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May 10th, 2012 | Central America

Sailing thru El Salvador and Galloping into Guatemala…

Had my longest ride in Central America so far, covering 675 km, but taking almost 15 hours to do it in…!!  I was up at 5.00 am and left San Miguel at 6.00 am…

Victor was up as early as I was, and brought me my mug of "wake up" while I was loading the Big Fella...

The last destination on the right almost had me falling off the bike with laughter.... Ask someone from Africa what a "toto" is....!!

Despite the early start and the short distance to San Salvador, it still took over two hours to ride the 145 km to the capital…!!

It took 45 mins to cover the last 10 km…!! I arrived at the Hilton Hotel later than I had hoped and the liveried doorman rushed over to tell me that I was expected…!!

At first I thought he said I was “expectant”, and was about to protest that it was the riding kit that made me look that way, when he repeated himself, adding that Mr. Mennen was waiting in the dining area for me…

Breakfast at the Hilton Hotel in San Salvador, with Tiernan Mennen...

Tiernan, is the brother of Caitlin, whose wedding I attended in November; and Mikaela; who spent a few weeks with Patricia and I in Bali… I had many of the guests stopping in mid-sentence as I walked across the lobby towards the dining room…

Buses in Central America are painted in bright colours and usually extol the virtues of the driver's favourite football team....

It had been a very long time since last I had bacon and eggs for breakfast, and I had to be careful not to pile my plate too high…!! After an hour of catching up and chatting to my future “nephew”, we parted company again… I was in too much of a hurry to be on my way and forgot to put my gloves back on…!!

By the time I realised this, they had blown off my pannier and were gone forever…!!

I parked the bike under a tree and only noticed this hornet's nest when I took my helmet off...!! Needless to say, I moved to another shady spot in double-quick time...!!

I refueled on the edge of the city, and then headed towards the northern-most of the four El Salvador border posts that cross over into Guatemala…

I chose this one because it seemed to be the shortest and most direct route through to Tikal…

I had no intention of visiting Guatemala City itself, having had quite enough of traffic jams for one day…!! Getting out of San Salvador was a lot less tricky and time-consuming than getting into it was…

Riding in this part of the world can be a test of courage and patience…!! Trucks and buses overtake each other around blind corners and rises, and if the overtaking lane is filled with oncoming traffic, they will overtake in the emergency lane…!!

In other words, they have a similar driving style to myself when it come to weaving through traffic…!!

Riding in India and Indonesia has prepared me for anything, but still, I saw some pretty crazy drivers in El Salvador…!!

While a truck and a pick-up were overtaking the truck carrying the gas canisters, the fully laden bus overtook it using the emergency lane...!! Not an uncommon sight in Central America....!!

"All aboard...!!" This looked like a family outing...!!

The northern areas of El Salvador are made up of a series of low volcanic hills, and the road leading to the Angulatu Border post winds its way through lush valleys and around the hill, crossing many small rivers and streams…

Choosing a border post that was seldom used by tourists, wasn't perhaps my smartest move...!!

Getting out of El Salvador was a cinch… My passport was scanned, and before my registration papers were taken back, I was told I needed a copy to show the Guatemalan officials, and no, I did not need to go and find someone to make the copy for me, because the lady behind the counter went over to her own copier and handed me my copy with a wide smile…

If only all the borders in Central America were as friendly and as efficient as those in El Salvador were…!!

The long wait at the Guatemalan border post was made in sweltering heat.... I spent the time looking at the many Mayan statues that are displayed there, and wondered why they had been removed from the ruins they had been found at....

I crossed a narrow bridge just a few hundred metres away, and parked on the Guatemalan side… Within minutes I had my passport stamped and was directed to the customs office in the same building… There, things slowed down considerably…

None of the officials spoke any English, so spent and awful lot of time typing their questions into Google Translate, and then swinging their screens around so I could see what they were asking…!! By now, I knew enough of the Spanish  terminology to help get me through the process, but these guys wanted to be sure I understood what they were asking…

Simple questions like; which country is the bike from; who is the owner; and, where is the bike now; were answered with ease…

Then one had me grinning…!! The screen read: “Where are you now…?”

I put my hands through the slot and typed, “Standing right in front of you…!!” and pushed “Translate”…

Guffaws of laughter broke out among the staff, while they teased each other for asking the wrong question…. What they meant was, “Where are you going now…??” …

Snarling Jaguar, complete with "Toto"....

I was then handed a document and told to go and pay the registration fee and insurance at the bank across the hall… As I reached the window, the cashier placed a piece of cardboard in front of it, declaring that it was closed for lunch… I asked him to help me quickly before he went away, but he refused…

I had to wait for an hour before he returned, and this would later cause me to have to ride in the dark, and still not reach the town of Flores that I was aiming for…!!

If I had the last item on this sign posted on the bank's window, I would have been served a lot quicker...!!

When he returned at 2.00 pm, he could not look me in the eye, and took less than a minute to take my money and put a stamp on the paper to show that it was paid…

Minutes later, I hustled my way through a mass of huge trucks that jostled to get through the border post, and headed towards Rio Hondo, where I turned onto the main road running north-east to Morales…

I stopped to refuel, and asked about the road to Flores… I was told that it was at least a four-hour drive from Morales, and it would be better to try to make Poptun, than spend too much time riding in the dark…

“There are many “animales” on the road at night…!!” the pump attendant advised, “Dogs and maybe cattle….”

“What about “animales” on bicycles…??” I asked…

“He laughed and said, “Yes, those also…!!”

I drank and Energade and scoffed two Snickers Bars, and then took off to see how far I could get…

Sunset found me more than 250 km from my planned destination of Tikal, in northern Guatemala, but I pushed on and rode another 140 km in complete darkness until I reached the town of Poptun…

Sunset on the road to Tikal... It was time to break a few rules... Mostly my own....!!

Dodging oncoming trucks and buses.... Not my idea of a fun-filled way to end a ride...!!

There must be some mistake, surely I wasn't doing 100 km/h, on a twisting road, through the dark of a Guatemalan night....??

We stopped to collect our wits after almost colliding with a large dog and a stationary tractor....

Poptun did not look like a place I would want to hang around in…

I found a nondescript little hotel down a darkened side street off the main road, and only stayed there because they had a big gate that was locked at night, and behind which the bike would be safe…

There was no internet available, so I did not even bother to unpack my laptop…

After a cold shower, which was actually quite welcome after the heat I had been riding through for most of the day, I went out to find something to eat, and settled on small hamburger at a restaurant that was just about to close…

This morning I was up early and rode the last 100 odd km to Flores, a small island in Lake Peten Itza, and found a cool hostal, which I will use as a base to visit the many Mayan ruins in this area…

I have covered the distances through Central America a lot quicker than I had hoped for, and am now able to go into “cruise mode” for the next few days…

Northern Guatemala is cattle country, and huge areas have been cleared to make neatly fenced paddocks, where large herds graze....

Judging by their statues, the Mayans were not an attractive lot...!!

If I feel up to it, I can make one last BIG ride of about 700 km, through Belize and into Mexico, to Playa del Carmen, or, play it safe and spend a night just inside Mexico, at Chetumal…

As usual, it will all depend on the number of brain cells I will find working at the two borders I will need to cross…!!

But that’s a few days away…

Getting to visit the ancient Mayan City of Tikal, is my top priority…!!

I would have liked to visit Copan as well, but this would have meant crossing back into Honduras, and I need to pay another $40.00 for a one day road permit, like I need in-grown toenails…!!

I also need to keep reminding myself to pour enough water down my throat to match the amount that I am losing through my pores…!!

It is very hot and humid here, even the slightest movement causes sweat to begin running off you…!!

The Hostal Dona Goya 2, on Flores Island, is a great place to kick back in....

And the views from the rooftop aren't too shabby either...!!

©GBWT 2012

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