Officially in Central America

It’s 6:30AM in Monterrico, Guatamala an hour away from the border with El Salvador. I’m up early with a full cup of coffee from the beachfront bar at Hotel El Delfin trying to beat the oppressive heat and humidity and get caught up with this blog. It’s a humble hotel with no hot water and mosquito netting over the beds. We upgraded to a room with an air conditioner for a total cost of $52 USD. But how did we get here?

My last post was from Puerto Escondido, Mexico. We had the option of staying along the coast to the Guatemala border¬† but opted to route north into the mountains for the promise of cooler weather and the chance to visit San Cristobal de la Casas. It’s nearly 7,000 foot elevation would ensure a respite from the heat along the coast.

The route started out along the coast towards Salina Cruz for about 150 miles. The temperatures kept climbing until we hit the triple digits for the first time of the trip. It was hot. Also, for the first time we found ourselves on the route of the migrants. At first only a few small groups along the road then the groups got to be bigger and bigger.

At one point we stopped at a small tienda along the road where a group of about 8 men were hanging around. One of them spoke perfect English and came over. That is him on Deby’s motorcycle. He explained that is group was from various South America countries with the biggest group from Venezuela. He was from Ecuador but was raised in New Jersey before being deported a few years ago. He was anxious to get back to the US and his daughter in New Jersey. He was admiring the motorcycles and Deby offered to let him sit on hers. I whispered to her, are the keys in it? They were but I don’t think we were in any danger of him riding off. Ummm, well maybe a little.

We talked with the group for maybe a half hour in a combination of English and Spanish, they were super interesting and surprisingly polite. I expected a rag tag bunch of guys asking for handouts but they probably looked better groomed than us and had clean nice looking clothing. They seemed to have money for what they needed and were in relatively good sprits from what I could tell. Their biggest concern seemed to be the recent cold snap in Texas as we stood in the 100 degree heat. After a while they talked the small taxi in the picture to take them north. Seriously, all 8 (I think) jammed into that small car with the last guy going in sideways like a body surfer across the laps of the others crammed into the back seat. Dang, I didn’t get a picture! I did get a few helmet shots of various groups walking along the way.

Some groups had police escorts, some people waved to us and we waved to a few. We rode past discussing the migrants in our helmets. Without going into details here, we generally felt unsettled with a mix of feelings that included hope, sadness and an awareness of the world we now live in.  Families, children in strollers, old and young making an epic journey trying to find a better life. It made our little motorcycle ride look like an afternoon stroll to the beach. Viaje con dios mis amigos y mucha suerte.

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It was a long ride to the hotel outside of Salina Cruz. The hotel was a non descript place that looked abandoned when we pulled in. It was a huge event type hotel that was probably good for weddings or conferences but on this hot Wednesday in January there was only about 3 rooms booked by my measure. I didn’t take any pictures.

On Thursday the 18th we finally started climbing and climbing away from the ocean. The road was fantastic and we were enjoying the cooler mountain air. When we arrived in San Cristobal we smacked into the typical gridlock of many old colonial cities with their narrow one way cobblestone roads. Here is a typical example from my helmet cam.

We thought we had a good parking spot in front of the hotel until about 8:00 PM when we were told we had to park somewhere else around the corner. Yes, that would be easy except for the one way streets that meant we had to take about a 10 block detour to get there.

We walked around the main square at night when things really come to life. We heard a fantastic marimba band.

I took a short video, this is some serious dancing. Everybody was having a fun time dancing with whole families joining in. I love it, you don’t see this often in the US, here it’s almost a nightly occurrence.

In San Cristobal the vendors don’t setup until after dark, as usual it’s a colorful scene with the church background.

We didn’t buy anything but enjoyed walking around and checking it out.

Into Guatemala

It was supposed to be a straight shot to the border, it didn’t work out that way. Here was my track for the day.

It almost looks like I’m trying to draw a capital D, my initial, for the track. Nope, not on purpose. Along the way we came across a series of road blocks and check points. At the first check point, a friendly person wearing a uniform wanted to check out IDs. Ok, not problem. He glanced at it and waved us through. At the second stop just about 100 feet ahead, it was manned by a group of young men in street clothes. They said in Spanish we had to turn around. We had a discussion that I seemed to be loosing when I noticed a gas station up ahead and said we needed gas before we could turn around. That worked and he let us pass. Then we came to a third block that had a big truck sideways across the road surrounded by a huge crowd of not happy looking people. Not a uniform was to be seen. We rode to the front of the truck blocking the road where we were stopped by someone not looking very happy. In Spanish, we had to turn around. Por que?? I never got a good answer but for our first time ever we were turned around at a roadblock. Hmmmm.

We road back to the Pemex station and parked in the shade. There were hundreds of small motorcycles parked there with dozens and dozens of people hanging around waiting. For what? Would the road open soon? I took out my phone to check Google Maps and look for an alternative route. Just then a couple of not happy looking guys came over. One of them in relatively good English said his friend wants to know why I have my phone out. I explained I was checking my maps. No no no, you must put it away because no phones are allowed here. The whole scene started feeling a little sketchy so I put my phone away and signaled to Deby we should get out of there.

We rode back the way we came to the next sort of big city where we stopped at a gas station and convivence store. The store was surrounded by military trucks with what looked like some guys guarding the store while some others went in to buy something. Maybe I was tired, hot, or a little pissed off that the road was closed so we parked nearby and I walked over to the guard with his M16 rifle to ask what was going on with the road in Spanish. He didn’t seem too interested in what I had to say or did he seem to care that this major highway was closed. I kept pressing in my crappy Spanish but it finally seemed like I was pressing my luck so I let it go.

I walked back to the bikes and we looked on my phone, GPS and my paper map looking for a go around. The best I could tell we would have to return hundreds of miles back to Salina Cruz through the mountains with another overnight stay in San Cristobal. It would be at least a two day delay, possibly three. We were pretty dejected. Just then (these things happen in Mexico) some random guy walks up asking in Spanish if we need help. It’s amazing how my Spanish skills seem to kick in when needed and we had a good conversation. He told me there was another small border crossing about 50 miles away. Really? I couldn’t find it on the map but he said he was a local bus driver and insisted we could go that way. Is it paved? Yes. Is it safe? Sort of… We decided to go for it. It seemed way better than the alternative. As we left he called out, “ten cuidado y buena suerte.” Be careful and good luck.

Google maps does not show the road but I found the city with the border crossing, the name of the city is Gracias a Dios, which translates to thanks to God. I took that as a good sign. It took and hour and a half to get to the border and the crossing was relatively easy. One problema, There was an immigration office that could let us in but not Aduana for the motorcycles. It was getting late in the afternoon and I was worried about the situation. As usual in these situations I didn’t think about taking many pictures so sorry for the long prose.

In Spanish the Guatemala immigration officer explained we would have to go back to the original border crossing to export the motorcycle from Mexico and import them to Guatemala. Is there a road? Si, senor. He showed us a map with a small road between the crossings on the Guatemala side. It would take about two hours to get there. Yes, that means it would be dark. Hmmm, the golden rule is to never ride in Mexico at night, does that apply to Guatemala? We would find out.

In short, we arrived at the La Mesilla border crossing from the Guatemala side and needed to jump into Mexico to export the motorcycles and then turn around and import them into Guatemala. Of course, this is the opposite of how it’s supposed to work and it took many conversations at various checkpoints to explain our situation. It took about an hour, maybe more to get through the process including getting the bikes sprayed down for… what, insects? Who knows but it cost 120 Quetzals.

One last crazy thing then I need to stop writing for the day. While we were in Mexico I thought it would be a good idea to have a hotel reservation in Guatemala so we didn’t have to worry about it after what could be a long day. I found a place on Google that looked really nice, about 45 minutes from the border. They weren’t online so I called them and made a reservation in my best Spanish. I think it worked, they didn’t take any credit card info but said they would be ready for me. I dropped a pin on Google maps and figured we would just follow that to the hotel. I didn’t remember the name of the hotel but only remembered generally where it was. When we were across the border the data plan on my phone wasn’t working (long story). It shot Google Maps was useless. It was dark and we were tired and not really interested in sleeping in a chaotic border city at a trucker hotel (we’ve done that, it’s not fun). Realizing my situation I asked the Aduana officer if he could recommend a hotel. He had somewhere it recommended that was really nice, La Ceiba. We couldn’t find it on Garmin but he roughly told me where it was so we took off in the night to search for the hotel. I managed a short helmet video before the battery went dead.

Driving at night was crazy, cars with super bright LEDs, the usual madness on the road and no way to see the potholes! More than a few times we just smashed into them with no warning.

A ways out of town I saw some lights for something that looked like a hotel, we pulled in and found it was only a restaurant but I asked a guy standing around (there is always a guy standing around) and he said there was a hotel next door. Exhausted, we made an 18 point turn in the narrow driveway and went back to the road. Next door was a gate with no sign or lights but we pulled in anyway. We drove down a long cobblestone driveway and I saw a sign for La Ceiba hotel. This was it!

I went inside to ask about a room and of course they had one, cash only. Yikes, good thing I exchanged pesos for Quetzals. I hoped I had enough, about 300 Qs or somewhere about $45 USD. I didn’t care, I scrounged around and found enough cash to pay for the night. I took one final picture of Deby for the night. You can see her look of relief and exhaustion as we loaded our gear onto the cart.

Whew…… funny thing. When I connected to the hotel wifi and checked Google Maps to find our where my phone reservation was it was this very hotel! Ha.

Ok, it’s getting hot and we need to get riding to the El Salvador border crossing. Temps are forecast to be in the 100s and we need to cross the border. More later.

Donn and Deby

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8 thoughts on “Officially in Central America

  1. Wow, what an adventure. Thanks for the update. Vayan con Dios y muchas bendiciones

  2. Sounds like border crossings down there haven’t gotten any better. I remember I described the entry into Guatemala being a circus. Deby you are a trooper!

  3. Wow! Too much fun. You’ve become like a soap opera and I’m thoroughly hooked! We’re sitting around reading this each time blown back in our seats only to realize our dinner has gotten cold. I, of course, sit at home trying to dream up the next greatest motorcycle adventures and am taken back by you guys just out inventing them. We love your stories. Stay safe!

  4. I just discovered your blog with this post. It’s so cool that you found Monterrico. The last time I was there in 1991, I took a walk on the beach around midnight and … wonder of wonders! … the leatherback sea turtles were laboriously laying their eggs under the full moon. Simply amazing! Of course, the locals were stealing many of the eggs as they were being laid, to be sold as shooters in the restaurants. Thankfully, there was a Peace Corps turtle conservation project active at the time ( I hope it’s still operating). Pelicans cruising the crests of the waves in the mornings, and leatherbacks at night … what a great place. Safe travels, and, of course, keep your wits about you. Salud!

  5. You two should publish a chronicle of these adventures. Your experiences are riveting, poignant and fascinating. Plus, you’re both the most bad-ass seniors on the planet. So cool to follow your journey. Stay safe.

  6. Sounds like an exhausting day, I hope there’s some good R&R in your near future in some place magical!

    Stay safe!

    Adios amigos!

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