We got up early on November 16th to prepare for our 6th border crossing from Guatemala to El Salvador. We dove into the lavish breakfast buffet at the hotel and did some bike maintenance. The previous evening I discovered that the screw that holds my air filter had come loose and the entire air intake was black with dirt! Not good at all and I actually had noticed that the bike wasn’t running as smooth as usual. So I cleaned the air filter and let it dry overnight. Then I rubbed in some motor oil and put everything back into place.
Lars needed to adjust his chain. Both chain and rear sprocket was extremely worn and needed to be changed badly. We didn’t carry a chain tool, so it wasn’t something we could do ourselves. We would find a place in El Salvador and got it fixed.
Walter & Elisabeth from Austria were staying at the same hotel. They are traveling for 1 year in their RV. They shipped the RV to Halifax in Canada, crossed Canada, went up to Alaska, all the way up to the Arctic sea, turned around and then headed south all the way to the tip of Argentina like us.
It is amazing how few foreign cars or tourist we meet outside the obvious tourist magnets like San Cristobal De La Casas in Mexico or Antigua in Guatemala. Seems to us that the tourists are flocking to the very few places recommended in popular travel guides. So we enjoy the rare meeting with fellow travelers. Our poor Spanish is really very limiting in terms of interesting conversations with the locals.
Walther gave us his GPS maps for the entire Pan-American Highway which was really awesome. We don’t have maps in our GPS for central or South America and having it the Pan-American Hwy could be a help in some situations, like when we ride through a large city.
Leaving Jutiapa we hit the same road work we passed last night. We had more than 50 cars, trucks and buses in front of us waiting for red light to pass the one lane section. But riding a bike is a huge advantage in that situation. We squeezed ourselves passed all the vehicles to the front where all the small local bikes were crowding up.
As always we draw a lot of attention.
This meant that when we got a green light, we were among the first to take off. So we took off full throttle towards the border thinking of Elisabeth & Walther in the back of the long line of cars.
On the way we stopped at a cemetery to see the Dia De Antes decoration in this area. Very different from what we had seen in Mexico and very colorful. And old Senor showed me around. He lost his wife 2 ½ years ago and was visiting her grave. He told me that the graveyard for several towns in the area and that the graveyard was divided into sections for each town. You could see that there more recent the grave, the more decorations.
Arriving at the border, we weren’t quite sure where to check out the bikes. Borders are funny places. There are always a lot of people, truck drivers, local travelers, money changers, fixers. Most of them will point you in the right direction so you kind of figure it out. Lars stayed with the bikes and I went to the immigrations counter and asked for the temporary vehicle import office. The lady there pointed me to the office on the other side of the road. Easy! But then this slick guy with sticky hair approached me and said we needed stamps from another office further down the street. He seemed confident and it can be really hard to see if it’s an official or just a guy trying to make you pay him to do the work. But as always Lars is really cool and told me “he’s a fixer, don’t listen to him.”
So I went back to the office on the other side of the road. There was a long line of people at a counter packed with transit documents for trucks. I wasn’t sure if I was at the right counter and didn’t want to wait in the long line, if I was in the wrong place. But my approach was as always to just look and wait and smile and somehow things will work themselves out.
A guy at the end of the line knocked on the glass window to the attention from a lady in the office, who didn’t appear to be doing anything. He asked if she could handle my papers. She said “sure”, and started handling our papers putting me in front of the entire line, since our papers apparently needed the attention of all three employees in the office! Sometimes it’s not too bad to be a blond tourist who doesn’t speak Spanish. Later I got the feeling that a female fixer in the line wasn’t quite satisfied with this, but I just smiled to her and she finally warmed to me. I needed some extra copies of our temporary Import Permit papers and luckily there was a copy service shop just next door. The officials seemed to be very thorough and checked the VIN number on the bikes.
When we were done checking out the bikes, I went back to the immigrations office to check ourselves out and get our passports stamped.
That was leaving Guatemala. Less than 1 hour – not bad! While I had done the paperwork, Lars was watching the bikes and chatting with these guys. They were working as money changers and fixers and were really cool dudes.
Jose, Vinicio, Marvin fra El Salvador Gambio and fixers
Then we headed up the street to enter El Salvador. And to go through the entire drill all over again. Check-in the bikes and check ourselves in. The bike check-in was the most time consuming part. They had to see passports, driver’s license, registration and export paper from Guatemala. And of course copies of it all. Then we had to fill out a form with details on us on and the bikes. Then the official double checked all document and checked the VIN-number on the bikes. When all papers were acknowledged, they were passed on to the ladies who type it all in to their system. That took a while since the ladies were typing all the papers for the truck drivers and we were in a line. But we spent the waiting time hanging out, talking to a few people, eating some cookies, writing a few postcards, talking to some dogs and just chilling. Finally the papers were ready and we could proceed to the El Salvador immigration line.
There were only a few cars ahead of us, so no long wait there. They entered out passport details in their system without any questions.
Then we could go ahead to the final stop: the police check. They checked the import documents once again and double check with the VIN-number on the bike. These guys were thorough!
It’s funny that no one checked our bags for weapons or drugs or anything. They asked where we are going, but that was it really. At all offices they were nice and polite and serious. Overall it was a very pleasant experience that took us 2 ½ hour in total. Lars changed our last Guatemalan Quetzals changed to US dollars, which is the currency in El Salvador.
When we first entered El Salvador it seemed to be poorer than what we had seen in Guatemala. The road was extremely damaged with large potholes and people were living in small sheds. However the cars seemed to be in much better shape and as we turned off onto Hwy 1 we entered the perfect wide 4 lane Hwy. From then on and all the way to La Libertad on the coast, we were able to go 60 miles an hour, something we haven’t done for a long time.
It also meant that we were able to reach our destination at 3 pm. On the way were stopped once by a police patrol who asked us for our papers on the bikes. One of them was very interested in our trip and we stayed and chatted for a while.
La Libertad is the main fishing port south of San Salvador. We stopped for a cold drink and watched the local washing their laundry in the river.
Then we continued north along the coast in our search for a pace to spend the night. We stopped and asked for rates a few places and were outraged to hear that several places would charge us $50 for a room. Finally in La Tonco we found a nice little family run Hotel La Pupa. Nice and spacy room with a fan, private bathroom and a hammock on the porch and free coffee for $20. Now that’s more like it!
Senora Pupa and daughter.
A British bloke Tim at our hotel recommended a little place to eat and while lightning lights up the palm trees and heavy rain falls we enjoyed burritos and tacos for $2 each! We could totally get used to this!
Tim from the UK
In La Tonco we also meet David, a traveler from Washington who’s been on the road for 3 years. He is a kite board instructor and carries a kite board and 3 kites on his V-Strom 1000!
On Thursday the 17th we headed of along the coast towards the Honduran border. We intended to stay in a hotel close to the border and cross on Friday. But first Lars headed down to a moto repair shop in La Libertad to have his chain changed. As we’ve seen before, the shop consisted of one part that dealt with refrigerators and aircondition equipment and the other part with motorcycles. Pedro and Roberto who were in charge of the repair shop, instantly started on the KLR. When the old chain went of, one of the guys in the refrigerator part asked if he could have it. When I said yes, he got so excited that he threw a round of juice to everyone. Within less than an hour, the bike got a new chain and rear sprocket. Labour cost, $15 🙂
We enjoyed the ride along Hwy 2. People here seem to be very pro-American and they all think we are from the US. People wave at us or look at us with big eyes. It’s funny really; we look at them and take pictures and they look amazed back at us. Whenever we stop we attract people – especially those who speak English. They love to get the chance to talk English. They are all very interested in our journey and the size of our bikes. The bikes here are mostly 125 or 200 ccm and they are always surprised that our bikes are 650 with only 1 cylinder.
The road was really good and we enjoyed the ride, but we still had to stay super focused and be ready for the frequent stray dogs, horse carriages, donkeys, herds of cows or just people trying to sell their products. El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America and we feel it. The roads are important veins that cut through the country. The pick-up trucks are overloaded with people clinging on with one hand. Standing up in the front seems to be the best place.
Might not be holy cows but they still have right-of-way
The road serves many purposes. Drying your produce is one of them.
The buses in El Salvador are less aggressive and don’t send out the black fumes are we saw in Guatemala.
Heavy traffic in El Transito.
In El Transito we headed East through the 2 volcanoes Usulutan and San Miguel towards city San Miguel. The road immediately changed from flat, smooth asphalt to a rough, potholed, washed out road. We had to stand up on our foot pegs to get a better overview and find the easiest way though the obstacles.
In San Jorge Lars’ clutch cable snapped. We stopped in front of a little street grill and tried to fix it without luck.
It was late afternoon, it was stinking hot and there was no mechanic in San Jorge or anything else for that matter, so we drove in third gear over the mountain to San Miguel city where we would have a chance to find spare parts. I drove in front of Lars trying to clear the way of dogs and cows, though I didn’t always succeed. As we approached San Miguel the highway was packed with trucks and cars. This was not easy for Lars who couldn’t use his clutch. We rode passed the line of cars on the inside through mud and ruts and pedestrians. It was hectic, we were sweating in the heat and when we got to the very first hotel we stopped and stayed there for the night. It was expensive but we were desperate to have some air conditioning and get a cold shower and clean white sheets.
The next morning Lars took a taxi to the local part shop “Auto Moto” to see if they were able to help out with the clutch problem. It only took the guys 2 min. to find a spare cable. Price, $2.
Auto Moto in San Miguel. The place to go for parts.
We a new clutch cable installed we headed for our 7th border crossing to Honduras.