Entering Costa Rica through the northern border we noticed an increase in the temperature and a rise in humidity together with an abundance of banana plantations and a change in the vegetation and flora. The road took us along the Caribbean coast for the first time and it didn’t take much for us to pull off the road to eat lunch on a beach that was empty as far as the eye could see.
Our first planned stop was the town of Turrialba and it was along this road that Jim spotted some familiar figures in a service station, that of Max and Miriam (Italy) and Milton (Chile). We had all met on the ferry and had said farewell in Panama. They had entered Costa Rica through the southern border and were heading to look at the Caribbean coast. After many hugs and promising to keep in touch, a message from Miriam found us agreeing to team up and ride through some of Central America together, hopefully meeting at the border with Nicaragua. This happened a couple of days earlier than planned after we all discovered how expensive it was to stay in Costa Rica. Meeting up at the border didn’t quite go to plan but we all eventually arrived safely at the appointed hostel and celebrated in biker style with beer. We have been riding on our own for more than 5 months and were looking forward to having some company, especially as we have heard that the borders from here can be a bit of a headache. Luckily for us Max and Mir both speak a little English and their Spanish is better than ours!!
The planned route together was to head for Leon and Mir and I managed to find a little gem for our night’s stay. First, a trip on the lake at Granada, where we were told that we could buy a small private island for US$ 25,000. We suggested to the lads that they sold the bikes but that didn’t go down quite as well as we thought it might. So collecting Milton on the way we thought we would visit the volcano near Masaya and Milton, whose first language is Spanish, asked a taxi driver to show us the way. The taxi driver promptly took us back to the town of Masaya from where we had just ridden. Latin American Spanish varies from country to country it seems. To get to our overnight stop we had to negotiate probably the worst piece of asphalt we had encountered but worse was to come as the road leading up to the border deteriorates with potholes you could lose a small vehicle in. In fact it continued to be a feature of the roads through Honduras and El Salvador too.
Of all the countries we were given advice about, Honduras was the one all locals seemed to agree was not a place to hang about in. Having had a group discussion we were all agreed that the heat, which had now risen to 43c and the increasing humidity, about 80%, were making the riding difficult and taxing and we felt we would rather make progress through, rather than ride around Central America looking for sights to see that we were too hot and tired to look at. Added to this the deterioration of road conditions and standards of driving that often bordered on insane and our minds were made up. Head north, or rather north west.
Spending only one night in Honduras at the most expensive hotel of our trip so far, we entered El Salvador. Our nights stop was difficult to find as sign posts and even village or town names are not deemed as important here. We were getting quite concerned when even the sat nav said we had over 1000 km to go. It turned out that the lodge was in a mangrove on a large private estate down 8 km of ripio and there was no sign to indicate the private estate either. It turned out to be where the wealthy of El Salvador store their boats till they come out to play at the weekend. Being a weekday we had the place to ourselves. Amazing to wake up to the sounds of the jungle. Miriam had been eager to see monkeys and she was not disappointed. We didn’t think we could top this but the next day after getting lost, again no road signs, we located our very basic accommodation. We knew it was near the beach but hadn’t bargained for 12km of ripio ending at the beach. Yes, the only way in was from the beach. Apparently, big bikes do not like sand and after our experience on the Carretera Austral,
Jim wasn’t relishing it either. However, give it some welly and a determination and he was over it in one piece. Max wasn’t quite so lucky and took his first fall of his trip, but at least the landing was soft. Of course it all had to be repeated when we left the next day and this time it was negotiated with style. At the border, Mir and I braved the heat to guard the bikes, to be approached by a child of 8, shoe shine box in hand. By the time the lads returned we were hot and dusty but the proud owners of shiny boots. It may be alien to us to see children of this age out working but they are expected to help support the family and it is an accepted way of life for them. Another border under our belts we arrived at the end of the day in Antigua, Guatemala to a lowering of both temperature and humidity. This of course had to be celebrated. Bring on the beer.
Whatever you read or hear about the crime, or fear of safety in Central America, what is evident is that, as with the world over people are generally friendly and welcoming. For the most part we have been met with curiosity and stares but no animosity and it is amazing how far a few words, hand gestures and a smile, go.
Next stop, Mexico…..
Jim will be writing a blog about the borders of Central America…. Watch this space.