The Sunday morning ride south from Harlingen, TX to Brownsville on
the US-Mexico border on US 77 greeted us with breath vapor and 'Bridges
May Be Icy' signs. We thought that we had left the ice and cold in
Nebraska, but the weather channel showed the same temperature from Omaha
to Matamoras, MX. We packed T-shirts and swimming trunks, not electric
vests. The Magnificent Seven we were: Dale, Steve, Jeff and I rode KLR 650s
with a variety of McGiveresque modifications including CB radios, Global
positioning systems, cleverly incorporated tool kits, spare parts, etc.
Lead dogs George and Mark rode DR 650s, and Jim rode the Mercedes of the
bunch, a beautiful BMW GS 1000. After entering Mexico we waved at
official looking guys at the Aduana's office and kept riding for a
couple of blocks before realizing that this was way too easy.
forget to do something after crossing the border? Feeling uneasy about
going further we made a circle turn back to the official looking
building and after the first of many maddening experiences with
bureaucracy, were ready with personal papers, vehicle stickers and
None of us spoke Spanish and found that smiles, gestures and
self-deprecating attempts to speak the language would almost always
bring a smile to a local's face and a sincere attempt to be helpful. The
second task was to find an ATM that worked. Some machines would accept
one card, but not the other person's, and then it would be just the
opposite at the next attempt. In general, I had less trouble in the
small villages than in the border towns.
Our route south, Mexico 101 was probably a bad road, but for our dual
sports, anything paved is a great road. We encountered four military
roadblocks on the first day manned by fully uniformed and very young
Mexican soldiers, many of which were mostly interested in our
motorcycles. To these young men these rather humble looking bikes were
the stuff of dreams compared to the small well used two strokes that
puttered everywhere in this impoverished country. They were efficient
and polite doing their job looking for guns and drugs. We were never
searched and rarely had to do more than open a saddlebag or tour trunk,
certainly less trouble than entering Canada, but far too often. We
learned early to take our helmets off and look the guard in the eye and
be light spirited, although Jeff thought that I went too far when I
joked that a round package on Jeff's bike was a bomb.
Our first day ended in Tampico, MX at the San Antonio Hotel, which seems
to be a long-term work in progress. The Cedars restaurant and bakery
around the corner served up a good meal, which raised all our spirits
with the help of a few cervesas frio.
Day 3, continued on highway 180. The toll roads were surprisingly
expensive, but the Mexican toll roads are paralleled by a routa libra or
free road, that allowed you to bypass the tollbooths and visit the
adjacent communities. The new bridges in Mexico are stunningly beautiful
works of art. We crossed a couple of suspension bridges with cables
suspended only in the middle with the roadways hanging on either side of
the towering cable spires. We began stopping more often in the towns and
villages along the way and enjoyed local foods and cold domestic beers.
After a late supper near Cardenas, we found the first 'camping' sign of
the trip. We found that 'campo del' did not mean a campground, but
probably a sporting field.
This campsite must have been a huge bustling RV park in an earlier
time, but was completely vacant now. The magnificent seven had paradise
to themselves. Our private campground had thatched roof shower rooms; a
quiet lake, a 50 foot tall observation tower and a palm tree lined
camping area. George bought a fresh pineapple for breakfast. This is
Day 4, the sun is out again, hallelujah! It's not far to the modern
bustling city of Villa Hermosa. There was more traffic congestion in
this metropolitan city and we had gotten used to simply barging through
the remote villages where stop signs and the occasional traffic light
are regarded more as suggestions than the law. In the larger towns, the
signals are observed as in the states. Mark ran into the rear of another
rider going down hard on his knee. An accident possibly resulting from
the hurried pace we had adopted in the rural areas.
We were able to get a taxi to a clinica de emergencia in just minutes
after the accident, where Mark promptly received first-rate care. The
radiologist trained in the US and spoke English. He was also a fellow
cyclist. He visited with the rest of us while we sat at a sidewalk cafe
across the street from the clinic and briefed us on Marks injury. He
suggested that Mark not continue the ride to Tikal, but rather
convalesce in town till the group came back through on the way home.
Jeff looked up from our sidewalk cafe and saw a cyber cafe sign next
door and emailed our news to friends and family. George decided to stay
with Mark and they would attempt to rent a car and meet us in Tikal, the
site of the Mayan ruins in Guatemala.
Mark's bike was not damaged, except for the mirror, nor had any of
the bikes experienced any breakdowns yet. Most of us used 90wt gear oil
on the chains daily. The DRs seem a little smoother and had good power
but lacked the fuel range of the KLRs and may be a little noisier than
the water-cooled KLRs. The Beemer just hummed along. The remaining five
continued after Marks accident and hoteled in Escarcega, where we
learned that the nicest looking restaurant in the village is not
necessarily the safest. The Restaurant was the Titanic and some of us
went down with it.
We would make Belize the fifth day, but took time to visit some of
the Yucatan Peninsula's Mayan ruins at Xpujil then on to the Belizean
border near Chetumal. Crossing the border was no big deal, and it helps
to impress the border predators that you know what's going on, even when
you don't have a clue. We bought a 7-day insurance policy for $15.00,
but no official in any country ever asked to see insurance papers.
Belize is an English speaking country and the Belizean currency is
pegged at two for one to the American dollar so you don't even need to
convert US dollars.
Dale and I got lost in Belize City while trying to find a better deal
on a hotel downtown. We found ourselves getting trapped in a one-way
maze and stopped to collect our thoughts when Jeff and Steve came riding
up, also lost. We spotted a fellow motorcyclist stopping at a store
across the street and asked him for directions, His name is Louis Alto
and his wife is a Brazilian Consulate official in Belize. He had his
friend, Wellington Chee, the owner of the store call around for safe
hotels and got us reserved for the last rooms at the Biltmore Hotel. He
then led the four of us to it. Everyone we met on this journey has gone
out of their way to be helpful and kind. The most dangerous part of the
trip, however were the roads in Belize. They were in great condition,
but didn't have any paint stripes or reflectors in the middle or on the
edges making night riding pretty risky.
Day 6, we rode to the Guatemalan border at Ciudad Melchor de Mentos.
It was raining again and the roads from here to El Remate were mud and
gravel. Tikal is only about 20 miles past El Remate so we stayed at Don
David's Place, a gringo run hotel and restaurant on the shore of Lake
Flores. Our rooms were clean, humble, and cheap and I could have stayed
there a month. Don told us that the only phone in the village was taken
out a couple of year's ago because someone in the village did not pay
their long-distance bill. His hotel got hooked up to electricity just
the previous December. If you plan to eat at Don David's you have to
order by noon because the cook has to slaughter whatever you order for
that evening's meal. We learned why the chicken crossed the road.
We got up the next morning at 4:30 am to catch the bus to Tikal and
pick up the bag lunch that we ordered from Don.
The bus ride to Tikal was full even at 4:30 am and we chatted with
several groups of students touring Central America on the cheap. We
wanted to know if they had experienced the fear and harassment that the
American news shows talk about. We couldn't find one person that feared
for their safety or was inconvenienced in any way. Most people laughed
and some German youths told us that the USA is on their state
department's list of travel danger advisories.
Tikal is one of the great historic sites on our continent and it is
humbling to imagine primitive people carving a sophisticated culture in
this jungle. We learned that Howler and spider monkeys live one country
away from our own border.
At the end of our day, Jim and I walked the wrong way in search of
our bus back to El Remate and found George and Mark having supper. We
were sure that they could not get across Belize in a rented car, but
here they were. They would stay that night at the hotel in the Tikal
compound, and we returned to Don David's. Cold beer, fresh chicken,
noisy Toucans, quiet Geckos, balmy weather, wonderful people and
spectacular riding; life doesn't get much better. I regretted that my
wife, Sandi wasn't here to share in this peaceful place. I will be back!
Day 8, Jim, Steve and Jeff left for Villa Hermosa to reconnect with
George and Mark in the hope that Mark's knee was healed enough for him
to continue the ride back to Texas. Dale and I headed south for
Guatemala City to ride up the west coast of Mexico. The roads from Tikal
to Guatemala City were wonderful with banked curves and constant radius
turns. You could actually set your lean with your elbow resting on your
tank bag and never have to make an adjustment. Our highway engineers
could learn something from this supposed third world nation!
At Rio Hocho, Dale and I caught up with a dozen Yamaha riders going
home from a holiday in Tikal. They suggested we follow them on some
great mountain roads that would miss the heavy traffic going to
Guatemala City and get a chance to do a little sport riding with them.
They were businessmen, lawyers, the Yamaha Importer, and the Nolan
Helmet importer and they could ride! We had a ball hanging with them and
took a beer break with them before riding on to Esquintla, Guatemala.
This stretch was the best motorcycle riding so far.
Day 9, we have been riding the Pan American highway since Escuintla
and crossed back into Mexico near Huixtla. We thought we were following
the signs to the border crossing and were a little surprised that there
wasn't more traffic on this terrific new four-lane road. We rode onto
the bridge and were stopped by a 12-foot high fence with no gate. It
seems that the Mexicans hadn't gotten around to building their side of
the border crossing and we couldn't read the signs. We had to backtrack
about two miles to the 'old' border crossing which looked more familiar
with smoke, litter, congestion, and controlled chaos. We learned that a
12 year old and $5.00 can get you through a border crossing faster than
an international lawyer.
Dale and I made good time the rest of the day and pushed on to Tonala
in the Chiappas region. The hotel had a pool and we enjoyed making our
ritualistic strong coffee and capping off the day with a swim. After we
returned to Omaha, friends told us of the uprising and bloodshed that
had occurred with the Indian population in Chiappas. There were military
stops every 20 miles, which made for slow travel, but we never
encountered any harassment. Every stop was manned by military in full
dress which had to make their job hot and uncomfortable, but all the
soldiers seemed disciplined and restrained which is a great improvement
over 20 years ago when a guy with a gun wore a black arm band and may or
may not have been a Federali.
Day 10, still riding the Pan American Highway, we made little time
because of the military stops and the switchback road clinging to the
Pacific coast line. We were pretty tired after only 225 miles and pulled
into Puerto Angel on the sea. We found paradise again. Our hotel had
open sky hallways with red and pink bougainvillea hanging from the
balconies and walls.
Across the cobblestone street was a protected bay where we budget
jetsetters dined liked royalty for pennies and basked in the sun with
our feet in the ocean. We chatted with Jack from Calgary, BC and Damien
from Ireland. We met them at 6:00 in the afternoon sitting in their
beach chairs sipping Pina Coladas and talked till dark about how they
found this place and how they got here. They said that they had been in
the same chairs since 10:00 am trying to decide what they were going to
do that day. The roads had been pretty rough today and the mounting
bolts on Dales muffler fell out. Fortunately we had just pulled onto the
road to Puerto Angel before it fell off completely and were able to buy
bolts at a ferrateria. We learned to never ask a question that required
more than a nod or pointing since we dared not get engaged in a lengthy
discourse. FYI, tornillo is a bolt, good luck with the size part.
Day 11, began with mild breezes and a clear sky. We packed our bikes
extra carefully because the road back to the Pan Am was potholed and
rocky. Climbing the hill out of the idyllic bay of Puerto Angel, I could
see a trail of dust coming at us; it was another cyclist on a BMW GS
1000 with the Paris-Dakar kit. We rode right up to each other as if it
was in the script of life. His riding suit was well worn and his riding
gear wore the dust of far away places. Jeff Singer was his name, and he
was riding back to the States to meet up with his fiance. Jeff said that
friends in Costa Rica recommended that he stop for a break at Puerto
Angel and that he would try to catch up with us on the Pan Am.
These were the waning days of our trip and though the weather was
perfect, we began riding a little harder to get closer to home with each
days ride. Even so, within the hour I could see a third motorcycle
closing in from the rear and soon we were riding as a group of long time
friends. All three of us had 300 mile plus fuel range and stopped more
often for refreshment and to admire the spectacular Pacific coastline
than to refuel. The Pemex stations throughout Mexico are new and
spacious, but the shelves are bare in the more remote areas. It's a
peculiar feeling to pull up to the gas pump, fill up, pull a cold beer
out of the cooler and relax next to a couple of policia also having a
Mexico highway 200, or the Pan Am, is a great motorcycle road with
hundreds of tight turns and spiraling curves while running along the
coast. We reached Acapulco about 5:00 pm and had no desire to spend the
night here. We three had discussed our mutual aversion for dense
population and were more excited when riding the path less traveled.
That route was far cheaper and we were less likely to meet the predators
that feast on the tourists and were more likely to meet the everyday
The road into Acapulco looked like some one had shut the power off to
a giant bumper-car ride. Cars, busses, semi-trucks and taxis were
pointed in an illogical array with no sense to the arrangement. Jeff,
Dale and I looked at each other and were off like a pack of crazed dogs.
We flew past traffic cops trying to sort out the same mess he dealt with
each day of his working life. We scurried between busses and passed on
the right and the left and often in front of cars jammed tight. The
drivers even tried to back up to give us more room. No four wheeled
vehicle could even move not alone give chase, so we rode as if we were
the only ones with authority. North of the city, the highway runs along
the ocean again, but the traffic was still too congested for our comfort
and we found a non-tourist hotel in Coyuga de Benitez.
Our hotel had an open courtyard with rooms on two levels. The Senora
gave us her room for three on the second level. The family that ran the
hotel lived in the front rooms and we had occasion to walk through their
home to get to the courtyard. They allowed us to park our motos in their
personal garage so that we didn't have to unpack all our gear. After our
meal, we relaxed in the city park, which was alive with families walking
arm in arm and children playing basketball. We spoke at length with a 13
year old girl who's English was exacting. We were astonished to hear
that she was teaching herself English from books! Her dream was to visit
Chicago because that was where Michael Jordan played basketball. We were
humble before this young lady who had so little and was working so hard
to realize her dream. America should be the prize for people of passion
and desire such as this.
Day 12, another beautiful day and the road followed the coast
yielding panoramic vistas of the white sandy coastline. The military
roadblocks were practically non-existent now and we could make good
time, limited only by the hundreds of sharp curves winding around the
cliffs and hills overlooking the ocean's turquoise bays and inlets. We
rode through coconut and banana plantations, sugar cane and cotton
farms, and corn and wheat fields. In Mexico, the remote villages use
speed bumps called topaz at both ends of the community. Hit at the right
speed, a motorcyclist can bunny hop over them? Our dual-sports, with
long-travel suspensions could fly across these 'silent policemen'
without skipping a beat, and there weren't many police cars that could
pursue us anyway. Our day's journey took us over 500 miles of coastal
At Tecoman, we parted company with Jeff continuing along the coast on
his way to California. Dale and I rode to Colima. What a delightful
surprise Colima was. We could very well have been in Barcelona. There
were hundreds of people strolling the many parks and bubbling fountains
everywhere gave the feeling that this was a prosperous and peaceful home
to its residence. Dale and I stayed at a 5 star hotel for about $60 and
ate at one of the many sidewalk cafes. Across the street, in the park,
was an elaborate Gazebo where concerts were held often, as everywhere we
looked, musicians were waiting there turn to play or audition.
We left this beautiful European looking city on the 13th day and rode
leisurely to Guadalajara driving past volcanoes and a salt flat.
Guadalajara is a city of 4-5 million people and is a mile high. The
climate is very comfortable and sunny. We camped at the Hacienda RV Park
in Ciudad Granja, a suburb of Guadalajara. The pool was brisk and the
village around the RV Park was a typical farming village.
We left the park early and rode through the Barrancas, the mountain
range round Guadalajara, and had lunch at the crossroads outside of
Zacatecas. The mountain riding had become second nature by this time and
the KLRs have gobs of torque so we could pass almost anything on the
road. The Mexican drivers, often navigating heavily burdened semi-trucks
and overloaded busses are exceptionally good drivers in spite of their
equipment. They are also extremely resourceful as it isn't rare to see
two drivers overhauling a differential of their bus while the passengers
sit in the bus or stand along the roadside.
An interesting courtesy among Central American drivers is their use
of turn signals to tell following traffic that it is ok to pass or not.
Unlike many US drivers, the Central Americans are not territorial and we
didn't see any road rage. Actually, the car doing a pass is granted the
right-of-way whether he is in passing zone or not. They don't crucify a
fellow driver for making a mistake or a dumb decision.
We continued on to Saltillo, then on the Monterrey. It was about 9:00
pm so we decided to take the toll road northeast to Reynosa on the
border and see if we could catch up with the other five members of the
magnificent seven. Surprisingly, we caught up to them at the same motel
we stayed at 2 weeks earlier. Mark was not able to ride out of Villa
Hermosa and George's wife, Karen, flew down and rode Mark's motorcycle
back with the group. Mark ultimately made a full recovery and is doing
Several days after our return to Omaha, I mailed some photos to our
new friend, Jeff Springer. We had toyed with the idea of joining up
again when Dale and I completed our ride to South America. He flattered
us by admitting that if he had met riders like us earlier, he too would
have been on his was to Ushuaia.
I recieved a letter from Durango, Co and was anxious to get some of his
photos. Instead, a grim letter from Jeff's father announced that Jeff
had been killed in a head-on accident near Mazatlan. He rode through the
night after we parted and may have fallen asleep with a full tank of gas
in his PD tank. This was a sad day. He was loved by many friends and
family as we were to find out in emails later. Dale and I felt
responsible to keep his memory alive as he was a kind and gentle man. In
the two days we knew him, Jeff had become a best friend.
Dale and I had already had a wonderful ride to Dead horse Alaska and back.
We are both married with families and jobs so we hade to wait a year and a
half to continue the adventure.
What follows are an account of our ride to the tip of South America. The
only miles we didn't ride was from Panama City to Bogatta, Colombia. I
estimated that to be about 500 miles. I wouldn't go to Bogatta again and
will explain why in this account.
December 21, 2001 was our window to run south. The gales of Canada were
scheduled to blow in this night and the snows from Colorado were already
in western Nebraska. We left Omaha in 32 degree sunlight and faced 40
plus mph wind gusts from the south. Kevin Naser, a kid of forty, Dale
Thornton, circa the mid 60s, and me, Frank Tabor, of 55 vintage were
mounted on our KLRs to finish our Tip To Tip ride from Deadhorse, Ak to
Argentina that we began in August of '99'. We chose the two lane roads
as often as possible and made Okmulgee, OK at the end of day one. We
encountered the first and only cockroach of the entire journey on our
first night. We discovered early that we would need three beds or a
clean floor from here on out.
Day two took us unto I 35 and an Econolodge in Austin, TX which,
ironically didn't cost much more than the cucharacha motel in Oklahoma.
We covered 759 miles so far.
Dec 23, 01 The TV guy said it was 30 degrees in Austin. We missed the
snows in Nebraska, but weren't fast enough to avoid the frigid cold. The
border crossing at Nuevo Laredo, Mexico was pretty organized and we got
through customs in an hour, but not until giving them $47.00 each. Whoa!
We hightailed it toward Monterrey and got caught up in heavy truck
traffic. Kevin's quick- disconnect on his fuel line caused a minor delay
and I kissed the bumper of a pickup truck. Near Monterrey, we found the
new ruta quota (toll road) to Saltillo and were able to cruise at 80 mph
with no traffic.
The morning of day four was warmer at 45 degrees and we rode to the
Tropic of Cancer marker for the requite photos and lunch near Zacatecas.
Here, I discovered that I had incorrect PIN numbers for my credit cards
and couldn't access cash. It is a good idea to try a cash withdrawal at
your home town when using new credit cards to verify that you have the
The roads were better than we expected and the weather was pleasant
so we pushed on to Aguas Caliente. We got turned around a few times and
saw the same roads at least twice before diverting toward Leon on the
ruta libre (free road). This was Christmas Eve and most of the hotels in
the small pueblas along the route were closed early. About 50 miles
north of Leon we stumbled on the Hotel Chikala, operated by Fredricito
and his son. This hotel had a destiny of grandeur, but something
happened to this old man's family and his dream became a deteriorating
hulk with unfinished rooms and meeting halls. He was gracious, however,
and shared his supper with us while his son was dispatched to find us
cold cervesas late on Christmas Eve. We were his only guests and he was
proud to show us his home which we knew would never be completed. In one
of the unfinished wings, metal window frames laid in a rusting pile.
Another unit was stacked high with obsolete computers. The pool was
filled with mud and the vaulting walkway to the suspended bar was
cracked and ready to collapse, never having seen the thongs of revelers
that he had dreamed of.
En route to Leon on Dec 25th, Dale was sideswiped by a car rocketing
from the toll booths on the ruta quota. The driver sped away while Dale
slid to the left side of the roadway. He was unconscious for a while and
his First Gear riding jacket and leather pants sacrificed themselves
doing their job. His Aerostitch tank panniers helped protect the bike
but got pretty beat up. We estimate the driver to be doing 80 mph plus
and Dale was going into second gear at about 10mph. If duct tape were
reflective, the recon satellites would have been momentarily blinded.
After this incident, the first of many, we took a curvy two lane out of
Queretero, MX on hiway 55 to Tulca then east to Mexico City. After
gassing up in Mexico City, we rode into the mountains where the signs
warned of icy roads and snow! Pressing on to Puebla on the ruta libre we
encountered slow moving traffic and found a lovers hotel for the night
in San Jeronimo. The lovers hotels are usually very clean, but have only
one bed and are rented by the hour. They do provide security and have
garages with doors or curtains for privacy. Our sleeping bags were used
mostly in these kinds of hotels as we didn't tent camp until meeting
Mariola, Cichon in Chile.
Day 7, we had ridden 2,036 miles and were on the free road when we
lost Kevin. We were riding into a double rainbow when Kevin stopped to
photograph it. He lost sight of Dale and I and while trying to catch up,
took the toll road. That was the last time we saw him. From the
beginning, Kevin had planned to get into Central America and turn around
as he only had three weeks of vacation available and had toured all of
CA and SA in a piper cub a few years earlier. Dale and I chased after
him to Oaxaca, but could never catch him. We stayed the night in a
little village called Mitla, in the only hotel in town called the Hotel
Zapotec. Two months later, back in Omaha, we found out that Kevin had
been waiting for us at the glorietta ( roundabout) in Oaxaca, then went
to Mitla too, but couldn't find a hotel and rode another 120 miles
through switchback mountain roads until 2 or 3 in the morning.
When Dale and I hit those 120 miles in the morning of our eight day,
we were treated to spiraling curves, corkscrews, switchbacks and
beautiful mountain views. Kevin must have had a nightmare going through
there at night. We passed a caravan of motor homes and campers from the
states, zooming along around 4 miles per hour, wearing Adventures
We pulled into the Hotel Tonala in Tonala, Chiapas, MX at midday. The
hotelman moved the lobby furniture so we could push our bikes into the
courtyard. This happened often during the journey. Even at a 3 star
hotel in Cuzco, Peru. We knew that Tonala had internet cafes and found
out that Kevin was alright and that he was nearby. We emailed him that
we would meet at the Texas Hotel in Esquintla, Guatemala the next night.
He later recounted that he couldn't find the hotel and went on to
Guatemala City. From there he went on to Tikal and camped at the ruins,
then to Belize and the east coast of Mexico.
12/28/01 Two thousand six hundred and three miles from Omaha, we
arrived at the border town of Ciudad Hidalgo, MX. The miles out of
Tonala are a relaxing pace and the day was beautiful. While passing a
row of slow moving cars, a bus came bearing down on us. I was able to
pull over with time to spare, but Dale had a late start on the pass and
was mid-pack as the bus forced him to throw his bike into the line of
cars. Dale hit the rear of a VW and low-sided after the impact, doing
further damage to his knee and gear. Two of the cars stopped and helped
us right his KLR on the side of the road. We had broken the only rule in
driving south of the border; 'the biggest vehicle ALWAYS has the right
of way'. We duct-taped over more damage to his clothes and gear and
continued on to the border. Dale has taken two hard low-sides and his
left knee was going to take even more before our ride was over. We had
arrived at the first of five time-consuming and expensive border
crossings in Central America. Thankfully, after Costa Rica, the crossing
are much easier and cost nothing. When checking out of Mexico, we were
informed that we had to go back 30 miles to 'VIVA MEXICO', an Aduana
stop, where one-way travelers must get their export papers canceled. If
I understood the problem back then, I would have just told the border
people that we were going to Guatemala and back, but I wasn't that smart
and it cost us a 70 mile round trip. The border crossing paper work at
this town was confusing because neither Dale or I know any Spanish.
However, over the 6 week ride we compiled an adequate verbless
vocabulary. Early evening we were back in the saddle on great roads to
Esquintla. These good roads, however, are dangerous at night because
many of the vehicles in Guatemala have no tail lights, only one
headlight, and wandering drunks on the hiway waiting for buses and any
pickup truck offering cheap rides.
On this one night alone, Dale's mirror hit a drunken man's shoulder
at 50 miles an hour, we barely avoided a truck tire in the middle of our
lane and had to wipe our glasses and shields often to clear away the
smokey film from the trash burning on the side of the road. We arrived
at the Texas Hotel around 9:30 and the staff stayed late to make us a
supper. They were great to us last year too while coming the other
direction from our visit to Tikal. Dale's nights were not restful as his
knee continued swelling and some evidence of blood poisoning were
concerning us. A red streak was beginning to work down his leg. We
agreed that he would start a Cipro regimen immediately. We carried a
first aid kit containing our own hypodermic needles, antibiotics,
surgical gloves and the usual first aid bits.
December 29 was a Saturday and we crossed into Elsalvador around 2:00
in the afternoon. When crossing Elsalvador on Rt2, in Acajutla, turn
left at the Shell gas station and go to the Texaco station. They are
clean and have well stocked mini-marts for supplies.
Getting into Elsalvador cost us $42 each and like the other Central
American countries, wanted only US dollars. If you do this ride, take
lots of ones, fives and tens and use credit cards for all the purchases
and cash advances. The borders are rife with kids and adults who will
help you with your paper work for a tip and they too value the dollar
over the local currency. In the next few days, we often gave our
valuable documents to kids and got through customs easier than we could
have done ourselves. These 'expediters' usually appreciate from $5 to
$10 tips per person. At first I resented the barrage of people wanting
to help me, but I either had to pay someone to watch the bike or let
them do the paper work. On occasion, the expediters has to pay a border
official to get your papers stamped quicker and put you at the head of
the line and you have to reimburse the kid.
We are so rich compared to our southern neighbors that I eventually
came to accept this costly ritual as the right of passage realizing that
some of these kid's families might eat a little better this night. At
the time, I got frustrated and belligerent over the stupidity and
inefficiency of border crossings. It seemed that every official with a
rubber stamp became a dictator. I was arrogant to think that way and
realize now, that most of the developing nations look upon gringos as
exceedingly wealthy and somewhat hostile. We swagger up to the head of
the lines, impatient with bureaucracy, stand erect and defiant. We are
used to getting what we want, when we want it and delivered with a
smile. It is important at border crossings and when dealing with
officials, to smile a lot, attempt to use their language and defer a
Elsalvador was our first experience with shotgun wielding guards
everywhere. Our hotel, the Moligall on route 2A near Zacateluca, was
complete with a pool, air conditioning, heated shower and an armed guard
for only $20.56 US. The shower had an electrically heated shower head
with wires draped across the shower stall replete with taped splices and
connectors. OSHA would go nuts down here. If you wanted hotter water,
simply turn the quantity down so it came out of the heater head slower,
if you want colder water, turn it on full blast. We encountered this
amenity often in South America and they often did not work.
The roads were in good repair through Elsalvador, marred only by the
oily soot and film that clung to our helmet visors and glasses. I think
they mastered burning coal for fuel because the trucks in this country
had chimneys instead of tail pipes. Heavy black smoke would belch out of
high mounted exhaust pipes while the trucks would crawl along loaded
with bananas and field workers. Every man we saw either carried a
shotgun or a machete. Ironically, we never encountered a threatening
incident. The guards were always courteous and helpful and soon it was
reassuring to know they were watching our bikes while we dined or
shopped. Needles to say, everyone was very civil.
Our KLRs have been totally reliable thus far. We stopped once in
Mexico to have Dale's muffler welded from damage it sustained during our
previous year's ride. The chains and sprockets are still like new and
our tires are wearing like iron. No flats or breakdowns. We have ridden
3,300 miles and will be changing oil in Costa Rica.
The Central American countries are so small that it is easy to ride
through several in one day. We haven't changed money since Mexico, using
dollars and credit cards through Guatemala, Elsalvador and Nicaragua. At
the frontera (border crossing) at Elsalvador, we met jim Donaldson on a
BMW. He had damaged both wheels from the pot holes and his tires were
puckering out to where they almost rubbed on the fork tubes. He started
out with two friends, Morris on a KLR and Dave on a BMW F650. They were
having a good time, but their relationship with Jim was strained because
of a difference in riding style and travel goals. By the time Dale and I
met them, they had already separated and were riding their own rides. We
met both groups and enjoyed all three of them.
December 31, 2001 the cost out of Nicaragua was minimal, $7.50, as
was the cost into Costa Rica. The roads in Nicaragua were pot holed and
we looked pretty comical trying to ride at 50 miles per hour while
dodging pot holes. Through all our efforts we were able to avoid one or
two of the smaller ones. We rode through Honduras and Nicaragua in one
afternoon and stayed New Year's eve in the Hotel Aserradero (saw mill)
in Liberia, CR.
The hotel is a converted lumber mill and was quaint, clean and
relaxing. We sat on our veranda and enjoyed the warm sun and pleasant
breeze. An out door faucet allowed us to launder our clothes for the
send time and hang them in the sun. There is no better feeling when Moto
Adventure traveling than to have clean clothes again. Our first laundry
opportunity was at the Hotel Tonala in Mexico, which had a ceiling fan
so powerful that we were able to string a line in our hotel room and dry
our laundry over night hanging over our beds while we slept.
New Years Day we changed oil at the hotel with 3587 miles on the
odometer. We ran into Dave and Morris again at a Popeye's restaurant
near our hotel in Liberia and watched their ex friend, Jim, ride by,
peering at us through the window. We never met up with either group
again after that breakfast. They were going into the Darien Gap to do a
little exploring then ship their bikes back to North Carolina and
Atlanta. I don't know if they ever reconnected after that. Dale and I
were going to experience strains on our strong friendship in the coming
days in Colombia and Chile.
The roads in CR are very good and the scenery is spectacular. Costa
Rica does not support an army and seems to have allocated the resources
to its infrastructure. On 1/1/02 we rode into San Juan, Costa Rica and
began emailing our family and friends with this story.
PUBLISH TRAVEL STORY