Central America trip

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Joined: Wed Jun 18, 2014 12:02 pm
Location: Portage,WI
Motorcycle: 1999 GL1500A

Central America trip

Postby tomudulutch » Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:01 pm

CENTRAL AMERICA – December 15, 2012 to January 13, 2013
This trip started the eve of December 14th with a birthday party for my 14 year old granddaughter Nadia at the Red Lobster in Madison, WI. Before retiring I arranged for a taxi to pick me up at my son Mark’s house at 5:20 AM. At 5:10 I turned on the front porch light and the cab driver who was already there decided to help by opening the front storm door. This prompted Buddy (Mark’s dog) to start alerting the neighborhood of his space invasion. I hustled to finish packing and we were off to the airport. While going through security my cell phone rang. Mark asked if I might have forgotten to pack something. I had not packed my travel folder with the passport, international driver’s license and vehicle registration, and all of the online research that Neil and Sophie did on potential hotel accommodations. The last time I did something that stupid, my son Kent and I were approaching the airline desk in Minneapolis for a flight to Morocco to visit Mark who was in the Peace Corp. Kent asked about my passport and of course it was back in a file drawer in the Wisconsin Dells. Kent went on by himself and I returned to the Dells. This time I received the file the next morning when Mark and staff sent it overnight via UPS.
December 14th I stayed at the Capuchin house in Tucson. Father Bob Kose was not only a gracious host but had stored the Goldwing for me since I drove it down to Tucson in October. Father Nick Widhammer, who was a classmate of mine at St Lawrence in the 1950’s, and I were able to get caught up on some 60 years of history. I was going to do a Blog for www.horizonsunlimited.com , but couldn’t get started because the rain over the previous couple days had affected the internet service. I tried McDonalds and they too had a problem. The blog will have to wait.
December 15th I entered Mexico at Nogales and the crossing seemed similar to border crossings in Europe. It was a simple drive through. It was much later when I found out that this was a big mistake on my part. I sort of expected to meet up with some other bikers but saw none. Maybe the 44 degree temperature is not cycle weather down here. The terrain has many varied rock formations. I saw what looked like little dog houses along the side of the highway. Then I saw one with a cross on top. Evidently auto related deaths. I should have made better use of my cell phone before crossing the border, because by the time that I arrived at my hotel in Hermosillo, it was too late to buy a SIM card. There was no English at the desk to help me figure out the inoperable internet connection. The blog will have to wait.
December 16th I retired last night about 10:00 PM and awoke around mid-night. Someone was playing some horrible music. About 12:30 I walked outside and the noise was coming from outside the enclave. At 1 AM I called the desk and asked them to do something. At 1:30 I called and they said that they had called the police. The noise finally stopped at 2 AM. It would be a good idea when planning hotel stays to pack ear plugs if the travel book advertises a disco. When I left the hotel at 9 A.M. the temperature was 44 degrees. The landscape included numerous tetons and not much in the way of green. Around 10:00 I removed my gloves and traded my real helmet for the much lighter silver plated graphite salad bowl that I bought from Jeno while touring Transylvania in 2008. By 11:00 the landscape around Navojoa had turned to emerald. I am now beginning to see some motorcycles. Still no touring bikes but a good number of 150’s. There for awhile I was thinking that Easy Rider might have been a best seller down here. The 15 cows grazing in the center area of the 4 lane highway was a bit un-nerving.
The one Mexican tourist attraction that I wanted to see was the Copper Canyon (Mexico’s Grand Canyon) area. DC had spent a good bit of time and effort to arrange this side trip out of Los Mochis. The address for the Santa Anita Hotel was given as the intersection of two streets so therefore not programmable into the GPS. While trying to follow directions from 2 other hotels doormen with ‘no Englaish’, I came inches from being hit by a car doing about 60 miles an hour and coming out of an alley. My immediate reaction was to congratulate myself for paying the extra $100.00 to have Engelhart (Honda dealer) rework the front handbrakes. After checking in I called Mark to let folks know that I was alive, but out of communication until I get back from the canyon and able to buy a SIM for my phone. Unfortunately I was not able to get the tablet computer, that my son Kent gave me, to shake hands with the hotel Wi/Fi. I guess we will have to forgo the blog. I won’t have service at the canyon.
December 17th The 4:15 wake up call got me to the waiting bus by 5:15. The train was less than ½ full and a few more passengers got on at El Fuerte. They had a nice diner car and the food was pretty good. I discovered an excellent soup called Aztech. The route was a real engineering marvel with over 80 tunnels and numerous bridges. For those of you that have visited our grand canyon, you will be able to get an idea of the size of the ‘Barranca del Cobre’, by these numbers. The deepest part of our canyon is 4674 feet and several Copper Canyons are from 5700 to 6100 feet. Total area of our canyon is about 1/4th the size. We arrived in time for a 2 PM luncheon and I got caught up a bit on my journal notes. I met some interesting folks at dinner.
December 18th The heating system for my room did not cope with the drop in temperature so about 6 A.M. I went back to the combination lounge, dining room and bar area to watch the sun rise over the opposite canyon wall. The high light of the tour for me was our visit to the homes of the reclusive Tarahumara Indians that live in the canyon’s caves much like their ancestors did 400 years ago. Unfortunately, I ran out of balloons because of poor planning. I didn’t expect that I would be giving them to adults as well as children. One improvement for the caves was a recent contribution from the Mexican government of small solar panels that provide light during evening hours. I guess I packed a bit too light for this overnight stay. The lack of bug spray was not an issue but I definitely missed the sun tan lotion and baseball hat. The climb out of the canyon reminded me of the 1 ½ hour climb out from the Zambezi river below Victoria Falls in Botswana where Beth and I did the white river rafting thing. The train arrived back in Los Mochis at 9:30 PM.
December 19th I was at the mobile phone shop promptly at 8 AM and found no English in the area. The SIM chip was installed, but I couldn’t use it because of a message in Spanish. I went to the ATM only to find that the 2 VISA cards that I had PIN numbers for did not work. I had several $100.00 bills stashed but was keeping them for the countries South of Mexico where the internet warned about some ATM’s not accepting U.S. cards. I left about 9:30 AM for Mazatlan and stopped for gas. Neither of my credit cards worked and they did not accept American Express. I paid for the gas with a $10.00 roll of U.S. half dollars, a one dollar U.S. bill, 300 Peso’s and some Peso coins. It was when I got to the first toll booth near Culiacan that I found out that my credit on both VISA cards had been stopped. The booth operators would not take a $100.00 bill, nor the half dollar coins, nor American Express, nor a bulky pair of yellow boots. Because of some English among this really nice bunch of folks, I was able to get them to go along with the idea of my turning around and taking an exit into the city of Culiacan. I was just congratulating myself on my excellent diplomacy when I ran into the exit toll booth. This time the lady spoke some English, made a phone call (with vehicles lining up in back of me) and accepted four of the half dollars. (The shiny new half dollars were meant to be used as tips on the trip, another of my less than brilliant plans – it turned out that coins of any denomination were not valued there). In Culiacan I cashed one of the $100.00 bills and arrived at the Aztec motel in Mazatlan around 5 PM.
The desk clerk Geraldo spoke English and was a big help with my communications and credit card dilemma. Strangely, only one of the VISA card’s credit was stopped because of my use out of the country. The other appears to be caused by a Christmas gift charge by one of our Recruiters who bought a poinsettia for one of her clients in Iowa. With Geraldo’s help, I have workable e-mails and a usable cell phone. I was even able to replenish my balloon supply. I didn’t however have a workable PIN number.
December 20th I got an early start toward Guadalajara with a half tank of gas. When the needle got close to the empty line, I realized that there are no gas stations on the highway. I passed a Gas sign to Tecuala and then doubled back at the next exit. The first thing I noticed at the station, was the guy pumping gas was toking on a weed. No English but seemed to be cheerful enough. After a half hour wait at a bank in Tepic for the only English speaking guy to get back from Siesta, I was told that even with a passport I could not extract money without a PIN number. So I exchanged another $200.00 U.S.
I set the GPS to get me past Guadalajara and the first hotel upon entering Ocotlan was kind of interesting. I drive inside an exterior wall and there is a sort of courtyard with a speaker device like at McDonalds. I talk into the device and 3 women of various ages come out, look at me and giggle. They show me a room by opening a garage door (seems that the last guest didn’t return a key). No English but I was able to determine that they did not have Wi/Fi or a phone systems. As I am leaving I notice that they have a display of lingerie for sale in a window next to their office. I spent the night at a Casino/hotel mid-way between Ocotlan and La Barca. I still have not seen a touring motorcycle.
December 21st Early 6 AM start and I was in Morelia and able to negotiate another no English SIM chip purchase that worked. I reached Jennifer Huerta to let her know that I might make Puerta later that day. Jennifer is the daughter of Bob and Mary Lou Granger of Miami Florida. They have been longtime friends of my brother Fr Bob and have been my gracious hosts on several Florida visits. Her husband Carlos is from Tehuacan a city a bit South of Mexico City. They have invited me to stay with them in Puebla and join them for a baptism adventure in Tehuacan.
It is a beautiful day and I shed my leather coat and real helmet around 11 AM. I enter the newly completed Arco Norte toll road at Atlacomulca with a full tank of gas. The Arco Norte will allow me to bypass the Mexico City nightmare. They feed you a plastic card from one of their brand new dispensers and you pay at the other end. Well at least that is the way that it is supposed to work. There was probably a sign in Spanish somewhere on the approach that warned that they do not accept credit cards. On my arrival near Puerta I was escorted to the administration building where I offered them 100 Pesos for the 450 Peso charge. This was finally accepted after I sat in their office for a ½ hour reading about Auschwitz on my kindle. I called Carlos and Jen and let them know that I wanted to see if the GPS would lead me to their home. Not one of my smartest decisions.
In short order I got totally lost and I called C & J to come and lead me in. It took another 15 minutes to determine where I was at. There was one street sign for a street that crossed the entire city, but no one in the OXXO or pharmacy could understand what I was asking. I investigated a motel that was long closed and picked up a business card from what appeared to be a muffler repair shop. Finally I turned the phone over to a customer in the OXXO who spoke to Carlos. OXXO = 7/11s owned by Coca Cola throughout Mexico. We went to C & J’s friend Laura Palacios’s home who had a secure garage for stashing the goldwing. Laura joined us for dinner and I got my class 101 in Mexican menu reading. Laura is about a year away from obtaining her PHD in Education. I also got my class 101 in proper Tequila drinking back at C & J’s comfortable Condo.
December 22nd At 8 AM I followed C & J to the city of Tehuacan where Carlos was born and lived through high school. The baptism mass was set for 2 PM and we arrived in time for brunch. Ham, eggs, breads, pastries, and 2 types of soup. A regular smorgasbord. I met a lot of extended family with a good representation of Suzans and Daniels. Several family members spoke English and everyone made me feel like I belonged. The baby Maria Paulina is the daughter of Carlos’s sister Paulina and brother-in-law Edmundo Barragan. Carlos’s parents Silverio and Susana Huerta made me feel very welcome and comfortable in their home.
My brother Fr Bob always says that he would prefer doing several funerals to a wedding. (Mothers of the bride I think) Well he would love doing Mexican baptisms. It rivals Christmas. Presents, gathering of extended family, booze, dinner, a live band, booze, and a late night barbeque. Carlos assisted in helping me with finding and obtaining needed funds from an ATM. Jen helped me solve some functions of my ‘Smart’ phone, which is a lot smarter than me. Edmundo Barragan, Carlos’s brother-in-law’s father, gave me much needed direction for the best route to Guatemala. It was a fun party, but the tequila sort of snuck up on me.
December 23rd I said goodbye to Susana (Carlo’s mother) at about 8 AM and C & J escorted me out to the highway. By following the directions of Edmundo, I was able to do the 475 miles and reach my hotel in Tuxtla Gutierrez just after dark at 6:15 PM. I visited a nearby Taco place that smelt good. As I come in I see large sausages off to the side of the kitchen. I thought that I had ordered one and I immediately received a taco appetizer. I waited and waited for my sausage and finally asked the guy at the cash drawer about my sausage. Since he didn’t understand, I took him to the entrance and pointed to the sausages. Well, I got my sausage but it was a real disappointment. The skin was filled with the chopped up meat that they make for the tacos. Too spicy for me to consume so I went back to the menu.
December 24th I left the hotel at 6 AM and traveled in a cloud until leaving the mountain. When the sun appeared about 8:30, It became a balmy day for riding. I reached the border of Guatemala around noon and immediately had a 30 year old helper there to assist me through the border crossing. He took my passport to an official in a window and immediately returned telling me that I needed to get a Mexican stamp. Back at the Mexican side I was told I needed to go back to Norgales (about 1500 miles) and get it stamped. I went back to my helper who took me aside and told me that for $100.00 he could get the problem taken care of. I asked if I would get a receipt. His answer was “ No receipt – It is business”. I went back to Mexico and asked again for the stamp. The guy at the window refused.
I asked to speak to someone that spoke English and sat down and took out my kindle. After about 10 minutes a different official came and took my passport and stamped it. I thanked him profusely. I went back to Korea and my helper took up where he started. I needed to buy a windshield sticker for $25.00 but got a receipt. I thought that my helper might be too embarrassed because of the bribe request to ask for a tip. When he asked I gave him a balloon. He got a bit upset but a couple of his buddies in the area got a big laugh out of it. I ended up giving him some Pesos worth about $8.00 U.S..
The word Teton means teat in French. Guatemala has to be the Teton (speed bump) capital of the world. They often (but not always) warn you about the approaching speed bumps with a sign that has 3 Tetons on it. Tetons come in different dimensions. The perky ‘C’ cup is the worst for the motorcycle. It is high enough to connect with the frame between the 2 wheels. The maidenly ‘D’ cup will allow you to transverse at about 15 miles an hour. The Goldwing took 3 big hits within the first ½ hour. I got lost in Malacatan and pulled to the side to look at the map. I gave a balloon to a little girl and asked the mother if she spoke English. She said momento and went into the building. She came back with her husband and a little boy who got the last of the fancy eared balloons that Jen had given me. The husband Jose spoke some English and offered to lead me out of the city on his scooter. When I asked about a local hotel, he walked me down the street to the Rodriques Hotel and he got me the best room for $30.00 and with locked courtyard parking. I have got to get more balloons.
December 25th Merry Christmas ! I was packing the goldwing when Jose showed up at 6 AM to lead me out of the city. Even with minimum traffic this was a good thing. I am catching on to the fact that cities here do not have much in the way of signs showing you out of the city. I wish I had purchased the GPS software for the Central American Countries. Jose refused my tip. Got to love these folks. It was still a bit dark when I hit an unmarked ‘D’ cup at about 55 miles an hour. I went airborne and landed hard with the rear wheel landing at a bit of an angle. The weight of the cycle seemed to help to right itself and I did not of course go down. At the next gas station I saw that the part of the fairing around the key was snapped. The Goldwing is a remarkable machine and has taken a beating over the last 15 years. I laid it down on a mountain pass in a rainstorm on the Isle of Krk in the Adriatic in 2010.
It was getting real dark when I approached San Salvador looking for a hotel. A family at a restaurant led me by car to a wall/gate with an armed guard a few blocks away. Nothing in the way of a sign was obvious. The guard made a phone call to see if they accepted VISA and they did. The guard directed me to a garage and pointed to the stairs. I went upstairs and it is just a room with a bath/shower. I went back down to the guard with my palms turned up and he sent me back up. This time I notice a 16“ by 16” door over a couch. When I open the door I hear voices so I call out. The inside door opens and a lady in her 40s appears while reciting a list of Spanish saints, a good place to buy shoes and didn’t stop until I gave her my No Española. I gave her my visa card and got a hand rub. I am not making this up. She returned with an open bottle of Corona (popular Mexican beer), a $30.00 visa slip and a menu in Spanish. Evidently the room comes with a meal and a beer. I signed the visa slip and picked the only thing that I recognized on the menu – chicken. It wasn’t a bad meal and even came with another beer. As I put the dishes back in the box, a male voice in perfect English asked if I needed anything else.
December 26th At 6 AM I had loaded the wing and started the engine when the ground floor door into the garage burst open and outcome 3 ladies. The hand rubber gives me a hug and indicates that she is ready to ride. She evidently liked my bike. After doing a class 101 in goldwings including saddle bag opening, trunk opening, gas tank opening, horn and radio, I was on my way. I lost an hour trying to find my way out of town, but stumbled on a Wal-Mart only because it was actually on a road sign. They didn’t have any balloons but I found a Dollar Store type place that had them. I talked to someone that was heading East and followed him to an actual road sign.
On my approach to Honduras I was met by 2 brothers that disappeared with my exit paper from El Salvador when I refused to pay them for things like fumigating the cycle. Honduras would not let me enter without it. Before I could find someone with enough English to explain this to me I ran out of daylight. I checked into the local no man land border hotel. I must have gotten the bridal suite because it has inside plumbing. The hotel has sort of a restaurant, a small store and accepts VISA. I am down to about $12.00 in ½ dollar coins which no one wants to take. There are no ATMs in the area that accept U.S. credit cards.
I handed out some balloons to my next door’s kids and was pleased to find out that the father spoke English. He explained that I would have to go back out to the El Salvador exit station to get a copy of the missing exit document. He also explained that I would have to pay a VISA charge for the cycle. We talked about my $ problem and he agreed to help. We went to the store and bought a large supply of baby food and I put it on the VISA card in addition to his room cost. He in turn gave me the equivalent Pesos for about $80.00 U.S. dollars. About then Geraldo Rivas shows up. He speaks English and had heard about my problem. I agreed to pay him $10.00 U.S. if he will help me tomorrow and we agree to meet at 8 AM.
December 27th Geraldo and I go to the administration office to make sure that all they need is a copy of the exit form. The person Suzanne that we needed to talk to was in a meeting. About 8:30 I called Juan Lopez in Managua, Nicaragua. I explain that I will be a day or two late due to a problem getting into Honduras. I also mentioned my $ problems but that I was working on getting that solved. He kindly offered to Western Union $100.00 to me and I accepted. Geraldo and I finally got the information that we needed, stopped at the Western Union office to pick up Juan’s money, and rented a 3 wheeler taxi to take us out to the exit station. We were directed to a warehouse type building about a ½ mile in back of the exit station on the highway. It was well into the 90 degree range and no breeze. We waited a good hour until I went and stood in front of the one way mirror door that leads into the air conditioned office. An official came out and assured Geraldo and I that it wouldn’t be long now. A few minutes later the lights went out. It seems that someone neglected to order fuel for the generator. At 4:10 we obtained the form and sped back to Suzanne. Thanks to Juan’s Dollars I had plenty to pay the Aduana fees. Geraldo kept pushing Suzanne and while ignoring a couple citizens, I was cleared at 4:50 PM. When I kissed Suzanne everyone in the place clapped. There must have been ten of the Ombudsmen around the Goldwing. After paying Geraldo his $10.00 I distributed the remaining 50 cent pieces to the helpers and several children. Some had balloons. An hour later I check into a hotel in Choluteca Honduras. Obviously no more Tetons. Oops, I am out of time on my smart phone.

December 28th I got kissed by a cop today and life is good. The crossing into Nicaragua was the easiest since coming into Mexico due to Mr Wilson Martinez. Wilson spoke good English having spent several periods of time in the U.S. I had run into another glitch on the highway coming into the border. The service station that said they accepted VISA could not process my U.S. cards so I paid cash. I knew this would cut me a bit short but some borders have ATMs. With Wilson’s help I got through the border in about 40 minutes and almost had enough cash for $12.00 Visa, $12.00 insurance and came up about a buck short for the cost of photocopies which Wilson paid. If some of you are getting the idea that all of the people in Central America are sphincter muscles (Ass holes) you are wrong. For every Alexander Contreras there are 10 Wilson Martinez. I hope Wilson visits us some day so I can repay him.
When I arrived in Esteli Nicaragua, I hit the ATM, had lunch and called Juan. We agreed to meet at the car rental site at the airport and I would follow them into the Capuchin house. As I came into the small city of San Isidro I passed a string of cars on a bridge. When I was leaving the city I was pulled over by a 30ish lady cop and her young 20 year old male sidekick. They seemed to have trouble believing that I did not speak Spanish. I gave her my International Drivers License and she began writing on a pad. About then a truck full of soldiers pulled up and began to disembark. I immediately threw up my arms in an exaggerated surrender. Ms cop seemed to think this was pretty funny and pulled me around and gestured that they were not after me. I elaborately wiped my brow and she giggled. She is writing away and I turn on the cycle’s radio. They just happened to be playing a rather jazzy piece and Ms cop began to gyrate. I went up to her and extended my arms for a dance. She raised her clip board and shook her finger at me. Then she motioned to me that I could go. When I hugged her she pecked me on my bearded cheek. Remember ‘Love potion number 9’?
Juan Lopez Urbina and I have not seen each other for 60 years. We were both at St Lawrence Seminary in 1952 and Juan spent that summer in Norwalk with my family. Juan returned to Nicaragua and as the oldest child helped his widowed mother raise and educate 8 brothers and a sister. My brother Father Irvin was a favorite person in Juan’s life and he visited Juan in Nicaragua so I had some ongoing information about Juan’s life. Juan’s son-in-law Bismark Reyes was driving the car when I was met at the airport by Juan and his wife Socorro. We stopped at their home (which was beautifully decorated for Christmas) where I met the rest of the family – daughters Lourdes, Annette, and Carla – grandson Benjamin and very precocious 6 year old granddaughter Nicole. I won’t meet their daughter Iris until I visit South America in that she is a nun in Chile. We then went to the Capuchin house where we met Father Solano and Brother Victor. I had a comfortable room with closets, a large table with internet, and a bathroom/shower.
December 29th I woke up about 4 AM and took a drink of water. Oh, Oh problem swallowing. I tried to clear my throat and coughed up phlegm. I went to the kitchen and microwaved a cup of water and added some honey. Not good, we have a problem here. Due to Bismark’s connections, I was able to get into see an Eye, Nose and Throat specialist on short notice. Well it wasn’t strep but something similar but more easily treatable virus. If I remember correctly it cost me about $30.00. I will notify Obama. With a stop at the pharmacy it was time to do some sightseeing. Bismark drove us out to see a volcano but it was closed. Sure you can close a volcano. I remember when they used to lock the town dump back in Norwalk, WI. We took a boat ride on Managua Lake and it took us through like hundreds of islands. The islands are populated with families living in less than real homes and they make their living by fishing. Juan and I got caught up on 60 years of history and his was more interesting than mine. He was seriously affected by their Civil War and came close to losing his life. He was a successful teacher and Accountant.
December 30th I woke up feeling considerably better and decided to see what I could of Costa Rica before Juan’s New Years eve party. 8 AM mass with Father Francisco Solano was interesting. It was just Father and I and he didn’t think my offering to take up the collection was necessary. With Father having been in Nicaragua for 30 years, he has not had a lot of opportunities to do the English version. With my expert help, we managed pretty well. After mass Father kindly lead me out to the highway and I was on my way.
I arrived at the Costa Rica border about noon. The Costa Rica border passing was supposed to be more civilized. I agreed to pay $10.00 to my Ombudsman after giving him my spiel about ‘I only want a translator, keep your cotton picking hands off my papers and just walk me through. We did the exit from Managua in about 30 minutes. There was a long line of people entering Costa Rica and I waited in line. Did a great job of distributing balloons until I ran out. When I return from freshening my balloon supply from the cycle, a Canadian guy suggested that I follow him and by pass the line. Within 20 minutes I had my Costa Rica pass port stamp. Well it turned out that that was the easy part. Now we need to buy the insurance. I won’t bore you with the details but the administration office is 3 football fields from the Aduana and the photocopies are near the Aduana but needed by administration. 2 hours later I am headed into Cost Rica.
I check into a good ‘find’ hotel about 5:30 PM. The desk actually speaks pretty good English. When I headed out to dinner I stop by the desk and ask if I pay a bit extra could I get a towel. A guy sitting in the lobby burst out laughing and said something like “that must be embarrassing for a classy place like this”. I couldn’t make out the accent but it sounded a bit Australian. I won’t diverse here but I ended up spending a delightful evening with Grant and his wife Ella. He grew up in Cairns, Australia and recognized the hotel that I stayed at while waiting in the mid 1990s to board the boat for sailing the barrier reef. He sells boats and has a number of yacht racing trophies. Ella is an artist and mother of 4 children.

December 31st I had breakfast and at 6 AM I head out for Espatza where there is supposed to be an interesting volcano. It is such a beautiful day that I decide to just take in as much of Costa Rica that I can in the time available. I want to be back in time for Juans’s party this eve. I see this high mountain to the left of me as I go South and decide to take the next major road to the left and see where it takes me. It was a beautiful route, I climbed probably 4000 or 5000 feet and had another breakfast at a chalet. Where are all the other bikers. Some folks out there don’t know what they are missing. I headed back to Nicaragua and approached the border late morning.
Since the bribe offer coming into Guatemala I have been wondering about the going cost of bribes in general. On entering Nicaragua I decided to lose my exit form and see what happened. When asked for the exit document I played dumb. Showed the official everything but. The conversation (mostly one sided) went like this. Official – “You in big trouble – they take your vehicle- you better find or you in big trouble –look – look – look more. They have a small cement block hut with 2 desks in it. I spead all of my dirty laundry, papers, maps, travel guides etc. It looks like granddaughter Sophie’s bed room.
They are not making me any kind of offer so I say let me call my friend Juan in Managua. He speaks Spanish. Juan isn’t on the phone 3 minutes and they tell him that $100.00 will take care of the problem. I went to lunch and found the form. I tried to get the official to talk about the bribe offer. I asked if I would have gotten a receipt and I got “No that is business”. He said that the country is concerned about keeping track of people entering and leaving and it costs money to deal with lose ends. I asked if he was a lose end and he smiled and said I guess maybe - or something like that.
I decided I would try to find the Capuchin house on my own. No small feat with no understandable street signs. Example: The address of the Capuchin house is “From where it was the old Cabrera Cinema, 4 blocks South, house number 914.” I got as close as I could to the part of Managua that the house was in and stopped at a filling station. A guy was filling his car with gas and I saw 4 kids in the car. By the time that he finished filling and paying for the gas I was replacing one of the balloons that had busted. I showed him the directions to the house that Father Solano had written out. He scratched his head, walked out to the road and came back while motioning me to follow him. He must have gone 15 to 20 blocks out of the way to get me to the house. Is that balloon power or what?
I wasn’t supposed to have any alcohol with the medication that I was on so it was a rather mild New Year’s eve . I had a good chance to meet Juan’s daughters and see some of their talent in art. I also met Juan’s brother Modesto. It was fun to be with Juan’s very delightful grandkids although I was a bit embarrassed by the fact that the wrist watch I gave Ben was a cheap model compared to the one that he had on. Juan has a very comfortable home that would fit very well in any U.S. community. My experience in Nicaragua has been a pleasure and I hope to come back if we can get El Salvador to behave a bit.
January 1st Happy New year. After mass with Father Salano and Brother Victor, Father escorted me out to the highway. The border crossing into Honduras only took 2 hours so I decided to try a road other than the Pan American highway to the capital Tegucigalpa. The tour book gave a good review of Valle de Angelas, a restored colonial mountain village East of Tegucigalpa. It is also called Brigadoon since I could not find it. The road had numerous pot holes and I arrived at the capital about 5 PM. A Federal Soldier stopped me and directed me to their command center. He had a pretty impressive clip in his assault rifle so I complied. It was beginning to get dark and I tried calling the hotel “Leslie’s Place” listed in the travel book as a good budget Bed and Breakfast place. I only got some Spanish recording. The map of Tegucigalpa in the travel book showed “Leslie’s Place” as #13. I tried to get one of the 7 or 8 soldiers in the area to direct me to it but no English and no indication that I was going anywhere soon. About 5:30 a car pulls up and a fancy uniform exits that speaks some English. He tries to call the hotel because he has no idea where it is located. I ask him to point me in the direction of the city center. He says too dangerous. I said you aren’t with the Chamber are you? He didn’t understand. I said,”look it is getting dark and I really want to find a hotel”. With a straight face he says something like “shoot you, bad tourist. We wait for escort”. 10 minutes later a small pickup truck with 2 soldiers in the back pull up. The general told me to follow them and I did. About 15 minutes later I knew we were lost. We passed the same lady in hot pants standing on the corner next to a restaurant 3 times. The truck stopped at what appeared to be a hospital. 5 minutes later we pull up to a hotel. Leslies place closed 2 years ago. I check in. That is the last time that I buy a tour book from the ½ price book store.
January 2nd I arranged for a taxi to lead me out of Tegucigalpa and I did not see one road sign with a recognizable city name on it. The Honduras side of the border was a piece of cake. El Salvador was a different story. I am not going to bore you readers with what transpired. The following is an excerpt from the document that I prepared for our Embassy in San Salvador for the purpose of getting my bribe back.
“On my return to El Salvador, I was escorted by another helper to the same administration building ½ mile back from the exit check point on the road into El Salvador from Honduras. Custom officer Alexander Contreras who speaks good English greeted me in a very friendly manner. From my brief conversation with him I can only assume that he thought I had been told something about the process that we were about to enter into. He said something like we wanted to take good care of me ( or something to that effect). Would you like 2 days or 3 days in El Salvador. I said something like it might be 2 days but not 3. He left into the air conditioned room with a one way mirror door. We must have waited the better part of an hour when he came back out. He said he was giving me a 24 hour VISA to get out of El Salvador because I had broke the law by entering 3 times. He might have said something about a fine, but I just agreed to get out of there. He showed me a map of the exits out of El Salvador and asked which one I wanted. I said any were fine, not thinking that it could make a difference to them where I exited. I was then directed to what I think was their Aduana.
I had given the helper about a $7.00 tip and his friend (obviously another helper) said to me that it was not much of a tip because he had to pay part of everything to the officials. I was waiting at the Aduana for something to happen when one of the officials found some English and asked how much I had paid for the gold wing. Then a few minutes later he asked what those guys (motioning to the helpers) had said about ‘US’. About then they closed up shop, but another new guy who found some English said they would be back in 15 minutes. Finally I told one of the helpers that someone has to tell these folks that I am paying nothing to anyone without a signed receipt. Evidently they got the picture and let me go. I was able to make San Miguel and into a hotel before dark.”
January 3rd I got an early start for San Salvador but about 20 miles out of the capital traffic stalled for nearly 2 hours. When traffic finally moved we passed an area with a lot of freshly cut branches. It looked like a tree was cut up on the highway. I arrived in San Salvador around noon and had lunch. I got lost trying to get out of the city and when I did I found myself on the highway to Santa Ana. I opted for the closest border exit of Cristobal. I was told that I was at the wrong exit and would have to go to the selected exit of Hachadura. I set out on a course to Ahuachapan and came to a sign that said Ahuachapan to the left and Guatemala to the right. So I take the right only to find that I am now at a different border exit of Chinamas. They would not let me through and now it is too late to get to Hachadura. I headed toward Hachadura only to take a wrong turn. On entering a large village I asked 2 teenagers at a service station about local hotels and they thought they knew a good one. They led me to one that looked promising. I had just given a balloon to a little 4 year old Blond lady when this knock out blonde lady came in with an arm full of folded towels. She looked so out of place that I had to find out where she came from. Turns out her husband was a merchant seaman with her brother. She was from Umea Sweden and I said that I was pretty sure that Umea was where I visited a high school exchange student that my brother **** had in Racine. I had to move on because of no internet or room phones.
On Friday the 4th of January, it took me a full 3 hours to find the border exit of Hachadura. There just were no road signs with that name on it. On arrival I was told that I did not meet the exit time requirements and I would have to pay $1300 plus dollars or they would keep the bike. I told them that they are welcome to the bike. Shortly after that I was told that since it was my first offense, they would accept $500.00. There were no ATMs in the area so I took a bus to the nearest village of La Hachadura. None of the ATMs would accept my U.S. credit cards. I called my son who tried to reach someone at the U.S. consulate in El Salvador. The lady at the consulate asked if I was in any danger, which I wasn’t, and said that she would try to reach April who would be able to help me. Both She and April followed up with phone calls back to my son, but by that time I was in Guatemala. I had my son Western Union money to me. Back at the Aduana the price was now $672.30 or ½ of the original “Baksheesh”. I must have screamed some expletive because one of the guards came running in with shot gun in hand. I paid the ransom and left.”
*Let me try to make some sense out of the El Salvador fiasco. The tourist visa will only allow you to enter El Salvador twice in 45 days. When I took a taxi out to the Aduana for the purpose of getting a photocopy of the document needed by Honduras to let me enter, custom official Alexander Contreras saw a way to maybe get a bribe. He counted that 4 mile excursion another entry into the country. Of course I had never left. Very clever fellow ! !!
January 5th The Guatemala crossing worked well and I spent a leisurely day exploring Antigua and several ancient temples. The Tetons are much more palatable when you are not on a schedule. I wish I had done a better job of making notes. Midafternoon I visited a marvelous museum, freshened up at the hotel, put on my cleanest dirty shirt and went to dinner at the highly recommended Meson Panza Verde. A middle aged couple who recognized me from the hotel as the ‘Moto Norte Americano’ asked me to join them and another couple. I had something in common with one of the husbands in that he was from South Africa and we both agreed that the lady’s swimming suits at the Sun City Resort was something special. His wife was from somewhere in Argentina as where the other couple. I have a place to store my Goldwing if I want it. The food was marvelous and paid for by the guy from Africa. By the time that I got to my room I was not interested in putting pen to paper.
January 6th An early morning entering of Mexico went smoothly and my first stop in Tapachula was an ATM for some Pesos and a visit to a cellular store for SIM chip switch and the addition of some time. The lady at the cellular store did not speak English and was busy with customers. One of the customers spoke enough English to explain that I needed the SIM changed and $50.00 added to the phone time. (roaming charges on cell phones South of the Border is very expensive). I went to breakfast and returned to find that I could not get through to my office or Jen in Puebla. The guy that spoke English had left and none of the other continuous stream of customers were of any help in trying to explain to the sales girl that I would like her to call Jen. After an hour I left.
I got stopped for vehicle inspection 3 times within the next hour. The first 2 times I was required to open the trunk, the two saddlebags, and to stand back. I think it was some kind of a training exercise because the very youthful soldiers did about a 20 minute feel through (including my dirty laundry bag). The third stop came as a real surprise. It was Banjercito. When I passed into Mexico back in December I was not aware of the required Tourist Visa. I had to contribute $250.00 to the common cause of Mexico. I will get $200.00 back when I exit back to the U.S. There was another $35.00 for the paperwork. A school teacher from the states helped me get the cell phone operable. I spent the night in Arriaga.
January 7th I programmed the GPS for Minatitlan and headed North around 6:30 AM. About 10 minutes in route I noticed that I had not filled the tank and the needle was hovering at ½ . I made one of my smarter decisions and turned back and filled up. I remembered that the gas stations where few and far apart on Uncle Edmundo’s directions. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not on the good Uncle’s highway. I was soon winding my way through some beautiful mountain landscape. There were some hairpin curves that were every bit as impressive as those in the Alps. After about 25 miles I came to a regular highway and a light rain began. I stopped under a bridge and could not get a cell phone signal. About 75 miles further I was getting low on gas. No signal on the cell phone. No problem, I check the GPS for the closest gas station. The closest was 17 miles and I took the given route. After 10 miles I knew I was getting close to the ‘8 mile to empty idiot light’. Still no signal. I snuggled up in back of a semi with the hope of getting a bit of drag help. After another 5 miles, the idiot light comes on and I stop under the first bridge. After flagging vehicles for a few minutes I started tying balloons to the aerial. A guy of about 50 with 2 women stop on my third balloon. The second lady, obviously the mother-in-law, jabbered all the way to the toll booth 5 miles away. When the folks at the toll booth found out that there was a moto stranded out on the highway they called Jose who drives the pickup vehicle.
One of the guys at administration was able to get through to Carlos. He told Carlos that the moto had a mechanical problem and then he lost signal. Jose had evidently brought in numerous vehicles but had never dealt with a moto before. I was enjoying his inept performance, but after about 20 minutes I gave him a hand. Back at the ranch we unload the moto and Jose drove me 4 miles to the gas station. I guess this was one occasion when it would have made life a lot easier if I spoke the language. Of course if the GPS had more intelligent software it would have helped too. I was able to get a signal when I neared Las Choapas and called Jen. That was when I found out that they had been informed that I had mechanical problems. Had I known that I would have called sooner. Carlos by that time had reached them and found out that I was on my way. With the assistance of the GPS I managed to find a hotel way off in Vera Cruz. I guess I always wanted to go to Vera Cruz.
January 8th It has become clear that either software driving the GPS in the attractions mold is either not working or I don’t know how to use it. I would bet on the GPS. I needed to visit an ATM and the first 3 gas stations at 6:00 AM plus in the morning would not accept my Visa or U.S. dollars. The 4th did however. I entered a beautiful mountain climb out of Vera Cruz and soon stopped for a turtle neck, leather and gloves. There is snow on the mountain tops down there. I arrived in Puebla about 10 AM and called Carlos and Jen. With the help of a small bakery shop clerk on the line with Carlos we found out where I was. In about 15 minutes Carlos and Jen arrive and can you believe this? We are heading out for breakfast and the 98 won’t start. What kind of luck is that. 5000 plus miles and the sweatheart machine decides not to start when I have some one that can help push start me. Udulutch if you didn’t have good luck, you wouldn’t have any luck at all. Honest I am not making this up. (Cher will remember the trip we took on one on the 1200’s back in the early 90’s. The starter went out and we needed to find Restaurants and motels all the way back that were on hills)
We have a historic picture of Carlos giving me a push and we head out for Breakfast. Finding a Goldwing service option was a bit disappointing . The first Honda Dealer couldn’t accommodate us. On the way to the next Honda dealer a gentleman waved at Tom and thumbed up his vehicle. Doctor Luis Del Moral turned out to be a successful Orthopedic Surgeon that happens to own an impressive harem of Harleys that Tom salivated over when we ended up having lunch at his house. (their home overlooks the famous fort where the 1800s battle between Mexico and France took place) Doc has motorcycled South America and his wife Anna is also a passenger. She also must be very understanding to put up with Doc’s curb side luncheon invites. I found our experience at their home to be really memorable. Thanks Doc and Anna. I would be remiss in not mentioning charming Fernanda who is a talented medical assistant to Doc. Too bad that we could not arrange for a bit of a ride before I left.
The problem was with the starter button and it was not a big deal. I also arranged for a long overdue oil change. Carlos and Jen spent most of the day assisting me in shopping. Being on the moto I was only able to pick up a few small presents along the way. I usually abhor any kind of shopping but local flea markets can be interesting. While touring Romania with Robert, Jeno, Gabriella, and Doc in 2008, we took a brief run into Poland. At an open market there I bought 13 real leather/fur babushkas (hats) for $11.00 per that were a big hit back home. I think we did pretty well with a good amount of hand knitted ponchos and paintings. I thought I was sleeping with J J (Jen’s cat) but she ignored me. We only made a small dent in the remaining tequila.
January 9th Just a few comments about Carlos and Jennifer. They have been married about 5 years and met at a convention of educators. Prior to settling in Puerta where Carlos owns a home, they lived in the northwest of the United States. Jen speaks Chinese having taught in China for 3 years, some Ukraine having taught there for a year and is learning Spanish. Carlos is working on a Master’s degree in Education and as a team they are developing an organization for the purpose of enhancing international undergraduate academic exchange programs. In their spare time they do a pretty darn good job of assisting inept tourist. The three of us spent a good part of the morning at FedEx assisting in the shipment of my booty to Portage, WI. We picked up the Goldwing and Carlos and Jen got me pointed North at about 1:30 PM. I have plenty of time to make my Sunday flight out of Corpus Christi so I explore options in the Mexico tour book. Tula’s write up on its ruins looked pretty good and it was in route. After checking into a hotel, I checked out the “most stunning archeological site in central Mexico” only to find the gates locked. It is time to get caught up on some journal entries.
January 10th I had a bit of a disappointment back at the locked gates of the ruins. It was guarded by a pack of 7 or 8 dogs of various sizes. They didn’t seem to like the smell of Jen’s cat JJ and let the neighborhood know it. Since no one in the area admitted to knowing English or of course when do the gates open, I headed North. It was chilly but I was comfortable in my turtle neck, leather jacket, real helmet (warm ears), and gloves. The mountain scenery was impressive and I took some time at a couple overviews. The day was spent between mountain passes and broad 50 miles across valleys. I stopped to walk through a stand of tall cacti. I didn’t realize that the base of tall cactus looks just like the bark of a tree. I was told somewhere along the way that cactus is a cash crop in Central America. A 4 foot long snake didn’t seem to like the smell of JJ either. Road side stands were selling bright shiny copper pots and kettles. When I came to a mining site, I thought that I might get a look at a copper operation. About a mile down a rocky road I ran into Check Point Charlie with a gun and no English. At 3:30 PM I was at the city center of Matehuala checking out GPS hotel listings, but not finding Wi/Fi. When I check out a listing that has a restaurant , I enter Hotel Alley and check in. With my workable smart phone I am finally able to connect with my son Kent. Still no touring cycles.
January 11th When I left Matehuala at 6:45 it was 42 degrees and I was dressed for it. What I wasn’t prepared for was the cloud or fog that started after about 10 miles. Visibility was about a football field and got worse when moisture began to collect on the windshield. I slowed down when I saw a road sign showing a cow/bull possibility. I slowed even more when I saw a goat or similar walking down the side of the road. The GPS was a help in that it showed the curves in the road. At the Concepcion del Oro turn off, the mist lifted and the sun came out. The landscape into Monterey was peppered with large rock formations and large areas of cultivated vegetation.
The border crossing into the U.S. was no different than the entry into Mexico. But wait a minute, what about my $200.00 deposit? Too late, I am already in the middle of a long line of vehicle and slowly approaching the U.S. border. Somehow I got into the ‘Priority Lane’ and the first official promptly made me exit into some kind of no mans land. (The Priority lane requires some kind of monthly fee with sticker and expedient passage) I am in some kind of parking lot with no obvious exit. After a couple dead ends I drove through a broken fence and back onto the Priority Lane. I was able to get off between some pylons and into the very slow moving group of about 12 lanes.
After about 45 minutes of bumper to bumper crawling I clear the U.S. border. One of the U.S. officials responds in detail to my question about getting my money back without having to return through the 45 minute crossing. If I go to the first stop light and turn left and follow the signs to Bridge #1, I can park the cycle and walk across the bridge and also walk back. Parking the cycle near the bridge was not possible so I had a good mile walk to the Mexican side. I found a Mexican official who spoke English and he explained that I needed to present the motorcycle in order to get the $200.00 back. At this point I am weighing the value of the $200.00 against some kind of waiting in line to have the vehicle checked in and the 45 minute crawl back to the United States. My German roots won that one.
I had arrived at Laredo, Texas at 1:45 PM and left at 5:30 PM. I arrived at The Amelia’s Landing motel in Port Aransas, Texas at 9:45 PM. The motel is owned, managed, and run by my Niece Mary and her husband Jay Honeck. Jay and Mary are licensed pilots and the motel has an aviation motif. All of the rooms are decorated with pictures and parts of aircraft. They are annual fly ins at the EEA in Oshkosh and obtain many of their decorations from there. My last room was the Mustang Room and when my Granddaughter Sophie and I stayed there back in June, we had the Amelia Earhart Suite. If you get near this Island in the gulf near Corpus Christi and need a reasonably priced place to stay the address is 105 N Alister St Port Aransas, TX 78373 phone 888-671-8088. Drop my name and Mary will probably see that you get an extra blueberry muffin in your served to the room breakfast. mrhonck@gmail.com Jay by the way has motorcycled for years so I am sure bikers would be welcome.

To you that managed to wade through this entire most enjoyable trip, thanks for coming along. I talked to Ms April Scarrow at the San Salvador embassy on January 25th and two avenues are being explored. There have been two other recent somewhat similar citizen reports of El Salvador border crossing problems. Investigators are reviewing custom officials reporting of these incidents. A legal team is reviewing El Salvador’s laws to see if there was any basis for custom official Alexander Contreras to refuse me a tourist visa. One thing that I find to be remarkable is that during the entire 6,214 miles I did not meet or see another full dressed touring motorcycle. The closest sightings were the full dressed Harley’s used by Costa Rica police.

Tom Udulutch tom@markentpersonnel.com

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Re: Central America trip

Postby WingAdmin » Tue Mar 01, 2016 2:03 pm

What a fantastic (and at times, somewhat scary) trip! Thanks so much for posting it, I really enjoyed reading.

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Re: Central America trip

Postby Paulcf » Tue Mar 01, 2016 4:15 pm

Fascinating indeed but frankly, I will NEVER ever set foot/fly/drive to Mexico or Central America, never, ever. There are just too many 'cowboys' down there and life is cheap. They can slit your throat and nothing will be done about it and they will rob you and make more money doing that than a full year of honest work. Crooked cops, etc. And I DO speak from experience...my son has been down to Nicaragua twice and even with a resident to 'guide him through', there are still scams that even Pedro shakes his head over and wonders how gringos get by!

No sir, not worth it for one moment. My money's in North America and then Europe or Australia/New Zealand for far flung adventures.

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Re: Central America trip

Postby tomudulutch » Tue Mar 01, 2016 4:50 pm

Thanks for coming along. I too would like to spend some time in Australia. I have done the Alaska trip and had a wing in Europe for 4 years. Turning 80 tomorrow and will head out on my 1800 in April for a business convention in Las Vegas with a run North to the Indian Missions of Montana where my 87 year old brother is a catholic missionary. Still some items in my bucket list


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Re: Central America trip

Postby julimike54 » Tue Mar 01, 2016 5:06 pm

Nice read about your trip/adventure. You are braver than I for that adventure :)
Riding anything is a good day!

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Re: Central America trip

Postby Andy Cote » Fri Apr 01, 2016 3:03 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. Reminds me of a book "Two Wheels Through Terror" by Glen Heggstad though thankfully you weren't kidnapped as he was.
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Re: Central America trip

Postby tomudulutch » Sat Apr 02, 2016 2:23 pm

Andy, thanks for the book mention. I will read it. Tom Udulutch

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