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June 8, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 20: Rio Dulce, Guatemala to Monte Verde, Honduras

Update: I am alive and well resting quietly in the Honduyate Hotel in Monte Verde, Honduras on Lake Yojoa.

Saturday June 8, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 3,995
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 4,197
Miles driven today: 202 miles

Local Currency: Honduran Lempiras

1 US Dollar = 20.23 Honduran Lempira

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So today, I wake up and it's early. Like 7:45 a.m.

If I wasn't so lazy, I'd get up now and ride before the heat of the day sets in. Clear customs before the heat of the day.

But it's so hard to get out of bed in the morning in a 3rd world country. I'm lying in bed with the A/C set to stun. I roll over and go back to sleep.

When I wake up again, it's 10:00 a.m. Much more my style. Get out of bed. Hop on the bike, and oil the chain rolling around under the bridge. Check the oil. Check the coolant level. Check the tires. All os good. Good. Good.

I fetch my cameras from the reception area. They always keep my cameras now so they don't freeze at night. Ready to ride.

Now, rolling through the streets of Guatemala again. Over the bridge and drop down on the other side. Rolling south now on Guatemalan highway CA 13. The road forks, and I keep left (Izqueirdo), heading east now towards Puerto Barrios. Just before Puerto Barrios, the road forks again and signs show the Honduran frontier is to the right (Dereche). But I'm confused, because I thought I was going into Nicaragua next.

I'm pretty close to being completely clueless. I stop and ask for directions to Nicaragua. They explain to me that Honduras is next on the map, then Nicaragua.

So, my point in this is that, my geography isn't that good. Probably no better than yours. It's not like I have any special skills, talents, or knowledge that qualifies me or predisposes me to succeed in this little adventure. I've ridden a motorcycle for 30 years, but other than that, I'm not clear that I'm any more qualified to be here than your average Joe.

Now that I understand I'm heading into Honduras, I take the fork and roll south toward the Honduran "frontier".

At the border, I stop, and the money changes are on me like flies at a picnic.

I shoo them off and walk into the Guatemalan Immigracion office, where they explain to me that I blew through the Guatemalan Customs checkpoint 8 km back up the highway without stopping, and they're weren't amused.

"Donde?" I ask.

"Es un casa blanco, amigo."

"No senales?"


"Huh....so...yeah....I guess I did miss that."

Now, I have to turn around and go back 5 miles to find this little Customs office in a "white house" with no sign. Thanks for that. Thanks a lot.

Once I find the Customs office, I certainly remember going past it. They were parking a bunch of Tropigas LP rigs on the side of the road. I did see the Ibaza State Police sitting there. And the sign that hammered, rusted says "Alto" in the middle of the road. I saw all of that. True enough. But there was nothing that made me want to stop. I pass through check points like this 7 times a day. Normally, they just wave me through. How was I supposed to know this was the Customs checkpoint? A sign would be nice, people.

Now, I go inside to customs to deal with these people.

I give him all of my paperwork This guy is a royal jackass. I can see it in his eyes. Their power comes from their ability to waste your time. So, if you act like you're in a hurry, then they'll really take a lot of pleasure in making you wait.

I've learned to strip down to next to nothing. Put everything on the bike. I used to worry about having it stolen. Now, I don't really care any more. Way past that point. If you need it that bad, take it. It's not that big of a deal to me.

So, I play it different this time. I take everything off (jacket, cameras, helmet, gloves), and sit down on the floor wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Get out my laptop, and start typing. Like..."I got all the time in the third world, buddy. No rush here. I"m all good."

Eventually, he calls me to the window and explains to me that the Visa for me to enter Guatemala expires in September. I'm like "Perfect. Got it."

And then he lets me go. I beat him at his own game. I ask him for a map. He doesn't have a map of Honduras. Why would he? We're in Guatemala still, remember?

Now, 8 Km south again to the border. The money changers are on me like flies at a picnic. Again. I look at the Immigracion guy. He's waving me on to Honduras. So, now, I know it's OK to convert currency. AFTER you've paid all of the fees, bribes, and stipends necessary to get out of Immigracion and Customs.

The money changers comes up again, always with a stack of cash that would make your heart stop. This time, I convert my Guatemalan Quetzals into Honduran Limpios. I forget what the exchange rate was. 2.4 Limpios for each Quetzal? I should really pay more attention to this stuff.

Finally, I'm allowed to roll south, through no-man's land, to the border with Honduras. They never have signs at these places. Eventually, I find the Immigracion office for Honduras. I get through this pretty quickly. But now, Customs. I can't find the Customs office. Finally find it, but the windows are all closed. There's a sign in the window explaining something. I just start beating on the windows until they open. Like..."You have to let me into the country. You don't understand..."

A woman opens the window, and I see that she lives in the building, and was changing the diaper of her nino in the back. That's why the window was closed.

So, in any event, now, we need copies of the title work, my passport, registration. Now, to go find a place to make copies. At the border, I find a man that makes copies. He makes 3 copies for me. Return to Customs. Give her the paperwork. No one talks about insurance any more. Or fumigating. We're way past all that nonsense. I don't think that Guatemala required insurance either. Mexico and Belize certainly did.

No matter how your day is going, the border crossing is always an inflection point. First, the money changers at the border will rape you and convert your currency. First customs from the country you're leaving. Then immigration from the country you're leaving. Then immigration from the country you're entering. Then, customs from the country you're entering. Always, this is such a buzz kill. I want to hang myself in the shade and ship my things home in a box. And It's not immigration that's so bad. It's going through customs in the new country. The motorcycle is the problem. They need to see the title work for it. Then, they need a copy of my passport, copy of the title to my motorcycle, and then a copy of the registration. They may want to see the VIN on the bike. May want to look at the license plate. They may want to smog it then. It just goes on and on.

Finally, she releases me, and I roll through the checkpoint into Guatemala. They just wave me through. I'm just exhausted by all the third world bureaucracy. Just a nightmare.

It's the middle of the day, I'm roasting. Thirsty. Hungry. Tired. And I haven't even started riding hardly. The first little restaurant I come to says Pollo Asado Something or Other and I stop for a pollo assado. She puts salted plantain chips on top of it, and covers them in a sauce which is just delicious. I get a couple of orange drinks. Sit in the shade, eating alone at a table. I'm talking to one kid in English. I start talking to the others in Spanish. They ask where I'm from, and I tell them I'm driving from Chicago to Panama because my fiancé drowned in 3" of water in a local water fountain with a boot print on the back of her neck.

They all agree that it's such a tragedy it should be made into a movie, and now they're all gathered around my motorcycle, admiring it. Always, they ask how much it costs. Not something that would be really polite to ask in the United States. But they ask, and I tell them. I don't mind.

One mentions that there's an Iguana crossing the road, so I grab my big lens and rush across the street to shoot some photos of it. One of them tries to catch it, and it disappears into the bushes. Everyone laughs.

I climb back onto my bike and roll on, following the signs to Tegucigalpa.

At first, the roads are very bad with many potholes, and I'm not sure that it's safe to continue. But I slow down, and eventually, the roads get nicer. I notice some large mills, or plants, that don't appear to be abandoned. The road is divided now. We come into towns that have real stores. Burger King. Wendy's. Supermarkets. I can't really believe how much better the country of Honduras is than Guatemala, Belize, etc. I mean...they have chain restaurants down here. Not that that's anything to write home about, but it is a sign of commerce, at least.

I'm driving along, heading south. The sun begins to set in the East. Which is confusing, but that's what it's doing. So, the sun is setting in the East. I don't have a map of Honduras at all. As in none. I ask at the gas stations, but they never have maps. They just never have them. That's all there is to that.

So, I'm driving south with the sun setting in the East, which is very confusing, but I can't really figure out what to do about it. The signs say "Tegucigalpa", so I'm heading the right direction. And, if the sun feels the need to set in the east, then so be it.

I keep crossing over these rivers and bridges. In Spanish, "Puente" means "bridge". I've known this for some time.. But when I crossed a bridge with a sign that said "Puente San Francisco", I always thought that was the name of the bridge. Because I'm an idiot. It finally dawns on me that when the sign says "Punente San Francisco", that means it's a bridge over the "San Francisco River". Duh.

Also, I always thought that Tumulous was a town, and it was always ahead about 100 meters from me. Eventually, since I never made it to the town of Tumulous, that's another word in Spanish for speed bumps. That's what Tumulous means. This was in Guatemala and Honduras, but not in Mexico, or Belize, obviously.

So now, I'm driving south as the sun sets in the East, following the signs for Tegucigalpa, and a girl comes out of of an alley dripping wet, and just down the road, I glance left and notice that I'm following along the shore of an enormous fresh-water lake. I turn back, and drive down the alley the girl came from, and find the beach.

At the beach, some men are building a wooden canoe by hand.

"Como se llama este lago?" I ask. (What is the name of this lake?)

"Es the Atlantic Ocean, my friend."


So, the giant freshwater lake I found, was the Atlantic Ocean. Or, more specifically, the Caribbean Sea. I decide to go for a swim, and change into my suit. the water is as warm as bath water. Trash all over the beaches. A shoe. A hat. Plastic. Garbage all over the place. They really don't have the recycling program all dialed in just yet, apparently.

After a while, I roll on south, with the sun still setting in the East, in a very unsettling manner.

As I'm driving down the road, I'm not going that fast. About 60 mph. The speeds bumps in Honduras and Guatemala are not as bad as they were in Mexico, but you still have to slow down in the towns, of course. Outside of one town, I'm rolling down the road at about 60 mph, and suddenly a horse that was walking unattended down the shoulder begins to cross the road right in front of me. He has no rider. He's not tethered. He's just walking down the highway on the shoulder, and decided to cross when he saw me. I think his owners were across the road. I'm not clear on this point.

So, my life flashes before my eyes. I'm not wearing jeans. Or a leather jacket. This is going to suck. In a big way. I've never hit a horse on a motorcycle. Going 60. But...yeah...this is going to suck. Somehow, I miss him. It shakes me up so bad that I stop the bike and get off, shaking. I'm looking back at the people now. It was clearly their horse. Like...what in the fuck are you thinking? Why don't you ride the horse? Why not but a bridle on it and lead it? What is wrong with you morons?

Now, I roll into a huge town. No clue where I am, but this is the biggest town I've been in since I got into Central America, I think. Just an insane urban nightmare. And, I'm not even wearing anything but my swimming trunks, shoes, T-shirt, and a helmet. But I don't want to stop. I can't stop. I have to keep pushing on. These large cities are death in so many ways. I hate them, of course, because they're crowded, polluted, dangerous, etc. I want to move on, and find a place to stay in the country. In a small town. Always this is better. Mas major.

So I drive and drive and I'm thinking...Christ...when will this city end? Some guy is breathing fire in the streets at each stoplight.

Finally, I stop and ask for directions, because I'm not happy that the sun is setting in the East. And I'm not clear that I'm getting any closer to Tegucigalpa. The guy tells me the turns to make at each of the next three traffic circles I come to, and he's right. The signs to Tegucigalpa are showing me how to get out of this nightmare, now. And, it's dusk, but at least I'm moving.

The city slowly fades behind me, and we start climbing now into the mountains. I'm passing people, racing up these twisting roads through the coastal mountains of Honduras, and when I go to pas one car, he kinda cuts me off, so I flip him off and take off. Next thing I know, he's screaming up behind me, trying to kill me as I race up the mountain.

The problem is that I don't know these roads, obviously. And he lives here. So, I can't really get away from him, without dying. And now, I'm not really sure if he's trying to kill me or not, but he certainly appears to be. Finally, I turn in sharp to the left and he goes by me. I'm glad to be alive. I decide not to flip any more people off in Central America. Probably it's not worth it.

Now, I'm driving through the mountains of Honduras. I have no clue where I am. I'm just looking for a sign lit up that says "Hotel" and "Internet". Things like this.

Eventually, I come to lit up sign that says "hotel" and "internet" and I'm like...that's it. I'm done for the night.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 8, 2013 at 9:56 PM


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