So we did wake up in Los Amates, and despite the mixed reviews of the town’s safety we really enjoyed the atmosphere of the busy market street, bustling with activity, noise and traffic. It was incredibly humid as you might expect, so the air-conditioner in our room was a welcome bonus, but as we packed our bikes sweat poured off our faces and the cool, fresh feeling was just a memory. We left Los Amates en route to Honduras along the well-paved highway, passing a steady stream of semi-trucks also heading south between an equally consistent flow of the massive machines heading north. Unlike Mexico, the trucks in Guatemala have not been helpful in signalling to us when it was safe to pass, forcing us to be a bit more tentative in sniffing out our opportunities by slipping back and forth across the yellow line that has so faithfully followed us (for the most part) over the past two months. As the line sped past our feet, alternating between long lines and quick dashes, we watched hundreds of acres of Chiquita banana trees fly past, bunches of bananas hanging from the trees, bagged to protect them from hungry wildlife.
Exiting Guatemala was straightforward, signing the bikes out of the country at one booth and signing ourselves out five kilometres later. Shortly after getting our passports stamped in the cool comfort of the border guard’s small office, we arrived at the Honduran border where things got interesting to say the least. We lined up at the first window to have our passports stamped and fingerprints scanned before sliding over to the second window to undergo the motorcycle importation process, all the while doubled over trying to absorb as much of the sweet cold air that seeped out of the guards’ windows to help ease the discomfort of the unrelenting humidity, made worse by the Goretex riding pants and high riding boots that could not be as quickly and conveniently strapped on to our luggage as our jackets. After importing each bike, the guard held 60 Honduran Lempiras ransom and sent us over the border and into the first Honduran town to get a significant stack of photocopies in order finalize the border crossing process. The young guards at the gate signalled us through without so much as a look or a nod, nevermind checking our passports. We eventually found the pharmacy that apparently owned the only photocopier within a reasonable distance of the border, after navigating down dirt roads, and through a narrow 6-inch gap between a big gravel pile and high cobblestone stretch of road under construction.
Of course the photocopier broke about 10 pages into the required 45 page job we had sprung on the young lady, but the room was cooled and a couple of great little kids kept us entertained playing with drums and toy cars all while laughing and smiling at these new faces that looked a bit different than their own. We doubled back along the bumpy road, back through the gates and lined back up at the second window. With a smile the man in the chilly room behind the small window handed us back our 60 Lempiras and gave us the all clear to enter his country. Back through the gates, this time showing our passports to the guards, we were in our third country in as many days and feeling good about our progress after the Puebla episode.
Crossing over many bridges that spanned clear creeks and muddy rivers, descending off the eastern slopes of the jungle hills, we watched cattle drink from the running water and passed old concrete pillars, long having since been required to support a bridge, stand moss-covered disrupting the flow of water that trickled towards the Caribbean Sea. We could catch quick glimpses of the lush shallow valleys that held the jungle run off, offering enough of a view to spark wonder in what lay beyond the most distant, dark and rock framed turns in the streams.
The Caribbean Sea then presented itself, at first beyond the buffer of gated hotels and fence-in properties, one little blue peak at a time. We stopped when it opened up, bordering the road beneath a short but vertical cliff, at a snack shack standing on crooked stilts under a tinder-dry thatched roof that channelled the cool salty breeze as we ate a delicious breakfast from the kitchen that didn’t believe in menus. As we ate, the grey-blue water had only the slightest bit of movement, the small waves only frothing at the shore’s edge leaving the infinite remainder with the dented waxy finish that only gently disrupted water can offer, the sun glinting quickly and often off the surface, impossible to focus on, like spots in your vision once you close your eyes after looking at a light.
The morning had required us to alternate between jackets on and off, stopping periodically to adjust clothing as the rain stopped and started, but leaving our breakfast stop the sky had cleared and we rode along the ocean briefly enjoying the abundant beauty. We turned inland, stopping for a drink in San Pedro Sula, a surprising city, with a really American feel to it. While leaving the city, the rain started, and the roadside was once again occupied by cinder block homes with strings of colourful laundry sagging between a series of alternating anchors in dusty courtyards and alleyways. Seeing more pockets of prosperous and ‘Americanized’ communities, we were intrigued by the change that we hadn’t seen in Mexico and Guatemala.
Passing through the Honduran capital of Teguciga we noticed a distinct shift from San Pedro Sula. The streets were congested and dirty, black smoke pouring out of many of the vehicles that drove by our side. Passing by the Honduran Central Bank perfectly summed up the inequality that is so prevalent in this part of the world. The bank was a big pristine building with a team of labourers and groundkeepers sweeping and cleaning, dusting and washing, trimming and fixing. The prominent windows were highlighted by chrome coloured trim that reflected the sun’s bright rays. Adjacent to the high, gold pointed fence that surrounded the bank, make shift walls of sheet metal nailed to crooked posts gave shelter to families living on dirt floors. We passed this scene three times, in fact, as a missed turn took us for a loop around the city.
Nearing the end of the afternoon we momentarily contoured the edge of Lake Yojoa, catching brief glimpses of the lake, vegetated islands sharply breaking through the fog, the far shore barely visible under the dark sky giving off a mysterious aura. As tempting as it was to stop and spend a few days exploring the lake and the islands we pushed on, stopping a short while later just outside Siguatepque at Hotel Amercanito. It was cheap, run down and rough around the edges – a perfect Alaskentina spot. The guard dogs were cute and enticing at first, but after one bit Tymek in the hand, we decided not to play Rabies Russian Roulette and kept our distance. We went to a nearby restaurant for supper, and had a classic Honduran dish – deep fried fish without the hassle of any preparation… See the picture below! We then stopped by a little hut that sold beer bottles, and about half way through our beer we were told that we had to leave! It was Sunday and if the police saw us drinking we would get in trouble. Confused as to why we were served in the first place, and wondering if that law could possibly be true, we walked back to the hotel to finish our beers and kick our feet up for the rest of the night.
The next day, we made our way to the Nicaraguan border, riding a few hours along wide, sweeping turns up gentle slopes up and down the hills. We were back on track and rediscovering a rhythm, though it was slightly more fast paced than before. Howie was still thirsty for oil, but now that we were monitoring it closely it did not hamper progress and we were well on our way to Panama and our four-day vacation!
We got to the Nicraguan border around noon, unsure of what to expect after reading mixed reviews online. We were swarmed by people offering to help us through the lines and change our money as we laboriously stepped off our bikes, careful how we parked them on the sloped pavement. The disorganized arrangement of the Honduras check-out process was made easier by the gentleman who had started working for us. Ok, we’ll take it. Leaving Honduras was simple despite the long line up, but entering Nicaragua was a process. Fumigation, passports, fees, motorcycle importation, insurance and a toll were all taken care of along a circuitous path between different buildings and shacks. At one point our temperature was even taken! Maybe for Zika we thought…
We left the uncomfortably hot border crossing relieved that the process was over. It had easily been the most disorganized border crossing so far but had also been the quickest! Passing through small towns that punctuated the rural landscape of farmland, motorcycles and bicycles shared the road with cattle, pigs and donkeys. We were in Nicaragua, ticking off countries as fast as we could, feeling better and better about making it to Panama in time for our sailboat and decided we could have an early night and spend a few nights in Nicaragua, stopping to smell the roses. Esteli was the first town we came across, and we found a nice hostel with a courtyard big enough for our bikes. We spent the night wandering the town and chatting to some fellow travellers whom we shared the hostel with.
In the morning we took our time getting ready, a nice change from the early mornings that plagued us since Puebla. We had a short day, less than 200km to the beautiful colonial town of Granada. On the way we drove though flat plains that made for beautiful farmland. More free-range chickens, and more locally grown pigs wandered the roadside. More horses tethered by homemade bridles to tree trunks and fence posts with long lengths of twiney rope through the long thick grass. More cows with long drooping ears pinned to twisted pointed horns, following each other in lines along the ditch with sombrero-clad men whipping and prodding the big beasts with long knotted sticks. We were never too far from a town or settlement, and at one point came across a young kid riding a bike, clutching to the back of a big truck for a free ride. After the truck had to make a funny manoeuvre, he had to let go. Dom tried to pick him up but it didn’t quite work. Tym and Ben each had a turn pulling the youngster for about 15km, at one point reaching 70kph when the unorthodox passenger indicated he’d like to pass the truck that was slowing us down!
We continued to pass roadside vendors, wooden crates spilling over with lemons and limes and bounties of other melons and fruit until we reached Granada. Another early day! We had time to have a beer by the small pool and speak with a handful of Montrealers who ran the place. We wandered the streets, finding a nice restaurant which lost power minutes after we sat down. It didn't stop them from cooking a delicious meal that we ate, sharing a few bites with the street kids selling bracelets and necklaces.
We woke up slowly Granada, totally relaxed as we had an even shorter day planned. We packed our bikes in the street outside the hostel as an old man of many years and few teeth sat on his doorstep watching the process with a cigarette loosely held between his knuckly fingers. He watched us back out of the narrow gate, across the sidewalk and down the steep curb. He had a calm face, kind eyes and the beginnings of a gentle smile that curled up the corners of his mouth. He watched us a while, for at least two cigarettes, patiently observing the three of us load our gear without breaking his gaze. As we pulled away he gave us a two-finger salute, still half smiling and almost certainly reflecting on his youth those many years ago. We left him along with Granada behind us, watching them disappear into our small round mirrors as we made our way about 100 kilometers to San Juan Del Sur, a lively town known for parties and surfing.
Over the next few days we will surf in San Juan Del Sur and explore the Ometepe Island which sits in Lago Nicaragua in the southwest corner of the country. We plan on passing through Costa Rica quickly, getting in to Panama by September 19th to leave us plenty of time for unknown delays before we set sail on the 23rd and hop across the Carribbean Sea to South America.