Slow Progress Across Central America
Location: El Carmen (Guatemala) to Costa Rica
I stand at the customs window in El Salvador. Suddenly I am asleep. My legs give way and that jolts me back awake. It's like having strings attached to you in the way marionettes are jerked to life. I look around and catch a few smirks. After 16 hours riding it's possible to forget how to exist off a machine. It is like having a prosthetic attachment to your body on the bike it is different, you never forget how to ride.
Because of the stop start nature of passing through so many countries so quickly, momentum is lost and exhaustion quickly sets in. I always enjoy riding across this small country and while it has hidden blackness's in what looks like a cheery make-up, for me it is one big highway that winds through a jungle. I meet with David and his friend Tony, two passionate bikers who found me on face book and want to help. We ride from ???? to Somotillo and turn left onto the Pan American Highway and grab an ice cream. David tells me about the San Salvadorian gang culture and gives me hints about what to avoid. He tells me about big cars that drive up close behind and passengers that take to close an interest in what I am doing. This sort of advice has been prevalent across the region. On the outskirts of the capitol city San Jose they leave me and the last hour across Salvador is now dark and there are many trucks heaving up hills blocking the highway.
Because I am crossing Central America using a system called ‘transito’ the authorities are charging me a great deal more than what I paid journeying north a few weeks ago. The 90 day rule, of which I knew nothing, disallows you from re-entering one of the CA 4 pact countries – Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador - until this time has elapsed. It has left me no option to comply, but fortunately there is a remedy. By purchasing a transit permit allowing me 12 hours to cross each of these countries I am able to continue. Entering Honduras cost $186 plus tips to the guides and now, Louis my fixer here in Nicaragua, asks for $90 to pay for the main document called a manifest, $62 for insurance, $22 for a tourist visa and $40 for road tax. It'll be $400 for these two countries, which, looking at the rust buckets arriving at cockroach infested cafes such as the one in which I am eating, must surely be a sizeable contribution to the Honduran GNP. Coupled with my waking bad attitude, my view of Honduras dropped a few points to which the Hondurians, I am sure, don't care.
Nicaragua however is a very sweet country with the politest people. They are not up to speed yet with the needs progress inspires, and that is maybe why my spirits rise the instant I cross the border. The first gas station attendant is intelligent and able to share a joke and people stop to ask if I need help if they see me on the side of the road reading my map. Equally surprising is that the traffic is light and forgiving.
By midday I am on the quiet and almost cute peripherique that by passes Nicaragua's capitol Managua. It is raining hard and it is cold and I have two hours ride to the frontier post of Pena Blancas. All too soon I exit Nicaragua and enter Costa Rica and as it is still not dark on the border, there are more miles to be done.
Used tyres carried as spares are not allowed by the Ministry of Health Paperwork completed I head off in day light which deserts me before I reach the southern route from Punta Arenas. Costa Rica’s famed resorts line this corridor of pleasantness. At midnight I am still riding and pull up to one of the few gas stations open and ask permission to sleep beside the forecourt for an hour. One of the attendants who wears an Erryl Flynn moustache and a kind smile, beckons me to take my time and rest well. And that is where I rest.