Day 32 – Copan Ruinas, Honduras to La Palma, El Salvador

Today started out with the both of us still in a bad mood from yesterday’s theft. Neither of us slept very well – hippie drummers in front of the hotel kept us up half the night, and the AC did a decent job of drowning them out… until someone came by and turned off the circuit that the AC and everything else in our room was running on during the night. So no more AC. Roosters started crowing effing early (well before a hint of sun on the horizon – like around 3:30AM, I think, and sunrise was after 6AM) and it just wasn’t very restful.

Combine that with both of us having tummy problems when we woke up this morning, and just wanting to get out of this town, and we were both not feeling well and simultaneously eager to hit the road. (We forgot to take the anti-malaria pills last night before bed, and I woke up around 5-something AM and remembered we needed to take them, so we did… but Kay woke up feeling nauseous after 7AM, and was very sick for a while… and we were both having tummy problems, possibly from dinner last night. No bueno. But we have figured out that if we remember to take the anti-malaria pills before bed, we’re fine in the morning.)

We got everything packed up in the panniers and the tummies had calmed enough to seek breakfast shortly after 8AM. We were walking out through the hotel lobby when Kay happened to look to the right and noticed the missing MSR bottle and fire extinguisher bottle sitting on top of the cabinet that held the room keys! For some reason, they’d been removed from Kay’s pannier and taken to the hotel lobby, and apparently no-one thought to tell us.

So we were simultaneously relieved that they hadn’t been stolen after all, and annoyed that we spent yesterday evening all upset about the theft when there was no theft at all. We have no idea who thought it would be a good idea to bring the bottles in or why they were taken off the bike at all. It remains a mystery, but at least we have our stuff back. One less thing to try hunting in San Salvador.

We decided to see if Via Via across the street served breakfast, and were happy to find that they did. The Central America book that we have recommends Via Via highly, and I think it says that the owner is Belgium and speaks excellent English. Either way, we were thrilled to see a menu with familiar foodstuffs, including fresh bread! Baked on the premises! We haven’t seen a whole lot of bread since leaving the US; there’s the occasional store with a bread section, or pastry/bread store, but mostly everything has been tortilla-based. And we’re definitely missing the Mexican tortillas – the tortillas we’ve encountered in Central America have been thicker and kinda lame, even if they are individually made by hand. So when we saw actual bread in a place owned by a Belgium man who probably does bread in a way we’d like it, we were happy.

Alas, Kay has been violating the rule of “order whatever Dachary orders” and got french toast for breakfast, and was disappointed. I, on the other hand, had a spectacular meal (bacon, eggs, toast, fresh fruit and DELICIOUS coffee) and was thoroughly pleased. So my day was getting off to a really good start, and Kay was at least favorably disposed toward Via Via on my behalf.

Went back to the bikes to pack up and I noticed a note on my bike saying that there might be a place for us to park the bikes and set up shop if/when we got to Panama. I stuck the note in my tank bag and we started loading the bikes… and as we were loading up, a guy walked up and introduced himself – he was Shaun, who’d left us the note. It turns out that he and his business partner are on the way to Panama to set up a guest house and eventually a resource center for ADV tourers.

We had a nice chat about ADV riding, trip-planning, etc. and I’m curious to see his eventual setup. At one point, he says “Oh, you guys are Corporate Runaways? We’re Expedition Portal” and hands us a sticker. What they’re doing sounds neat, and I’m sure a good spot and resource center for ADV travelers who are doing the Americas will be a welcome resource for travelers.

While we’re chatting, another gent came up and asked to get a picture, as he has a friend who is a biker (and if you happen to see this, I’m sorry we didn’t get your name!) and joined the chat. While we were with the bikes in Copan Ruinas, we had a ton of people stop by to chat – more than we’ve encountered anywhere else. So while it was a totally touristy town, a lot of travelers do come through there and many of them seemed interested in us and the bikes. It’s always nice to meet other travelers, so we enjoyed chatting.

After all the chatting and adventures in international calling from my cell phone to wish a Happy Birthday to a good friend, it was after 10:15AM when we finally hit the road. Traveling from Copan Ruinas to La Entratada, we discovered the shit roads that seem to be the norm in Honduras. You can be riding along on perfectly good pavement when suddenly the road is just gone, and it’s rocky dirt for like 10 or 20 feet. And then it’s paved again. There are also ginormous potholes (and by ginormous, I mean in terms of stretching across the road – the deepest one we saw was probably 6″ to 10″ – we mostly tried to avoid them). So sometimes you’re slaloming around potholes, and sometimes you’re transitioning from pavement to rocky dirt to pavement repeatedly.

And sometimes the road has just dropped away entirely on the side, and you have to swerve into the other lane to keep from falling down a hill or off the side of a mountain.

Also? As in the other countries south of the US, Honduran drivers are deathly afraid of potholes and irregular road surfaces. They’ll slow WAY down for dirt stretches – even when it’s perfectly good dirt and there’s no reason to slow at all. They’ll also swerve WAY wide (like into the other lane, wide) – even when there are people coming – to avoid the potholes. It’s really crazy. You have to be alert driving in Honduras. The roads weren’t actually that bad aside from the potholes and occasional dirt stretches – as long as you pay attention you can cruise along at 60-80 KPH.

Between Copan Ruinas and La Entrada, we were going up a hill when we encountered a couple of touring bicycles. Kay suggested that we pull over and chat, and it turns out that they’re in the middle of a huge bicycle tour. (Again, stupidly, we did not get their names – if you guys happen to read this, sorry! And drop us a note with your names!) The gent was touring from Ireland, and had ridden his bicycle down through Africa, over to Buenos Aires, took a bus to Tierra Del Fuego, and now is in the midst of riding his bicycle from Buenos Aires up.

A real adventure rider

In Bolivia, he met the girl who’s traveling with him now, and she’s along for the rest of the ride. They now plan to head up through Canada, through Vancouver, and then through Asia – probably starting in China. It sounds like an epic trip – and on bicycles! We’re really impressed with long-distance bicycle tourers, as it’s way more work than riding a motorcycle, and these two are on a truly epic journey. Our figurative hats off to you!

It must be love...

That’s been one of the greatest things about Mexico/Central America, so far – meeting other travelers. Everyone we’ve met has been great, and it’s amazing and wonderful and awesome to know there’s this global community of people who don’t just stay where they’re put, but instead want to get out and see the world.

Stopped for lunch at La Entrada, and looked for a nice-ish looking restaurant as I was still having tummy troubles and wanted a decent bano. The restaurant we spotted was a bit pricey, but we had surprise shrimp (I thought I was ordering something else, and Kay has finally decided to stick with his rule of “get whatever Dachary gets”) and while neither of us would normally order shrimp, it was quite tasty. I think we were both a bit depleted of salt, as we’ve been drinking a lot of fluid lately and I’m not sure our bodies were retaining enough, so the salty shrimp breading and french fries we got were spectacularly tasty.

At around 1PM, we headed south from La Entrada toward Santa Rosa de Copan, which was our route to the El Salvador border. We made surprisingly good progress, and didn’t get off the bikes again until 4PM – when we hit the border with El Salvador. We weren’t sure how far we’d get today or how far it actually was to El Salvador, and while we hadn’t planned to cross the border today, we thought we might actually have enough time. We might have been even quicker had we noticed a tiny red squiggle on the map that, if it exists, would have saved many miles.

Checking out of Honduras, we had to deal with aduana for the bikes first. Because we’re planning to re-enter Honduras (you have to go through Honduras to get further south) we didn’t have them check us out entirely, but they could only give the bikes 3 days in El Salvador. Otherwise we would have had to check out entirely and do a new vehicle import permit when we cross through the little bit of Honduras between El Salvador and Nicaragua. We’re not opposed to that, but it takes more time to check out and we feared El Salvador’s side might close soon and we’d be stuck in no-man’s land for the night.

Next we headed down the street to immigration, which it turns out is surprisingly far down and right in front of the gate to the El Salvador border. Immigration is in a non-obvious building on the right. I think we got a little over two weeks for us to leave Honduras and return, but the bikes only have 3 days… damn. Took slightly less than 30 minutes to check out of Honduras on a return ticket, some of which was spent trying to figure out where to go.

Migracion de Honduras

Crossing through the gate to El Salvador, a man hands Kay forms we’ll need to fill out for the bikes and take to aduana (customs) for the vehicle import. But 50 meters down the road, there’s an immigration control booth, and the woman took our passports and started asking a bunch of questions about our trip to El Salvador. Eventually she sent us to the immigration office, which took all of 5 minutes to get our stamps, and then we went back to the bikes to try to fill out the form that the guy gave us to give to customs re: the bike import. But as we were standing next to our bikes, a security guard comes up and tells us “No, no, you must go to customs.” When a man with a big gun tells you to go to customs, you go to customs.

When we get there, he opens the door and a customs guy comes out and takes our forms for us. But then he sees that they’re not filled out, and orders us to stand at a counter nearby to fill them out. Which we would have done before going over there if the guard hadn’t told us to go to customs immediately. Luckily, the customs guy stood there and helped us figure out how to fill out the form, as a lot of the words were non-obvious to us – he didn’t speak English but he was able to get his meaning across. So he helped us fill out our forms, and then asked for copies of some of our paperwork (registration and passport) and seemed surprised when we said “Yes, we have copies. Here you go!” and pulled them out. Back to the office to process the paperwork.

After a few minutes of reviewing things, he tells us to go around outside of the customs building and to one of the windows there. A woman there is going to process the bike importation permits. But it turns out she was only processing one of them – Kay’s. She tries to convey something to us and seems frustrated by our lack of understanding, but eventually we realize she’s telling me to go to a window further down. Apparently someone else is processing my import permit.

Alas, the someone else must have been new. It took the woman less than 10 minutes, I’d say, to process Kay’s permit. The guy who was doing mine took over an hour, and at one point he had three other people helping him input it into the system. So Kay was done with the border crossing around 5-5:15PM, but I wasn’t done until after 6PM.

At this point the sun had set, it was getting dark, and we’d just crossed into a country we didn’t know. Kay still has no headlights (although his high-beams work and he has the Denali driving lights) and there are mountains between the border and San Salvador – our next destination. At first, we think we’ll just ride for a few minutes and then try to find a hotel. Then we think we don’t want to stay so close to the border, so maybe we’ll try riding all the way to San Salvador in the dark – around 40 miles.

The road seemed ok, but riding over the mountains is time-consuming in the best of times, and after all of the roads in Honduras where the roadway just falls away and a lane is missing entirely, neither of us was too keen to carry on after dark. So when we hit a little town that has a few hotels, one of which seemed to have secure parking, we decide to turn around and check out the hotel. And the spot where Kay stops to turn around has a hotel right there. Instead of riding back to the hotel we’ve passed, Kay suggests checking this hotel. Which has parking well out of sight of the road, and a restaurant in the hotel complex. “It was a sign” he said.

So here we are, at Hotel La Palma in La Palma, El Salvador. The wifi is WAY faster than the last place, and our dinner was really tasty. Unexpected border crossing, which took us into the night – but we’ve found a place to sleep and we can head off to San Salvador bright and early in the morning. On the to-do list for tomorrow: try to find some lithium batteries for the friggin Spot.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Kay and Dachary,

    Hope you´re getting on well as you move south. We met another Brazilian biker in Copan who is heading down your way next.

    Best wishes,
    Julian and Ellie (the cyclists!)

    1. Hey Julian and Ellie! Thanks for posting here with a link to your site – we’ve added it to one of our writeups (and it’s good to know your names, now – sorry we didn’t get them when we met! We weren’t thinking.)

      Glad you guys are enjoying your trip, and we’ll be following along on your blog! Sounds like you guys are getting close to Mexico, which is personally my favorite country that we’ve passed through so far (although Nicaragua is working its way up on my list) so I hope you guys enjoy it there, too! Safe travels!

      – Dachary and Kay

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