Sunday, January 16, 2011

1/16/11 Into Nicaragua: La Esperanza, HD - Esteli, Nicaragua - 240 miles, 7 hours

Wake up and have quick breakfast and head out of this cold ass town. I take the highway east, it is pretty smooth, but with the previously mentioned pothole, light rain, and fog, it is more of the same. At least I know I am headed into flatlands soon, and warm weather. I continue on and realize I was given directions for the wrong highway, taking me through two big towns and adding some time to my trip today. No big deal though, all roads eventually lead to the capital, Tegucigalpa and after about 3 hours, the landscape changes, through more developed areas and then into the heart of the capital. It is the biggest shithole city I have ever been to. Dirty and congested, ramshackle buildings everywhere, not even a welcome sign, as if they embarrassed to acknowledge the capital. It seems a bunch of water pipes have also burst, with maintenance trying to clean up the mess and traffic ground to a halt. And I'm not sure what kind of "water" it is, it smells pretty bad. Good thing Im on a bike, Im up, over through, and around every vehicle or obstacle I come across and 25 minutes later I'm out of this place for good, on the other side of the city heading southeast to the border, a couple of hours away. I stop at a gas station and strike up a conversation with Luis, a kid with a sweet dirt bike who is way into mine. The weather is now cloud-free, and I have slowly been winding down out of the mountains and flattening out, the highway better maintained, not many pothole/obstructions, and after a couple of police checkpoints, I'm at the Honduras/Nicaragua border. It is backed up for a mile with tractor trailers, and a few personal vehicles thrown in. If I was not on a bike, I would surely be waiting for hours, but I am able to muscle my way through and around and get to Honduras migration, where I check out (slow service)for 3 bucks and also customs, where I check my bike out. I change some dollars into cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) with a money changer at a good rate and head over to the Nicaraguan side where I buy some mandatory insurance for 12 bucks and get myself processed in which also strangely costs 12 bucks which seems high. I get receipts though, so I think its legit. Import my bike at customs, no charge and then pay a 1 dollar exit fee. papers checked and now I'm in my 5th country of this trip legally. The road is mountainous, but fast and smooth. No checkpoints either, could have got away without that insurance but I guess it's good to have it. An hour and a half later, Im in Esteli where I find a nice private room for 11 bucks. This town was a hotbed of activity during the Sandanista revolution and was particularly targeted by Somoza's brutality. It still shows support with graffiti and slogans everywhere. Get some good local grub for less than 3 bucks a plate and an evening coffee and stroll. Checkout os not till 2pm tomorrow so sleeping in, some photos around town and a nice leisurely breakfast sounds in order for tomorrow before the short 2 hour journey to the colonial city of Leon, where I plan on ending this section of the trip and basing myself for 2 or 3 months to enroll in Spanish immersion school. Warm weather and 20 minutes to the closest beach is sounding pretty sweet right now.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

1/15/11: Copan Ruinas to La Esperanza, Honduras. 175 miles, 6 hours.

After waking up and having a nice big ass breakfast for 4 bucks at a local cafe, I head out of Copan Ruinas and head southeast towards Nicaragua. The plan is to get near the capital, Tegucigalpa, and stay one more night in Honduras before crossing the border the next day. The day is looking cloudy and as I head up into the mountains, it starts to drizzle on and off. Also, its cold! Man, I came all the way down here to get away from that shit. Cant complain too much though, its way colder in the northeast US for sure. On top of this though, the roads are complete shit, potholes everywhere and cars and trucks darting all over the place and into my lane trying to avoid them. The mountainside views are really nice, but between the cold, rain, limited visibilty, shit roads, and intense focus needed, I dont enjoy them like I should. Im just reminded once again why I really don't dig this country too much. So far, on this trip anyway, it has been one little hassle after another. That being said, me being here in these circumstances could be way worse, and I try to keep things in perspective. I have an "oh shit" moment where I lose focus for a second and leave the tarmac for a few seconds, keeping the bike upright in a gravel laden downhill mountain hairpin. I snap back into it, buckle down, and grin and bear today's circumstances, realizing how lucky I am not to have wiped out, as well as being on this little adventure in general. I see that I gotta stop this inner-bitching at some point. I make it to the town of Gracias, and take a secondary highway to La Esperanza, with the last few miles being some gnarly rocky, gravelly dirt. Its late afternoon, and Ive only gone about 150 miles today, but Im pretty damp and getting chilly. I'm still 3 or 4 hours from Tegucigalpa, but I figure I can still get to the border on time tomorrow if I get an early start. I get a room for 7 bucks, and now its getting really cold here. I find out later that I happen to have stopped in the coldest town on average in Honduras. And there is no hot water, as promised! Fuck, oh well, I head out shivering, get some food, hit an internet cafe, and back iin the room where I break out my down sleeping bag and start watching The Pursuit of Happyness, which I surprisingly like. Some fucked up stuff, those bums kept stealing Will Smith's bone-density machines! Dont steal Will Smith's bone density machines man, that shit just aint right. Eventually I warm up and look forward to hopefully being out of Honduras and into Nicaragua tomorrow.

1/13/11 Into Honduras: Antigua, Guatemala- Copan Ruinas, Honduras: 175 miles, 6 hours.

Wake up later than I want to as usual, but I am still determined to leave today and cross the border into Honduras.

The night before, I was walking around Antigua and just taking in the night life as I usually do, when I started thinking about trying out Blanca and Enrique’s Indian restaurant. Not only do they run Hostel 5, but they own a laundry service and are also restauranteurs, along with their son Carlo who is also the chef. I decide to invite Richard as well. Richard is a 75 year old American who has been living at Hostel 5 for 3 MONTHS, and is the only other person there. Needless to say, he has quite an interesting story and to be honest, the more I speak with him, the worse I feel for him. On top of being alone down in Guatemala, he has diabetes which has rendered him partially (temporarily) blind. He recently went to another hostel to stay for a couple of days, and they refused to take him because he was too old. How fucked up is that?! Without getting even more into his private life here, I’ll just say that the stories don’t get any better as far as where he is at right now. I walk back to the hostel and we head a few houses down to the restaurant, where we are the only customers at the moment. Blanca and Enrique are quite happy to see us, and surprised to see Richard who was supposed to have been gone for a few days taking care of his visa at the Honduras border. We chat, eat, drink (I get some lamb vindaloo) and hang out for a couple of hours. I head into town on my own and see Monika at Luna de Miel where we hang out until closing time and walk to the place she is staying. She will be in Guatemala when I pass back through in a few months, and we make tentative plans to hang out then.

So, back to waking up, I go downstairs for breakfast and Richard immediately sits down and starts chatting. Anyone who knows me knows Im not a morning guy. Actually, Im kind of an asshole in the morning, it takes me like an hour to get my head straight. Im completely useless till then and its best just to leave me alone! I fake polite interest but any sympathy I had yesterday for the guy is melting away fast. I just want to eat and get on my way to the border. I look at my watch and decide to take it easy, and leave by 11:30am, which will put me at the border in the late afternoon, where hopefully I will cross and stay at the picturesque town of Copan Ruinas. I plan on walking to a coffee spot and waking up with some strong brew and finishing up on some computer stuff before taking off in an hour and a half or so. Richard insists on taking a walk there with me, but luckily he is just going to the market. Thinking back now and reading what I just wrote, I’m glad I wasn’t visibly giving off “leave me the fuck alone” vibes. The guy was just trying to connect with somebody, and the way my selfish mind works is to remain polite on the outside, but really not giving a fuck and just wanting to run away on the inside. So, in the meantime I have that coffee and get my things together back at the Hostel and head out after settling up and saying goodbye to Blanca.

An hour later I’m in Guatemala City. I remember once again why I avoid this dirty, congested, ugly shithole maze of a place whenever I’m in this country and I immediately get thrown off track by the lack of signs and the drivers here who don’t give a fuck. An hour later I manage to get on the Careterra Atlantico and I’m finally on my way. Although the ride is ok, the scenery gets much less dramatic as the mountains flatten out into smaller, dryer, treeless ones. Lots of curves in the road winding up and down however, and it seems like every slow-ass broken down semi truck is on the road as well. I don’t know why I am so irritable today, but its getting on my fucking nerves, even being on a bike and eventually always being able to overtake them one way or another. A few short hours later I’m at the Guatemala/Honduras border. I was here before, but on a shuttle, not with my own vehicle. Things look familiar and there it is relatively empty. I’ve been gearing up for the Honduran border crossing experience for a while now, knowing it is full of corruption and red tape, although I am supposedly at the best spot to cross. Exit myself out of Guatemala, and into Honduras. 10 minutes max and 4 bucks total. No tramitadores here (leeches, real shitty human beings who usually run up to you at borders down here and try to scam you into paying them to “help” you cross) and I’m liking how things are going. Also, a couple of money changers, but not super aggressive, and when they don’t give me the rate I want, I just walk away with no further hassle. Sucks though, because there is no bank here and Ill have to get some local currency at some point. Now to deal with customs. Exiting my bike out of Guatemala is pretty easy, although it takes longer than it should as the guy doing my paperwork takes his time in getting around to helping me and is slow as shit. About 20 minutes. Now the last (and most painful) part, getting a temporary import permit for my bike into Honduras. Go to the aduana (customs) and a lady points me next door. A 20 something girl is there in a bad mood. She has some words with the other lady (her boss) and looks at me. I politely ask for help in getting things done and she rudely points to the wall and asks if I have copies in of my title, license, registration and passport. In triplicate. I say I don’t think I have them all, and she keeps rolling her eyes and talking in an exasperated voice the whole time. I ask where to get them copied and she says “not here, I don’t know, there, and points in the general direction of the street. I bite my tongue, determined to act super nice no matter what, to get what I need here. I look in my document folder to see what I need, and luckily, I happen to have backup copies for everything. I return to her office and now she seems more annoyed. She tells me that she was supposed to leave 20 minutes ago and her boss is making her stay. Like I give a fuck. I guess she is taking it out on me. I apologize for keeping her there longer with a big smile on my face, faking sincerity. She needlessly asks questions which make no sense about my documents (the answers are ON the documents) for a while with a sour face. She than says that it is 35 bucks for the permit, and she cant give me a receipt, and too bad if I want one, I can come back tomorrow because it takes too long to get one done properly. I feel the anger rising up inside. I lose my smile and in an “ Im done fucking around being nice with your ass, lets just be adults and get this shit done” voice, I let her know that I don’t want any problems exiting the country, because I don’t have proof I paid. She insists that the permit is proof enough, that they don’t issue it without getting paid. I calm down and immediately go back to my “kill with kindness” approach. I don’t know if she is being serious, but I plan on getting on her good side and finding out the deal before I leave this place. She has no change for me, but says I can do the transaction next door with her boss. I hand over a $50 and get change in Lempiras, the local currency, which is good because I haven’t changed any money yet. I go back and pay the girl. I again say I’m sorry she has to stay late, and that I know how it is to work with someone you don’t get along with, sporting a sympatheic smile and nodding my head in sorrow (whatever). This opens the door for her to start talking about her co-worker and I know I’m in good now J . “Please, tell me more about the women you work with – South Park – haha! We are actually having a conversation now, what am I doing here, etc. and she is lightening up. I ask again with a humble smile, if she is sure I wont have any problems without the receipt. She smiles and says that the receipt is only for personal records, that nobody in the country needs it. Also, her name is Karina. She says she missed her bus into town. I offer her a ride. She sheepishly says no, that’s ok, a bus will come at 6. I don’t insist and I say if I see her in town, I’ll buy her a beer. She smiles and looks down and says nothing. I take my new permit, passport, show it to the guard at the gate, and roll the fuck out. It’s dark now, but only 10kms to town. I do a quick fist pump and yell for a second inside my helmet. I’m in Honduras on a bike!

20 minutes later, I take a left into the town of Copan Ruinas. A jumping off point for the nearby Mayan ruins of Copan, it is my second time here, as I took a bus to the ruins from Guatemala in 09. It is a tourist oriented place, clean with great places to eat, shop, etc and overall a pretty town. A rarity here in Honduras, to say the least. I remember the layout of the small town and head to the hostel I stayed at before. Clean, nice, modern and 5 bucks a night, with secure bike parking of course. And a super cute girl named Gladys working there, who I make a point of having an extended conversation with. I meet Travis, my dorm mate, and we head out to meet his travelling partner Jessica. He is at Berkeley, she is at Columbia and they both came down here for a couple of weeks between semesters. Travis is a cool cat, another crazy life story, turned some bad shit around and now a straight –A student at a prestigious university. Also managed to get DEPORTED on this trip! (Passport about to expire, Honduras sent him back to Miami for 2 days to get shit taken care of!) Guess the US isn’t the only place that does that shit! Have some good coffee, a kickass turkey croque –moseiur, brownie, more coffee, and some wifi in and about the towns various cafĂ©’s 2 or 3 hours and then Im back at the hostel. Talk with Jessica for 30 minutes or so and then start planning for the day ahead. Probably won’t get to the border in the morning, but definitely headed out. Will see how far I get, spend the night wherever I end up, and probably into Nicaragua the following day.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1/12/11 Xela - Antigua, Guatemala - 100 miles, 3 hours.

Spent the last 6 days eating at my favorite places, enjoying my private space at my former homestay (actually, I'm the only one there, tourism has taken a dump in Guatemala this year due to some natural disasters and the state of the world) and relaxing in a familiar place. Got some much needed maintenance done on the bike by Edgar, who owns a motorcycle repair shop in town and who I know from my previous trips down here. New chain (cheap, but should get me to Nicaragua and a rear sprocket and a complete fluid/safety check for about 100 bucks. The guys even washed the bike up real nice, forgot how sweet it could look with a bath. Met up with some old friends including Juan, the former owner of my Spanish school who is an amateur chef. Went over to his folks and had 3 different kinds of pepian (a traditional sauce over chicken, beef or pork) and saw his new little boy Jorge. Tried to meet up with an old flame but couldn't get the logistics right and I made a conscious choice to forget about it, even when I am in the neighborhood. Also manage to see Gabriela, a sweet girl who was the secretary at my old Spanish school. After some good R and R for the past several days I saddle up and head out for a short ride to Antigua, Guatemala. The new highway is really nice, 4 lanes of fresh tarmac sweeping up, through, over and around the mountains of highland Guatemala. Familiar scenes and vistas and even with multiple landslides blocking major parts of the highway, I ride into the picturesque tourist destination that is Antigua, Guatemala in about 3 hours, instead of the previous 4 and a half it used to take. Have to mention that I missed a great and heartbreaking photo-op. A family trudging up the side of a mountain with firewood strapped to their backs, including a little boy about 3 years old with a little bundle of his own, head down hat pulled over his little brow as though he was about 50 years older in spirit. I think I actually said "Awwwwwww" inside my helmet as I rode by.

Go to Hostal 5, where I previously stayed and made many friends including the owners, Blanca and Enrique. They are not there at the moment but I know I will see them in the morning. Spend the evening doing what else..eating, at some favorite spots. Tuna on a baguette and tasty fries and salad at Kafka and delicious banana and Nutella crepes with black coffee at Luna de Miel. Meet a Mexican/American girl named Monica and her Norwegian friend (Ingrid I think) and Emi, from Istanbul and let her use my computer. We all agree to meet the next night for drinks.

In the morning, catch up with Blanca and Enrique and catch up on news of friends now scattered around the world. Spend the rest of the day chilling even more, bookstores, more good food and even manage to make it to the gym. Meet up in the evening with the folks I met last night and we end up calling it a pretty early night, cause they have class in the morning and I am planning on crossing into Honduras in the morning. Looking forwards to getting to Nicaragua more every day.

Wake up later than I want though, and decide to chill just one more day. So far Ive been catching up on phone calls emails, travelling related research and this here blog over another crepe and black coffee. Life could be worse, as I'm mentally preparing what is famously a corrupt and shitty border crossing into Honduras and looking forwards to being in another country at the same time. Not too many pictures this time, since I have taken so many of both Xela and Antigua in my previous travels and posted them on my other blog and Facebook already.