossing for us on our own. Everything was fairly straightforward except that we had not completed the online form to import Skyla. A $50 'fine' quickly sorted this problem out and we were on our way. Belize city, located on the east coast used to be the capital of the country but the coastal area is prone to flooding and tsunami's therefore was strategically moved inland to Balmopan but Belize city remains the commercial centre of the country. We spent our one night in Balmopan. Visiting the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich was a major highlight of our trip so our surprise, Skyla was allowed in with us and we had great fun climbing up and down the ruins taking silly photo's.

Janell came down with a cold leaving Belize so we stayed two nights in Guatemala in a more resort style accommodation (still within our budget); when you're sick on the road you really want the creature comforts around you. Unfortunately we didn't do any exploring but we stayed in the vicinity of the Tikal ruins in a very pretty town called El Remate, about 30km out of Santa Elena. Janell described the area as a great place for a honey moon; peaceful and pretty.

From Guatemala we spent two nights travelling across El Salvador and then one night in Honduras. Our entry into Honduras was dramatic to say the least. Our research suggested the only payment required for entry was USD$15 for Skyla. We had tried to withdraw money from 5 ATM's in El Salvador unsuccessfully so rocked up to Honduras with only $50 thinking this would be fine and we'd have better luck with ATM's in Honduras. After a lot of running around, very vocal arguments between the immigration officer and Chief, USD$91 and 5.5 hot, sweaty hours of standing around we were allowed into Honduras. Initial arguments with the Honduras immigration officer began when he said entry required a fee of $35 per bike. Janell had paid for Skyla which left us with $35 only. As we couldn't pay we wanted to return to El Salvador but the immigration officer had taken our passports and registration paperwork before telling us about the $35 fee per bike ($70 in total for both of us). We explained we didn't have enough money and he wouldn't give us back our documents to re-enter El Salvador. A local 'fixer' got involved translating for us and took Stu back in to El Salvador to find an ATM that did work and we got the money out but on returning, an officer from the El Salvador immigration took Stu away from the 'fixer' and explained that entry into Honduras is free and the fixers work with the immigration officer to take money from people. The problem is when they have your documents you have no choice but to pay. And lets face it, once you reach 4 hours of standing around in the sun (there is no shade to park and wait) you just want to pay and get out of there. It doesn't seem fair to judge a country based on one experience. We will certainly be back to Honduras one day to spend quality time visiting the Copan ruins and other sites it has to offer.

Nicaragua was a delight after Honduras. Easy border crossing and lush green country side as soon as you leave the customs buildings. We both wanted to just stop and spend a week in Leon and another week San Juan del Sur. Leon reminded us of San Miguelle de Allende in Mexico. We stayed at a hotel with a pool owned by a charming French family. To top it off, they had a brand new puppy running around with Janell running around after it when no-one was looking. Shhhhh, don't tell Skyla!!! San Juan del Sur is described as Bali 20 years ago. We haven't been to Bali but its a great beach destination with a lot of surf shops, restaurants, bars and cheap decent accommodation. Sunset over the Pacific Ocean with a Nicaraguan beer in hand is a must.

A bit about the riding for those interested. The main roads through Central America have been really good, much better than we expected; only a few patches of compacted gravel/dirt but at this time of year its not raining so they are just a bit dusty if you're following another vehicle. The difficulty for us has been rushing of coarse. Often the roads are single lane and have a lot of truck movement transporting freight. Through the mountains this can be a slow and tiring ride in first gear going up hills and trying to hop around the semi's at any opportunity. We work well as a team in these situation and the helmet comms have been fantastic as the person in front is able to tell the person behind when its clear to move around the traffic. To put our journey so far in perspective, we have put around 6000 miles on each bike since leaving Dallas, Texas, about 7 weeks ago. We would however suggest around 12 weeks just for the route we've taken. We missed seeing the Pacific Ocean in Mexico which could easily have added another two weeks on the timeline. Coming up next is Costa Rica and coffee!!! Our bikes are in need of a service and some minor repair work. We are also in need of a few days off to give our muscles a break and stretch our legs before heading to Panama and figuring out how to get The Pack Track into South America.

We very randomly crossed paths with a very famous riding couple that have been on the road for over 10 years; Lisa and Simon. We pulled in to a coastal town in Belize just after the border crossing for lunch and were packing up to hit the road when they pulled up to us to say hello. We instantly recognised who it was and were a little awestruck. Lisa and Simon very graciously spent a couple of hours with us looking over our bikes and maps to give us some help and feedback on on the next series in our trip...South America.

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