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May 6th, 2012 | Central America

Nailed Nicaragua, Hammered Honduras, Entered El Salvador…

Hostal La Casita, Granada... not the most restful place I have stayed in...!!

All in a day’s work…!! A long, hot, sweaty and patience testing day, wherein I crossed two borders, and spent four and a half hours in crippling heat and humidity, at the four border posts I had to negotiate…

It took 11 hours in total to cover the 465 km from Granada in Nicaragua to San Miguel in El Salvador, riding through Honduras somewhere in between…!!

After another restless night at La Casita, I was up early, got the bike from the fire station, paid the fire chief the agreed $4.00 for parking, and then set about the loading…

By 7.00 am I was on the road, having decided to take the western route around Lake Managua, rather than the busier route that went directly north via Sebaco and Esteli… This route would have taken me to the much larger and busier border post of El Espino…

With two borders and four separate control points to cross today, I wanted a quieter border post to get into Honduras…

The day started bright and early in Granada, 488 years after the city was founded....!!

My route took me around the southern parts of the capital Managua and then headed west towards the Pacific, then northwest toward the old colonial town of Leon…

Overcrowded buses like this one are common place, although unlike India, passengers have not yet taken to sitting on the roof yet...!!

A short distance outside Managua, the tarred road disintegrated and became a torn up dirt road…!! The guy who had advised me to take this route had not said anything about a dirt road, and my hopes of getting to El Salvador began to fade…!!

Not what I had hoped for...!! There was about 40 km of this before the road improved considerably and I was able to make up time by riding "hot and heavy" on the throttle...

After a long section of dirt road, we joined the newer highway and were able to make up time....

For many years, Leon and Granada had vied for the position of capital city of Nicaragua, until it was decided to build a new town midway between to two as a compromise… And that how Managua came into being…

I wanted to see a little of the architecture that this old town was also famous for, but apart from the crumbling old Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion on the main square, and the much newer Cathedral, Leon did not have the charm that Granada did…

A few of the house I passed had the same brightly painted walls as those in Granada, but for the most part, the town was drab and dusty… Not a place I would want to spend a day or night in…!!

Stopped in Leon to see if the Kings were home... They were off setting "Sex on Fire", so took some photos of this beautiful old church...

We skirted Chinadega, riding through large tracts of ploughed up land waiting for new crops, and then headed north again to Somotillo, the town nearest the Honduran border…

What I at first took to be low cloud, turned out to be smoke pouring from a large volcano close to the border… It covered a wide area, and many small fires were burning on the slopes of other hills nearby, probably started by the odd bit of burning debris coming from the volcano…

Passed this volcano close to the Honduran border, which was apologetically belching smoke and ash...

Clearing out of Nicaragua at El Guasaule was a simple affair… Immigration stamped my passport, checked my bike documents and waved me through to the Honduran side… I crossed the wide bridge over the river separating the two countries, and that’s when the waiting game began…!!

Made a cock-eyed entry into Honduras....

...and discovered that the Immigration and Custom's buildings were in need of some repair....!!

It took on a few words of discouragement, and a murderous glint in my eye,  to scatter the usual pack of “border jackals” that surrounded me as I stopped to find out where the offices were…

To put it mildly, the Honduran border post at Somotillo, is in a sad state of disrepair…!! “Immigration” was a small table on the porch of a long building that might or might not turn out to be the new offices in a few months time…!!

I had to pay $3.00 for the entry stamp, and was then told to go to the rear of this building to see customs…

The Customs office where I waited for over an hour for the official in charge....

In sweltering heat, I walked to the rear of the building and saw a group of people standing under a small lean-to… An hour later, this group had swelled to over two dozen, and not one of us had been assisted…

The customs officials were taking their lunch you see…!! Worse still for me, they did not have any of the forms required to get my bike documented, and had to make a few calls before someone arrived with the correct forms…!!

In the mean time, I sat in the shade of the lean-to, sipping an Energade that I had bought from a nearby vendor, and munched my way through my last packet of crackers… And waited….and waited…

When it was finally my turn, I handed in all the photocopies required, and was then told that I needed a copy of the immigration stamp as well…!! I had to walk to a small cafe about 300 metres away, ducking between the hundreds of trucks milling about, and pay $1.00 for a single copy of the stamp…!!

I was too hot and tired to haggle with the woman working the copier…. I just paid, smiled brightly at her and trudged back to customs through the oppressive heat…

In Tegucigalpa, you have the choice of heading to the busier border post of El Espino, or heading further west to the smaller one at Amotillo...

I had to pay $37.00 for bike registration and what I hoped included 3rd Part Insurance, before I was able to enter Honduras and make the 145 km ride to Amotillo, on the border with El Salvador…!!

Although Honduras is clearly a very poor country, the road between the two border posts was in very good condition, and I made the ride across this southern tip of the country in very good time… It took barely and hour and a half to get from Nicaragua to El Salvador…!!

The countryside was hilly and the slopes of these hills were covered in low vegetation, that was probably secondary growth… I was sure that tropical forest once covered this region…

The people seemed to get by on subsistence farming, because I did not one see any large-scale farm of any kind… Small shacks lined the roadside, many of the without doors or windows, but clearly lived in, judging from the clothes that hund drying on wash lines spread between trees and fence posts…

We passed through San Lorenzo on the Pacific Coast, staying on the CA 1, which lies to the west of the Panamericana Highway, and tore through Nacome and El Caretto, before getting to Amotillo…

The old border post here was also being renovated, and temporary offices had been built-in between small shops and other businesses…

I was quickly stamped out by the Immigration officials and then had to go and see the police services to have the bike checked against the documents that I was carrying…

The buildings at the exit of Honduras were not in much better shape either...!!

El Salvador was a revelation…!! I had heard so many horror stories about the country, that I had no planned to stay over in it at all…!! Originally, I had planned to stay somewhere close to the border inside Nicaragua, and then make a dash from one side of El Salvador to the other, to get into Guatemala…

The long ride I had made from Panama, and the distances I had covered had foiled this plan, and I realised that a stay in the country was inevitable…

The first unusual thing about El Salvador, is that Immigration do not stamp your passport…!! Once they have scanned it, they send you on your way to Customs, which was located 5 km inside the country…!! There are also large signs telling visitors that all services are free of charge…!! No entry fees, no road taxes, no photocopies….!! I spent barely 5 minutes at the border post itself, before riding into El Salvador…

I was directed to the customs building at the first police checkpoint I came to, and rode down a bumpy pot-holed road to a very large and modern customs shed, where trucks were being searched for drugs…

Waiting for clearance at the El Salvador customs shed....

Getting the bike sorted tool a lot longer than I had hoped, but the officials were so friendly and helpful, that it was impossible to be impatient with them… They had their hands full searching trucks and opening cargo of the many trucks heading north towards Mexico and the USA…

One official explained that the Colombians had changed their “business plan” significantly in the last few years, and no longer transported the cocaine they produced… They had adopted a “we have the merchandise you need, so come and get it…” attitude…

Apparently they had tired of losing so many boats and planes to the American Drug Enforcement Agency…

Cocaine smuggling is now controlled by the Mexicans, who bring it overland through Central America… A large pack of sniffer dogs nosed around the trucks and unloaded cargo while I watched…

Eventually, my documents were ready, and the official gave me some advice on where I should stay…

“Ride to San Miguel,” he said, “Don’t stay in any of the smaller towns… And find a place where you can lock your bike away…!!”

El Salvador is green and lush, large trees crowd the roadside, and the riding in this part of the country is on a wide, smooth surface, conducive to speed...!!

It was late afternoon before I hit the road again, wanting to get to San Miguel before the light faded…

The road was in good condition and I rode as quickly as I could… Too quickly…!!

In the small town of El Divisadero, I ran foul of the law…!! I was stopped by an officer in combat gear, who wore wraparound sunglasses and enough ammunition on his belt to start a small war…

He jabbered away in Spanish for a while, before I stopped him and told him I did not speak the lingo…

He immediately switched to English and spoke with an American accent that did not come from watching “Miami Vice” or “Law and Order”…!!

I realised that this guy must have lived and worked in the USA for a long time, possibly even been educated there…

“You were speeding…!! This is a 25 km/h zone…!! See there….!!” he said pointing behind me, “That is a school, and children cross here….!!”

“But it doesn’t count on Domingo (Sunday)… There is no school today…!!” I said cheekily…

He took off his sunglasses and peered closely at me…. “So you know “Domingo”….!!” he said…

I realised then that I had made a small error by using a Spanish word but pretending not to understand the language at all… I thought quickly and then said,

“Well, I don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard a lot about him…!!”

This brought a smile to his face and a twinkle to his eye, that told me that the guy had a sense of humour…

“You are very funny, Senhor…!! But this is no joking matter…!!” he said still smiling… “what do you think I should do with you…??”

I tried to look as contrite as possible, and suggested that my flagrant disrespect for the law, warranted a verbal warning of some kind…

He burst out laughing, and then spent the next ten minutes questioning me about the bike and my trip, impressed that I had traveled so far… He even gave me the names of a few “safe” hotels I should try in San Miguel, before wishing me good luck and a safe journey…!!

Arrived in San Miguel just as the sun was setting behind yet another volcano...

I made it to San Miguel and tried a few of the hotels my traffic officer friend had suggested… One of them was boarded up and was for sale, and the other was in an area that I did not like the look of…

Tucked out of sight behind the wall of the reception at Hotel Claire SS... The large white gate was locked at night, so safety for the bike was not an issue...

The police were out in force for some reason, small groups of them stood on street corners, armed to the teeth with pump-action shotguns… I guessed that things were perhaps as dangerous as people said they were…!!

Just as it was getting dark, I entered a congested residential area, and passed a brightly lit hotel… I saw the entrance too late to stop, and because it was a one way street, had to ride around the block to get back to it…

The Hotel Claire SS, was net and clean, and the young guys on duty almost fell over themselves to convince me to stay there…

The Big Fella had much to do with it…!! For the next two days, they spent a lot of time around the bike, asking all sorts of technical questions and clearly dreaming of the day that they would be able to own one just like it…!!

Bright and breezy...!! The rooms have air-conditioning, modern fittings, and a reasonable wireless signal, as well as very friendly staff...!! For $20.00....all good...!!

I spent some downtime in San Miguel, not only because I did not have to worry about either my safety or that of the bike, but because I realised that at the rate I was covering ground in Central America, I would arrive in Mexico five or six days before I needed to…!!

Four down and three to go.... So far, Central America has been a breeze...!!

©GBWT 2012

2 comments to Nailed Nicaragua, Hammered Honduras, Entered El Salvador…

  • Trevor Hayes

    Hi Ronnie. At last I have caught up with you. Found you on HU in March and having decided to do my own RTW starting in Perth on the 1st Oct I started reading your blog from Darwin but you have often been riding faster than I could read! Anyway, read your e-mail “pushing thru Panama” and then went to the beginning of the end of your 1st trip and ended at “the time has come” starting your RTW adventure. Have started prepping for my trip by copying the lists from your site and editing for my preferences. Have a 2011 GS (HP2). Any advice regarding do’s or dont’s will be most welcome. Thanks for your great blog and pics, feels like I am riding with you. My hair was also standing up reading about your birthday ride through Canon del Pato…. You have big cahoonas but an even bigger heart. My very best wishes ride with you.

  • Hiya Trevor…!! Thanks for your comments…!! The first bit of advice I can give you, especially if you are trying to stick to a certain time frame, is, “Don’t fall in love along the way…!!” Ha…!! I will send you a mail and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have… I will be happy to assist you wherever I can… Take care and good luck with your planning… Oh, and another thing, don’t plan too much…!! R.

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