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Thu Mar 14 2013: Russian the PanAmerican

We never wanted this trip to be a trek. We didn't want our blog to read "xx miles, xx countries in xx days" because that was like all our other motorcycle trips, rushing through exotic countries and only seeing the 200 feet on either side of the road as we sped towards the end of our allotted vacation days for the year.

Unfortunately, we had made an appointment many months ago, that at the time seemed to give us a lot of leeway to meander on our journey. Lately, the clock has started ticking down and we find ourselves running out of runway, as there are a couple thousand kms and 5 border crossings we have to make in the next 10 days. Impossible, given our current pace.

We've made the decision to come straight back to Central America after our appointment - there is just too much that we're missing. So I've condensed the next week and a half of travels into a single entry because it sucks too much to spend a lot of time on it. And also we didn't really see anything...

Here are some notes on our trip down the PanAmerican Highway:

Taking the dog out for a spin

Group ride out of Pana!

We left hastily out of Pana. In the rush, I lost a really good pair of earphones. I know, blah blah, first world problems... We feel like we're being torn away from Guatemala without having seen everything we wanted to see, so this is exactly where we're going to return to, to resume our Central American tour.

Accident on the PanAm in Guatemala

The PanAmerican Highway is not really one defined road, but a collection of routes that span from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska all the way to the southern tip of Argentina. Despite many detours along the way, we've basically followed the PanAm on our trip after criss-crossing Canada. Through Central America, it's a fairly well-maintained stretch of pavement with some interesting sections that pass through mountains and volcanoes, but on our return, it would be nice to see what else lies off this well-beaten path.

Aduana at the El Salvador border

Aduana is Spanish for "nap"

Finally, we're through!

Crossing into El Salvador, we are delayed because the Vehicle Importation Computer is down. We sit for four hours waiting for the system to come back up and by the time we get through the border, the sun is getting lower in the sky. We don't want to travel at night, so in desperation we book into an Auto Hotel just outside of San Salvador.

The infamous Auto Hotel in Central America is also called a Love Hotel, and is usually rented out by the hour, if you get what I mean... Each room has its own private garage with a door that closes. We thought it was for security, but it's really to hide the license plate of the car parked there for a few hours.

All communication with hotel staff is done through a small cupboard at one end of the room with doors inside the room and outside into the office. You never have to see or speak to staff, just deposit your money in the cupboard, close the door, they open it on the other side and deposit towels and soaps (and condoms) for you. Mirrors are strategically placed beside the bed and there is a paper towel dispenser within reach to clean up any messes.

I thought it was hilarious! Neda was kinda grossed out. We slept in the one remaining sleeping bag that wasn't stolen back in Guatemala...

Our most memorable crossing, and not for good reasons... Honduras

El Salvador came and went in a day, and I was battling fatigue because I didn't get a good night's sleep in the Love Hotel. I must have also picked up a flu overnight, but we forged ahead to the Honduras. Despite it being very early in the day, I wanted to stop and find a place to sleep before reaching the border to recuperate, but Neda was convinced we could cross two borders in one day and reach Nicaragua for the evening. I wasn't feeling up to it, but since Neda was doing all the work at the immigration and customs offices, my only duty was to stay conscious and keep the bike upright.

As we approached Honduras, we were swarmed by a mob of "helpers" offering to speed us through all the red tape for a fee. Most dropped away when they heard Neda's fluent Spanish, but one hung on despite our polite refusal, following us from office to office peppering us with helpful tips and hints, hoping to guilt us into paying him... Nice try...

Through my feverish haze, I saw Neda run back and forth through 3 or 4 different offices trying to get our bikes stamped into the country. Everytime I asked what she was doing, she replied, "Making photocopies!" Apparently, in this day and age when EVERYTHING is computerized, Central American governments have invested heavily in shares of Xerox and Domtar...

I was in charge of holding the documents as we biked from immigration to customs. When you carry everything you own on a motorcycle, every item has its place. Because we were changing our routine, I was now keeping our documents in my tankbag instead of in one of the lockable cases. Which meant that my motorcycle gloves, which I normally keep in my tankbag, were now in... I still have no idea...

Those were really good gloves, too.

Motoring through Honduras - elapsed time in the country: 2.5 hours

We raced through the tiny stretch of the PanAm in Honduras and reached the Nicaraguan border very late in the day and I was a bit upset that we would be riding through the dark to reach the hotel we had reserved. Throughout the last couple of days, we've been bickering at each other, especially at border crossings. It's a stressful time getting yourselves through, much less importing a vehicle into the country as well. I was dealing with a flu and feeling frustrated that I was unable to help because of my inadequate Spanish. Add to it that I'm not coping very well with the heat and humidity and Neda doesn't cope very well when she's hungry...

This is not fun for either of us. It's not even fun writing this down and I just want to end this entry but it's important to have a record of all this "not fun" later. Much later...

Aduana at Nicaragua

Some helpers approach us at the Nicaraguan border, but not as many as at the Honduras. It seems that the Honduran border is the most complicated process to negotiate in Central America, and the number of helpers reflect that. El Salvador was easy - no helpers there. So now when we approach a new border crossing, we can gauge how easy it will be by how many helpers swarm us! Useful, practical information!

Nicaragua. yay. *yawn*

Having knocked down 3 of 5 border crossings, we bought ourselves a little downtime - especially for me to get over my flu. We stopped for a few nights in Estelie, Nicaragua - actually for a couple of nights longer than we thought we would because I gave Neda my flu. So we were both bedridden at the same time. OMG, so much UnFUN, I can't handle it!

Motoring through Nicaragua

"Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, Here I am at..."

Perhaps the only picture we took of Granada. Didn't see a thing...

Next border, Costa Rica. Didn't see a thing. But it was the most expensive nothing we saw...

Somwhere along the way, it got cold and foggy on the PanAm. Literally - couldn't see a thing...

By this time, Neda is a pro at border crossings, so this was one of the easier ones

We arrived in Panama licking our wounds. So far over the last week and a half, we've both gotten sick, I've lost a pair of earphones and a pair of motorcycle gloves, left my credit card in a restaurant and had to have it couriered back to us while we were en route, saw nothing but road, took no pictures... All because we're rushing to meet a deadline. This was not why we left our jobs and sold everything! We vowed, no more booking stuff in advance, even if it's months away! Just one day at a time from now on. If that means missing out on some opportunities tomorrow, that's okay as long as we don't have to rush through today. It's just not worth it.

On an upbeat note, all these border-crossing ordeals have been good practice for when we return to see Central America properly! Neda is going to try to make a few bucks on the side being a helper...

Drummers practicing in Panama City

For the last few months, we've been in constant contact with Kari and Rose, the fellow Canadian bikers who we met in Oaxaca. They were also in Panama City, so we spent a few days comparing notes, exchanging GPS files and sharing a few meals together. It was nice having some familiar faces to hang out with.

Bikes get their first bath in months

While in Panama City, we took time to get everything sorted out - shopping for supplies and taking care of the motorcycles. We dropped into the local BMW dealership to replace the gloves I lost at the Honduran border. While we were there, we popped into the service centre to see if they had the plug for my headlight. They didn't have the part in stock, but the technician told me to bring the bike in anyway.

Less than an hour later, he had fixed the light, jury-rigging it with a couple of blade connectors! Best part, it was free of charge! So let's end this entry on a happy note! Yay!

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