Day 30 – La Unión, Guatemala to Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Or, why you should always bring a book.

*This post co-written by both Kay and Dachary – Kay writing some as Dachary worked for clients, and Dachary writing some as Kay effs with his ContourHD in an attempt to reclaim the USB port.*

We backtracked our way out of La Unión without fanfare. It was however our quickest morning ever. We had nothing to pack, really, and whilst we were very grateful for the bed, you could feel each spring pressing into you. It was as if there was nothing but the bed-sheet between you and them. I’ve slept on pieces of hard dirt and asphalt that were more comfortable.

She's smokin' baby

Dachary –
In the semi-rested light of morning, we examined the damage to my pannier. The plastic cap on the front left corner of the pannier was torn and pulled away from the pannier. Since there’s no metal under the pannier, there’s effectively a hole there – I could see some of the contents of my pannier through the opening. It didn’t look like there was a lot we could do about it immediately, so Kay suggested that we clean it off a bit and duct-tape it until we could find an aluminum welder to fix it. But then he had the brilliant idea of using Corporate Runaways stickers to cover the hole, instead of duct tape, because we had a ton and it’s just a fun idea.

So yeah. We totally bodged my pannier with Corporate Runaways stickers, and it’s working for now!
– Dachary

Who said the stickers were a waste of time?

Repairs complete, we set off back to Gualan, where we got breakfast. Sadly, it was Carné Asada… again. We chose the wrong place: grissely, and without utensils to cut the meat, we were left to fend with Guatemalan tortillas (Mexican Tortillas are FAR tastier) and our fingers. Neither of us finished it despite our hunger.

So we rode on to the border, giving a huge wave to some anonymous couple riding the opposite direction two-up on an adventure bike.

Sadly, the baseplate on my Cardo Scala G4 packed it in this morning. Leaving me able to hear Dachary but unable to respond until magically, hours later, it started working without intervention. The prior four hundred restarts and swaps of units had had no effect. We have no idea whose unit is synced with the GPS at this point since we haven’t had it talking to us for weeks.

Nearing the border, we passed a couple on touring bicycles going up the small mountains. We wanted to stop and chat with them, too, like we’d chatted with Jeff, but they looked like they were working hard to ride up the mountains and there wasn’t a good place to stop. We decided that if we ran into them later, we’d chat, but otherwise wandered aloud about their gear, and whether the four soft panniers (two front, and two rear) that they had on each bike were better or worse than Jeff’s trailer with his single dry-sack duffle.

Checking out of Guatemalan immigration was easy. So easy we accidentally checked into Honduras without realizing it. We even accidentally got a copy of the form Guatemalan customs needed a copy of to check the bikes out of Guatemala. For some reason everyone around there will answer yes when you ask them if they’re customs. When we finally stumbled into the real customs building they were out to lunch. So, we went and got lunch ourselves, illegally loitering on Guatemalan soil. (At this point, we didn’t realize we were checked into Honduras… we still thought we were just checked out of Guatemala.)

It was a surprisingly different, and tasty meal. A potato salad Dachary nommed with delight, some fried chicken, and tasty rice with bell peppers. Dachary ate almost every bit of hers, but I just couldn’t bring myself to for some reason, even if it was tasty, and needed nutrition. The bathrooms however, were nasty.

The Guatemalan Customs folks got back from lunch a little earlier than expected, but when they went to check our bikes out of the country the computers were non-compliant. The girl apologized and explained that while she could use the system, it wasn’t allowing her to check vehicles out of the country. Something about permissions. “Maybe in a couple hours?” she suggested.

So, we grabbed our books, and sat in the shade, until Dachary was unceremoniously savaged by a spider and then the verbal wranglings of a man with shoe-polish. Amusingly, while we were waiting for the customs system to come back up, the couple on touring bicycles made it to the border. We saw them resting in the shade and wandered over to chat. Apparently they’re from Switzerland, and are touring from Mexico to Patagonia – almost the same trip we’re taking. But they’re taking a year to do it. They were nice and willing to chat, but we didn’t have the same good time as we did chatting with Jeff… and we didn’t even bother to get their names. We were still glad we’d gone to chat, though, as meeting other travelers on the road has been one of the highlights of the adventure so far.

After about an hour and a half, the computers started doing their thing and our bikes were free to leave Guatemala. While we were waiting, we encountered an American who said that while he normally made this crossing in 15 minutes, he’d spent the last two days trying to get into Guatemala, mostly because the “new guy in Honduras is slow, but don’t tell him I said that.”

So, we ventured forth into Honduras, tank bags in hand. “Ooh, a fancy new building!… No, wait. That’s not finished. Maybe one of the other rooms… no.. hmm..”

“Go back over there” they said, and so we headed back to Guatemala, only to find they were telling us to go to a window we’d already been to. “Oh, it’s the Honduras immigration. Does that mean?… Yup, we’d unknowingly immigrated into Honduras without our bikes checked out of Guatemala for hours now.” In an odd moment of international co-operation Honduras and Guatemala share the same building for immigration.

Back to Honduras… “Where the hell is the Customs office…. Surely not… No… not that piece of shit thing with tin roofing on the side painted white….” Yes, that building. In the first door, “Is this customs?” “Yes.” “We have two bikes…” “No not here! Next door…” So next door we went.

You know how people joke about getting forms in triplicate? Yeah, not in Honduras. Triplicate copies of your passport, the signed and stamped form checking you out of Guatemalan customs, your license, your registration, and after they’re done with that they’ll stamp your passport for the bike, and then require triplicate copies of the stamp next to your tax receipt, the import permit they just handed you, and the form the bank signs saying that you’ve paid to import it.

Oh, and the Bank. Yeah, it’s across the street, down a path, and barely visible behind the trees. But if you’re really nice, and possibly female, they may make the copies for you, because the copy machine in the custom office? Yeah, you can’t use that.

Four hours after we started the process we were finally, legally, in Honduras.

Obligatory Devil Horns

Dachary –
From there, it was a quick ride to Copan Ruinas. We’d read about a hotel in the Central America on a Budget book called Via Via that we both agreed sounded like a good spot, and after a quick circuit of the town, we stopped to consult the book and a guy walked up to us and started chatting. Turns out he’s a backpacker, and he was really nice. I totally forget where he and his girlfriend are from and where they’re going. But after chatting for a few minutes, I asked him if he knew where Via Via was, and he directed us there.

We arrived at Via Via to find out that they were full up, but while Kay was consulting Via Via, the proprietor of another hotel across the street was chatting with me by the bikes. He was trying to convince us to stay with him, and it sounded like a good deal – Wi-Fi, hot water, a kitchen, a roof deck – everything we could want. And he’d give us a couple of options for parking the bikes. When Kay came back to tell me that Via Via was fully booked, I suggested we stay here, and booked the room for us. (Turns out that the Wi-Fi connection is painfully slow… but it’s still net.)

When we were unloading our stuff into the hotel, we ran into the Swiss couple with the bicycles again! They’d made it through the border in about 20 minutes, and had beaten us the 10KM to Copan Ruinas while we were stuck in customs. And they’re staying in the same hotel. In the room next to ours. We later ended up eating at the same restaurant at the table next to theirs. It was amusing… in an accidental stalker kind of way.

PimpTrix

We also met Stephen, aka PimpTrix, while we were standing with the bikes in front of the hotel. He walked up and started chatting with me while I was waiting for Kay to hit the ATM, and I quickly discovered that he’s from Canada and has been riding around here on his KLR. We commiserated on the SPOT battery dilemma, and he gave us a tip that San Salvador might have lithium batteries, as it’s like being back in America, with all the same stuff to buy and the shopping centers, commercialized stuff, etc. When he left to meet his friends at the Via Via restaurant, we gave him our card – and he came back a minute later saying “Hey! I didn’t realize you guys are the Corporate Runaways! I’ve seen your thread on ADVRider!” Totally random, chance meeting with another ADV inmate. It was awesome.

Unloaded the bikes, showered and headed out for dinner and a photo with PimpTrix. We did a circuit of the town, poking our heads into random convenience stores in an attempt to find the red Chokies I’d developed a passion for in Mexico (turns out, you can’t get them after you leave Mexico – Guatemala and now Honduras have only had the blue Chokies and the brown Chokies) and half-hazardly hunting for lithium batteries. No success on either front, and we decided to have dinner at a pizzeria again because Kay is getting tired of carne. We popped into the pizza restaurant that didn’t look empty and sad, and amusingly ran into the Swiss bicycling couple AGAIN. They must think we’re stalking them.

Hopefully they’re not going to the Copan Ruins tomorrow or they really will think we’re stalking them. I wonder what Honduras would do about a reported case of stalking? – Dachary

Lessons learned:
* Always bring a book.
* Never deal with the currency guys until AFTER you’ve checked out of a country. Leaving Mexico was free. Leaving Guatemala was not.
* Relax. You’ll get there eventually – it’s not like you’ve got some pressing errand you need to do in an hour anyway. I was scoping out possible places to set up the tent in no-mans land if the computers didn’t get back online since we’d already emigrated out of Guatemala but the bikes were still stuck there.
* Bring plenty of photocopies of your license, passport, and registration. You’ll need them. We’ve found it best to put the passport and license together on one photocopy. There’s nothing you can do in advance about the photocopies of papers and stamps produced on the spot.

About Kay

An old-school geek, addicted to travel, with a love of programming, writing, Esperanto, and starting businesses. -- @masukomi on Twitter.

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