Monday, February 14, 2011

Honduras, Nicaragua

Val and I were amazed at the bureaucratic gridlock at the border from Guatemala to Honduras up by Copan. We felt encouraged falsely by the speed at which we got both our bikes and our selves checked out of Guatemala, about 15 minutes. Shortly after that we had our selves checked into Honduras. The rest of the six hours we spent at the border was only for the last step, to check the bikes into Honduras. We never were sure why it took so long but it sure seemed like the big man in charge of this process was toying with us. When it was my turn to sit in the office with him, he slowly removed his sunglasses as if to say, “we’ll be here a while”. He looked at my passport and said “Ahh, Italianiano” Then pronounced my name wrong but close so I complimented his getting it right. He smirked, and slowly moved my passport to a point almost a full arms reach to his right, then tossed it down at the last moment.
He never asked me for and “fees” that were not receipted, but I got the impression things would have gone faster if there were a $20 bill inside the passport.
He only spoke Spanish and with what I understood I proceeded to go through a merry go round of making copies, paying the bank, and going back to the big guy for stamps.
…Then the computers died and everyone was waiting for three hours for them to come back up.
Anyway, long story short, the amount of aggravation we endured seemed to correlate to the amount of freedom we felt once we were at our first stop at Copan Ruins.
Nearly starved we first needed to eat and while waiting for our burritos I went next door to see if there is a room available at the hotel. Nice place, $20 USD converted after her asking price of $22.
A fellow in the street said he had a room for $20 but we said no gracias. “OK fifteen” ! Again we said no just because he was soliciting us like a time share salesman. As we walked away he said “$10” and at that Val thought we should at least go with him to check it out. I agreed and when we saw what he had for the money, that’s where we stayed for two nights while we checked out the Copan Ruins and the great little town.
We met Pete in the hotel , he has been spending as much time in Honduras as his job back in Philly would allow. He said, “If you’ve been to Chitzen Itza or Tikal you’ll be disappointed in Copan” and to a point he’s right in that they are not as tall, but as I recall Chitzen Itza did not have as many large sculptures still mostly intact and on display.
The ruins were an interesting walk around the old rocks and sculptures. I imagine the things that went on at the site and the way people lived before Columbus came.
The ride out of Copan was in showers but still fun in the twists and turns of the Honduran mountains in the north.
The roads were mostly good in the non-construction areas and the detours for road repair were usually short and sweet, a few hundred meters of rocks and mud …just the right off road for the WEE.
Almost everyone we encountered was either friendly to us or neutral in expression, apparently treating us as they would anyone else.
The Honduras/Nicaragua border was better at about 1.5 hours of morasses. We stopped for lunch in a medium sized town not to far from the border where we found a burger wagon at the park centro. While eating the huge double cheese burger that Val ordered for me while I used the pay bathroom ( 30 cents).
There was a down and out looking man who was standing less than seven feet from us while eyeing me when he thought I wouldn’t notice. I thought he was going to ask me for money but instead he just stood there wobbling a bit from the hip bottle he gulped every few minutes. I guess we all knew I wasn’t going to finish that burger and when I couldn’t eat another bite, I offered the remains to this poor guy. He took it without hesitation and walk swiftly off into the crowds like he had the winning lottery ticket. I was hit with a wave of gratitude for all the luxury problems I complain about routinely.
While at a bank to get cash, we meet a great guy who gave us good information and even invited us into his house to get a copy of a map. He learned English in the States and spoke it well. I set a way point in case I was through that area on the way back north.
That night we made it into Granada and began a haphazard search for a place to put the tents. At Lago Granada there were places that looked good for tenting but were warned intently that it is “not recommended” so we took an inexpensive hotel that was apparently in a section of town that was dangerous to outsiders after 11PM unless we took a cab. Val and I agreed we didn’t like the ambiance in Nicaragua so we made a fast getaway the next morning after taking a few pictures of the historic colonial town architecture.
While making a dash for the Costa Rica border, Val hit a pretty good sized rock with his front tire which caused a sudden deflation and loss of control. I didn’t see it as I was in the lead but when I got back to him he was all exclamation points about almost getting killed, flailing his hands describing the incident.
While discussing our options, which were few after examining his front tire and tube, Ulli rode to a stop just in front of us. Ulli is a German fellow on a Yamaha XT 600 and just happened to have the same size front tube in his pack. He was very helpful in getting us up and running again and he was happy that we invited him to ride with us to Panama. So the Ukrainian riding around the world, the German on a four week holiday adventure tour, and the New Yorker ride off slowly south to favor the damaged tire on Vals bike.
An hour or so past the Costa Rican border, we cut west to the Pacific and found a perfect free camp site at a fishing boat dock on an inlet. Ulli was not equipped for camping so Val and I flipped a coin. Ulli was a perfect gentleman sharing my little four by eight tent. “We are family now“, I said. The German and the Ukrainian laughed at that idea. “You’ll see” I said.
The Pan American Highway to San Jose is pretty flat until it starts to climb the mountains just before the city. It got cool and was twisty until we hit into the city traffic. I led using GPS to Ulli’s contact “Wild Riders Moto Adventures” where he knew the owner, a German guy. The owner referred us to a hostal a few blocks away that had secure parking at about $15 each for the night with internet.
Next day we toured the sites of San Jose and Val bought a 300+ gigabyte hard drive for his pictures and videos. That afternoon we rode over to Ulli’s friend and fellow German, Freddy in the town of Orozi, just southeast of Cartago where we had a nice visit and tour of his Moto Adventure Tour company. He also gave us a good referral to a hostal close by at about $8 each for the three of us in one room. We all had a great dinner together.
Out of Orozi at about 8AM we rode into the majestic and misty highlands on the way to the retirement hotspot, Boquete, Panama where Sharon and Mickey are waiting for us. My friend Steve referred me to them and it turned out to be a great visit after we finally found the place. They just love living in Panama, and only need about $1,000 per month to live well, and that is with heath care, maid service and yard service. They had a guest, Lisa Rogak, the author of forty books including, “Death Warmed Over” and “A Boy Named Shel”.
It was an interesting evening even after the stimulating conversation was over and everyone found a place to sleep.
The house has a metal roof and it is the windy season in Panama so I had images of sleeping on an old ship with all the creaking and clapping sounds.
It was Friday the 4th of February the next day, when I finally saw the Bridge of the Americas over the waterway that leads from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. It was a long road to get there so no surprise I was a bit emotional about attaining my goal. A tear tinted time to celebrate the view of the boats waiting to traverse the isthmus from one ocean to another while navigating the flow of traffic in the right lane and snapping a few haphazard pictures.

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