Central America Border Hopping

In the morning November 18th before we could leave for the our next border crossing from El Salvador to Honduras at El Amatillo, Lars needed to fix his clutch cable. We had breakfast and realized that the Austrian couple Elisabeth & Walther we met two nights before was also at the same hotel, staying in the parking lot behind the hotel in their RV.

Lars got a taxi and headed down town to a place called “Auto Moto”, a large spare part store. They quickly found a new wire and the small stubs you need for the ends. Total costs 4$.

Back at the hotel Lars was able to assembly everything but couldn’t figure out how to get the clutch arm to work. One of the garden men working at the hotel came over and talked to Lars about it. After a little while the guy went down to a mechanic close to the hotel and then came back and got Lars to take the bike with him to the mechanic. After some communication challenges, the mechanic understood what Lars’ problem was. He first thought it was the wire that he needed to put back in. Finally he got out a wrench and turned the arm and they realized that it was all in the right place. He helped put everything back on the bike and Lars only had to adjust the clutch afterwards. Total cost 5$.

The repair meant we didn’t leave San Miguel until 1 pm. We had a 1 hour drive to the border so we would get there late, which was against our border crossing principles.

As we got close to the border about 6-8 men ran towards us. It was money changers and runners/fixers, who offered to do all the paperwork. We politely declined, saying “No thanks, we have been here before, we know how it goes” and continued. In our eagerness to get away from them, we accidentally passed the first official stop. So we had to turn around and drive back to all the fixers and a shed/office which didn’t make our little lie about being there before very credible and the fixers cought the scent.

We handed in our El Salvadorian Temporary Import Permit. The official kept the original and gave us two copies with signature and a stamp that we would need later in the process. He never checked the VIN-numbers on the bikes. During this process the fixers and money changers kept arguing that we would need their services. It was late and we wouldn’t be able to make it without them etc. etc. We continuously declined. I tried to joke with them, mainly to keep myself from becoming annoyed and stressed.

Second stop was immigration. They checked our passports but never stamped them. A few of the fixers from the first stop had followed us there and kept trying to convince us that we needed them at the Honduran border. Then a new guy showed up and they started to trash each other. Funny really, but also stressful in a situation where you want to stay focused.

Third stop was at the bridge crossing Rio Gorascoran. Here two officers wanted one of the copies that we just got at the first stop. They didn’t check the VIN-number either.

Nescessary papers include passport, drivers license, title, registration, insurance papers, immigration form, customs form and exit stamped Temporary Import Permit from previous country plus 1-2 copies of everything depending on the procedures at the crossing.

Except for our passports which have to be the original, we use the laminated copies and keep all our originals hidden. We spent a whole day in Utah making perfect color copies of everything and laminating them. We even made fake ID’s and a fake Insurance card. Rather than pulling out originals that can be really hard to read, it’s much easier for a police officer to read our fake ID’s because it only has the info he’s looking for. Even the license plates on our bikes are laminated copies. We keep the originals in our luggage. No police officer or border official has noticed it yet! It was the experienced adventure rider Chris who recommended us to do this. And so far it has worked well for us.

No once notice the fake license plate.

The fourth stop was the Temporary Import Permit office for getting the bikes into Honduras. A nice senor in a large office wanted the exit-stamped Import paper from El Salvador, our passports, titles for the bikes, registration for the bikes and driver’s license. Further we filled out a declaration form. He sent me to the fifth stop at the Honduran immigrations office to get our passports stamped while he filled in the information in his system.

I went there and got 2 immigrations forms, went back to Lars and found a place in the shade to fill them out. Went back to the immigrations counter, handed in the forms and our passports and paid 3$ per person. They never checked our pictures or saw Lars. Then I went back to the Temp. Import Permit office. The Senor there had now filled out a few forms. He gave me all the papers and sent me to a copy store to have 2 copies made of everything and to go to the bank.

The fixers had given up on us now and realized that we were stubborn enough to do the whole circus ourselves.

On the way I changed some dollars to Lempiras (sixth stop) by one of the money changers. When I went to the copy store (seventh stop) the money changer followed me. Apparently I had not only changed money but paid for his service to help me the rest of the way. In the copy store he wanted to change some of the smaller notes back to large notes and started messing up while I was in the middle of handling the million copies. He started mixing his and my money and eventually made me raise my voice. “Senor, stop” I said and asked him to back off. I just couldn’t handle the stress from all these extra people wanting me to do too many things at the same time, when I had a hard time keeping my head cool and making sure I got everything I needed.

Then I went to the eigth stop at the bank to pay 35$ per bike. The money changer followed me there, which I really didn’t wanted. I was perfectly able to communicate with the officials. Basically what they do is point at what they need and you give it to them. You don’t need a fixer repeating their pointing. I went to 2 different counters in the bank and they made a lot of stamps and signatures on everything.

On the way back to the Temp. Import Permit office Lars & I checked all the documents for mistakes and found 2 serious mistakes in Lars’ papers. They had written Suzuki instead of Kawasaki and the VIN-number in the passport stamp was missing two numbers. I went back to the office and showed the two errors to the Senor. He got really embarrassed and apologized and made a handwritten note and a few extra stamps. He convinced me that it wouldn’t give us any problems at the border to Nicaragua. I hoped he was right.

Finally we got all the papers sorted out. I got 2 new documents and all our “originals” back.

While I was sorting the papers, Lars was watching the bikes and talking to a couple on bicycles from Auburn Alabama. They – Bethany and Dave – were riding from Alabama to Panama. Their plan was to do another trip next year from Argentina to Columbia.

Lars made friends with this stylish senor.

We were now able to continue to the ninth and final check point. Here they wanted a copy of our new Temp. Import Permit for Honduras. We didn’t have copies of those and immediately 5 fixers turned up offering to help. We declined and Lars was just about to return to the copy shop, but then the official said we could do it in their office. Lars took care of that while I chatted with the fixers. They were all young guys joking around with each other and me.

Finally we got the copies, handed them to the officer and were able to leave the border just under 3 hours after we arrived. Not too bad everything considered.

None of the officials at any of these posts and offices ever checked the VIN-number on the bikes. Seemed to us this was a true bureaucracy moving enormous amounts of paper to different offices, but never really doing the important thing; making sure we leave with the same vehicle that we brought in.

This border experience was stressful and it took all our energy, patience and good spirit to keep our heads cold. But I must say that all the people we interacted with were real nice, even the fixers. They just don’t know how to take no for an answer! We sympathize with the travelers who decide to pay a fixer to do the whole circus.

Man, did we deserve this one!

It was 5 pm and soon it would be dark. We raced past cows and potholes to find a  decent hotel before sunset.

We found a simple hotel with a sweet Senora. She was very eager to tell us about the beauty of her country and curious to know how long we  would stay in Honduras.

Sometimes a clean bed and a cold shower is all you need!

The next morning on November 20th we got up early and headed for the next border crossing to Nicaragua. We had decided to spend as little time as possible in Honduras, based on the country’s reputation. Besides traveling from the very top of America to the very bottom in 8 months means we just can’t see and do everything. Having spent 5 months already, we really needed to get ourselves to South America.

Bunny is a petrol junkie!

At a Honduran petrol station we met this charismatic biker: Hector Nunes. He talked warmly of his country, gave us good advice and hoped we would enjoy it. We just couldn’t make ourselves tell him that in fact we were racing through his home land.

Having a break in the shade.

The roads in Honduras had serious potholes. We had to be really cautious to avoid them. Sure they could do some damage to the rim of our tires. The cars, trucks and buses weave in and out to avoid them too, so taking over any vehicles is a matter of praying and hoping the driver uses his mirrors.

Although we spent very little time in Honduras, it was a wonderful experience and we felt we missed out on something good. The few people we interacted with at the border, the hotel and at petrol stations were all very open and welcoming and proud to tell about their country.

Arriving at Guasaule the border town between Honduras and Nicaragua we prepared for another border drill.

First check was the usual bike check to get out of the country.

Off to immigrations and customs to get us out of Honduras. While Lars was doing the work I was watching the bikes.

This little 10 year old lady was gonna be a hard core fixer. She already had her “psssst!” perfect. Ush, I really hate when people try to get my attention with a “psssst”

Heading for the border in Nicaragua.

Getting out of Honduras was pretty simple and so was getting into to Nicaragua.

Final bike check.

Lots of licorice these days!

Weeeee! We were free to leave!!!

Nicaragua was just beautiful. Poor but with amazing views over the active smoke blowing volcanoes.

Horses and oxes are still an important means of transportation in these countries. Here with a view over the San Cristobal Volcano, the highest and most active volcano in Nicaragua.

“Oh sorry sir, I didn’t know that the 2 full lines meant that motorcycles can not cross? Does that rule not only apply to cars?” Luckily our Spanish was so lame that after a while the officer just gave up and waived us away.

Arrived Leon, Nicaragua in front of the grande Cathedral of Mary’s Assumption.

Leon is the University city of Nicaragua and the intellectual center of the country. The architecture is Spanish colonial and on basically every corner there’s an amazing church.

The atmosphere in Leon is pretty laid back. People take it easy, traffic is not crazy and it’s a real nice place to ooze around. Every decent home has 4-5 rocking chairs which they pull out on the porch in the afternoon and chill.

Cutie!

Church El Calvario.

Sunday chillin on the Plaza in Leon.

Everywhere in Leon we see beautiful graffiti and paintings with political messages. Very interesting to study the details of every painting that displays a violent history and as in all other Central American countries the US and CIA played a big role in the political and economic development.

Would be really interesting to come back and learn more about all this.

At night we met several large groups of small boys making amazing noise with drums and dancing with dolls. They went into cafes and restaurants and performed loudly and vigorously untill someone threw a few dollars their way.

Fantastic painting including much of Nicaraguas landscape, culture and history.

Once again we stumble into each other! Elisabeth and Walther from Austria were camping at the beach and just in the city for sightseeing. This time we didn’t say goodbye but see you later 🙂

On November 21st We headed for the capital Managua, but made a detour to the beach at Poneloya just outside Leon.

50 horsepowers has a lot of respect for 1 horsepower!

In Peneloya we stopped when we saw 3 KLR’s and met these guys: Braydon, Patrick. They were riding with two other guys on 3 KLR’s and a GS from Canada.

And Mike and Nastaja – also from Canada – with their Toyota Prado.

In Moab, Utah we met Jon, a photo journalist who was working on promotion photos for Klim and Touratech. He’s also one of the guys behind nicamotoadv.com an adventure motorcycle tour company in Managua, Nicaragua. He put us in contact with Salvador (SalCar) who’s the other guy behind the company. Salvador has a beautiful house in Managua and his home is open to all riders that come through Nicaragua. Besides running the tour company they do a lot of community work to promote rural tourism in Nicaragua to increase the income of poor families in remote locations and to increase healthcare access by utilizing part of the tour profits to bring medicines and healthcare professionals in rural areas. A very admirable mission.

In Salvador’s motorcycle parking area he had his BMW next to several Yamaha 200, that apparently was used for medical transportation.

Unfortunately Salvador was traveling when we got there, so we never got to meet him or hear more about their work. But Salvador’s 2 sympathetic employees took very good care of us.

November 22nd we headed for yet another border crossing to Costa Rica. At “On the Run” (The Nicaraguan version of OXXO) we met Erin & Joe from Chicago (Joe originally Irish which explains the red hair and the six-pence  :o) ). They were cycling as far as their money would take them. Think the heat was a bit hard on them and man, we sympathized with them. On the motorcycles at least you get some wind to cool you down and you pretty much sit still. They have to work for every mile in the heat up and down hills in crazy traffic that doesn’t give any space for 2 bicycles. Lot’s of respect for all you guys on bicycles. We actually think you are all a bit cracked!

Here we go again! At Pena Blanca the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica we went through the entire drill once again. Police check, check out the bikes, check ourselves out of the country we leave, then police check, fumigate tires, check in bikes, check ourselves in to the country we are entering and then finally police check.

Leaving Nicaragua was okay but slightly confusing since the customs officer and the police officer who both had to check the bike, didn’t have an office. They were walking around on the premises so you had to find them somewhere.

Returning from Nicaraguan immigrations office. We were now officially checked out. Now find the customs officer so we can get the bikes out as well.

Another bike check at the entrance to the Costa Rican border.

Before any paper work at the Costa Rican border, all vehicles passing through have their tires fumigated to avoid spreading diseases from one country to another.

Our experience with crossing borders so far was that things work out pretty smoothly as long as we follow our border crossing principles. But in all honesty getting in to Costa Rica was a lot of work. The process was more or less the same as we had gone through at the other border crossings but it was harder to figure out where to go and most of the officials were neither polite or helpful – besides it was a hot and humid day.

As usual it was not a problem to get ourselves into the country, it was the bikes that generated the work. It wasn’t really ever problematic, it just required at lot of “breathe-in-breathe-out”. I had to walk back and forth between the same places over and over again to get insurance and copies, because the official only told me to get one ting at the time. And every time I came back to him, he had left the office and I had to wait for him to come back. What could have been relatively smooth was made complicated because of one guy’s lack of interest.

Costa Rica requires you to buy insurance for the bike before you can get your import permit. We seriously doubt that this insurance would pay anything if we had an accident, and the $12 you pay probably doesn’t even cover the administrative work it generates.

At least this Senor was really helpful and helped me through the few remaining steps.

The  Costa Rica Customs office

The customs official typing the final import permit was extremely overloaded and seemed to be the only one working in the office. The other guys were just eating a snack or hanging out – so it seemed. And the line of truck drivers waiting for their document was long.

When he finally made my documents, there was an error in the information he got from me. So he had typed the wrong information into his system, stamped the doc and signed. And now I needed him to change it! At first he refused to change it and told me to come back the next day. I didn’t know how to react. I felt sorry for this overworked guy, but surely we couldn’t come back the next day. And I needed the document to be correct to avoid problems or delays at the next border crossing – especially since this was a serious error. I just stood there and waited and hoped he would show mercy. Finally he got my papers out again and started correcting the error – but he took the wrong document and just made another error. Dope! Now I had to convince him to correct 2 docs! Finally after some pleading (which is super hard, when you don’t speak Spanish) he got everything figured out, corrected the errors and we got our two Temporary Import Permits.

Despite the uncertainties, errors and heat we managed to do the whole border crossing in less than 3 hours without paying fixers to do it for us and could finally enjoy another border pipe!

Late in the afternoon after the hardest border crossing so far, we finally rode into Costa Rica. After several hours in the heat and dust it was just beautiful to accelerate and feel the afternoon wind slowly cool us down.

 

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17 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    Thank you for the info Lars. I did the doohickey on my 09 a month ago at a tech day at Eagle Mike’s in San Diego. I am bringing a doohickey kit to Argentina to replace it on my new bike down there (KLR 2012). I am also bringing tubes. My 09 has not shown signs of major oil consumption yet (knock on wood!)

    I should probably pick up spare levers and cables. I have a chain kit but need to buy links. I am leaving this Thursday for Argentina and I am bringing so much stuff that I am afraid I will have to pay overweight.

    Thank you so much for sharing your travels with us.

    Best wishes,

    Daniel

  2. larshoejberg says:

    Daniel,
    I haven’t had any problems with the KLR except for the clutch cable. It broke at approx. 15.000 miles. I bought a spare for just $2 which lasted approx. 1500 miles. Luckily I bought 2, so I hope the 2nd one will last a bit longer 😉
    Anyway, besides the clutch cable I haven’t had any problems. The KLR “drinks” oil if you go faster than 65 mph. So make sure you always carry an extra liter.
    Besides that, I’d recommend a couple of spare bulbs (rear and headlight), a spare chain kit (chain and sprockets). Maybe a set of spare levers (clutch/brake) and of course a set of spare tubes.
    It all depends on your willingness to take a chance – most of the above is available wherever you might go – it all depends on how long you’re prepared to wait for it.
    Last but not least – the “dohickey” is the issue that most KLR forums write about. I bought one (including gaskets etc.) just in case, but haven’t changed it yet. I think it depends on the year of your KLR – mine is a 2009 – whether it could become a problem.

    /Lars

  3. Henriette says:

    Hi Carol. Good to hear from you. Glad Ray made it home safely.
    We are in love with Colombia. The people are extremely warm and welcoming and we constantly get thumps up or “Thanks for visiting Colombia”. Just amazing. We are in Cali now. Staying at Mikkel’s cool hostel here. (motolombia.com). On Sunday we head for Ecuador. Sad to spend so little time in Colombia, but we have to move on.
    Say hi to Ray 🙂

  4. Daniel says:

    Hey Henriette,

    Has anything else broken in Lars’ KLR? I am considering parts to bring; any suggestions?

    Hope Bogota was good.

    Daniel

  5. Carol and Ray says:

    Hej Henriette
    Ray got home from Panama today – Soren arrives in Ottawa tomorrow on his way to DK.
    We’re glad to read that you are safely on the road even in wet Bogota. We anxiously await your travel news through Ecuador. Ride on, girl!

  6. Henriette says:

    Sounds like we’ll meet up! We also plan on going on ruta 40. We have been up to 4000 meters so 5000 will be exciting. I expect the Suzuki will spin like cat and the Kawasaki will cough as an old smoker 🙂 The Bunny bike seems to be happy whatever I put her though – except hitting wildlife! (:

    Theres only 2 bikes low enough for my inseam. The BMW650GS and the DR650. I have them both. For longer road trips the BMW is best. It’s comfortable and doesn’t shake as much as the Suzi. The DR650 is definately much more off-roadish bike. Easy to handle – like a mountain bike. And the weight distribution is much better. The BMW seems to me to be top heavy. However I have to admit that the Beemer has never let me down off road. It’s just more work and when you drop it it’s soooo heavy. The Suzi is not very comfortable for long travels. After 400 km I’m done.

    I lowered the DR and put a low seat on. We had to cut a big peace of the side stand. After a while I changed to a normal seat again. The low seat was very uncomfortable so now I just move over to one side and put 1 foot on the ground. And of course sometimes I drop the bike when I park in a stupid place, but that’ just part of the fun! – And real embarrasing sometimes :0)

    David (shortwayround.co.uk) also writes about the two bikes. He’s a very short guy. Started with the Beemer and changed to the DR.

    But please note. If your on a KLR and she’s on a DR, you’ll just see the back of her. Much more acceleration 🙂

    P.S Thanks for writing right now. I’m dead bored waiting at MCDonalds for Lars. He’s clutch cable broke just as we were leaving Bogota. Now it’s dark, cold and raining and we don’t have a hotel yet. But as long as McD has wifi I’m happy 🙂

  7. Daniel says:

    Thanks for the links Henriette. We have a bit over a month for the trip. We expect to be in the city of La Quiaca (border with Bolivia) by the end of January and start going down from there. Yes, the Patagonian winds are a concern for me too (we lost a tent with all our clothes in Tierra del Fuego once). The route we plan to follow (Ruta 40) climbs up to 5.000 meters at a given point. We are worry about that too!

    BTW my girlfriend is very interested in your story; she is short and wants to ride. Not many bike options to pick from!

    Cheers,

    Daniel

  8. Henriette says:

    Hi Daniel. Thanks for visiting! Your trip sounds really cool! Would be nice to meet. How much time do you guys have for the journey?

    We are really looking forward to that part of South America even if many tells horrific stories of the winds in Tierra del Fuego. I’m not good with side wind, but guess I will be once the trip is over. 🙂

    Do you know David’s website http://www.shortwayround.co.uk ? He has done a lot of riding there on hard core roads. It’s worth checking out.
    Also you should visit Alberto and Naomis thread on ADV. Their pictures are no less than phenomenal.

    Thanks for the link. We will definately be following you as well. 🙂

    Henriette

  9. Daniel says:

    Hey guys, I am really enjoying your wonderful adventure. Great pics, great stories. Truly inspirational. Thanks for sharing with us.

    I am heading down to Argentina (from California, by plane) for my own motorcycle adventure. On February 2012 my brother and I will be following the Argentinean Andes from the border with Bolivia all the way down to Ushuaia. I will be riding a KLR650. My brother a BMW R1150 GS Adventure. Maybe we will meet you guys down there. That would be awesome. Here is the link to the blog I am putting together for our trip. motosinfin.wordpress.com

    All the best to you guys!

    Daniel

  10. larshoejberg says:

    Hey Mr. “Skikkelig” 🙂
    Thx. for stopping by – again. Hope everything is fine in DK. I see you travel a lot yourself. Could be nice to meet for a cup of coffee once we’re home again.
    All the best.

  11. larshoejberg says:

    Hey Ste
    Thx. buddy – well you’ve been there, so you’re of course totally familiar with the whole circus. We’re enjoying it though. Actually we’re finding it a bit hard to see what the whole commotion about the border crossings is about. So far we haven’t spend more than 2-3 hours on a crossing – and let’s be honest – have you ever entered a US airport in less time? Without the import/export paperwork of a bike that is? 🙂
    By now we’re actually getting quite good at it – it’s becoming a routine.
    Stay tuned – more to come.

  12. Graham Stenning says:

    Wow, such admin every two days it seems! Well done both of you on keeping a cool head. 🙂

  13. Henriette says:

    Yes, you can say that again! It’s funny cause even if it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – especially since I have a hard time coping with the heat – I won’t miss it. But even if these countries are small, there’s so much to see and do. We could blame ourselves for rushing though so fast.

    I sure hope the following border crossings won’t come as rapid. It is super exciting to go to South America. First time for me. Have no idea what to expect from Colombia and tomorrow we fly to Bogota! WOT WOT!

    How are you guys doing? Please tell? Otherwise we’ll just have to crash your house again 🙂

    Hugs. H

  14. Kurt Towler says:

    Wow, you guys are getting very experienced at moving through customs. Border check, bike check, rinse, repeat. I had no idea the countries were so small until I looked at the map. No wonder you get to the next border so quickly.

    Something tells me your arrival in Columbia will be a different animal…

    Have fun and thanks for keeping us informed. We talk about it often.

    Regards, Dawn and Kurt from Bisbee.

  15. Henriette says:

    Yes, you are right to much ride/cross/ride/cross. If we had more time in Central America it would have been an entirely different experience. So much to see here, we’ll just have to come back.
    Henriette

  16. Stephen says:

    Central America, great, love it, but drive, border, drive, REPEAT,drive, border, drive, REPEAT… I spotted that fresca – Toronja.. One of my favourite soft drinks on the road.. Keep up the blog and best of luck, enjoy EVERY MINUTE..