We spent our first three days in Guatemala in the town of Santa Elena the sister town of Flores along the beautiful lake Peten Itza. We strolled across the causeway to the pretty little town of Flores that clearly was a tourist spot for locals and gringos alike. Around Santa Elena the town was busy with a shopping mall across the street from our hotel and a new looking Burger King restaurant that I was just dying to try… and did :)
In Flores many boutique hotels lined the lake front and Tuk-Tuks whisked tourists too and from the island to the mainland. This pretty little island was busy and we easily could have spent more time here but it was Tikal ruins we were here to see.
The following day we took the 65km ride over to the national park where Tikal is located and went off to explore the ruins.
We were pleased to find the park very quiet and so off we went walking around the massive location that makes up Tikal national park. We walked and walked for hours as the ruins are very spread out and the park is very large. We admired the ruins and were amazed by their size. It is hard to believe that humans could build such spectacles dating as far back as the 4th century B.C.
We were surrounded by jungle and the wildlife was everywhere. Monkeys, birds and ground dwellers were as abundant as the ruins that inhabited the park.
In total we spent over four hours wandering around Tikal and we both were exhausted after walking many, many kilometres today.
The following morning we left Santa Elena and headed south for the town of Fronteras on the Rio Dulce where we plan to catch a boat trip to the town of Livingston located along the Caribbean coast and only accessible by boat.
We checked ourselves into the Backpackers lodge located along the river and headed down to the water to enjoy the views over lunch. Food prices are still much higher compared to Mexico here and what we could buy for dinner in Mexico for around $6.00 now costs $8.00-$9.00 here in Guatemala. The room tonight at the hotel/hostel is only $30.00 so not to bad I guess but the food is defiantly more expensive thus far.
We booked a boat trip up the river to Livingston to see what goes on over that way. The boat arrived and we left the dock around 9:30 stopping along the way to pick up other tourists at various hotel locations along the river.
The boat trip allowed us to see the local homes along the river.
Fisherman paddled the river and tiny communities dotted the rivers shorelines.
After a 1.5 hour boat ride up the river we arrived in Livingston along the Caribbean coastline.
Livingston was a small town with nothing of much interest for us to see. A local fellow there threw himself at us insisting that he show us around and after about twenty minutes of pulling us this way and that he held out his hand and asked for payment for his services. I gave him enough money for a beer and he was on his way. We grabbed a bite to eat then back to the boat and down river back to Fronteras.
We packed up the next day and made our way for Semuc Champey.
We first rode approximately 30km along paved roads before things turned to gravel and then worse.
Around the 40km point some road workers were doing I don’t know what the hell to the roads, it was tore up or graded or something or nothing we couldn’t tell! The “construction” crew was pretending to work and the flaggers pretended to have things under control as they let single lane traffic proceed along the chewed up road. The flagger gave me the green light to proceed and so I did but as I rounded a corner at the very last second I noticed two numbskulls holding something across the road. Before I had time to react I blasted on through what turned out to be a tape measure these two morons had strong across the road. Obviously I ripped the tape measure from their hands and drug it down the road some 100 meters before I came to a stop and kicked the balled up tape measure off my moto. By this time they were yelling at me and wanted me to turn around, fat chance that was going to happen. The flagger at the other end of the construction zone also witnessed this and jumped out in front of me to stop me. I began to slow down showing him I would comply and then with a big WTF like look I flicked the throttle and we blasted off again…. guess I owe the province of Peten one new tape measure!!
We spent the next 3.5 hours in the high backcountry mountains of Guatemala making our way through what is labelled on the map as a main throughway. It is almost unbelievable what is considered to be a “main road” here in Guatemala. Over 100kms of gravel backcountry roads are all used by tourist shuttle vans, haul trucks, local vehicles and two extremely out of place looking Canadian moto riders. These roads are remote and that’s saying a lot considering I live in and explore the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies frequently. These little towns and there peoples are living way “out there” if you catch my drift!
We arrived in the small town of Lanquin which is the closest resting place before Semuc Champey. We will book the excursion to Semuc tomorrow and explore the area here for a few days. We are staying at El Retiro lodge in Lanquin where we are told the food is great and the location along the river is very tranquil. After a long very hot 4.5 hour ride we can’t wait to test out the river and relax.
Hotel El Retiro was our landing place for the next three days and it was a great place to relax and make new friends. Many other travellers were here from Canada and USA mainly to visit Semuc Champey.
Semuc is a magical place with caves to explore, rivers to relax in and wilderness hiking tails to enjoy. We booked our tour to Semuc Champey through the El Retiro lodge and they offered the third nights room free with the tour booking. It was a great deal for us and staying another night or a lifetime here at El Retiro could be very easy.
We left the following morning on our tour to Semuc and from Lanquin it was about a half hours drive to the Cahabon river and the site of Semuc Champey.
The caves of course are very dark and each person is given a lit candle to carry throughout the cave. The cave experience alone was worth the entire price of the tour ($30pp). The caves had a river running throughout it and we proceeded into the caves holding onto our candles tightly.
At times the water was up neck high and swimming with one hand holding your lit candle above water was a challenge. The caves continued on for approximately one hour as we worked our way deeper and deeper to the back of the cave. We climbed ladders inside the cave and descended down through cracks in the caves walls at times barely wide enough to let us just slip through. It defiantly is a must do experience when and if you are ever close to Semuc.
After caving we hit the river in tubes to float and enjoy the calm clear waters of Cahabon river. The local youngsters were the highlight of our float as they quickly rushed to the side of the river and began yelling “you want a beer, you want a beer?!” before you could say “yes” or “no” they were hurling beers through the air at you from the banks of the river.
These dudes were some of the best bartenders I have ever tipped pints with and our drinks never came close to going dry before we were being told again “you want a beer? here, here have another beer”. They even jumped into their tubes and floated the entire stretch of the river with us coolers and all keeping us all very refreshed.
We stopped by the local rope swing and took turns hurling ourselves into the river with each one of us trying to outdo the previous persons performance. So far the trip was off to a great start!
We headed back up the river to a bridge crossing where another adrenaline rush bridge jump was waiting. At approximately 30 feet high it was a blast to jump from. Some mustered the courage and others played photographer.
We grabbed a snack at the local cook shack and then proceeded to begin a thirty minute hike straight up the mountain to the look out point where we grabbed a few pictures of the river below.
We then descended down to the river where we marvelled at the beauty of the pools on the Cahabon river. The aqua blue pools were great for soaking in and we jumped from small cliffs down the river from pool to pool.
We returned back to El Retiro lodge around 5pm tired and extremely pleased with the days excursion. The crew we toured with decided that tonight was going to be party night and we all joined in enjoying each others company making new friends. There was a massive blowing rainstorm that hammered the hotel just after dinner and the power was knocked out the entire night and not restored until the following morning. It didn’t stop the party from going on until the very early morning and drinking games by candlelight was a great time.
The following day bodies slowly emerged from the cabanas and a lazy river day was in the cards. I rounded up a small group of people looking to walk off last nights party and we headed out for a short two hour hike up into the hills around the lodge. We snapped a few pictures and then headed back to chill by the river. Defiantly checkout El Retiro lodge in Lanquin and Semuc Champey if you are heading down to Guatemala, you will be glad you did.
The following day we left Lanquin and made our way towards Lago de Atitlan and the town of Panajachel.
The views in the mountains around Lanquin were beautiful, the roads however were another story.
It had poured rain hard the previous two nights and unfortunately we didn’t stop often to take pictures of the mud caked, slippery as snot, full attention required, clay dirt turned water ski like roads that were layed out ahead of us. Approximately 60km of todays 250km voyage was like this and on a fully loaded adventure bike 2up it was a slow and cautious ride. I managed to keep her upright although there was a few very, very slippery moments that we came close to ditching the big pig.
We proceeded on and found the pavement but as if the muddy backroads weren’t already enough today with only 30km left to go before Atitlan the thunder gods opened up again and we enjoyed another downpour of heavy rains bringing us to a crawl. It took over one hour to complete the last 30km of the days ride.
We reached Lago de Atitlan soaked, tired and wet as we pulled into the view point above the lake. Unfortunately we were unable to pull out the camera at that time because of the pouring rains but we both sat in silence admiring the view of the lake and the volcanoes which surround it. I had a huge smile on my face and a sense of extreme accomplishment come over me. Atitlan was a place I had desired to visit and a place set in my mind as a destination point to mark a milestone on our journey. I am glad to have made it this far and although there is many miles left ahead we have already come so far…. 13,000km from home and WE ARE HERE!!!
Panajachel sits on the north end of lake Atitlan amongst three volcanoes. Volcano Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro are all visible from the shores along the lake. Atitlan in the Mayan language spoken amongst the local communities here translates to “the place where the rainbow gets its colour”
There is many small Mayan villages around the lake and some are only accessible by boat. Many boats await locals and tourists alike to transport them from town to town and costs range from $1.75 to $4.00 cdn. for boat fares.
As we sat and ate dinner on our second night in Panajachel we noticed a local gentleman walking by with two nice bass around 2.5 lbs.hanging from a rope. Not wasting anytime I ran after him to make conversation about his catch. He confirmed to us what we already knew that in fact the lake did hold some black bass and that we needed to get our asses out there and try catching a few. We asked him if he would take us fishing and he seemed a bit shy at first mentioning that he only had spears to fish with but after I told him we were travelling with fishing rods he was eager to help us out. We made plans with our new friend Jose for two days later to take his boat out and go after some bass.
During the next few days in Panajachel we visited the market, strolled around town admiring the array of tourist oriented restaurants and generally just relaxed enjoying the chill vibe that made up Panajachel.
We met up with Jose and his son Jose Jr. at six a.m. to head out on the lake. Jose was unfamiliar with the baits and such that we had brought with us from Canada to hopefully trick bass with but he was no stranger to the lake and immediately he took us to what looked like some very juicy bass waters.
First stop was on a very rocky twenty foot deep point. We began to fish in front of a volcano ridden backdrop and it really didn’t matter if the fish bit or not.
Good thing the scenery and the company of our new friends was incredible as the bass today didn’t co-operate. I had one bass jerk on my line all morning but I was asleep at the wheel and unable to place a hook in his mouth. We worked four different spots along the lakes west side and all spots we fished looked like good bass territory but not another fish bit our offerings. Jose told us that the lake first had bass introduced back in 1958 by an american based airline company in hopes to promote tourism to the lake and bring anglers from the USA to Atitlan and increase tourism. Unfortunately the black bass eliminated two thirds of the lakes resident fish species. The lake is over 900 feet deep in the center and it is also said that the bass can be hard to find because of the lakes very deep waters.
Jose was discouraged that we didn’t find any fish and offered to take us out two days later where he would bring his spear and we could switch it up from rod and reel to more of a local approach with snorkel, mask and spear gun… Ya we were in on that!!
Sunday came and we again met up with Jose to try and spear up a few fish. Jose told us that yesterday he went out spearing with a friend and had shot a 4 lb’er and our hopes were high to watch him spear up another bass today. As we approached his first spot it was very apparent that the heavy rains over the past two nights had seriously stained up the waters and unfortunately visibility was almost impossible. I mounted our Go-pro camera onto his spear in hopes to get some “down under” shots.
Jose worked his first spot for twenty plus minutes diving down over twenty feet at a time before returning to the surface for a breath of air.
We left that location in search of more clearer waters and our second stop had just that. Jose dove down swam around and generally covered lots of water before returning up to the surface with this Bluegill on his spears tip. He was happy to show us his catch but not satisfied with the size of his prize. He continued to hunt for something bigger for awhile but without success.
We took many photos of Jose doing his thing this morning and after we landed back on the dock we arranged to meet him for lunch later that afternoon. Before we headed up to meet Jose for lunch I took the photos of him fishing this morning down the street to the local print shop and printed off some photos of him fishing to give him. At lunch when we gave him the photos he was almost speechless and the smile on his face was more then enough to warm our hearts. He charged us very little to take us fishing the first day and the second day he took us out he charged us nothing. We truly enjoyed our time with him and his son and I think he will cherish the photos of him and us together for a long time to come… Thank you Jose!
We left Panajachel the following morning to make our way around the lake over to San Pedro where a large amount of tourists come to learn spanish at many of the local inexpensive spanish schools around town. We had discussed back and fourth about learning some more spanish at one of these schools but partially because we enjoy our free time more then classrooms and partially because over the past four months our spanish vocabulary has increased to the point where we can now ask for necessities and understand enough to survive we have decide to take the lazy way out and “skip school”.
We arrived in San Pedro after a beautiful backroad loop around the lake through many small villages and lake vistas to hotel Sak’ari a nice place along the lakes shoreline but still reasonably priced and within our budget. The hotel offers a lake front view, pool, great wifi, free kayaks and hot water that doesn’t electrocute you when showering.
We met some friends next door at the local expat restaurant and they very kindly invited us along for their morning hike up the base of the San Pedro volcano the following morning. Jenn lifted her head off the pillow at 6:30am to meet with them for the hike at 7:45 while I decided to catch a few more hours sleep. The hike took the group up the base of the volcano and Jenn describes it in the following;
I awoke solo this morning for the hike as John was still dreaming of ways to catch the lucid bass of lake Atitlan. The morning was crystal clear with the sun breaching the mountains in the distances creating a beautiful orange and pink sky line above the lake.
Our hike started at the base of volcano San Pedro with five people and nine dogs. I must say the dogs where more excited to be up earlier then us sluggish humans. Most of us are zombies untill we have a cup of super charged Guatemalan coffee then watch out!
The two hour hike took us by coffee fincas, corn fields, avocado trees, banana trees and coffee bean fields. It was a pretty surreal to be on the side of a volcano with so much vegetation looking down on beautiful lake Atitlan.
While hiking I was filled in on the history of Guatemalan coffee plantations. Guatemala is known around the world for producing some of the best shade grown coffee beans in part due to the rich volcanic soil which is full of nutrients. Coffee grows very well in this area because of the high altitude and large trees that provide protection to the delicate coffee plants and is why it is called “shade grown” coffee. The beans are harvested by hand and the fruit is picked when they are a rich red colour. The outer shell called the “fruit” is stripped away leaving the coffee bean exposed. The white bean is then sun dried and in the process turns black to resemble what we recognize as coffee beans. I have a much richer appreciation, gratitude and respect for all the local farmers who trudge up those step hills to plant crops, care for them and harvest them all by hand.
Been a pretty relaxing few days here in San Pedro. We met some new friends named Donald and Guylaine a French canadian couple now living in Edmonton and travelling for the past four months in their well set up Toyota SUV. With a roof topper tent and their “wherever I may roam spirit” they have had a great trip south. Unfortunately life calls back home and after a few fun evenings out together they are now headed back north to Canada over the next few months.
Aside form relaxing and eating up the tasty food served around town we have enjoyed having free access to the kayaks here and have gone out fishing a couple of times in hopes of catching one of the lakes black bass. The lake here looks well set up to be a great bass fishery with its sunken trees, large rocks and deep water but the baits that we have brought from Canada just haven’t seemed to trick the highly intelligent and clearly smarter then us bass that swim in lake Atitlan. We wake up early and hit the lake at 5:30 am but pretty sunrises are all we can catch around here.
I’ve tried the usual worms, senkos, tube jigs, spinner baits, etc… and nothing has turned up much more then a few small bites and no landed fish. We wont give up as just being out on the water fishing is satisfying enough for right now but I am considering changing the name of this blog page from 2rods2wheels2up to 2Nobs2wheels2up!
The local fisherman fish this lake hard but not with fishing poles instead they swim with snorkel and spear fish along the shorelines. We had a local spear fisherman swim up to our boat yesterday in need of a rest as he had a 6 or 7lb carp on the end of his spear and was tired out from swimming around with it, there is fish here!!
The other fisherman paddle their small boats out to the drop offs and lay nets across long stretches of water trapping any fish that swims by.
And finally the third type of fisherman here place crab traps throughout the lake trapping the small crabs that run the lakes bottom.
It has been challenging to fish around all the local fishing gear that is placed around the lake and we have to take caution not to get our hooks caught in their nets or crab traps. So far only one net has been caught but it was finally nice to have something tugging on the other end of the line however we do not want to make a sport out of net catching…. not quite that desperate yet!
While paddling around the lake you can see many flooded homes and hotels that fell victim to the lakes rising waters that occurred back in 2010.
After ten days of straight hard rain the lake rose substantially and in the process many buildings along the lake were flooded. Since the lakes water level has not yet regressed many of these buildings are still abandoned and partially submerged. So don’t go buying up any cheap lake Atitlan waterfront property on the internet for awhile because this is what you might get.
Overall we are enjoying it here in San Pedro on lake Atitlan with the hiking, fishing, cheap living and the comfortable warm temperatures here I can see us revisiting lake Atitlan again in the future. We headed out for a walk this afternoon and found time to take some more pictures… enjoy.
Main streets of San Pedro
The allies of 7th ave get pretty tight and it’s Tuk-tuks and motos only down here.
Coffee plants and corn crops are also grown just on the towns edges.
Washing laundry is a never ending battle here as much as it is back home. I guess it just takes a bit longer to do here and requires a little more elbow grease.
The rest of the week we will spend here in San Pedro fishing, relaxing, exploring the other small villages around the lake and hiking the Indian nose peak on a guided hike that we have planned for Friday. The hike leaves at 4am to catch the sunrise where the scenery is supposed to be stunning.
It is lunch time now for us and for our little friend too apparently. He just appeared outside our hotel room door offering us a look at his lunch.
It is guacamole and fresh baked carrot cake for us today eaten quickly down by the lake before the afternoon rains roll in like clockwork and force me into my nap coma. Adios!
And this guy has shown up three days in a row now to pose outside our door with his lunch. Mildly ironic how he shows up around 1:00pm each time just when we are discussing what we would like for lunch.
The 3:00am alarm bells went off and surprisingly I awoke quickly while Jenn stuck her finger on the snooze button a couple of times. Without our daily cup of local supercharged coffee we wandered off up dark alleys, down dimly lit streets and through to places that I clearly remember Jenns mother telling her not to go. Actually it was as quiet and as peaceful as could be and in the streets of San Pedro we couldn’t have felt anymore safe.
We met up with our guides and the rest of our small group at the 4:00am chicken bus to head over to the trails start in Santa Clara.
With our flash lights and head lamps we began to climb quickly. There is a few ways to summit Indian nose from and our guide Matt chose to go up the front side from Santa Clara then to head down the back side into San Juan.
We hustled our way up the steep but short twenty or so minute straight up climb to the top where we awaited the sunrise.
As the dawn approached we were treated to a beautiful sunrise and views of volcano Fuego puffing smoke off in the distance.
It was a gorgeous view and all the surrounding volcanoes; San Perdo, Atitlan, Toliman, Acatenango and Fuego stood before us to marvel upon.
Fuego can be seen in the distance closer to Antigua puffing smoke in some of the days photos.
We caught a brief Geology lesson from our guide Matt at the top and learned that lake Atitlan was created approximately 85 million years ago. During this time a super volcano took place causing so much magma/lava to leave the earths core and released above ground that a “void” was left below the earths crust. The earth surface above this new “void” dropped into the void and that is how the lakes bottom was formed. Over time of course the crater has filled with water and the lake was born.
After hanging out and watching the sunrise we proceeded down the backside of the cliff through corn fields, bean fields, coffee fincas and fruit farms.
We reached San Juan after approximately a 1.5 to 2 hour descend, jumped into the back of a pickup truck called a collectivo and headed back to the hotel for some lunch and a well deserved siesta. We will hang out here in San Pedro for a few more days before shoving off after the weekend for Antigua.
Sadly our time has expired here in San Pedro and we must be moving on. We spent our last day on the lake doing what we do best relaxing by the waters edge.
We both agreed that Atitlan is a place we would like to revisit in the future. Between the touristy Panajachel, the quiet meditation retreats over in San Marcos and the backpacker/hippie expat meets local culture and lives in harmony vibe of San Pedro it would not be hard to find a place around the lake that suits most if not all a person looking to “slow down” would desire. If you find yourself visiting the lake we would suggest checking out hotel Sak’ari as we really enjoyed ourselves there and the little extras like free water, coffee, comfortable clean rooms and the use of their kayaks really made it a great place to rest while in San Pedro.
Reluctantly we checked ourselves out of hotel Sak’ari
And made tracks for Antigua only a short 140km away.
Unfortunately the south road around the lake heading between San Pedro and Santiago are well known for banditos and hold ups so we decided to avoid the unnecessary risk and backtracked a little to take the “chicken” route north of the lake on highway CA1.
Climbing up and away from the lakes shore the road twists, turns and climbs for a few thousand feet before you reach the highway.
We arrived in Antigua and went on the lookout for the Yellow House hotel.
With the Yellow Houses good reviews online it sounded like a good place to crash. Unfortunately upon our arrival we discovered that Yellow House did not have secure parking for the moto and so we opted for the hotel next door that allowed us to park our bike inside the lobby for the next few days.
The hotel also included breakfast in their price albeit a bit pricey at $41.00. We will try not to get electrocuted during our stay here like possibly the last occupant of this room did and have decided to just use the shared shower across the hall from our room for the sake of our lives.
Breakfast is served in the lobby each morning and we fill up before heading out to explore the city each day.
We had originally planned on doing a two day overnight hike of the Acatenango volcano while here in Antigua but with the consistent daily afternoon rains the thought of getting soaked in a tent at 4ooo feet on the side of a volcano had us wimping out at the idea. So we have decided to save the cash and spend it on some offshore fishing next week instead.
Antigua has a unique feel to us. The city is chalked full of picturesque old buildings, cobblestone streets, horse drawn buggies and has volcanoes looming in the horizon. Antigua also has every fast food burger joint and restaurant like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, Subway, etc.. found in North America. This makes for a mixed feel where the local Mayan lifestyles contrast sharply against these modern world invaders.
Generally speaking we have found Antigua to be moderately expensive and with the large amount of tourists wandering the streets Antigua has adjusted its prices accordingly. Although we have had a few “tipico” meals costing only $3.00-$4.00 most other menus viewed around the city are offering lunch and dinners costing $9.00-$15.00 per plate. We hit up Subway for lunch one afternoon and the prices of our sandwiches were exactly inline with the Subway prices in Canada.
We spend the days here walking around admiring the vibrant colours of the cities buildings, peoples and cultures before retiring early most nights as it seems Antigua is not big on nightlife and for a couple old farts like us that’s A-ok!
We met a local adventure rider living in Antigua named Julio and he offered to take us out for a ride in and around the hills surrounding Antigua. Julio showed us around and we enjoyed a relaxing breakfast at a local macadamia nut farm on the cities outskirts. Fresh macadamia nut pancakes and macadamia nut butter spread were the house speciality and both were very tasty.
Tomorrow we leave Antigua headed for the coast and the beaches. We will hire a boat and try our luck at catching a Guatemalan pescado of which any size or species will be a large improvement over the lack of luck we have had hooking up in Guatemala thus far.
After a short ride out of Antigua we arrived at the black volcanic sand beach of Monterrico.
We checked ourselves into hotel El Delfin for four nights and headed down to the beach to enjoy the views.
The hotel has a restaurant on site with reasonable priced tasty foods and cold beers for only $1.65cdn so it’s a great place to relax and do a whole bunch of nothing…..actually there is absolutely nothing to do here in Monterrico it’s small quiet place.
We walk the beach at sunset after the 35c temperatures start to cool off a bit.
We set up a fishing trip for Monday and I guess you can say that you always get what you pay for. The other boats that leave from puerto San Jose approximately one hours drive away all hire out for $400 to $700cdn and we just couldn’t spend that kind of money so we hired a local boat here in Monterrico for $165cdn and went out to see what we could hook into.
When we left from the beach I noticed that there was two low quality fishing roads and no additional tackle or gear on the boat except the two lures that were tied onto the fishing rods. I wondered what would happen if a lure was broken off and was soon about to find out. We began to troll for fish only a couple kilometers off shore with a motor that would not idle properly and every time the captain tried to slow the motor down to maintain a proper trolling speed the motor would spit, cough and die out leaving us to troll at a pace that seemed far too fast for any proper fishing. Thirty or forty minutes into the morning I had a hard bite that broke the line losing the lure so my day of fishing was over as we only had two lures on board the boat and no replacements so I was finished… bit of a joke! Jenn continued to fish and managed a few bites before she hooked up with one and the sound of her reels drag began to scream. It actually peeled out the reels entire amount of line until she was left fighting the fish on the little knot that was left attaching the line to the reel. Luckily the captain threw the boat in reverse before the fish broke the line and Jenn managed to gain some of her line back. After a short but exciting battle she pulled up this nice looking Sierra.
After only one hour and forty five minutes of our scheduled and paid for three hour trip the captain decided he had had enough I guess and headed back to shore. I was pretty disappointed with the outcome of the hired boat and left a bit ticked off.
We left Monterrico the following morning and to save about 100km of highway riding we threw Blanco on a boat and headed up river through the mangroves.
The boat ride was about half an hour and once back on shore we geared up and headed for the border of El Salvador.
A short one hour drive and we arrived into the madness of the El Salvador border. As we approached the border a guy riding a moto flew up beside us and motioned for us to follow him so we did. When we arrived at the border after passing the one kilometre or more of trucks lined up waiting to cross (you just ride past them to the front of the line) the fellow that we followed introduced himself and I noticed that he had El Salvador plates on his moto.
I was happy to think that we had the fortunate luck to have met this guy and that he too was crossing himself and his bike back into El Salvador and that we would be able to tag along beside him and follow him through the process. I soon however better understood what was happening when he asked for my paperwork and had none of his own paperwork in hand….. he was a border helper! Now nothing against border helpers except it is a well known fact that most of them are in the business of extorting as much cash from tourists as they can possibly get away with so I decided to play along for the moment and see how this would go. If I remember correctly his name was Jose so we will just call him that for now anyways. I had researched and read many times on how to cross C.A. borders and understood the process very well, first bike out of country then peoples out then peoples into next country and then bike into country is how the process goes but the problem with all of these straight forward sounding steps is that the offices for each of these steps are so f-ing disorganized and almost impossible to find. A stamp needed from this guy and a stamp needed from that guy whose desk is just a dusty desk along side the road somewhere is enough to make a sane man go mad.
Luckily for us Jose knew where all these hidden desks were and where to go to get the six or seven photocopies of documents required to complete the run around process and so far he was of great assistance. We followed him around like lost pups for over two hours as he very professionally worked us through the gauntlet and into the El Salvador side of the border.
Once on the El Salvador side and with all our documents in hand Jose pulled us into one last stop where he proceeded to tell me that I was now to pay $25.00us for some I don’t know what bullshit fee to complete our moto import certificate and of course his tip for his help. After I told him I was educated on the fees to enter the country and that this was not one of them I had ever heard of he quickly phoned a friend that spoke english and handed me the phone. The guy on the other end then told me that this was legit and that it was a new fee that was being charged. I politely told this guy ok buddy thanks for playing along with Joses scam and hung up on him. Jose then said for me to follow him around the corner where we went up to an office which had a computer and some lady sitting at it looking at facebook. The building had no official feel and the woman behind the desk had no official look, documents or anything else that made me feel like this was a legit step. On top of this the paperwork that Jose said I was paying for I already held tightly in my hands so I again figured something was up. After I told him I wasn’t going to pay the $25.00us he said ok that the lady would take $10.00us for her “services” I asked her to see what information she was going to enter into the computer and after she struggled for a minute trying to find the El Salvador import website her son came out and helped her pull up the webpage, ya it looked more like a scam to me now! I now was faced with a decision, do I pay this lady $10.00us to input my information into the computer or do I just give Jose his $20.00 for his help and run, hmmmm.. I thought about it some more and decided that for $10.00 it could possibly save me headaches trying to exit E Salvador on the Honduras side and reluctantly agreed to pay the $10 I however mad one mistake and I left my paperwork with the lady so she could input my information into her so called website while I went out to grab $10.00 from Jenn. When I returned only two minutes later the woman was back looking at her facebook account and said the info had been entered and that I was good to leave. I’m pretty sure I got scammed for $10.00 and left hot and annoyed after the 2.5 hour border experience.
On to El Salvador we go!!…………